By Jesse Scheckner
As Florida lawmakers gear up for the 2023 Legislative Session, Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky of Parkland has her sights set on improving the lives of residents through smart prevention.
To that end, she’s prioritizing the passage of three measures. Two target Floridians’ mental and physical health well-being through treatment and testing. The third focuses on flooding.
Hunschofsky is bringing back legislation she sponsored last year that aimed to authorize Florida to join the Psychological Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), which would allow psychologists in participating states to provide telepsychology or face-to-face counseling for up to 30 days a year.
This year’s version of the bill (HB 33) and its Senate analogue (SB 1370) by Republican Stuart Sen. Gayle Harrell — who carried the bill last year too — would do the same.
Thirty-two states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, are now participating in PSYPACT. Two others, Michigan and Rhode Island, enacted laws to join the program by April 1.
“We have students who go off to college and snowbirds who are in other states,” Hunschofsky told Florida Politics. “This way, their trusted psychologist here can continue to care for them when they’re in one of these compact states.”
Hunschofsky is also running HB 165, which would legalize fentanyl test strips in Florida.
Former Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned sponsored the bill last year, which House lawmakers blocked on the final day of Session. Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky filed a measure (SB 164) identical to Hunschofksy’s in January.
In 2020, more than 6,150 people died from overdoses involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Florida Department of Health. While that number fell to 3,210 in 2021, fentanyl still led all other drugs in Florida that contributed to fatalities. Figures for 2022 are still pending.
Those deaths would be largely preventable if people had access to fentanyl-detecting test strips. The problem is, they’re illegal here. Florida law classifies fentanyl test strips as banned drug paraphernalia, even though they only test — and do not facilitate the use — of drugs.
“We have a problem today that drugs have been laced with fentanyl, and people are dying of overdoses,” Hunschofsky said. “Fentanyl test strips are another tool in the harm-reduction toolbox. They do not encourage people to use drugs. They do not prevent people from doing drugs. What they’re there for is to prevent people from dying from doing drugs.”
The third bill Hunschofsky highlighted (HB 111) deals with infrastructure. More specifically, it would expand government planning for future flooding during construction projects.
State law requires a sea-level rise impact study to be conducted when government money is used on infrastructure projects within a certain proximity of the coast to ensure rising ocean levels are accounted for.
HB 111 and a similar measure (SB 1170) Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud filed would extend that requirement to every area where flooding occurs, not just places near water bodies.
“We have flooding everywhere, so what my bill does is expand that to wherever there are flooding issues or seasons,” she said. “It’s making sure that when you are using government money to build, you’re taking into account everything and not just doing it blindly.”
Hunschofsky believes these bills and others she filed for consideration this year apply commonsense solutions to problems that need to be addressed. So far, she said, lawmakers from both parties — including House Speaker Paul Renner — have been “very receptive.”
“It’s about doing the work, doing the research and homework and explaining how these bills will have a positive impact on Floridians,” she said.
“Now, there will be a bill where we might have different opinions ideologically as to whether or not it will make a positive impact, and those are the more contentious issues we hear about. But there are a lot of issues like mental health and sea level rise where we can come together and work on good policy and, in the end, get things done and be productive, which is what we were elected to do.”
The 2023 Legislative Session runs from March 7 to May 5.
This article was reprinted with permission from Florida Politics News Service.
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