County leaders go to Tallahassee – Washington County Day at the Legislature celebrated
JAY FELSBERG – Managing Editor
TALLAHASSEE – A group of Washington County leaders were on hand Thursday in Tallahassee as Washington County Day at the Legislature was celebrated. The trip not only gave the county an opportunity to show off what Washington County could offer, but also gave leaders an opportunity to meet with legislators and government officials.
Guest speaker was Public Service Commissioner Katrina J. McMurrian. The 1991 Chipley graduate was appointed to the PSC in 2006 by Gov. Jeb Bush. She had a long career working for the five-member PSC prior to her appointment as commissioner.
McMurrian discussed several issues including a telecommunications bill that would make certain firms subject to less regulation and recognize the increasing competition between cable and wireless. The legislation would also increase the threshold for the Lifeline system from 125 percent to 150 percent of poverty level income, making the system available to more Floridians.
Also on hand were Florida Electric Cooperatives Association Director of Legislative Affairs Michel Bjorkland and Gulf Power Governmental Affairs Manager Carl Pyunko. Bjorkland noted that a challenge facing power companies are increasing numbers of indoor “grow houses” that steal electricity to grow marijuana indoors. Bjorkland called the facilities “very sophisticated,” and said they added to about $2 million lost to power thieves by Florida electric co-ops in 2008.
Republican State Rep. Brad Drake, who represents Washington County, was busy in the House session as he added by voice vote an amendment to the budget providing $23 million for small county road paving and construction projects. “The original amount was $45 million and that was reduced to $3 million,” Drake said. “We got $20 million returned.”
Drake also expressed his difficulties with HR 7031, a bill that is about to clear the floor. While both Drake and State Rep. Jimmy Patronis said the bill had good provisions, it also contains provisions that would limit the ability of small rural counties to compete with larger counties.
The bill is designed to enable Florida counties to compete for business and industry with Alabama and Georgia by providing new incentives. The bill, however, negates advantages given to Rural Counties of Critical Economic Concerns like Washington County.
“The bill is disingenuous to small counties,” Drake said. Patronis compared it to “bringing a knife to a gunfight,” and said it would not provide a fair playing field.