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As Rep. Rob Schenck's term expires, things looking up for Hernando

To those of you who think this paper doesn't print enough good news, consider this:

Rep. Rob Schenck has likely served his last regular session as a Hernando County legislator.

If that seems flip and dismissive, well, you could say the same about Schenck's attitude toward public service.

First, his "work" on the pill mill issue.

He often has bragged about his 2011 bill that cracked down on the careless prescribing of pain pills and that has helped cut the state's oxycodone deaths by 52 percent since 2010.

What he doesn't mention: Earlier in that session he tried to do away with the prescription drug database that is a crucial part of reining in pill mills, and his bill would have been toothless if not for the changes demanded by Attorney General Pam Bondi and then-Sen. Mike Fasano.

And if Schenck, a Spring Hill Republican, really cared about the crisis of prescription drug addiction, he could have demonstrated it this session. He could have used his power and freedom as a well-placed, term-limited representative to make sure the database received the money it needs to keep going — a tiny sum considering the lives it saves.

But the Legislature set aside nothing for this purpose, leaving it to Bondi to find the money to keep it running.

All in all, Fasano said, Schenck "has been a thorn in the side of continuing a valuable program."

But Schenck has been good about bringing home cash, right — bagged his share of turkeys?

Yes. But his funding priority this session, $4 million for an environmental educational plaza in Hernando Beach — money that seems to have been secured mostly on the strength of a spiffy architectural model and that stands to help the site's land owners as much as the public — is looking more and more like a true turkey.

Schenck could have, on the other hand, sought $750,000 to partially fund improvements called for in an established state plan at an established attraction, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who represents all of Hernando County and much of Pasco, had secured it on the Senate side. And he did so at the request of people in the community, the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, whose emails and telephone calls Schenck didn't even bother to return.

"He was nonresponsive, completely," said Friends president Denise Tenuto.

Schenck claimed another big victory this year, bumping up the state threshold for small school districts, which made Hernando eligible for about $2 million in additional funding.

Good for him. But Fasano says his contacts in the Legislature have told him that Simpson had a lot more to do with this than Schenck did.

Which brings us to yet more good news. Based on his performance this session, Simpson seems to be as responsive as Schenck is not. And his term limits won't kick in for eight more years.

He was among the sponsors of a springs restoration bill that ultimately died but that, partly because Simpson and other Senators made this a major issue, seems to have a better chance of passage next year.

Though Simpson seriously tarnished his environmental credentials by agreeing to sponsor the Senate version of a mindless, scattershot environmental deregulation bill, he restored most of this shine by getting it killed.

He deserves credit for standing up for residents of a West Pasco subdivision and against the Public Service Commission with a bill that ties rate increases to the quality of drinking water.

An especially high percentage of Hernando and Pasco homeowners are covered by the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

That means it's especially appropriate that Simpson was in the Senate minority that voted against a bill that would have allowed policyholders to be funneled into inadequately backed and regulated private outfits.

So somebody in Tallahassee actually seems willing to look after our interests, which sounds good to me.

As Rep. Rob Schenck's term expires, things looking up for Hernando 05/15/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 9:59am]

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