It's crunch time in Tallahassee, as lawmakers negotiate the details on the state budget. Among the many subplots:
Higher education is poised to have a better year. In Tampa, for example, the University of South Florida has $12.5 million in the House budget to complete its new interdisciplinary science building. There also is $16 million for the Heart Institute, a top priority for the medical school that is expected to be under construction this summer. But USF St. Petersburg needs more help from Tampa Bay legislators for a new building for its College of Business.
Late Monday, the House had no money allocated for the building and the Senate had just $1 million as a placeholder, thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. About 1,900 students take classes in the business school that is divided among seven locations. That's unacceptable for a college of business with an entrepreneurial spirit that could stimulate the local economy. USF St. Petersburg is seeking $10.5 million to start construction of a three-story building on 2.5 acres of land it owns. The project has strong local support, and Pinellas legislators should push for the money.
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On the plus side, the House and Senate have agreed to include $1.3 million for the first transitional housing complex in Pasco County to shelter homeless families. The 24-unit center will be run by Metropolitan Ministries on the county's west side. The center also will provide job training and counseling to adults seeking employment and a permanent place to live.
It is a much-needed service in Pasco, which in 2011 had the state's second-highest homeless population. An updated count, released last week, showed Pasco's homeless population had dropped by a quarter to 3,305 people. But the number of homeless children, 1,776, showed a continued demand for family shelters.
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All of the last-minute mischief in appropriations is not just in the numbers. The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider legislation today that could turn anyone into a criminal if they open the wrong email or letter.
One sentence in a 100-page amendment to an economic development bill, SB 1024, deals with confidentiality surrounding unemployment compensation. It says anyone who receives such confidential information would be guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
It's one thing to hold public employees accountable for revealing private information. It's another to punish members of the public for merely receiving confidential information when they didn't request it and may not know who sent it. That would be unconstitutional, and senators should delete the offending sentence.