BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Senator Darryl Rouson spoke optimistically about his recent accomplishments at the Community Town Hall 2017 Session review at the Enoch Davis Center Tuesday, July 11. He represents the 19th District—which straddles Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties—and “runs the gamut from low-income urban cores to affluent areas.”
Rouson is the only African-American senator that’s on a K-12 education appropriations committee and is also the vice chair of the Senate’s transportation committee. The senator has had three bills passed in the last session.
“I’ve passed bills every session since my first session,” he stated.
One is the Assistive Technology Devices Bill, which now enables those students who can only communicate through technological devices to take those devices home with them at the end of the school day. Before the bill, they were not permitted to take them home or even take the devices with them if they transferred to another school.
“A very simple bill, but with a large impact,” Rouson stated.
Another bill that he passed was the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys Bill, in reference to the notorious state-run institution in the Florida panhandle that opened in 1900 and was known for its harsh conditions and brutal treatment of boys of various ages, which even resulted in deaths.
“This was the first time in the history of the Florida Senate and the House of Representatives that they apologized to the grown men of Dozier,” he said. “Men who were boys and were sentenced there for such heinous crimes as incorrigibility, truancy. And they lived through the beatings, the killings that occurred there. And this was the first time the Florida Senate issued an apology that these types of tragedies and atrocities happened in the care and custody of state workers.”
In addition to the apology, Rouson said, there was also a $1.4 million appropriation that will fund two memorials to the deceased. One will be built on the property of the school, which closed in 2011, and another memorial will be built in Tallahassee. At the Capital, it will stand alongside other memorials to deceased firefighters, Holocaust survivors and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Fifty-five bodies have been found on the property, Rouson said, 25 more than what was initially reported.
“These 25 have remained unidentified and unclaimed,” he said, adding that they will be given a decent burial as part of the appropriations.
Another bill of Rouson’s will rename a segment of Interstate 375 in St. Pete after the late Vice Mayor C. Bette Wimbish.
A public housing authority bill was the most recent piece of legislation that he got passed. All across this country, Rouson noted, the Department of Housing and Urban Development was cutting back on funds for rehabbing and renovating aging public housing structures. Profit and non-profit corporations were created to obtain revenue to use for renovations of public housing, and these agencies had to purchase insurance on private markets.
This bill will allow public housing authorities to self- insure, to create their own insurance pool.
Rouson had a hand in co-introducing other bills with other senators, including one that officially acknowledged and apologized for the grave injustice perpetrated against a group of black men who came to be known as the Groveland Four. They were beaten and jailed in 1948 after being falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County.
Another bill will help healthcare practitioners who have had addiction issues but can demonstrate rehabilitation to continue in their practice in Florida.
The senator also co-introduced the TBARTA bill, for Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, which aims to improve and streamline the transit system in the metropolitan area.
“As you know, Tampa Bay is suffering from transportation issues,” Rouson asserted. “Those of us who here live in St. Pete and work in Tampa know it all too well.”
Rouson pointed out that he started the session with 30 bills to file, and the ones that he has not gotten passed or co-introduced are the bills that he will start with for the next session. One such bill that passed in the House but didn’t see the light of day in the Senate is a Florida slavery memorial bill.
“That’s a fight we’re going to have to come back and fight,” he said. “The Florida slavery memorial will get filed again.”
With the help of Rouson, St. Pete College continues to receive funds from the Florida Legislature for the St. Petersburg MLK Day of Service, which is growing every year. This past holiday saw over 8,000 people engaged in public service.
Though initially against a medical marijuana bill, Rouson co-introduced a bill that would create a “wider access to patients” and an opening for African Americans to be retailers of medical marijuana.
“But that didn’t pass,” he explained. ‘What passed was Senator Bradley’s bill that created a tier system. The seven licensees that were originally licensed, we added 10 more licenses to it. Of the 10 more licenses, one is set aside to go to a black pharma. And they have to fight amongst themselves to see which one gets it.”
The senator did, however, add an amendment to the bill that provides for a portion of a patient’s registration and identification card fees to go to Florida A & M University for the purpose of studying the impact of the unlawful use of marijuana in African-American communities.