Panel okays teens' project

Published March 21, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - The seven teens from Hillsborough County stood before a committee of lawmakers and, for the umpteenth time in two days, explained why the state should adopt the "High School to Business Career Enhancement Act."

House members seemed to love the idea: Every school district in Florida would adopt a program providing all students the chance to apply for paid, professional internships - 100 in each county.

But there was a problem. Its color was green.

"We've got some issues with the budget," Rep. Rick Kriseman, R-St. Petersburg, said. "If we don't find funding, it's hard to have a good idea."

This one could cost $6.7-million a year in tax credits for participating businesses, or half that if it started in the middle of fiscal 2008.

Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa, successfully moved to temporarily postpone the bill - spelling sure death for the legislation if the teens didn't find a solution right away.

It was a harsh reality for students in the "Ought to be a Law" program, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, and Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa. The seven who traveled to Tallahassee Monday were among 14 who have been hammering out the legislation for months.

Bloomingdale High freshman Tomas Gacio, 14, said the discussion of finances was an eye-opener.

"It's kind of unfortunate because things that will help people immensely are limited by the budget," he said.

But before the kids could feel downtrodden that their lobbying was for naught, Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, asked the Committee for 21st Century Competitiveness to reconsider the legislation.

Ambler told the committee that he and the students would work on the scope of the project to try to fix funding.

Representatives approved. And the bill moves on to the next level.

"My philosophy," Ambler told the kids, "is to never give up."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 850 224-7263 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.