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By: Carly Zervis | Citrus County Chronicle

As 2017 comes to a close, state legislators, lobbyists and staff flee Tallahassee to spend the holidays at home — a last burst of relaxation before the 2018 legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Florida’s 60-day session, relatively short when compared to session lengths of other states, means that lawmakers must be ready to roll on day one. Dr. Ralph Massullo, representing District 34 — comprised of Citrus and part of Hernando County — in the Florida House of Representatives, filed his first bill in September. House Bill 143, called the “Patient’s Freedom of Choice of Providers Act,” would prevent health insurers from excluding “willing and qualified” health care providers from participating in the insurer’s network, as long as the provider is in the plan’s geographic coverage area and is willing to meet the insurer’s terms.

In November, Massullo began filing appropriations project request bills. Each such bill is attached to a specific project in the member’s district; projects can be submitted by government agencies and nonprofit organizations, among others.

For a representative to sponsor a project and file a bill on its behalf, each group must complete an appropriations request form. The House’s form is a minimum of eight pages, and requests information on how the funds requested will be spent, how outcomes will be measured, and whether the group has hired a lobbyist, among other questions.

So far, Massullo has filed eight appropriations request bills attached to Citrus County projects:

  • Kings Bay Restoration: Submitted by Save Crystal River Inc. — $3 million requested from the state toward the group’s goal of “restoring water quality and manatee habitat by vacuum removal” of Lyngbya algae and other matter and planting “desirable submerged aquatic vegetation.” The group anticipates requesting at least $10 million more over the next five years, according to the request form.
  • Homosassa River Restoration: Submitted by Homosassa River Restoration Project Inc. —  $2 million requested from the state toward goals identical to those in Save Crystal River’s request. The Homosassa group also anticipates requesting additional funds of at least $10 million over the next five years. “They’ll start in the canals and work their way out to the main springs,” Massullo said.
  • Cambridge Greens Septic to Sewer Project: Submitted by the county utilities department — Requests $349,000 toward the cost of connecting homes in an area near King’s Bay to the county’s central wastewater collection system, in support of the goal of “reducing nutrient loading to groundwater and surface waters associated with the first magnitude springs.”
  • Old Homosassa West Septic to Sewer Project: Also submitted by the county utilities department and with identical goals — Requests $235,600 toward connecting up to 218 homes to the county’s central wastewater collection system.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of Citrus County Expansion and Remodel: Submitted by the Boys and Girls Clubs — Requests $90,000 toward expanding and remodeling an existing building in Inverness to increase capacity and meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. “They do a lot right now for kids, and they’ll be able to double their capacity,” Massullo said. “I think it’ll be a positive influence.”
  • City of Crystal River Public Safety Building: Submitted by the city — Requests $1.8 million toward the construction of “a multiuse building” at the corner of Citrus Ave. and U.S. 19, “which at a minimum will include City Hall and west side Sheriff’s operations,” according to the request, and will be more resistant to severe weather impacts than existing city buildings. The city has hired Laura Boehmer of lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group.
  • Historic Hernando School Restoration: Submitted by the Citrus County Historical Society — Requests $396,400 toward the final phase of the restoration of the school building located at the corner of U.S. 41 and Parsons Point Road in Hernando. When finished, the building will serve as a museum, community and cultural center, and host events, meetings, and other gatherings, according to the request.
  • Three Sisters Springs Infrastructure Improvements: Submitted by the city of Crystal River — Requests $400,000 toward adding “essential services and activities to promote tourism,” such as “fishing piers, trails, observation tours, and … bathrooms,” according to the request.

“We’ve been very judicious — we’ve only asked for a little over $10 million, total,” Massullo said of the project requests. That total includes several Hernando County projects. “There’s some districts that have asked for over a hundred million dollars in projects.”

There’s a lot of support for projects that impact the environment, including water-related projects like several of Citrus’s, so those have a better chance of being funded, Massullo said. “The other stuff — it just depends on what’s in the budget.

“The Hernando School project went through the House and the Senate (in 2017), and then the governor vetoed it to shunt the money someplace else,” Massullo said. “It doesn’t look as good to veto an environmental project.”