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Pasco legislative leaders get earful in annual meeting

LAND O'LAKES — Centers to train workers for high-tech factory jobs. Support for Common Core educational standards. Help for housing for seniors and the poor. Even a push to legalize marijuana.

County officials, charities and ordinary citizens packed the gymnasium at the Charles S. Rushe Middle School on Wednesday to present a long menu of legislative initiatives to Pasco County's delegation to the state House and Senate.

The lawmakers — Sens. John Legg and Wilton Simpson and Reps. Richard Corcoran, Amanda Murphy and Will Weatherford, the House speaker — sat patiently for more than four hours as part of the gathering, ahead of the March 4 legislative session.

The annual meeting is aimed both at measuring support for particular bills and hearing from audience members — residents, officials and others — about particular causes or legislative items. Mostly, though, it provides a forum to sound off about Tallahassee — or lobby for state dollars.

"We have been on life support since 2009," George Romagnoli, manager of Pasco's community development office, told the delegation. "We have been able to continue because we have been prudent with our funds. . . . That has allowed us to continue our programs, but not at the scale that is needed."

Romagnoli's office administers scores of housing and neighborhood revitalization programs for Pasco County.

Like others at the meeting, he asked that funding for 2014 be restored, which would provide $5.189 million. Last year, the office received $751,000 for housing.

Scores of others made similar pleas. More than 50 testified. Through it all, the lawmakers made no promises and commented briefly to allow time for all in the group to speak.

Pasco Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and County Administrator Michele Baker requested funds to launch training centers to prepare workers for high-tech factory jobs to lure German manufacturers.

Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning pushed the delegation to "stay firm" on Common Core educational standards.

"We do not need to create another home-grown assessment," he said. "We do not need another FCAT or FCAT 2.0."

St. Leo Commissioner Robert Inslee requested a new boundary line so that a group of Lake Jovita residents can be annexed into Pasco County where they would receive more services.

And New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips asked for help with flood insurance and "unfunded mandates," including pension increases for city workers.

Two residents sought support for medical marijuana, and several Summertree residents rounded out the meeting, waiting nearly until the end to speak about the importance of a bill sponsored by Simpson to require private utilities to keep their rates comparable to those of government-owned utilities and to improve their water for taste, odor and appearance.

Pasco legislative leaders get earful in annual meeting 01/22/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 10:38pm]
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