I thank my wife Alice, my staff, my campaign team and all of you for giving me the opportunity to serve in the Florida House of Representatives representing District 45. It has been a great honor.
I always tried to do what was best for the majority of the people I represented and not the special interest groups. As a state representative for the past eight years, serving the maximum four two-year terms due to term limits, I learned a lot about the legislative process.
I learned there are major problems in the state Legislature:
• There is too much money involved in the political process and not enough transparency. This gives the lobbyists and incumbents a major advantage in getting bills passed and getting re-elected.
• Term limits are good, but they should be for 12 years not eight years because it takes a few years just to understand and navigate the legislative process. Term limits would also be good for the federal government.
• The demand by party leadership for absolute obedience to their agenda stifles initiative, independent thinking and the democratic process. The best way to arrive at good decisions is to encourage the free flow of ideas before the decision is made.
During the past eight years, I was able to get 24 bills passed. The first, introduced in 2003, was a library grant bill. The House leadership told me that due to economic conditions, I would have to remove funding for the grants to get the bill passed. I did. In 2004 and subsequent years, we were able to obtain about $800,000 for the program.
My major focus was issues affecting seniors and local government. A number of bills were passed assisting local governments. We also were able to pass bills relating to the operation of senior centers and the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in senior centers, state parks and assisted living facilities (ALFs). They have already saved lives.
The last bill I got passed in 2010, with the support of the American Heart Association, was to require AEDs in assisted living facilities with 17 or more beds. People living in ALFs are at a higher risk of cardiac arrest because of their age and condition. This bill was opposed by the ALF industry and the House Appropriations Committee and initially, I could not get it heard.
However, during the last week of the 2010 session, the leadership needed my "yes" vote on a bill and agreed to get my AED bill passed in exchange for my vote. With the help of Sen. Mike Fasano and the Senate president, we also were able to get the bill heard and passed by the Senate on the last day of the session.
The convoluted process for the AED and library grant bills reinforced the old saying, "You don't want to see how sausages are made and how bills are passed." However, the end result is generally good.
It was one of my great pleasures to nominate six outstanding volunteers and see them selected for the Governor's Points of Light Awards and to nominate and see Christopher M. Still, renowned Florida artist from Dunedin, inducted into Florida's Artist Hall of Fame in March 2010.
Major issues are facing state government in 2011 and beyond, including:
• Medicaid reform: Medicaid is the largest single element of cost in the fiscal year 2010/2011 budget — about 30 percent of the total state budget of $70 billion — and costs are increasing. Reform is needed to provide better care, reduce fraud and abuse, and control costs.
• Education reform: Student performance is low compared to other industrialized countries and other states. There is a need to measure student performance, reward good teachers and get rid of poorly performing teachers.
• Efficiency: Procurement and contracting by state agencies represents more than 50 percent of the state budget, but less than one-half of the dollars are awarded on the basis of price competition. The state could save more than $200 million a year by improving organization, staffing, policies and procedures, competitive bidding, contract negotiation and management, and professional development. I filed such a bill in 2009 but couldn't get it passed. This should be, and I believe will be, carefully reviewed by Gov. Rick Scott.
I encourage all of you to consider running for office. At a minimum, get involved in the political process in some way by becoming informed, volunteering, contributing and voting in every election. It is your duty and in your own best interest to be involved.
I wish newly elected House District 45 Rep. Richard Corcoran of Trinity in Pasco County, and all of you, good health, happiness and success in the years ahead.
Tom Anderson is a resident of Dunedin.