Monday, January 28, 2013

Local social service agency leaders make their case before Pinellas County Legislative Delegation

Posted By on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 at 3:04 PM

The public met the politicians at todays Pinellas Legislative Delegation meeting
  • The public met the politicians at today's Pinellas Legislative Delegation meeting
Every year both the Hillsborough and Pinellas county legislative delegations (and presumably every Florida county) host a meeting prior to the legislative session where lawmakers and the public can review previously submitted pieces of legislation that affect the two counties.

On Monday, dozens of people — most of them representatives of local social service agencies— had three minutes to remind lawmakers that they should remember the public when making policy decisions, especially when it comes to allocating funds.

That's not to say such leaders were as crass as to actually ask for more money when given their moment. In some cases, however, they did advocate not losing funds in 2013.

When Judith Warren from the Eckerd Community Alternatives took the stand, she complained about the woeful funding that child welfare gets from the state.

Her comments fired up Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the local delegation, who said Pinellas is the lowest funded county in Florida when it comes to child welfare.

"We need to make this a priority," the longtime legislator exclaimed. "This is a specific issue that we don't want to come back to ... it's embarrassing for this delegation."

Mental health advocate April Lott asked that mental health programs not be cut this year. She said Florida ranks 49th out of the 50 states in terms of mental health.

"We cannot afford to lose $1," she said.

She also asked that the Department of Children and Families not put all mental health and substance abuse programs out to bid. She said because the Affordable Care Act is about to go into full effect, such a move would be unnecessary, time consuming and costly.

Gay Hawk with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) complained that every year it's a fight not to lose funding for mental health care, but she was explicit in stating, "I'm not asking for funding" — she simply requested that the lawmakers not forget about NAMI.

The only public speaker who was allowed to go beyond three minutes was Tom McGrady, the chief judge in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. He discussed several issues including the fact that his judges — like every other state employee — haven't had a pay raise in six years. He said morale was low and he's losing more people to the private sector all the time.

"It's time to get some type of pay increase," he said.

Tampa/St. Pete state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, who has served on the Justice Appropriations Committee for more than a decade, sympathized with the judge.

"I share your pain," she said.

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