Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, I-4, Sanford Burnham, water quality, Pulse, on Central Florida lawmakers’ minds

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As they prepare for the 2017 Legislative Session, Central Florida lawmakers are looking out for help for the emerging Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Osceola County, the demise of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in Lake Nona, and I-4 throughout the region.

Those are things almost everyone in Central Florida’s delegation is examining. The Democrats add, don’t forget about Pulse, and the economic fairness and mental health issues everyone spoke of during the election campaigns this year.

But it’s a session with new rules, especially in the House, perhaps limiting how lawmakers go about securing money for pet projects.

And with the retirements of Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Central Florida has no direct leadership this year, but lawmakers are expressing confidence they’ll make up for it.

And it’s early; a lot of local requests and legislative strategies still are being formulated.

“A lot of things are still coming in,” said state Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Republican from Sanford.

Showing up on almost everybody’s list for likely legislative attention is the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Kissimmee, a project to develop high-tech jobs in the quietly massive electronic sensor industry, through the Belgian-based International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research and the University of Central Florida. Its first phase is to open next spring, and plans are for it to grow to the point of providing thousands of jobs in an area dominated by the low-wage hospitality region.

“It diversifies the workforce by bringing in an industry that currently doesn’t exist, high-tech sensor research,” said state Rep. Mike La Rosa, the Republican from St. Cloud whose district comes close to the center. “I believe it’s the government’s role to create the infrastructure and environment and allow businesses to come in and compete, and this is truly an opportunity for that.”

And Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando adds, “I look at that project, it’s awesome.”

The Orlando Economic Development Commission is pushing for $8 million in recurring state funds this year and another $10 million in nonrecurring funds. Lawmakers are not exactly committing to that yet, but most are committed to the center. The commission also is advising that the military Modeling, Simulation & Training at University of Central Florida’s Research Park also likely will need financial support, since it didn’t get all it sought in the past couple of sessions.

Central Florida is relying on, and enduring, the expansion of Interstate 4 and the extension of SunRail. Neither is in direct need of state support, but they create other needs, from funding for connecting and reliever roads to financing for the bus system, Lynx. Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando and Brodeur both cited them as needing support from Central Florida’s lawmakers.

“I-4 is critical for the entire state’s economy, and for the Central Florida economy,” Eisnaugle said.

He also pushed for water quality improvements, an issue for which most of the area’s Democrats eagerly concur.

Brodeur and La Rosa also said they expect attention on another of the linchpins of another Central Florida technology dreams, at Orlando’s Lake Nona Medical City. Sanford Burnham wants out, after receiving more than $360 million in state and local tax incentives a decade ago.

Brodeur said the state needs to make sure taxpayers get an equitable deal before the research institute leaves. That could involve requiring them to stay long enough to meet economic benchmarks, or getting money back, though he said he’d like to see it work out for the company as well.

“We made a deal, and we gave them the money, so we want to make good on the deal,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to hurt the medical community. I’m a huge fan of Medical City and what it can do for us.”

Democrats are focusing more on social needs.

“Pulse!” said Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, wanting to remind everyone of the horrific, June 12 massacre in which gay-hating, ISIS-pledging Omar Mateen took 50 lives at the popular Orlando gay nightclub, and hurt countless other lives of survivors, family, and friends throughout the region.

Smith wants the Central Florida delegation uniting to push for mental health services, health care, and other support services from the state, something Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando spoke to earlier Monday.

“The local delegation’s No. 1 priority should be to make sure that Orlando has the resources we need to rebuild after such a devastating tragedy at Pulse,” he said.

There also is the prospect the state could get involved in developing a memorial, but that talk won’t come until after the City of Orlando decides to buy the nightclub property, he said.

He and other Democrats also want to remind Republican lawmakers that almost everyone was talking about finding some ways to address wage gaps, and to address chronic poverty, and, particularly Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando, to again try to address gun violence, especially in light of Pulse.

Torres said affordable housing must be addressed, noting the Kissimmee area has working families living out of cheap hotels.

“This election showed us how people feel. They want to get back on their feet. They want a good-paying job with benefits. They want to have a good quality of life for their families, for their kids, good schools,”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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