Concerns over staffing shortages, COVID-19 impact dominate Pasco County delegation meeting
Image via Colin Hackley

Some buses are reportedly having to make two or more trips to take kids home from school.

The Pasco County Legislative Delegation met Wednesday morning to prep for the 2022 Session.

In addition to clearing a local bill and recognizing Senate President Wilton Simpson, who completes his last term next year, lawmakers also heard from local officials and community leaders concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six-member delegation includes Sens. Danny Burgess and Ed Hooper as well as Reps. Amber Mariano, Ardian Zika and Randy Maggard, who didn’t attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Amanda Maggard, representing AdventHealth, said that while the community was optimistic to see recent monoclonal antibody treatment sites, she hopes the delegation addresses health care worker shortages this upcoming Session.

“We’re very thankful for the recent monoclonal antibody infusion sites that have been set up throughout the state, and just continuing to encourage our communities to increase vaccination, masking and social distancing to help us get ahead of this,” Maggard said.

“For us, what we would ask you to consider heading into this next Legislative Session is staffing. So COVID has ramped up what was already a staffing challenge for us as an organization and has just taken it to an unsustainable level,” she said. “A recent analysis done by the Florida Hospital Association shows that our level of vacancies in nurses, respiratory therapists, surgical techs, as well as lab techs, is at a level that we have not seen.”

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett spoke briefly about the challenges the court system has faced throughout COVID-19, including the resulting backlog.

“It’s caused us to completely revamp and redo how we did business,” Bartlett said. “We had to lessen our person to person contact while still trying to investigate criminal offenses and moving forward. The court had to change how they’ve done everything. And about the time that we got up and running again to bring trials back to try to alleviate the backlog that occurred, we’re now back in the throes of a further pandemic that’s even worse than the first.”

Bartlett suggested the delegation address workload funding issues again in the upcoming Session, since the backlog is continuing to worsen.

“This backlog is getting worse than it was before, and I’m talking murder cases, robbery cases and everything else,” he said. “We got to start moving them forward, and when the pandemic does get under control, then it’s going to require a lot more effort and money to do that.”

Speakers also expressed concerns about bus driver staffing shortages. According to Don Peace, with United School Employees of Pasco, the shortage of school bus drivers has forced some larger schools to have three rounds of pickups and dropoffs after the end of the school day.

“You stay with adults somewhere in the campus, hopefully inside in the air conditioning now. And then when the buses have taken the students to their homes, they come back to the school for another run,” Peace said.

In other action at the meeting, lawmakers agreed to bring forward a local bill in the 2022 Session that would allow for a 500-yard dog designated area at Anclote Key Preserve State Park. The bill, which was presented by Mariano, arose in response to the erosion of the current area where dogs are permitted on the island. 

“It is a true paradise,” Mariano said, adding that the legislation would make it so “all of our residents can enjoy the island with pets welcome to enjoy the beach in this designated area.”

All pets would be subject to leash and behavioral guidelines in order to be permitted on the island under the bill.

The group also recognized Simpson, who will be completing his final term as Senate President in 2022 after ten years in the Senate. Burgess, who was elected chair of the delegation at the meeting, called Simpson the “greatest blessing the Legislature has ever seen.”

“It’s been an honor to serve and see some of the things that we can do from Tallahassee as a collegial body, and then we’ve done a lot of good work here not only for Pasco County but for the entire state,” Simpson said.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


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