Lawmakers hone goals for new session
NEW PORT RICHEY - Local lawmakers are using committee meetings this week as a springboard for their ideas for legislation. State Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, a charter school teacher and administrator, is eager to begin work as chairman of the Senate Education Committee when the Florida Legislature opens its session March 5. State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, back in the House after term limits barred him from seeking another term in the Senate, is promoting reforms for assisted living facilities, Medicaid expansion and strengthening Citizens Insurance Property Corp. Freshman state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Dade City, will lead the community affairs committee. The businessman and egg farmer tested the waters with a bill concerning theft of utility services, which he filed on Wednesday.State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, is serving as chairman of two House committees, Health and Human Services and the select committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Legg hailed good news last week in Education Week's 2013 Quality Counts report, but he believes reforms can make Florida schools even better. As chairman of the Florida Senate Committee on K-20 Education Policy, Legg pointed out that Florida jumped five spots to No. 6 in Education Week rankings. "In the past few years Florida's education system has faced the strain of economic downturn but done everything possible to maintain high-quality education for our students," Legg said. The Education Week report "demonstrates that Florida is meeting the challenge head-on and working diligently as we move into full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to prepare all students to be globally competitive for college and careers." At one time, Florida ranked near the bottom for education quality, Legg said. Meanwhile, Fasano wants to help raise the standard of care and safety of residents in assisted living facilities, or ALFs. His proposal would require an ALF to obtain a limited mental health license if any resident has mental health issues. He wants local and state agencies to report abuse, neglect and exploitation of residents in ALFs. Facilities with a history of violations would pay higher license fees, Fasano said. He also would increase administrative and criminal penalties for violations, among other provisions. Changes would "bring a greater peace of mind to loved ones who are faced with the decision to place a friend or family member into an ALF," Fasano said.