This week I joined dozens of United Methodists in participating in Children's Week at the state capitol in Tallahassee. Children's Week is a time when advocates for the children of Florida come to Tallahassee to talk with their representatives and senators about their concerns. There are many different groups that participate in this effort. Over 75 groups, including the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, were listed in a brochure distributed at the Children's Week Advocacy Dinner and Reception held at the University Center Club in Tallahassee on March 30th.
I have been going to Tallahassee for Children's Week for about eight years. Each year I usually attend a prayer breakfast at Trinity UMC, speak at a press conference in the rotunda of the capitol, and then speak with legistators and senators about pending legislation. These meetings are arranged through Florida Impact, an ecumenical public policy advocacy agency. For several years, Bishop McKinley Young of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and I were involved in advocating for bi-partisan legislation to require county participation in a summer meal program for poor children. We have also expressed our support for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund of the state, a trust which is oten a target for raiding in times of budget crunches.
This year a few of us spoke with the Speaker of the House, Mr. Larry Creudel, and with an aide of the President of the Senate, Mr. Jeff Atwater, who was not able to be present at the last minute. We talked about the budget crisis and our concern that children not be the ones hurt by the decisions which will be made. We encouraged use of the "stimulus" package of the federal government. We advocated for KidCare bills for health insurance for children. And, we also expressed our concern that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund be used for the purpose for which it was created, especially in these difficult times for many Floridians.
While some of us were meeting with these persons, many United Methodists were visiting their own representatives and senators.
We expected that our representatives would be preoccupied with the budget crisis. They anticipate a revenue shortfall of billions each year for several years. They welcome the "stimulus" package, but it will last for only two years. So then, our representatives have a very difficult task, and they need our prayers for wisdom and courage.
We have always found the officials to be appreciative of our concerns for children and the needy in Florida. Florida has some very impressive people in every branch of government, and I think there is a real desire to think beyond this year and to make sure that there is shelter, nutrition, health care and education for the next generation.
Following our meeting with the Speaker of the House and the aide to the President of the Senate, I joined three others in a meeting with Governor Crist. Present were Bishop Paul Leeland of Alabama-West Florida, the Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran who is Director of the Florida Council of Churches, and the Rev. Willey Israel of the Moravian Church. Bishop McKinley Young joined us as we were leaving because of other meetings in which he was involved. This is the second meeting I have had with Governor Charlie Crist during Children's Week, and I think Florida is blessed to have him as the Governor. The whole atmosphere of government has changed since he became Governor and has emphasized doing what is best for Florida and working together as political parties to improve the lives of Floridians. We expressed our appreciation for his leadership in addressing the needs of children, the ecology of Florida, and justice for farm workers. Our main purpose was to pray for him during this time of intense pressure as the state attempts to respond to a shortage of revenue.
I thought our conference had a significant presence at Children's Week this year. There were more persons and leaders from our conference who were involved in this effort this year. I thank everyone who participated, and I hope others will join us next year.