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Okaloosa's Patt Maney looking to bring more money to District 4 in 2022 session

 Rep. Patt Maney
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Patt Maney

Patt Maney is just about halfway through his first term as District 4 representative in the Florida House. Before he was elected to office, the retired Army general was an Okaloosa County judge for 29 years. Now, he’s enjoying his time in Tallahassee.

“Well it’s been exciting, it’s been educational, and it’s been very satisfying because I’ve gotten to do some things that I never contemplated and that will help our area and the people of Florida,” said the District 4 representative. The district covers southern Okaloosa County from Crestview to Destin.

In the past year, Maney has helped funnel more than $6 million into Okaloosa County projects, he says. And in 2022, he’s introduced more than 30 bills, many of them appropriations for environmental and infrastructure projects.

“We’ve got a lot of need in Northwest Florida,” he said. “We want tourists to come but we want them to be safe and not dominate our own roads restaurants, policemen, and firemen.”

The two big priorities of the legislative session, says Maney, are a balanced budget and redistricting. And those priorities have been echoed by fellow Florida lawmakers.

As vice-chair of the higher education appropriations committee, Maney says he helped advocate for projects at state colleges, such as the University of West Florida. He also serves on the pre-k appropriations committee. These two positions carry a lot of weight, he says.

“Because we’ve got to have an educated workforce I mean, a lot of that feeds into having the right people getting the right training so they can have the right kind of job,” he explained.

At this stage in the pandemic, a lot of schools — particularly K-12 — are facing staff shortages. Maney said legislators are working on a program that allows members of the Armed Forces with 60 college credit hours an emergency teaching certificate to help fill the need with the obligation that they will continue to get their license.

“Hopefully they’ll then stay in the profession with a permanent teaching certificate having passing the test all new teachers have to take for competency,” Maney said.

Maney’s previous role as a judge in Florida’s First Judicial Circuit has given him a unique perspective on the needs of District 4. The roles complement each other, he said. That experience has influenced the work he’s done in the state legislature by introducing bills that address issues such as bond cost and who can be put on probation.

“None of us know when a friend, neighbor, loved one, child, father, the mother is going to get involved in the justice system, so we need to make the system as fair and efficient as we can,” he said.

Maney said his work as a judge has also alerted him to the challenges of those who suffer from substance addiction and mental health. He says Florida’s Baker Act law, which turns 50 this year, doesn’t meet the needs of today.

“I think the system now, while well-intentioned, doesn’t work well,” he said. “I didn’t seem to think it worked well when I was sitting on those cases and I really want to change that law and make it better for everybody.”

As a judge, he worked with local and state officials to establish Okaloosa’s mental health pre-trial program that allows for participants to seek recovery instead of arrest. The voluntary program serves up to 15 people at a time. Now, as a state representative, Maney can advocate to keep the program funded.

“We’re going to try to get them more money so we can keep that thing going,” he said.

Overall, Maney said the key issues he’ll be focused on this legislative session are jobs, infrastructure, tourism, and of course, health.

“I just think this is a wonderful part of the world where we’ve been blessed to live, but I think with that comes the responsibility to take care of it, and to take care of our family friends and build a future we can all be proud of,” he said.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.