BY JOHN FRANK | Times Staff Writer
The two-month legislative session starts today in Tallahassee. Expect to hear a lot about the Big Three: budget deficits, property taxes and homeowners insurance. It's a familiar refrain for the four lawmakers who represent portions of Hernando County. But amid the noise on these statewide issues, the delegation also will focus its attention on a number of local efforts. Here's a look at a few issues being pushed by local lawmakers.
The nation's only City of Live Mermaids is in jeopardy.
As the state prepares to take control of the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid attraction, state Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, and state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, plan to hold a delegation meeting sometime this session to consider revoking the city of Weeki Wachee's incorporation.
The city, population nine, is about 1 square mile, covering largely the attraction but also a number of neighboring businesses and vacant lands, which get taxed by the city and the county.
The only catch is a bill filing deadline that expired Monday at noon. But lawmakers contend that passing the measure this session is still possible.
Companies that bring large economic development projects to Hernando County currently enjoy expedited permitting. Now Schenck wants to see the Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District join the movement.
The bill is titled the Mike McHugh Act, named in honor of Hernando County's economic development director who successfully advocated similar measures at the county level. It would grant qualifying businesses an expedited ruling within 30 days for wetland resource and environmental resource permit applications. "This is even more important in light of the downturn in the economy," Schenck said.
The almighty dollar isn't just a state issue. Local governments and organizations rely on state money. State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said it's been painful to watch lawmakers cut needed money from existing and future spending plans.
Instead of helping local interests get funds, at this point, she said, "My priority is preventing current projects from being cut."
One of those projects is a large chunk of change reserved for Hernando Beach dredging, Schenck said. He hopes that in the next two months the county will get the all-important notice of intent, which will guarantee the state money stays put.
As affordable housing units age and government tax credits expire, the landlords can sell or opt out of the program.
Fasano worries that this will lead to residents, in many cases fixed-income elderly, being displaced.
He filed a bill to spend $50-million to create the Florida Housing Preservation Program, which would help provide loans and finance the rehabilitation of aging multifamily rental properties and mobile home parks.
"This would help preserve older affordable housing complexes in Pasco and Hernando," he said.