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Partisan sniping occurs as Rick Kriseman's Pinellas-focused bill stalls

TALLAHASSEE — Pinellas County likes the idea of merging two planning agencies. So do its cities and its lawmakers.

But love for HB 1041, sponsored by Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, stops at the county line.

The legislation failed to make the agenda of its first committee stop, which has no more meetings scheduled this legislative session.

And now the nonpartisan Pinellas legislation is one of 115 local bills headed for a slow death.

The county's highest-ranking Republican blames Kriseman, the Democratic sponsor who has been one of his party's strongest voices in a year when Republicans have a veto-proof majority. Just Wednesday, he suggested Gov. Rick Scott resign if he does not take more aggressive action to recover money from oil giant BP.

"I think the person may have had something to do with it," said Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, who serves as the party's whip. "Being vitriolic on behalf of trial lawyers and unions does not equate to being an effective legislator."

Kriseman pointed out that many local bills sponsored by Republicans, including two from Rep. Peter Nehr of Tarpon Springs, are just as dead as his.

"I would urge Jim to use his voice to fight for his constituents and not to start fights with colleagues," he said. "He has an important job to do this session and should focus on whipping up Republican votes, not drama and controversy."

Kriseman's bill lacks drama: It would consolidate the Pinellas Planning Council and the Metropolitan Planning Organization into one agency to handle both land-use and transportation.

The Legislature must approve the consolidation because the Pinellas Planning Council is established in state law, said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel.

Seel, a Republican, said the move would save money and streamline government, two things hard to argue against.

"I can't remember when all 24 cities backed an effort like this," she said.

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, chairs the House community and military affairs subcommittee that won't hear the bill. He said new census figures may shift the makeup of the Pinellas Planning Council and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, making a merger premature.

"As a chairman, it would be close to irresponsible for me to pass this bill knowing the census is going to reallocate the population," said Workman. "Good bill, wrong year."

Seel said county officials don't think the census figures will make much difference.

Does Workman have it out for Kriseman? "I never look at the bill's sponsors," he said. "I look at the bill."

Other Republicans, including committee Vice Chairman Ed Hooper of Clearwater, have been pushing to get the bill heard.

"I'm as frustrated as everybody else," said Hooper, who added that Workman did not tell him what the hangup is.

Seel doesn't understand.

"Downsizing government should not be a partisan issue," she said. "It'd be nice if there was a last-minute miracle, but I'm not holding my breath."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (850) 933-1321.

Partisan sniping occurs as Rick Kriseman's Pinellas-focused bill stalls 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 9:50pm]
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