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The legislative session has ended. What does that mean for you?

After the conclusion of a busy legislative session in which elected officials proposed 1,873 and passed 356, District 4 State Rep. T. Patterson Maney took a moment recently to share some thoughts about how those new laws will affect his constituents.

“I introduced eight bills, and all eight of them were passed by the House and Senate,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty good percentage.”

Here’s a look at those eight bills and how they might affect residents of the Mid-Bay area.

Florida State House Representative T. Patterson Maney
Florida State House Representative T. Patterson Maney

1. Childcare licensing

This law directs the Florida Department of Children and Families
to issue provisional childcare licenses to providers who have U.S. Department of Defense accreditation, have passed an FBI background check, and have been issued a license by another state. Maney said this change was needed because of the state’s severe shortage of childcare workers, particularly in areas near military bases.

RELATED: Here’s why it’s so hard to find daycare in Niceville. 

“This is an issue that affects military morale,” he said. “There is a long waiting list to get children into the child development center on Eglin.”

RELATED: Military-adjacent childcare center in Crestview hopes to relieve shortage in Okaloosa County

children at a table playing with playdough at a childcare center.
Children play at a childcare center

2. Dental care for veterans

This law would allow the state to work with the Florida Dental Association to provide free dental services to military veterans who can’t afford such care on their own.
“The Veterans Administration has reported that one half of the residents of VA nursing homes have serious dental problems,” Maney said.

3. Military members’ rental agreements

“It was brought to my attention by officials at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field that if a person breaks a civilian housing agreement when base housing becomes available, some landlords will take the tenant’s
security deposit,” Maney said. “This extends the protection that is already in place for service members who have to break a lease because of a PCS or deployment.”

4. Mid-Bay Bridge Authority status

This bill changes the status of the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority from a dependent to an independent special authority. This change in status means that the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners will no longer have an oversight role over the authority. The governor will still appoint the authority members, and Maney said he doesn’t expect the change to affect the daily operations of the bridge itself.

“This simplifies government and gets one more layer of bureaucracy out of the mix,” he said.

RELATED: Boyles versus the bridge: commissioner loses fight over Mid-Bay Bridge request to state legislature. 

5. Active duty death benefit

This bill creates a state death benefit for active duty service
members. This would give families of active duty service personnel killed performing their official duties a $75,000 death benefit from the State of Florida. 

6. Protection for defense attorneys

This bill is designed to provide greater protection for defense attorneys from attacks by their clients.

“This would increase the penalties when defendants attack their defense counsel and extends the same protections that prosecutors and judges have,” Maney said.

7. Streamlining Problem-Solving Courts

As the founder of the Veterans Court program that has been adopted statewide, Maney has a special interest in “problem-solving courts” such as drug and mental health courts. These special courts provide diversion programs that allow participants to bypass the regular judicial system and free up resources for more serious crimes.

Maney’s bill would “make processes and procedures the same across these courts so the system can keep up with itself,” he explained.

8. Territorial Conflict

While it doesn’t directly impact Mid-Bay area residents, this bill helped resolve a territorial conflict between Fort Walton Beach and the Ocean City-Wright Fire District.

Other items for Okaloosa County taxpayers and voters

In addition to the bills he introduced, Maney advocated for local appropriations in the state budget. While the cities of Niceville and Valparaiso did not receive direct appropriations, residents may benefit from some of the approved funding. For example, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners received $1.25 million for a special

needs ballpark. One of the locations being considered for the park is in Niceville. The county also received $350,000 to support the Okaloosa-Walton Mental Health and Substance Abuse Pre-Trial Diversion Program.

On the education front, the state allocated more than $300,000 to the Okaloosa County School District to expand its Career Technical Education program, and $990,000 to Northwest Florida State College to expand the infrastructure of its Health Sciences and Public Safety programs. These programs have a local economic impact of more than $8 million annually.

In addition, the University of West Florida received $1.3 million toward its civil engineering program.

“There is such a need for engineers with our local defense contractors,” Maney said.

“These classes will be taught at the main campus in Pensacola and the joint campus in Fort Walton Beach, making them accessible to Okaloosa County students.”

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