Newly minted U.S. Rep. David Jolly said jobs, veterans, beaches and protecting the district’s Coast Guard assets will be his top legislative priorities.
Jolly was named Tuesday morning to the House Veterans Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He was appointed to the Water Resources and Environment and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittees of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has yet to make his subcommittee assignments.
Jolly, a longtime advocate for military and veteran’s issues as key aide to the late Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, said reducing the backlog of claims filed by the veterans seeking benefits they earned for their service “obviously is the number one issue” for him on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee. “It rises above the committee. In the Republican conference this morning [House Speaker John Boehner] brought it up. It is a major issue nationally.”
There are currently about 686,000 original and supplemental benefits claims pending, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Monday Morning Workload Report released yesterday. About 60 percent of those cases are 125 days or older and considered backlogged. However, the total number of claims waiting for action at the VA is closer to 1.7 million.
“Protecting the assets” of the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center, continuing the effort to prevent veteran homelessness and constant feedback from the FL-13 Veterans Advisory Council he formed will be other Veterans Affairs Committee priorities, Jolly said.
With a district that includes most of Pinellas County’s beaches, Jolly said that he is going to work on several beach renourishment programs as a member of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.
Jolly said he wants to pursue a beach renourishment program on Treasure Island as well as countywide programs.
“The Senate has a helpful provision,” Jolly said. “The House does not. I met with the leadership and my new chairman [Bill Shuster (R-PA)] and hope to be able to really do something good for the county.”
As for the Coast Guard, Jolly said “the number one goal is to protect regional assets” which include Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, at the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Coast Guard Station Sand Key.
Aside from the Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, Jolly said there are military assets in the district he wants to protect.
In April, the Tribune reported that the Army is considering moving 23 Black Hawk helicopters from two Army Reserve units based at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
“We want to protect those assets for Pinellas County,” said Jolly. “If they have to move, we want to be involved in making sure that we maintain a presence at the airport.”
Jolly was praised by the chairmen of his new committees.
“I visited with David not long ago to engage in discussions with local veterans from his district and saw firsthand that he would be a strong and active advocate in Congress on behalf of all veterans,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) said in a statement to The Tribune. “I am pleased to welcome David to our committee, and I look forward to working with him to improve the lives of America’s veterans while increasing accountability and efficiency at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Shuster said that “Jolly understands the important link between efficient, effective infrastructure and our nation’s economy and competitiveness. I am confident he will be an asset to our committee, as we seek to strengthen our transportation network and our nation’s position in the global market.”
Jolly said that he understands he will have limited influence as both the winner of a special election who has to run again in November and the newest member on both committees.
“I would say on local issues, we anticipate having much success,” he said.
This month, Jolly, a Republican, defeated Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in a special election to replace Young, his former boss, who held the District 13 seat for 43 years until his death in October.
Jolly, a lobbyist who began the race as a presumptive underdog, had 48.4 percent of the vote. Sink, a former Florida chief financial officer, got 46.6 percent and Overby got 4.8 percent.
Sink struck an early lead as mail and early voting results were posted. But as precinct returns came in, Jolly gained on Sink, eventually surpassing her.
District 13 includes most Pinellas County from Dunedin south, except for portions of downtown and south St. Petersburg.