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Hernando gives state lawmakers its wish list

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville City Council member Joe Johnston stood before three state lawmakers at Monday's annual Hernando legislative delegation and rattled off a handful of economic and safety issues the city would like to see addressed:

A small-business jobs bill; downtown Brooksville's one-way streets; the length of yellow-light times at traffic signals.

"It's a safety thing," Johnston said about the traffic signals. "We would appreciate if anything could be done."

But within seconds of his presentation, state Rep. Robert Schenck piped up.

"You know, Joe, I've known you a long time since my days in local government and you've always represented the city well," Schenck said. "But to be perfectly honest with you, I am apt to not help the city of Brooksville at all until these red-light cameras come down."

Schenck, the House rules chairman, has long opposed red-light cameras and has called them a hidden tax.

There are now 16 cameras in the city.

Johnston said that even if the red-light cameras are abolished by the Legislature, he would still like to see the state revisit the issue of yellow lights.

The brief exchange came near the beginning of the annual legislative delegation meeting in Brooksville. Reps. Schenck and Jimmie T. Smith and Sen. Wilton Simpson, all Republicans, make up the delegation.

For nearly two hours, the three listened to local officials and residents talk about state issues, ranging from sinkhole legislation to an update on Pasco-Hernando Community College.

Two voices were noticeably absent: the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and Hernando County School District, neither of which gave a formal presentation.

Stephen Schroeder, the general counsel and executive director of governmental relations for PHCC, started his address by thanking the representatives for increasing the college's funding. He also thanked them for addressing an issue with students enrolled in both high school and college courses. The cost of dual enrollment, as it is known, has risen substantially in the past years and created a burden on colleges. Lawmakers agreed that school districts would pay the students' tuition and fees for the program for the first time. Districts projected large deficits as a result of the funding shift.

Schroeder said the new bill will help the college recoup substantial funds.

Shawn Foster, a lobbyist presenting for the Hernando County Commission, told the legislators the county has opposed red-light cameras in the past and would like to see the program eliminated or amended so that drivers can no longer be ticketed for right turns on red.

He also called for sinkhole legislation. Saying that 82 percent of all sinkhole claims come from Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, he said "sinkholes continue to plague Hernando's tax base."

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando gives state lawmakers its wish list 10/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2013 9:49pm]
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