Schools, tourism get boost

Schools, tourism get boost

Special session for our state senator

While new to Keys voters, Sen. Anitere Flores is not new to Tallahassee. She first spent six years in the House in Tallahassee, elected in 2004, before putting in another six years in the Senate. When district lines were redrawn in 2015, she became the Keys’ representative of District 39 after the 2016 election.

It’s natural that as a seasoned professional this 41-year-old wife and mother of two should hold the No. 2 position in the Senate — as Senate President Pro-tem. She’s also the chair of the banking and insurance committee, and the chair of the budget committee for health and human services, overseeing a huge chunk of the state budget. It’s also natural that the politician be extremely busy during last week’s special session called by Gov. Rick Scott.

“Some will say that we got more done in three days than we did during the two months of regular session,” said Flores, laughing. “Initially, the governor tasked us with re-examining funding levels for public schools as well as Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.”

The results:

  • PUBLIC EDUCATION

The state approved spending an additional $100 per student in public schools. The money will go into the districts’ general revenue fund and bring Florida spending up to about $7,000 per student. (In regular session, Florida’s Bright Futures academic scholarships were increased to 100 percent of tuition at state colleges and universities, plus a stipend. That means a free college education for high-performing students. The law is set to be signed by Gov. Scott on June 20.) “My priority is going to be to break down as many of those financial barriers as possible that students have to entering higher education,” Flores told Roll Call earlier this month.

  • VISIT FLORIDA & ENTERPRISE FLORIDA

Both these programs — the first a state tourism agency and the second a state job-incentive agency — were gutted during regular session after a tumble in the turbulent washing machine of politics. Scott, a big supporter of both, managed to restore funding for Visit Florida to about two thirds its former level at $85 million. “The tourism industry is the lifeblood of the Keys, so this can only help,” Flores said.

  • LAKE OKEECHOBEE

Earlier in the year, Scott expressed support for the proposed $200 million project to repair the dike around the water body. Instead, representatives and senators hashed out a deal for $50 million. “That’s important to the Florida Keys because it can help reduce the discharges from Lake Okeechobee and that in turn helps fresh water flow to Florida Bay,” Flores said. “In conjunction with Senate Bill 10 (to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee), you get something that’s really helpful to the Keys.”

  • MEDICAL MARIJUANA

When Scott called the special session for June 7-9, most expected the next words out of his mouth to be “medical marijuana.” Flores said, “It wasn’t a part of the original call, but by the time the special session ended we were able to include the implementation of Amendment 2.” During the special session, officials decided to ban any type of “smoked” marijuana but to allow oils and edibles; iron out the details of procurement — who can grow it and how to get the product to dispensaries; and do away with the 30-day waiting period from the time a physician prescribes medical marijuana to when they can buy it.

The $82.4 billion budget goes into effect on July 1.

 

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