State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) made a presentation to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council on Thursday, May 16, bringing the council up to date regarding the recently ended legislative session in Tallahassee.
“This year, we passed a budget of $91.1 billion,” Willhite explained. “The governor has vowed to veto about $100 million, so we are talking about a $91 billion budget for the State of Florida. We have a growing population and growing needs. We have had a lot of things happen. One of the most significant things is hurricanes Michael and Irma. There are areas that are still devastated. Areas that can still not get crops in the ground. Washington is not getting along, and it is affecting Florida.”
Willhite spoke about legislation regarding Alzheimer’s disease that he is working on with other sponsors. The legislation was introduced on the floor in January and passed the house on April 26. The bill increases membership of the Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee; revises representative requirements of the committee; requires the committee to submit an annual report to specified parties that includes specific information and recommendations; requires the Department of Elder Affairs to review and update the Alzheimer’s disease state plan every three years in collaboration with certain groups; provides requirements for the plan; establishes specified memory disorder clinics; and provides that certain clinics shall not receive decreased funding.
“As you well know, Alzheimer’s doesn’t affect a specific population, party or gender, but affects everyone equally. It is so devastating, especially to family members,” Willhite said.
Cancer is unusually prevalent with firefighters, and Willhite has been fighting to make sure they are covered by insurance.
“I know that some of our cities are concerned about future costs, but we secured something this year that hasn’t happened since 2004 in the State of Florida. We were one of the last states in this nation to give and provide cancer coverage to our firefighters,” he said. “Two out of three firefighters in this country are stricken with some form of cancer. It’s the byproducts of things like the seats you are sitting on. The carpet and the synthetics they are absorbing [during a fire]. They work for you, they work for me. They protect us all. We want to make sure they have medical coverage.”
When it comes to correctional officers, Willhite worked on a bill that prohibits certain lewd or lascivious acts in the presence of correctional personnel. “It is designed to protect correctional officers in prisons and county jails,” he explained.
Willhite has also worked on local legislative priorities for the communities he represents.
“We were able to secure about $500,000 for the Royal Palm Beach Canal System Rehabilitation Project that you have going,” he said. “Let’s hope that is not on the veto block. So, hopefully, that will help you a little bit there.”
Willhite was not happy about certain legislation that passed. “We passed legislation last year that talked about safety in the schools — making sure we have more barriers in our schools, protecting them and having more resource officers,” he said. “This county has done a lot of work putting resource officers in every school. We continue to hire resource officers and grow their agencies so we can protect our students. But something the legislature did this year is allow teachers to carry guns in schools. I philosophically don’t think it is the right thing.”
Willhite does not believe it will make schools safer for children.
“I have two kids in public school. I have one in fourth grade and one in sixth grade. The day we debated in the Florida House of Representatives, a school police officer, a very well-trained person, accidentally discharged his gun in the cafeteria,” he said. “Now that could have been any teacher in a classroom. It could have been any person. We need to limit guns in schools. To give a teacher back $500 for purchasing a gun? We should give $500 for reimbursing the teacher for supplies she buys… Teachers should be teaching. They should be nurturing. They should be mentoring. They should be counseling. They should be guiding.”
Willhite, meanwhile, is monitoring the national situation regarding undocumented immigrants.
“Regarding sanctuary cities, recently the federal government has announced they may be sending around the country a lot of undocumented immigrants after they process them,” he said. “We may get some here in Palm Beach County. This is a federal issue. Again, those in Washington cannot work together. They are still not fixing the problem and putting the burden on us.”