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What does our area need?

By LIZ HARDAWAY

STAFF WRITER

PUNTA GORDA — Our state representatives are taking a laundry list of requests back with them to Tallahassee.

Tuesday, State Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) and Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) heard a diverse group of perspectives Tuesday morning at the Charlotte County Legislative Delegation meeting.

“Charlotte County has a lot of challenges,” Albritton said. He plans to focus this session on working with the Department of Children and Families to develop further legislation, and to address water quality issues in the state.

Gruters will put most of his focus also on water quality legislation, like red tide mitigation, providing penalties to wastewater treatment facilities that unlawfully discharged sewage into certain areas and increasing funding for Florida Forever, a land conservation initiative by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

He will also resubmit an Animal Welfare bill from last session that allows veterinarians to report animal abuse and prohibits a person from tethering a dog outside during hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Grant’s main priority this session will be to ensure Community Action Treatment Team, or CAT Team, funding. These CAT Teams provide mental health and substance abuse services to youth.

There were a total of 38 speakers at Tuesday’s legislative delegation meeting.

“That group brought attention to a lot of issues,” Grant said. “It reaffirms how diverse the needs are of the community.”

Elected speakers included Charlotte County Commission Chair Ken Doherty, Charlotte County School Board Chair Bob Segur, Punta Gorda Mayor Nancy Prafke and Charlotte County Airport Authority Chair Pam Seay.

Here are some other key takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting:

THE ENVIRONMENT

The largest request made Tuesday was from Debi Osborne with the Conservation Foundation of the Florida Gulf Coast.

The land trust requested $300 million for the land acquisition trust fund.

SEE FUNDING, 4A


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“Conserved land ensures our drinking water is clean and abundant,” Osborne said. “Within Charlotte County there are numerous properties remaining on the Florida Forever List.” This includes additions to the Charlotte Harbor estuary and a 600,000 acre ranch with a drinking water supply. Charlotte County is making a funding request for its central sewer expansion project, as well as legislation that would give property owners incentive to connect to reclaimed water lines. Doherty also expressed support for funding to further monitor our waterways, including studies on the impact of discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

“We collect a lot of data already,” he said, but “we want data accumulated for when something happens upstream.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Lehman, the executive director of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, told representatives his organization plans to submit a $1.5 million request to expand the reservoir system for an alternative water supply.

EDUCATION

The Charlotte County School Board is hoping to continue enhancing its workforce program, particularly its Airframe and Powerplant certification program, or A&P program. The school board already had its preliminary meetings with the Federal Aviation Administration for this program, which must give its approval for the program.

“We’re looking for your continued support,” school board chair Bob Segur told representatives. “We’re counting on that.”

Referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement Monday to pay teachers more, Segur also asked representatives for support in funding teacher recruitment and retention.

“If we have quality teachers in every classroom, then every child will have a better opportunity to succeed,” Segur said.

At the collegiate level, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Director of Government Relations Jennifer Goen requested approximately $16 million for the remaining construction of its Integrative Watershed and Coastal Building.

“That will help with the documented space needs we have to get the kids done on time,” Goen said. This building will also house their Water School. “With all the problems we’ve had in the area, in the region, we definitely see a need for that.”

Jeff Albritten, president of Florida SouthWestern State College, requested additional funds to increase graduation rates while helping students avoid debt.

COURTS

There are over 460 abused children in Charlotte County served by the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida, according to its CEO Nadereh Salim.

“It’s quite alarming,” Salim said, with the rate of served teens 14 and older increasing. “We are not equipped for that population,” she said, noting these children have serious behavioral issues.

Aside from the agency’s mass adoption event in late November, the Children’s Network is requesting additional funding, since they said they’re “$12 million underfunded.”

For our elderly, Kirsten O’Donnell with the Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Florida noted their $10.6 million request for additional funding to support in-home services for seniors.

“Most seniors want to stay at home,” O’Donnell said, promising taxpayers more than $100 million in long-term savings in Medicare costs.

Ita Neymotin, with the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, oversees 140 attorneys and staff that take cases from the public defender’s office in 14 Florida counties.

The office was created in 2007 to save taxpayer dollars, Neymotin said. It has saved $348 million to date while providing “adequate representation in a fiscally sound manner,” information from the Florida Legislature states.

Neymotin mainly asked for pay increases for attorneys and staff who “didn’t receive them last year.” She also requested funds for updated technology and in-house education programs.

Shawn Kolanda, neighbor of slain 15-year-old Khyler Edman, who authorities said died protecting his 5-year-old sister, told representatives about “Khyler’s Law.” The proposed law would take habitual offenders with 10 or more convictions in Florida “permanently off the streets,” according to the “Khyler’s Law” Facebook page.

“So that no one has to go through this event in their life,” Kolanda said Tuesday. Email: Liz.Hardaway@yoursun. com

ALBRITTON

GRANT

GRUTERS

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