Drew Wilson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 97

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

Municipal elections bill dies in Senate

A bill that would have changed election dates for municipal offices died in the closing days of the 2018 Legislative Session.

HB 7037, sponsored by Lehigh Acres Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell, aimed to narrow the choices for when municipal governments could set elections to either the third Tuesday in March, or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, when general elections are held.

If elections require a runoff, Caldwell’s proposal would have required the initial election to be held 10 weeks earlier and the runoff to be held on the March or November date.

The bill also contained a provision that would have extended terms for municipal officeholders in order for municipalities to better cope with the change.

HB 7037 would have impacted dozens of cities that hold elections outside of those dates, and was sharply opposed by the Florida League of Cities on the grounds that it preempts local governments.

Proponents of the bill argued that holding municipal elections in tandem with the general election in even-numbered years would lead to higher turnout in municipal races, but the League disagreed in an action alert on the bill.

“There is no data to support that higher voter turnout in November elections will increase voter participation in municipal elections. Municipal candidates will be competing for voter and media attention with federal, state and county candidates and issues,” the group said.

“For over half of cities that provide for runoff elections, municipal campaigns [would] be in full swing during summer and winter holidays – when voters are highly distracted or absent, and media access exceedingly expensive.”

HB 7037 cleared the House on a party-line vote and was sent to the Senate, which amended it to reduce the 10-weeks-out runoff date for March elections to seven weeks, but the chamber didn’t vote on the amended bill.

Bill changing write-in rules clears Legislature

A bill that would allow write-in candidates to run for districts they do not live in cleared the Legislature in the closing days of Session and is now ready for a signature from Gov. Rick Scott.

HB 6009, sponsored by Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Joe Geller, fixes some inconsistencies in the law when it comes to candidate residency.

The law on the books requires write-in candidates to live in the district by the time the candidate qualifying period ends, while for those printed on the ballot the deadline to live in the district is either at the time of the election or when they take office should they win.

The write-in rule was declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2016 since it put a separate limitation on candidacy than what was laid out in the Florida Constitution.

“It is not effective anymore, but we still need to get it out of the book,” Geller said in January.

No write-in candidate has ever won elected office in the Sunshine State, though they still have an impactful role in elections.

Florida law allows all voters to cast a ballot in party primaries if members of one party are the only candidates vying for a seat. If a write-in qualifies for the ballot, however, the primary is closed to non-party voters.

The bill easily cleared its committee stops and secured a unanimous vote from the House, and a 35-3 vote in the Senate.

Only Sens. Dennis Baxley, Gary Farmer and Dorothy Hukill voted against the bill.

Jeff Vinik scores legislative win with passage of Water Street Tampa bill

A bill that would create a special taxing district for the Water Street Tampa development in Hillsborough County made it through the Legislature Friday with near-unanimous votes in the House and Senate.

The special improvement district created by HB 1393 would allow an appointed board to levy assessments on commercial properties and charge property tax of up to one mil – $1 per $1,000 of assessed value – on property within in the district.

Water Street Tampa, a private development, seeks to bring the first new office towers to Tampa in a quarter century, as well as retail, educational and entertainment space.

The building project will clock in at 9 million square feet once completed.

The measure cleared the House Monday and the Senate passed it with a pair of amendments cleaning up the language before kicking it back to the House with a 37-1 vote on Thursday. Sarasota Sen. Greg Steube was the lone no-vote on the bill.

The House concurred with the amendments and greenlit the bill with a unanimous vote on Friday evening.

It now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for a signature.

The bill was sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant and was a priority of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation.

When the delegation discussed the bill ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session, Tampa Sen. Dana Young said Water Street Tampa developers could use the taxes they levy to “install and operate and maintain upscale amenities and infrastructure within the district that are far above and beyond what the city of Tampa would be able to do.”

Young added that the amenities would come at no cost to Tampa taxpayers, and said they could include bus shelters, enhanced landscaping and bike paths.

Adam Putnam raises $905K in February

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised $905,630 for his gubernatorial bid in February, ending the month with nearly $17.5 million on hand.

Putnam is one of three major Republicans running to replace termed-out Gov. Rick Scott in 2018. He faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Putnam’s campaign finance report is not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, but his campaign said $636,550 of the February money came in through Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown, with the other $269,080 coming in through his campaign account.

The two accounts had about $16.8 million on hand at the end of January, putting February spending at approximately $200,000. Florida Grown records show he spent at least $124,000 through his committee last month.

