Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, has filed a series of appropriations bills aimed at construction projects, prison reform initiatives and other programs in his South Florida district.
Willhite’s House District 86 covers parts of central Palm Beach County including Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves.
Royal Palm Beach would benefit from two of those requests totaling $900,000. Willhite is asking for $450,000 in nonrecurring funds (HB 3461) to improve water quality and flood protection via the Royal Palm Beach FPL Pathway Dry Detention Ponds project. In addition, he’s requesting $450,000 in nonrecurring money (HB 3469) for a signalized pedestrian and bicycle crossing on Okeechobee Boulevard, one of the area’s most trafficked roads.
Another $1 million would go toward renovations at the Highridge Family Center (HB 3459). That facility is a three-month treatment program available to families with children 11 to 16 years old who are experiencing problems.
“Centers such as the Highridge Family Center are crucial for youth that have experienced trauma in their personal lives at home, or in the communities in which they live,” Willhite said. “Working to bring improvements to Highridge is the right thing to do. Especially, during a global pandemic such as COVID-19 when the pressure on our children and their families is incredibly high.”
Willhite is also looking to fund the county’s Regional and State Offender Reentry (RESTORE) Initiative. The county partners with the Florida Department of Corrections and local organizations to help reduce the recidivism rate. Willhite’s request (HB 3471) seeks $500,000 in nonrecurring funds, equaling the money put toward the project in the prior year’s budget.
An experienced firefighter, Willhite is also seeking $1.6 million in appropriations projects for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
The two measures total $800,000 each and aim to reduce cancer risks to firefighters. One funding request (HB 3465) would help purchase bunker gear sets. Another would (HB 3463) equip firefighters with exhaust protection systems to shield against cancer causing emissions.
In 2019, Willhite was instrumental in pushing a measure requiring certain cancer treatment expenses to be covered by the firefighters’ employer, often a local government.
“Passing legislation that provided cancer benefits to firefighters who were diagnosed with cancer as a direct result of their jobs was a monumental first step,” Willhite said Tuesday. “However, our goals should be to mitigate their exposure to cancer-causing agents as much as possible, before they get sick.”
Finally, Willhite is requesting $21,000 to build radar speed signs in the town of Haverhill (HB 3467).
“Belvedere Road runs directly through the Town of Haverhill,” Willhite explained. “The town may be small, but Belvedere is a main road that connects the eastern and western parts of the county. Palm Beach County is growing in population, and so is the traffic on Belvedere Road. These radar speed signs will help notify drivers of the 30 mph speed limit through Haverhill, and help maintain their neighborhood quality.”
Florida’s budget is very much up in the air given the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite the pandemic’s economic toll, the Governor’s proposed 2021-22 budget came in at $96.6 billion — $4.3 billion higher than the 2020-21 version.