BRAD DRAKE speaks individually with attendees at the Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF) July 19 regular general membership meeting at Cantina Laredo in Grand Boulevard. (Photo by Dotty Nist)
By DOTTY NIST
“We passed the most open and transparent budget in the history of the state,” Florida Representative Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna) told Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF) members and guests.
Drake was featured speaker at the WRWF’s July 19 regular general membership meeting at Cantina Laredo in Grand Boulevard.
Drake spoke at length about the budget and about bills that passed and did not pass in this year’s legislative session. He noted that the budget totaled $82.4 billion, about a two-percent increase from that of the current fiscal year. A total of $3.2 billion was placed in reserves for the new fiscal year, Drake explained.
He noted that the budget provides for $1.5 billion going to the eight Northwest Florida counties in connection with the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Drake explained that with this year’s budget there was a requirement to ensure that projects would not recur without an annual review.
The budget provides for full funding of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida Drake continued. He noted that Florida Kid Care is fully funded as well.
Drake discussed SB 90 (Renewable Energy Source Devices), which was approved in the Florida Legislature and has been signed by Gov. Rick Scott, providing for a property tax exemption in connection with installation of solar panels. He also referenced HB 1233 (Cottage Food Operations), which increases from $15,000 to $50,000 the annual gross sales limitation for exemption of cottage food operations from certain food and building permitting requirements that are imposed on other food operations.
Drake brought up HB 425 (Vacation Rentals), a bill that did not pass, which would have authorized local laws, ordinances, or regulations in connection with vacation rentals under some circumstances. He asked attendees for their opinion on the legislation and whether it is appropriate for a homeowner in a residential neighborhood to rent or lease out their home.
While there was sentiment in favor of a homeowner’s ability to do so, the feeling was also expressed that rentals, especially short-term rentals, in residential neighborhoods may have negative impacts on other homeowners in those neighborhoods and their quiet enjoyment of their property.
Cindy Meadows, club officer, commented that it may be difficult to “draw the line,” in these instances between protection of the rights of the person wanting to rent out their property and neighbors’ rights—particularly since local governments’ hands are currently tied by the state with regard to being able to regulate properties that are rented out in a different manner than those occupied by homeowners. She urged for more local authority in connection with these situations.
Drake spoke of a bill that has passed, SB 396, which ensures that colleges and universities provide students with “truth in borrowing” information on students loans and how much the students will owe in the future.
Also passing was SB 436, which prohibits a school district from discriminating against students, parents, or school personnel on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression. Drake said he believed the impetus for this bill had been an instance of a teacher having a student remove a cross necklace that the student had worn to school.
“I think by and large we had a very productive session for this year,” Drake told the group. He conveyed thanks for the opportunity to serve in the legislature “and be your voice and advocate.”
Walton County Tax Collector/club member Rhonda Skipper announced that Artie Rodriguez, also a new WRWF associate member, had recently joined her office as director of administration.
Another announcement was that jewelry made by club members would be sold at the Walton County Fair, with proceeds supporting educational grants going to Walton County registered Republican women. A new focus for the club’s educational grants program is technical and vocational education for women of all ages.
Walton County Commissioner Chairwoman/club member Cecilia Jones extended an invitation to members to attend the business leader forums that are being held by the county in connection with oil spill funds coming to the county. She noted that plans are for these meetings to be held monthly.