Tuesday, October 13, 2015

St. Johns County Legislative Delegation Meeting

I spoke before our St. Johns County Legislative Delegation -- Senator Travis Hutson, Rep. Cindi Stevenson and Rep. Paul Renner -- this afternoon about the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore proposal. I was speaker number 13 on the agenda, on October 13th, which would have been my late father's 102nd birthday. As we were watching on black and white tv the NASA launches and civil rights news of 1964-65, including St. Augustine and Selma, my father would say: "THIS IS HISTORY."
We can preserve our history, nature and culture and save it for your grandchildren, and their grandchildren, preserving 130,000 acres of current state parks, forests and water management district lands, while saving money in the state budget, bringing in more environmental and historic tourists who spend twice as long and twice as much, while raising your property values some 20% due to proximity to a national park.
What's not to like? What are we waiting for?
I spoke with Senator Hutson and Rep. Stevenson afterwards, and am delighted that the idea first proposed by St. Augustine Mayor Walter Fraser is getting some attention. This is the tenth time I've spoken to our State Legislative Delegation since 2006 (twice in 2015).
New St. Johns County Legislative Delegation 'ready to go'
Posted: October 13, 2015 - 11:37pm | Updated: October 13, 2015 - 11:44pm
More than 20 people approached St. Johns County’s newly formed Legislative Delegation on Tuesday, many seeking support for legislative changes or more funding for social programs.
Delegation members state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, state Rep. Paul Renner and state Sen. Travis Hutson met at the St. Johns County auditorium to elect a chair and vice-chair and to hear from the public.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Stevenson is now the chair, and Hutson is the vice chair.
Stevenson took a house seat left by then-Rep. Doc Renuart, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate District 6 after John Thrasher resigned. Hutson took that seat. Renner was elected to the house seat that Hutson left to run for Senate. All were special elections. Hutson said Stevenson and Renner were able to get laws enacted despite being elected with a short time left in their first session.
“You’re going to see a lot of hard work from this delegation,” Hutson said. “We’re new. We’re energetic. We’re ready to go. We’re eager to learn. We certainly lost some great leaders due to term limits and other various things. But I think over the next six to eight years, you’ll see us get more and more experienced and eager to take on more and more big priorities.”
About 40 people were in the crowd, many of them officials from other boards or agencies.
One of the first orders of business for the delegation was to discuss some proposed measures.
One proposed bill would rename a section of state law as “Carl’s Law” in honor of an autistic man who authorities say was killed near his St. Augustine home. Two teenagers from Jacksonville have been charged in his death.
“A lot of people were deeply saddened by what happened,” Stevenson said.
Also, the St. Augustine-St. Johns County Airport Authority is looking for support to change the group’s name to the St. Johns County Airport Authority and to create a stipend for elected members as long as the district does not collect ad valorem taxes. A draft of that bill will come before the delegation for review, officials said.
Other requests
■ St. Augustine Commissioner Todd Neville said the city plans to ask for support to upgrade sewer service in West Augustine, citing concerns about septic systems that could fail. He also said the city is pushing for a upgrades to the Lightner building on King Street and the former city Waterworks building near May Street and San Marco Avenue.
■ St. Johns County School Board Chair Bev Slough requested support for several funding items, including a Public Education Capital Outlay construction allocation and funding to meet digital classrooms requirements.
■ Several leaders of health care and social services agencies such as Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare and The Arc of the St. Johns called for continued or increased funding and legislative changes.
■ In response to a request for reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, Hutson said he expects action from the state soon.
“You are going to see a movement of smart justice probably from both chambers. ... I think we hear you loud and clear and we’re working on addressing those issues,” Hutson said.
■ Troy Blevins, president of the board of directors at Home Again St. Johns, plans to request support for its efforts. Home Again St. Johns is working on bringing a one-stop homeless services center to State Road 207.

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