Orange legislative delegation hears pleas from cities, child advocates, non-profits & anti-vaxxers

Representatives of cities, universities, arts groups and other non-profits were among nearly 80 speakers who gave Orange County’s legislative delegation some wish lists for funding and policy changes during a seven-hour public meeting, held via video conference because of COVID-19 risks.

Some constituents came to plead for money Monday, others to appeal for new laws and a few just to be heard.

They asked the delegation to fight for funding for arts and affordable housing, kids programs and the environment.

A former professional wrestler asked for tougher DUI law, in the name of his daughter, killed in a head-on crash caused by a repeat offender.

“We have a lot of different issues,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “Navigating the pandemic has been one of our biggest challenges now for almost two years but in addition to that there are so many other everyday struggles that we are proud to help alleviate and to be by the side of everyday people.”

The 12-member delegation is made up of three state senators and nine state representatives whose districts include at least a portion of Orange County.

Most are Democrats in a Legislature dominated by Republicans.

The panel listened to the variety of pitches but made no promises except to work hard.

Anne Coppenhaver, local head of Floridians for National Popular Vote, urged the delegation to endorse electing the president by popular vote, pointing out that a switch would eliminate the “winner-take-all” practice used in most states, which invalidates millions of votes — sometimes the majority.

Paul Owens of 1000 Friends of Florida said the environmental group wants the state to fund the Florida Forever Program to acquire more natural lands before they’re lost forever to development. He said lawmakers also should let governments keep virtual options for participation in public meetings.

“Many citizens don’t have the time and flexibility to participate in public meetings in person,” he said. “Their chance to participate remotely shouldn’t be reserved for pandemics.”

Raul Pino, state health officer in the county, provided the panel with up-to-date data on the pandemic then asked for their help.

He said the county needs a new building, which could cost as much as $50 million, to consolidate services now spread around 13 sites.

“It makes it very difficult to offer comprehensive services from the storefronts or workplaces that we rent,” Pino said.

He suggested the project keep the central office in Parramore and include a parking garage that soccer fans could use at night.

Exploria Stadium, home to Orlando City Soccer and the Orlando Pride, is nearby.

Several speakers used their two or three minutes in front of the elected leaders to challenge mandatory vaccinations and face-masking.

“Our children have lost the right to breathe freely and share their smiles at school. Public servants and local employees are being terminated for exercising their medical freedom, and I think it’s time to finally ask the question, ‘When does it end?’ ” said Brittany Walker, who identified herself as a single mother and founder of Protect Central Florida, described on Facebook as “a flourishing group of patriots” fighting for civil rights.

Others opposed to the health measures imposed by some governments and businesses asked the delegation to call on Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson or Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, both Republicans, to convene a special legislative session to discuss a ban of vaccination mandates.

Speaking for the University of Central Florida, Janet Owen, a university liaison to the Legislature, said the school was seeking $15.4 million to renovate its biological sciences building and $1 million to renovate its chemistry building.

She said UCF also hoped to get a recurring state appropriation of $5 million annually for its medical school to hire “crucial clinical and research faculty to better prepare graduates and build more residencies and fellowships to address Florida’s physician shortage and lead the work of our emerging cancer research and treatment center.”