Q: Now that session is completed, can you give us some updates?
A: We had a good session. There were lots of bipartisan bills passed, but there is still plenty of work to do.
Q: How did your bills that we talked about last month fare (as of interview date of May 15)?
A: For the voter privacy bill, we were able to protect the minors (16 and 17 year olds who have pre-registered to vote) by having their contact information taken out of public records, but the language that would have shielded the phone numbers and email numbers for all voters was not passed due to opposition in the Senate. Public records exceptions have to pass with a two-thirds vote. This bill is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.
House Bill 25, the ambulatory surgical center bill, went to the Senate, but it didn’t get passed as an individual bill. We were able to get an increase in the length of stay at these outpatient facilities to be a full 24 hours, so there is still work to be done but I’m happy with this expansion.
The language from my Peer Specialist bill passed in a different bill, as part of HB 369, along with some Sober Homes reform.
Finally the language from HB1043, the Cyber Harassment bill, passed with identical language in the Senate version of the bill, SB 1136. This bill also awaits the governor’s signature.
Q: What can you tell us about the budget that was passed?
A: Education is very important and this year we had a $242 increase in per student allocation, which includes $75 per student that can be used completely at local school boards’ discretion for teacher raises and additional programs. This is the biggest increase we have had in a long time.
The budget also includes some flexibility in Best and Brightest, the teacher bonus program and removed the SAT and ACT requirement. There is now some flexibility in the use of local millage for construction and some additional funding for Community Partnership Schools, of which we have two in St. Johns County.
Q: What are some other benefits in the budget this year for St. Johns County?
A: We received more money for the West Augustine septic to sewer program; funding for more outpatient mental health services; money for dune restoration needed in North Ponte Vedra Beach after Hurricane Irma; and funding for a resiliency project to prevent damage in the event of a flood to Flagler College. Again in Ponte Vedra Beach, $500,000 was allocated to work on A1A intersection to improve traffic flow without widening A1A (basically adding turn lanes.) Also, six additional detox beds for the EPIC Recovery Center were funded, which was a priority of the St. Johns County delegation.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
A: Readers can email me at Cyndi.Stevenson@myfloridahouse.gov or call my local office at (904) 823-2300.