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Rick Kriseman lays out 2016 legislative priorities

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman was first up at a Pinellas County Legislative Delegation meeting Tuesday to lay out his list of priorities for the legislative session next year. Two of his proposals are repeat asks from last year that were not approved.

That includes funding for a Bus Rapid Transit pilot program that would create an express bus route connecting downtown St. Pete to the beaches along First Avenues North and South.

Powerhouse State Senator Jack Latvala left a $1.25 million funding item out of the 2015 budget claiming that there just wasn’t room in the budget and some things had to be left out.

Though the funding ask is back in conversation, it’s likely to face some of the same challenges. That includes the argument that the route is redundant.

A route called the Central Avenue Beach Trolley already exists connecting downtown to the beaches. Supporters of the Central Avenue BRT project argue the express route is necessary because the current route running along Central Avenue makes frequent stops and takes too long for riders to get from one end to the other. They say it would better encourage beach vacationers to visit downtown St. Pete and vice-versa.

And transit enthusiasts as well as the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are forced to take small bites at transit projects to show value since the Greenlight Pinellas referendum that would have paid for sweeping improvements failed at the ballot box.

And the project would boost the city’s chance of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays local. One of the theories about why the team suffers from consistently low attendance is that the area lacks robust transit options to get to and from baseball games.

The other item Kriseman is hoping to revitalize next year that was pretty much dead on arrival in this year’s legislative delegation is a bill that would regulate discharging a firearm on private property.

The issue was thrust into the limelight early this year when a Lakewood Estates resident set up a makeshift gun range in his backyard. Because of a state statute that prohibits local governments from enacting any gun-related ordinances of its own, St. Pete Police were left with no authority to shut down the man’s operation.

State Representative Darryl Rouson filed a bill to outlaw firing weapons in residential neighborhoods even if it is on private property. Current law includes vague language allowing for the discharge of a firearm on private property as long as it’s not “reckless or negligent.”

Kriseman said he was “appalled” law enforcement lacked the authority to stop individuals from shooting guns just feet away from neighbors.

Kriseman is also asking the legislature to appropriate nearly $1 million for a road improvement project that would allow drivers to access I-175 from Fourth Street. Currently drivers traveling south can access the ramp, but those traveling north cannot legally turn left onto the on-ramp.

“There are dozens of illegal left turns there daily,” Kriseman said noting that those who choose to obey traffic laws must instead access the interstate by traveling through the busy hospital corridor on Sixth Street South.

Kriseman also asked for a $1.2 million appropriation for affordable housing. The city included $800,000 in its budget for projects aimed at reducing homelessness, but Kriseman said the city “can’t solve this problem alone.”

In addition to other funding priorities, Kriseman also asked that the legislature approve St. Petersburg College’s request to fund a new “success center” at the school’s main campus on Fifth Avenue North. It would replace the current administration building that is 70 years old and increasingly in disrepair.

Members of the legislative delegation did not respond to they Mayor’s requests during the meeting.

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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