On the evening of Wednesday, May 15th, at the Hilton Bayfront St. Petersburg, members of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation reported on their 61 days in Tallahassee this spring. Participating on the panel were Senator Darryl Rouson and Representatives Jennifer Webb, Wengay Newton, and Ben Diamond.
Victories and Disappointments
The event, sponsored by Duke Energy, began with a cocktail reception followed by a panel discussion. SPCA Tampa Bay CEO and Chamber Public Policy Council Chair Martha Boden moderated and began the questions by asking Senator Rouson “What were the greatest victories and biggest disappointments this session?” The Senator lauded the return of funding for the arts, improvements to drug and mental health care, and criminal justice reform. His biggest disappointments included the legislation enacting Amendment 4, requiring the payment of restitution for those seeking to have their voting rights restored, and preventing sanctuary cities from being established in the state.
First Year Success
As one of the newest members from Pinellas County to the Legislature, Representative Webb was asked to speak about her experiences and how she was able to be successful as a first year legislator in the minority party. Webb said she relied on her ability to work across the aisle and find issues her Republican colleagues could agree with.
Ascending to Leadership
After congratulating Representative Diamond on his election to lead the Democratic Caucus for 2022-2024, Boden asked him to address how the St. Petersburg Museum of History missed out on funding for an expansion. Diamond, expressed his gratitude to his colleagues and the support of our community and then talked about the budget process and how items like the museum funding are better left to the State Department grant process than to member projects and urged future projects to be applied for earlier in the process.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience and Rep. Wengay Newton responded to a question about Amendment 4 and what the citizens of St. Petersburg could do to fight the law. Newton responded that funds were being set up to help citizens clear the financial barrier to voting and urged people to contribute to those funds.
Other questions ranged from new restrictions on CRAs (Rep. Webb committed that the new rules would not prohibit St. Pete from using CRA funds for social programs), and preemption to “Home Rule” to Health Care (Rep. Newton explained that changes to medicine and the training involved will be coming) and insurance.
A Call for Continued Action
In his closing remarks, Rep. Diamond implored all in attendance to not be discouraged by legislation they disagree with or the lack of funding for a project or cause dear to them. He instead asked that we redouble our efforts. Write the emails. Make the phone calls. Take the Chamber or other organizations’ trips to Tallahassee. Those actions matter and the more Tallahassee sees of the St. Pete community, the more success we will have.
To learn more about how the Chamber’s priorities and other issues fared in the 2019 Legislative Session, click here.