Leon County residents are concerned about the environment, aging, mental health and criminal justice. The county legislative delegation sat through nearly four hours of testimony from local residents, and advocacy groups on their wants during the upcoming legislative session.
Some issues transcend geography: like a strong desire to be environmentally and socially conscious. Local residents repeatedly called for the delegation to cast anti-fracking votes. Several bills on the issue have already been filed. There are concerns about the polluted discharges from Lake Okecheobee, a desire to keep working to preserve the everglades. Closer to home: a request to purchase Wakulla Springs under the state’s Florida Forever Program.
“Everywhere we go, there’s a common theme. Protect Florida. Protect our water. Protect our springs. Protect our state parks” says Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. “People love what they have here, and they want it protected.”
Also on the Tallahassee-Leon County wish list? Criminal justice reform. Momentum for changes to the way the state treats juvenile offenders is gathering steam ahead of the annual legislative gathering. Rep. Ramon Alexander says it’s an issue he’s excited to work on.
“When you look at the landscape of the legislature right now, there’s a huge focus on criminal justice and juvenile justice reform across the aisle. And I think with my background working in wraparound juvenile justice and intervention services, I will be able to speak to that and give insight and speak to those issues.”
Meanwhile Rep.Lorrane Ausley says she’s still trying to iron out what will be in the six bills she gets to bring to the House chamber, but she's got some ideas:
“State employee issues, children’s issues, disability issues. . Environmental—I’m on two environmental committees. Tonight was very helpful in talking to folks, and we’ll begin to pare those down, and make some of those decisions," she says.
For Republican Representative Halsey Beshears—issues of rural business development are big. So is the issue of local control—he’s not keen on lawmakers trying to take power away from local governments. Beshears’ district is also home to the flailing Jefferson County School system which is failing:
“We’re trying to figure out what the real options are fast. And some of them are drastic," he says. Earlier this week the State Board of Education gave Jefferson an ultimatum: close its elementary school, or give convert the school to a charter school or give control of it to an outside operator.
Beshears is chairman of the House’s Careers and Competition Subcommittee. The group is focused on job growth and development. It will help shape key policies. And that could be good for North Florida; Ausley and Alexander serve on the committee as well. Ausley is the vice chair.
“It’s a great opportunity to work together as a delegation so I’m looking forward to it," she says.