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Previewing the legislative session with state Rep. Ross Spano

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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 some controversial issues in the state..

Here are the responses from Brandon state Rep. Ross Spano:

In one word, how would you describe your expectations for the session?

“Optimistic.”

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

“Although the issue of human trafficking is not exclusively a local one, it has a significant local impact. With all the good done through legislative initiatives over the last few years (e.g., the Safe Harbor Act, massage parlor limitations, expungement of victim criminal records, penalty enhancements for trafficking and pimping, etc.), we have yet to address the issue of demand. Accordingly, we have filed a bill that enhances penalties for solicitations, requiring the community service, “John School” attendance, and jail time on the second offense. A companion bill would also protect the location information of human trafficking victim safe houses for disclosure under Chapter 119.”

Is there a special appropriations you are pushing for this session?

“Yes, I have asked for an appropriation to pay for pediatric dental equipment for the new Pediatric Dental Residency Program at the Brandon Community Heath Center. Services through the program will provide dental care to needy children at little or no cost to their families, depending on the families’ ability to pay.”

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

“If it were completely up to me, I would create a structure whereby the most needy have the ability to use their subsidized premium to shop for their own health insurance policy on the private market, one that fits their particular needs. I would also incorporate mechanisms (such as rebates and incentives) to encourage healthy lifestyle habits. I would also require insurers to permit small business employers to cooperate by banding together to obtain the benefits of group insurance rates. Additionally, although it would require federal involvement, I would allow insurers to sell insurance across state boundaries.”

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

“I am undecided at this time whether I will support the Brandes/Steube marijuana legislation. I do believe, however, it is important for the Legislature to take up, vet, and decide the issue rather than allowing the issue to be made part of the state Constitution.”

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

“Very simply, I would legalize local brewers’ ability/right to sell 64-ounce growlers on site.”

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 leave the law as is. From a public policy standpoint, I do not believe it is beneficial to place liquor in grocery stores that are frequented by families.”

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?

“I believe the frustration among parents and students is caused by fears and concerns about testing. A review should be conducted to determine what tests may be streamlined or ended at the state and/or district levels and whether limitations in technology create problems in the smooth administration of tests. It is my understanding that a large percentage of the tests administered are by the various districts in order to gauge student proficiency prior to state testing. In addition, some have expressed concerns that technology limitations prevent smooth administration of computer-based testing, causing significant disruption in class and teaching schedules.”

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?  

“From a teacher perspective, I believe the concern over testing relates, in large part, to the belief that teacher performance and merit pay decisions will be made based on the new Florida Standards Assessment prior to a complete analysis of their results and efficacy. As I understand it, however, the results of the new testing will be standardized by the Department of Education prior to their application, if at all, to teacher merit pay. This is the same standardization that occurred when FCAT testing was first administered several years ago.”

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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