Bipartisan efforts helped foster kids, Biscayne Bay. Now it’s time to fight for ‘abuelitos rights’ | Opinion

I was lucky to be born and raised in the district I now serve. Growing up in Allapattah was a gift. It was home to exiles and their families from Cuba, which gave me the wisdom to know that I was blessed to have such resilient parents. This past year, because of the COVID pandemic, we identified huge shortfalls in caring for our elders — and community as a whole.

COVID changed everything. Therefore, we needed to go in a new direction. My approach was to being proactive to everything. I saw the importance of creating opportunities to allow others and our community to succeed — that’s why I went to the 2021 legislative session determined to get results that will move us forward.

Creating relationships, building bridges and executing the results required bipartisanship. I think we all share the goal of changing people’s lives for the better. Reaching across the aisle allowed me to work with Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, of District 38, to pass CS/HB 1177, which established the Biscayne Bay Commission.

The commission’s consolidation of public policy and projects will allow for a more-coordinated and unified approach to improving the bay. We all enjoy the beautiful waters, reefs and unique marine flora and fauna of South Florida, so why not work together to preserve them?

Through sensible compromise and a deep understanding of our communities’ needs, we passed a balanced budget aimed at making key improvements and investments to infrastructure, child welfare, increasing state employee’s minimum wage and helping our economy recover from the pandemic.

Through negotiations, more than $15 million in Local Funding Initiative Requests were secured for my district, of which $175,000 will go to Casa Valentina to help children transition out of the foster-care system and build a base for their future successes.

Long-needed infrastructure projects such as the Little Havana Pedestrian Priority Zones, the Underline Multi-use/Multimodal Corridor, stormwater improvements for Pinecrest, Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay, and water infrastructure improvements for West Miami will be jump-started.

My focus on our diverse community and the most vulnerable motivated me to finance the Jewish Community Services of South Florida to help seniors keep kosher, the Feeding Florida Healthy Food Initiative and the continued operations of senior centers in Allapattah and parks in Key Biscayne.

Last, I fought hard for the Firefighter Cancer Initiative of the University of Miami as a tribute to first-responders who risk everything for us.

Unanimous bipartisanship also allowed us to pass CS/CS/SB 1954 — Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience — which I co-sponsored, and CS/SB 68 — Public Records/Staff and Domestic Violence Advocates of Domestic Violence Centers — which was recently signed by Gov. DeSantis. These laws will further bolster local grants to increase flooding resiliency for Miami-Dade and provide critical protections to current or former staff and domestic violence advocates of domestic-violence centers.

With so much accomplished, I look forward to getting back to work with my colleagues to address longstanding issues that have negatively affected our community and disproportionately impact our elderly. One notable example: loopholes in our homeowners’-insurance system that lead to many being forced to swallow unfair, and sometimes unaffordable, rate increases because of fraudulent claims. I am dead serious about pursuing “abuelitos rights.”

I will also continue to collaborate with local government officials, who have been wonderful in getting me up to speed in order to secure funding for future key community investments.

When people pull at their hair and yell in frustration as to why both sides cannot work together, I say that, at least in Florida’s 37th Senate district, there is no need to worry.

Ileana Garcia represents District 37 in the Florida Senate.

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