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Pinellas County sets its 2013 legislative priorities

ST. PETERSBURG — A broader ban on synthetic drugs, more flexibility on spending and, as always, a plea for no more unfunded mandates are among the items on Pinellas County's legislative wish list this year.

The 2013 legislative session begins in March — a return to its normal schedule after last year, when it began in January — and the County Commission is scheduled to discuss its goals with elected state officials on Feb. 26.

Many agenda items are rolled over from one year to the next, never seeing the light of day or the Legislature's attention. But several are new this year.

This year, the Pinellas commission is asking Tallahassee to add more synthetic drugs to its list of banned substances. Though they often go by friendly names such as Spice and K2, synthetic drugs have been linked to deaths in Pinellas, where they are an increasing problem for law enforcement officials.

Though certain drug formulas are illegal, the drug makers have responded by staying one step ahead of the state law and concocting new mixtures.

Last summer, the board toyed with the idea of banning the county's estimated 500 convenience stores from selling synthetic drugs, but never took a vote.

"We were talking about going a little deeper with some type of enforcement," said Assistant County Administrator Carl Harness. "But we kind of backed off of that, wanted to wait and see if the state was going to come up with something that was statewide."

The commission also has come out against a bill, introduced by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, that would reduce representation from Pinellas and Hillsborough on the Southwest Florida Water Management District's board.

The 13-member board has two representatives from Pinellas, two from Hillsborough and one appointed jointly. Detert's bill would reduce the board to nine people, leaving Pinellas and Hillsborough with one appointee each.

Withdrawn in the House and temporarily postponed in the Senate, it stands little chance of passing this session, but the commission voted to oppose it.

"What's Sarasota got against us?" asked Commissioner John Morroni.

"We pay a much higher millage rate. They want to have better access to some of that money," said Commissioner Susan Latvala.

As it has in years' past, the commission's agenda supports state funding for beach restoration, changes to the way the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice bills counties, and a revision of the state's Medicaid billing system. It opposes any change that would require Pinellas to increase its contribution to the Florida Retirement System.

Introducing the issue of gun control for the second time, Commissioner Janet Long said she would like to discuss the issue with the county's legislative delegation.

"As the highest ranking policy members in our county, we have some responsibility to try to address the issue of violence and guns," she said.

And for the second time, her colleagues were largely silent. State law has long banned counties and cities from passing their own gun laws. In 2011, a new law took that a step further, allowing the state to fine local governments that enforced their own gun rules on the sly.

Another topic that may come up Feb. 26: domestic partnership registries. Rather than allowing cities and counties to establish their own registries, which have little power outside the borders of those municipalities, the Legislature should vote on whether to create one statewide, said Commissioner Norm Roche.

"From a strictly fiscal responsible perspective," he said, having a patchwork of registries that might eventually be replaced by a statewide one is "a costly and redundant exercise."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas County sets its 2013 legislative priorities 02/17/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 17, 2013 10:39pm]
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