SPRING HILL — During a legislative update this week, state lawmakers representing Hernando County highlighted the highs and lows of the recent session, focusing primarily on education issues.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, also honed in on their thoughts about the implementation of medical marijuana rules amid a variety of other issues affecting the county.
Ingoglia said he would describe the session as "controlled chaos" filled with big ideas and a few missed opportunities, namely the failed push for a local life skills center for the developmentally disabled and the unsuccessful effort to keep workers' compensation insurance rates low.
But overall, he said, "kids and education won the day."
He spent a large chunk of his speaking time defending the hotly contested HB 7069, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law last week. Ingoglia echoed what many House Republicans have said about the massive piece of legislation: "It offers hope."
"What this bill does is offer teachers a better way. It offers students a better way," he said. "It's not a perfect bill, but which bill is?"
Ingoglia called the bill "transformative," pointing out that it will limit the number of tests and give school districts more flexibility to use state money as they see fit. He said misinformation has clouded the bill's strong points.
Simpson touched on education issues, too, praising Pasco-Hernando State College for its growth in recent years and showcasing the expected January opening of the PACE Center for Girls, an alternative schooling program for girls at risk of dropping out or entering the juvenile justice system.
"(PACE) is really going to revolutionize how young women are able to receive an education in Hernando County," he said before being recognized by a PACE representative and two students from the Pasco County center who thanked him for his dedication to their cause.
Both lawmakers celebrated their efforts to place heavy restrictions on the implementation of medical marijuana, the use of which was approved by Florida voters in November.
In voting for the legislation, both Simpson and Ingoglia pushed for strict regulations on the growing, sale and use of medical marijuana, catering to their conservative base.
"We came up with a way where it will be implemented in a safe way," Ingoglia said. "When we legislated, we actually treated it like a medicine, and I think that's important."
Simpson agreed and said the bill that was passed this session, which he wrote, explicitly mandates that medical marijuana must be purchased in a place reminiscent of a doctor's office.
"If we're using this material as medicine, that's okay, but we are going to treat it like a medicine," he said. "You can't have . . . a big smoke shop with a big marijuana sign on it."
Simpson said this year was "a very good session for Florida," pointing to large allocations for roads and infrastructure that are sure to brush Hernando County. He says plans are in the works to extend the Suncoast Parkway through Citrus County all the way to Gainesville, a move sure to bring dollars to the area.
Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.