Legislators representing Bay County said their bills that passed — including the Triumph Gulf Coast legislation that will bring $1.5 billion to the Panhandle in the coming years for projects that boost the local economy and tourism — could have long-lasting positive impacts on Bay County.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Local legislators said they had a successful session even though most of their bills didn’t pass.
The ones that did pass — including the Triumph Gulf Coast legislation that will bring $1.5 billion to the Panhandle in the coming years for projects that boost the local economy and tourism — could have long-lasting positive impacts on Bay County, members of the local legislative delegation said.
In addition, millions of dollars ended up in the latest budget proposal to pay for a wide range of local projects.
“I thought this was my most successful session yet, with the passage of my Triumph bill being my biggest priority this year,” said Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City.
Unless it’s vetoed by Gov. Rich Scott, the Triumph bill would release $300 million from the BP lawsuit settlement to the eight Panhandle counties most affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including Bay County. Another $1.2 billion is slated to be paid out through 2033 should the governor not veto the bill.
Among the bills Trumbull filed this session that did not pass included a program that would have budgeted $2 million to market Florida to tourists and a bill that would have substantially reduced worker’s compensation rates, which passed the House but not the Senate. He said that was a big disappointment and he plans to reintroduce the legislation next year.
As for Trumbull’s bills that did pass, House Bill 505 allows Parkinson’s disease patients to take Ioflupane I 123, which helps doctors diagnose the disease earlier.
“I have some friends that have Parkinson’s and their doctors were not able to use the medicine in the state of Florida, so now we’re going to be able to,” he said.
Trumbull’s House Bill 3635 appropriations bill passed, allocating more than $547,000 for Poston Drive roadway improvements, a project the city of Callaway requested.
“It is a dirt road right now that has a lot of sediment that goes into the bay,” Trumbull said.
Trumbull’s House Bill 3059 also passed, providing $1.74 million for Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart under the disproportionate share hospital funding.
Trumbull said he also was able to successfully advocate for $5 million being put into the budget for Gulf Coast State College’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building, and his House Bill 3633 provides $1.9 million in funds for a forensic diving program at Florida State University.
State Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, a freshman, also said it was a productive session.
Among his bills that didn’t make it through both chambers was one that would release a driver from liability if they unintentionally injure or kill a protester who goes out in the road and another that would establish a competitive grant program for rural hospitals.
But Gainer said the budget that passed included many projects in his district, as well as pay raises for Highway Patrol officers.
“Working together, the entire Northwest Florida legislative delegation was able to score victory after victory for our region,” Gainer said. “Our unified efforts mean the people of Northwest Florida will greatly benefit as a result of the 2017 legislative session.”
Sen. Jack Latvala, Senate appropriations chairman, praised Gainer’s first session in a prepared statement.
“I respect and appreciate Sen. Gainer’s passion and commitment to Senate District 2,” he stated. “As Senate Appropriations Chairman, I witnessed firsthand his tireless efforts on behalf of his constituency.”
Until the last few days of the session, Gainer and Trumbull negotiated to secure $300 million of oil spill funding. That money, to be disbursed under the Gulf Coast Economic Corridor Act, will be used for projects and programs that will help transform the area’s economy, Gainer said.
The Legislature also funded $4.6 million for the Panama City beaches shore protection project.
Gainer said a few other notable budget items are: $9.5 million for infrastructure improvements and dredging at the Port of Panama City; $350,000 for a public safety administration building in Marianna; $19 million for a K-8 school in Marianna to replace three older schools; $2.7 million for renovations to a Northwest Florida State College building; and $200,000 for a civil and industrial engineering program at Chipola College.
Gainer said his years of working in the car sales business helped in negotiations this session.
“I had to rely on a lot of my negotiating skills from my business life rather than some of the process and procedure,” Gainer said. “I had a ton of help from Jack Latvala, who is the appropriations chairman, which enabled me to bring back to my district a lot more than most senators. We really did well.”
Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, also said he was pleased with how the session went.
Drake’s House Bill 307 that passed increases the amount the state’s health insurance guaranty organization would have to pay out to someone with a major medical or life insurance bill in the event an insurance company goes bankrupt. The increase is from $300,000 to $500,000.
“It’s a good consumer bill,” he said.
Drake’s House Bill 529, the Soldiers Memorial Protection Act, didn’t pass, but its language was incorporated into another bill that did pass.
“It says if someone desecrates a gravesite of a veteran, or a memorial marker, or a monument, then they are subject to a felony,” Drake said. “It’s currently a misdemeanor.”
Drake also said he was pleased the budget included a $1,400 raise for state employees, as well as other projects such as $1 million for State 79 improvements in the Chipley area and $800,000 to make Bonifay Memorial Park compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And his House Bill 185 reduces fees to state parks and campgrounds for families operating a licensed foster home and those who adopt special needs children.