Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Armwood seniors pitch Unaccompanied Youth Bill to lawmakers

SEFFNER — Five Armwood High School seniors got a big opportunity last week to present a bill to lawmakers in Tallahassee.

The proposed legislation would make it easier for kids who aren't living with their parents or guardians to participate in school activities. It sailed through the House Civil Justice Subcommittee Tuesday without a single opposing vote.

"I think they knew how nervous we were,'' 18-year-old Jessica Ireland said the day after she and her classmates pitched House Bill 1351.

Also known as the Unaccompanied Youth Bill, the proposed legislation still has one more committee to clear before it can be heard on the House floor. In 2011, a similar proposal tucked into a different House bill didn't make it past the first committee.

"I never realized the work that goes into passing a bill,'' said Michael Himes, 18. "It was an eye-opening experience.''

The students from teacher Tony Pirotta's U.S. Government class won the right to present the bill through an 8-year-old Hillsborough County program "There Ought to be a Law.''

High school students draft real bills, then compete for a chance to help get them passed.

"This program scares me,'' state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, joked during the Civil Justice Committee meeting.

"I'm worried you might trade me for one of these young, bright people,'' he told subcommittee chairman Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.

Eisnaugle responded: "I just might.''

The Armwood students borrowed the idea for their bill from former Leto High senior Sergio Velazquez.

Velazquez became an unaccompanied youth in 2010 when his family moved back to New York. Now at Saint Leo University in Pasco County, he fought to stay in Tampa and graduate from high school.

Unaccompanied youths are typically those older than 16 who are not in the physical custody of their parents or a guardian.

They often go unnoticed until a problem occurs or they break down from the stress of trying to make it on their own.

Without a parent or guardian's signature, these students can't participate in school sports, go on field trips, or even get medicine from a nurse. One classmate can't even sign himself in and out of the school, said senior Tori Wilson, 18.

"We see it every day at school,'' Wilson added.

Some of these kids are not old enough to be truly on their own. They can't sign rental leases, get birth certificates or drivers' licenses "which makes everything else hard,'' she said.

The Florida Department of Education estimates there are about 6,500 unaccompanied youth statewide.

Hillsborough County's school district has about 74 such students, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. At Armwood, there are 21 unaccompanied youths and 40 homeless students.

Nothing in current state law specifically addresses unaccompanied youth, said state Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who is co-sponsoring the bill.

His bill and a companion one introduced by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, would change that by giving unaccompanied youth essentially the same rights as emancipated minors.

Armwood seniors Stephanie Walker and Tiara Brooks also traveled to Tallahassee to take part in the presentation.

For all of them, it was a special experience, Pirotta said.

"They're really becoming legislators,'' he said, "going and lobbying a bill and seeing the process of a bill from inception to finished product.''

The students didn't really grasp how momentous the occasion was until they came face to face with Florida's most influential leaders.

Then it hit them.

"We're one of the very few,'' Ireland said, "who get to present a bill.''

Comments
Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Former NFL kicker Jay Feely, who was born in Odessa and starred at Tampa Jesuit, has apologized for a photo he intended as a joke, showing him holding a gun as he poses with his daughter and her prom date."Wishing my beautiful daughter and her date a...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store on Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported.Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27 and of St. Petersburg, now faces charges of...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

Happy Earth Day, Florida!In the spirit of the holiday that recognizes our planet’s clean air, water and land, here are 11 stories the Tampa Bay Times has published about how climate change affects the Sunshine State.1. The Florida keys have to elevat...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

The original Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 was inspired by how the Florida black bear roamed — and the space it needed to do so successfully. In 2010, expedition team member Joe Guthrie conducted research through the University of Kent...
Updated: 2 hours ago
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A man wearing nothing but a coat stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Tennessee before dawn Sunday and shot four people to death, according to police, who credited a customer with saving lives by wresting a weapon away from t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

Class 9A-8 (higher seed hosts)Tuesday: No. 3 Alonso at No. 2 Palm Harbor University, 4; No. 4 Sarasota Riverview at No. 1 Newsome, 7Thursday: Final, 4 or 7 (depending on who hosts)Class 8A-4 at Strawberry Crest Tuesday: No. 1 Wharton vs. No. 4 Wiregr...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Members of the Rays organization sent their thoughts and prayers to former teammate Danny Farquhar, who was hospitalized Saturday night in Chicago in stable but critical condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm.Farqu...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

After a two-hour weather delay Saturday evening at USF, the remote local threat of lightning finally dissipated.The postseason intensity never did.For the second consecutive night, the UCF-USF baseball series delivered, this time with the Bulls (25-1...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18