ST. PETERSBURG — Newly elected state legislators will inherit a multitude of unresolved issues when they take office in the spring: the education system, statewide property insurance, the prescription drug epidemic.
One of those new legislators will come from District 69, encompassing most of the south Pinellas beaches and parts of west St. Petersburg. South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters, a 51-year-old Republican, and financial planner Josh Shulman, a 36-year-old Democrat, offer voters — most of whom live along the beaches — two entirely different options.
With less than two weeks before Election Day, the Tampa Bay Times asked both candidates how they would deal with those issues, along with a few others (some responses have been edited for space).
Earlier this year, the "parent trigger" bill died in the state Senate. It would have allowed parents to turn low-performing public schools into charter schools. If elected, would you support the bill? Why or why not?
Shulman: "I do not support the parent trigger bill. The legislation was marketed as a measure that would allow parents to take over their school and turn it around. The reality — as we've seen in California — is that for-profit corporations would be able to take over our public schools, potentially sending our tax dollars to out-of-state companies who are more interested in profits than educating our children."
Peters: "Support for this would depend on the process of determining at what point the option could be triggered. Clearly, a school could perform poorly and a change in leadership may be all the school needs to turn around. … Educating our children is critical and among my highest priorities. I also believe people should have a choice. I caution against any law that does not have very clear parameters and expectations to allow for such a transition."
The board of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. recently approved a plan to loan $350 million of its $6.2 billion reserves to private insurers. Many have voiced concern over the proposal's financial soundness. If elected, would you support Citizens' proposal? Why or why not?
ShuLman: "We need to find sensible solutions to reduce the number of policies held by Citizens, thereby reducing the risk to the state in the event we are hit with another year of catastrophic storms. However, this fragile economic recovery, when Pinellas County families are struggling to pay their bills, is not the time to raise premiums by double digits. Proposals to divest Citizens, like the loan program, should be discussed and approved by the Legislature, not decided by executives with no taxpayer accountability."
Peters: "I would not support this. Instead of quickly concluding to follow through with this plan, Citizens should wait until the next session to allow both chambers of the Legislature to complete hearings on this important matter. Policyholders need competition to keep costs down, but I am not sure this is the answer."
Gov. Rick Scott has said Florida won't participate in optional provisions of the federal health care law, including the creation of a state health insurance exchange. If that happens, the federal government will set up the exchange on Florida's behalf. If elected, would you support the governor's position on this issue? Why or why not?
Shulman: "Gov. Scott is wrong on his position. The state should be directly involved in setting up its own health exchange. Health insurance is regulated at the state level. If we want to maintain high standards of care, this is not an authority we should be delegating to the federal government. Establishing our own exchange allows us to set the standards for treatment options, benefit levels, and professional licensure that make sense for Floridians."
Peters: I am not comfortable being mandated by the federal government on how Florida should meet the needs of residents … I also believe we can meet the requirement utilizing key systems that we already have in place such as Kid Care, Healthy Children and Healthy Families to create an exchange to meet the federal requirements. The quality of care and access is extremely important."
Lawmakers in this state have for the past decade debated how to deal with the prescription drug epidemic that has killed thousands of Floridians. Last year, Florida unveiled the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which gives doctors and pharmacists access to their patients' histories of drug use. Proponents argue that the database can save lives if used properly. The program, however, is barely ever utilized by health care practitioners. If elected, would you support legislation that required doctors in Florida to check the database before issuing prescriptions for controlled substances? Why or why not?
Shulman: "We should require that doctors and pharmacists check the database in order to reduce abuse of those medications. However, as the law stands, it is an unfunded mandate that would burden small medical practices and pharmacists if they are forced to comply. The legislature must also adequately fund the database if it is going to be effective and not jeopardize our small businesses."
Peters: "I would support this. The cost incurred by our local communities and state related to this issue is exorbitant. We still have too many pill mills that have not been shut down, too many babies born addicted to prescription medication and the cost of crime associated with drug abuse continues to rise."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at email@example.com.