State Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (D-District 25) reported on the recent legislative session to the Wellington Village Council last week, highlighting the Florida Senate’s unanimous approval of an $82.3 billion budget, the largest in state history.
“We had a pretty decent legislative session,” Abruzzo said. “I don’t know any governmental body in America that you can say a budget like that passed unanimously, Democrats and Republicans working together. We did that based on the fact that we think we are moving in the right direction as far as money for public education is concerned. We implemented the most funding for public education in the history of our state.”
Although some have said it’s still not enough, Abruzzo said it is moving in the right direction, adding that there are identifiable projects in the budget that will benefit Wellington residents.
About $400,000 will go to Alzheimer’s care locally, and almost $600,000 will go to the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health, Palm Beach County’s community mental health center.
“We have hundreds of thousands of dollars going to Place of Hope for human trafficking and those really dealing with some of life’s crises, and we work very hard… as a team to make sure that they have funding,” said Abruzzo, who served as minority whip this session. “Overall, I think our budget is robust. It meets the needs of our constituents, and I’m happy to report that we passed it in the fashion that we did.”
The Senate also passed bills important to the League of Cities, including a public records bill to protect municipalities from those who file misleading public records requests with frivolous lawsuits behind them.
“We passed it in the Senate this year, but it died in messages over to the House,” Abruzzo said. “I do believe we will get this done in the next legislative session. Politics got in the way a little bit… but that is something that needs to be done, because you should not be held hostage to those types of frivolous lawsuits.”
Lawmakers also passed a private/public partnership bill that he said will benefit Wellington.
“We really pulled back the reins and gave it back to you in that you can do public/private partnerships with local business communities or residents without the state interfering,” he said. “I think that’s another great step in the right direction.”
They also passed several water bills.
“We’re having an aggressive stance looking at our water policy over the next decade,” Abruzzo said. “Our incoming president, Sen. Joe Negron from right here in Palm Beach County, has a strong stance on making sure we do everything we can for water quality, so there were a number of bills passed to help strengthen that.”
He also mentioned other bills that passed, including one to protect people who have had injunctions filed to prevent someone from making contact with them.
“When that injunction is violated, it is a misdemeanor… if it’s violated a million times, it’s still a misdemeanor,” he said. “The perpetrators find out pretty quick that it is a slap on the wrist. We just passed a bill and the governor signed it into law that after the third offense, it will become a felony.”
They also passed a law for Palm Beach County modeled after a Broward County law allowing the waiving of fees to veterans for admission to public parks and for public transportation.
However, the legislature did not pass a healthcare bill to receive money through the Affordable Care Act.
“We in the Senate passed what we affectionately call ‘Negron Care,’ which was just implementation for us to get the money from the Affordable Care Act, not that you support it or are against it,” he said. “That issue aside, we’re leaving about $51 billion on the table, so the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, passed 39-to-1 an implementing bill just so that we can get our money to make sure that our citizens here in Florida have that. That was two years ago. Last year, we did the same thing. This year, we did not even take it up because the House was not going to, and Gov. Scott said he was not going to sign it.”
Abruzzo, who sits on the Healthcare Committee, said the legislature has been financing healthcare programs from the general fund.
“But there’s about 800,000 who do not have healthcare because we are not accepting that money,” he said.
Abruzzo said that he will continue to work hard representing Wellington in Tallahassee.
“Anything that I can do as a senator, we are a team, and I know some of you here are new, but I’m here to work beside you,” he said. “I cannot stand to see unfunded mandates coming down to you, and dumping it on you and saying, ‘It’s your problem.’”
Abruzzo also thanked the council for affording him an office in the Wellington Municipal Complex, and offered the same invitation when council members visit Tallahassee.
“My office is literally your office, so when you are in Tallahassee, it extends to that,” he said.