Summit sets local agenda
After a year of planning, 120 members of the business, education, medical and law enforcement fields, along with people from nonprofit and faith-based organizations, took part in the inaugural Community Alliance of Sarasota County Legislative Summit on Tuesday in an effort to hammer out issues the Alliance would like to present to the state Legislature.
“Our purpose is really to bring the entire community together to talk about key issues around health and human services and education, so that we can develop our legislative agenda and our legislative priorities to present to our delegation for the issues that we think are most important around the community,” said Community Alliance Legislative Advocacy Committee Chair Kathryn Shea.
The Community Alliance of Sarasota County is a group of about 60 individuals — mostly from nonprofit organizations — who continually work on health and human services issues in the county. Summit attendees broke off into small groups at the Gulfcoast Event and Conference Center in Sarasota and discussed proposed 2013 legislative issues, including behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disabilities, criminal justice, education, healthcare and healthy aging. The discussions, which lasted for around 90 minutes, appeared to get passionate at times — just what the Alliance was hoping for, said Monica Becket, who represents the city of North Port on the Community Alliance.
“This is a nice way for people from all different disciplines from all over the county to come together to work their interests in a collaborative manner to pass legislation that’s going to make a difference in their community,” she said.
Becket took part in a behavioral health discussion that covered mental health and substance abuse issues. Her group covered what is known as an “open party” bill recently passed in the Legislature that Becket says has a loophole regarding house parties. The bill holds adults responsible for intentionally giving youth under 21 alcohol at house parties. She said the original bill had the word “house” in it, but adults who were serving underage youth alcohol at parties who were not inside a house were getting away with it because the bill said “alcohol provided in a house.”
“We’re trying to make an amendment to that,” Becket said. “That’s something that we’re very interested in because our coalition down in North Port is working on underage drinking as one of its issues. This is a very important thing and we would support it.”
Becket, who chairs the North Port Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, said she was “pleasantly surprised” to end up in a discussion group that focused on her area of expertise — especially since attendees were not assigned to groups prior to the meeting. She plans on taking the proposed amendment to the open party bill back to the North Port Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention and will work with the Sarasota Coalition on Substance Abuse to get it pushed to the Legislature.
“That way they’d know they have the support of North Port behind them too,” Becket said.
Shea and Becket thought the inaugural event was a success and hope it is bigger next year. Becket said it was a real good learning process for all involved.
“This was important, because if you’re going to have a whole group from the county getting together discussing certain issues, you want to have an outcome,” Becket said. “You want to do more than just have meetings and talk about what everybody’s doing — you want to move in some sort of direction.”