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Previewing the 2015 Legislative Session with Rep. Janet Cruz

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In anticipation of the 2015 Legislative Session, FloridaPolitics.com is asking state lawmakers about their goals and priorities — and whether they support controversial issues in the state.

Here are the responses from Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa.

In one word, how would you describe your expectations for the Session, i.e. “Excited?”

 “Expansion.”

What’s a local issue you are making a priority this Session?

 “The Tampa Bay Area is in a tremendous position for growth over the next decade, and a big part of that is the revitalization of our downtown, thanks to the diligent work of Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeffrey Vinik and Mayor Bob Buckhorn amongst others. A crucial peg of this plan is the new USF Medical School that would be located in downtown. An important priority this session will be to make sure that we have the funding necessary to continue the extraordinary work being done. This is a great opportunity to showcase the Bay Area to the rest of the world, and we will not disappoint.”

Are there special appropriations you are pushing for this Session?

“Hillsborough Community College is one of the leading community colleges in our state. HCC serves over 44,000 students, and employs nearly 2,400 people. I know from experience that HCC offers opportunities for people from all walks of life to get an education that could lead to promising careers. While much good is already being done at HCC, this year’s budget gives us an opportunity to build state-of-the-art facility that would house primary care and diagnostic allied programs. The Allied Health Building would provide hands on training and course offerings for the following programs: Nursing, Emergency Medical Services, Nuclear Medicine, Radiation Therapy, Sonography, Radiography, and Respiratory Care. These kinds of investments are important to prepare the next generation of health care professionals here in the state of Florida.”

How would you find a way to expand health care coverage to the nearly 1 million Floridians left without coverage as a result of not expanding Medicaid?

“In policy, sometimes the simplest and most obvious answers are the best. Instead of trying to find ways of piecing together a plan, the Legislature should do right by the people of Florida and expand Medicaid coverage. The failure to expand Medicaid hits working families in Florida the hardest and there should be no reason for it. I am eager to work with members of both parties to expand coverage to the nearly 1 million people who need our help.”

Do you support Sen. Jeff Brandes’ medical marijuana bill? Greg Steube’s version in the House? Why? Why not?

“Last year’s referendum on medical marijuana convinced me of two things: Many Floridians overwhelmingly support medical marijuana as a potential treatment for serious and chronic conditions, yet many Floridians are equally concerned about expanding access to marijuana by persons attempting to game the system for illegal or non-medical uses. I support legislation that would allow for physician prescribed medical marijuana for those patients truly in need, while also safeguarding against illegal and non-medical uses.”

How do you think the ongoing debate over 64-ounce growlers should be solved?

“By not allowing containers larger than 32 ounces we are putting businesses in our state at a disadvantage. Growlers of 32, 64, and 128 ounces should be permitted for sale by properly licensed vendors as long as the process put in place to inform and protect the consumers is adhered to.”

Would you support allowing grocery stores and other retailers to sell alcohol along with beer and wine inside existing stores by removing the law requiring a stand alone store? Why or why not?

“No, I would not support this provision. I think it is unsound public policy. The primary reason for having stand-alone stores is to limit access to hard liquor by minors. It is much more difficult for a minor to walk into a liquor store and attempt to purchase alcohol as they are more closely watched than in a larger store. As a mother and grandmother, I have an obligation to ensure that our children are safe and sound.”

Recent surveys have shown teachers and parents are largely frustrated with the state’s public education system. What would you do to improve morale among teachers, education professionals, parents, and students?

 The way to improve morale is to ensure predictability. Our No. 1 goal is to create an environment conducive to learning, and that begins with all stakeholders, teachers, administrators, parents, and students on the same page. I would work with individuals at all levels of our public education system to ensure that our teachers, students, and their families understand what is asked of them. Having clear academic goals is a necessity. We should also recognize the amazing work that our teachers do in this state by paying them a competitive wage, and by ensuring them that their pensions will be there for them in the long run.

As the state continues its transition to the new Florida standards instead of the Next Generation Sunshine State standards and previous Sunshine State Standards, many teachers worry the new more difficult standards will be difficult for both students and teachers to adapt to. What would you propose the state do to help the transition?  

“I have heard from parents, teachers, and district supervisors on this issue; and they agree that the level of uncertainty is a tremendous burden for all of those involved. We are not giving our students the best opportunity to learn and succeed. The new Florida standards are creating an environment where parents and teachers are unsure how their students will be assessed. What should be done is to decouple the high stakes placed on our students taking these tests until we can consider how these standards will affect students across the state. At the very least we need to lengthen the transition process.”

What do you think the state’s role in regulating rideshares like Uber and Lyft should be? How can the state help regulate the industry so both Uber and taxi companies can compete?

“Our state is one of the most diverse in the country. North Florida is very different from South Florida. We have very cosmopolitan cities, and we also have small towns that are rich in history and tradition. The transportation needs of our state vary greatly depending on location, and deciding on what is the best way forward for Florida will take a collaborative effort. I very much look forward to hearing from all stakeholders during this upcoming session.” 

What is an issue you wish received more attention?

“This month, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released data that showed that Florida women who worked full time earned 82.3% of what men took home in 2013. In the 21st century should there be any reason why a woman makes less than a man? Women make up over half of the workforce, and play an integral role in our state and national economy. It is time that our mothers, daughters, and sisters, are paid a wage equal to their efforts.

“I am proud to sponsor the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act, which would require the Department of Economic Opportunity to collect and make publicly available information on women’s pay, ensure that companies receiving state contracts comply with requirements relating to equal employment opportunity, distribute information about women’s workplace rights, investigate and prosecute violations of laws requiring equal pay, and help women obtain remedies for pay discrimination.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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