State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen is offering her Southwest Florida constituents a list achievements of the 2017 Legislative Session, which ended May 8.
During the last two weeks of Session, the Fort Myers Republican said in an email that lawmakers spent a majority of time on House floor debating the state’s “Tax Package” and the upcoming budget, which is now on its way to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.
“I am proud of the unified approach we took in the Florida House to solve important issues that affect everyday Floridians,” Fitzenhagen writes. “We helped to pass meaningful tax cuts, including an increase in the Homestead Tax Exemption, which is projected to save Floridians about $644.7 million. Additionally, we protected our beaches and waterways and supported Florida’s future by voting to increase K-12 spending.”
Most importantly for Fitzenhagen, lawmakers fulfilled their constitutional requirement by passing “a balanced $82.4 billion fiscally responsible budget.”
Fitzenhagen then offered a brief glimpse of some of the budget that will directly benefit her House District 78, which covers Fort Myers, parts of Lehigh Acres and Estero.
In the Agriculture, Natural Resource and Transportation budgets, Fort Myers Billy’s Creek Restoration would get $775,000; Good Wheels, Inc. is slated for $225,516 for route scheduling software. The Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida would get $400,000, and the Lee Board of County Commissioners UF/IFAS gets $74,319.
The City of Fort Myers Community Violence Reduction Initiative will also get $350,000.
As for higher education, the budget gives Florida Gulf Coast University $15 million for a new classroom and lab building, $1.5 million for a new Honors College and $1 million for new degree programs. FGCU’s WGCU public media station also would receive another $1.8 million for a transmission tower replacement.
Florida Southwestern State College gets $6.3 million For The final phase of renovations to the Lee County campus.
Other budgetary highlights include:
General Government Budget
Centennial Park Playground Equipment Replacement — $228,000
Fort Myers Gulf Coast Multi-Use Trail Feasibility Study — $600,000
McCollum Hall Preservation — $500,000
Health and Human Services Budget
Ft. Myers Salvation Army — $165,000
SalusCare (Lee Mental Health) — $750,000
Saluscare (Reach Institute Behavioral Health Services) — $442,709
Southwest Florida Autism Center $62,000
Fitzenhagen also praised the budget for returning $1.3 billion to Floridians, which include a tax-cut package of back-to-school sales tax holiday, sales tax exemption for boat trailers for the Edison Sailing Center, a reduction in the business rent tax, among others (HB 7109).
As Chair of the Florida Legislative Women’s Caucus, Fitzenhagen also helped pass a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products.
Fitzenhagen also highlighted a few of the most important bills passed to help Southwest Floridians, including SB 10, the much-heralded bill establishing “options for creating additional water storage” south of Lake Okeechobee. A priority of Senate President Joe Negron, the bill would allow for the construction of a water storage reservoir south of Lake O, to hold runoff water and help prevent algae blooms in nearby estuaries.
Another success was HJR 7105, which seeks to increase the Florida homestead exemption from nonschool property taxes by $25,000 in assessed value between $100,000 and up to $125,000.
“Voters deserve to decide to implement the extension and give homeowners this tax relief,” Fitzenhagen wrote.
Fitzenhagen also praised the passage of landmark ride-sharing regulation (HB 221), which creates a statewide framework companies like Uber and Lyft, creating a “more competitive and predictable marketplace to ultimately benefit consumers.”
Other bills include the Murder Witness Confidentiality (HB 111), creating a public-records exemption for identifying information about murder witnesses. Fitzenhagen also applauded the Newborn Screen Legislation (SB 1124), designed to ensure “all newborns are screened, tested, and diagnosed as early as possible; providing patients to the earliest access to lifesaving therapies, saving money and lives.”