His campaign said more than 99 percent of the February contributions came from Florida individuals and businesses.

Putnam is still far ahead of his rivals in total fundraising, with $24.49 million brought in to date, though he wasn’t the top fundraiser last month.

DeSantis announced earlier this week that he had raised $2 million in February between his campaign account and committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis.

Corcoran, who has not officially entered the race, has raised $6.6 million for his political committee, Watchdog PAC. He had about $5 million of that on hand at the end of January.

Four major Democrats are also running for governor in 2018: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Graham raised $660,000 last month and has raised approximately $6.8 million to date; Levine raised $440,000 last month, plus another $800,000 in candidate contributions for more than $10 million to date; King added $265,000 in February and has raised $3.2 million so far; and Gillum raised $245,000 last month for total of $2.1 million thus far.

Baxter Troutman hits $2.9M raised in Ag Commissioner race

Republican Baxter Troutman said his Agriculture Commissioner campaign hit the $2.9 million mark in total fundraising last month and has $2.7 million on hand.

Troutman, a former Winter Haven state representative, is one of three Republicans vying to replace term-limited Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for Governor in 2018.

Troutman’s February campaign finance report is not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, though he would have had to raise about $200,000 and spend $50,000 last month to hit his stated figures.

At the end of January, Troutman’s campaign and committee, iGrow PC, had brought in $2.7 million, including $2.5 million in candidate contributions, and had about $2.55 million on hand.

His primary opponents, Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, were not able to raise money for their campaigns due to the Legislature being in Session for all of February.

Caldwell finished January with about $1.11 million in the bank between his campaign and committee, while Grimsley had $909,459 on hand between her two accounts.

Sitting lawmakers are not barred from spending campaign cash during Session, so their balances may show a decline once their reports are filed.

Three Democrats are also running for the Cabinet position: Jeffery Duane Porter, R. David Walker and Thomas Clayton White.

None of the three candidates have posted their February reports.

Walker had less than $500 in his campaign account at the end of January and Porter and White didn’t file for the race until the tail end of the month.

FHCA lauds lawmakers for nursing home budget increase

Lawmakers got praise from the Florida Health Care Association Thursday for upping funds to nursing homes in the 2018-19 state budget.

“FHCA applauds the Legislature for making the quality care of our frailest elders a priority. We want to especially thank Senate President Joe Negron, who has long been a champion for nursing home residents. Under his leadership, this year’s budget includes almost $130 million in increased Medicaid funding for nursing homes,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed.

“With those added dollars, facilities will have more resources to retain and recruit higher-quality staff to be directly involved in the care of residents. The funding increase will also support facilities as they continue making measurable improvements to residents’ health and well-being.”

Reed also approved of lawmakers adding in $10 million to help support nursing centers as they transition to the Prospective Payment System in October, and cheered an increase in nursing home residents’ allowances.

“The additional $25 per month this increase provides will allow greater choices for residents who rely on Medicaid as their long term care safety net, helping them to pay for personal items that improve their quality of life – things like beauty services, clothing, and other personal items,” Reed said.

In addition to Negron, the FHCA chief lauded Senate budget chief Rob Bradley and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Reed said lawmakers who backed the increased funding “will be remembered for their effective, meaningful, and thoughtful actions for the state’s long-term care residents.”

Earlier this week FHCA praised lawmakers for approving the nursing home generator rule, which was a priority of Gov. Rick Scott, after a prolonged power outage after Hurricane Irma led to a dozen heat-related deaths at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

Florida Poly gets first National Science Foundation grant

Florida Poly announced Thursday that it had pulled in its first National Science Foundation grant for a project proposed by a pair of computer science professors.

Florida Poly, also known as Florida Polytechnic University, became an independent institution in 2012. Before its independence, it served as the Lakeland campus of the University of South Florida.

Luis Jaimes, Ph.D., and Ilhan Akbas, Ph.D., were approved for the $166,000 NSF grant for a research project on cyber-physical systems. Such systems rely on crowd-sensing, where volunteers allow data on variables of interest to be pulled from their devices, such as temperature data for their area.

“The chances of winning this NSF grant were very low, but Florida Poly beat the odds,” said Jaimes, the grant project’s principal investigator. “There were many projects presented in the area of Cyber-Physical Systems and only two percent won a grant.”

Jaimes and Akbas’ project will look into spatial and temporal coverage in crowd-sensing systems, particularly in isolated sub-regions where participants’ density is very low.

“This technology will help us get more accurate and more up-to-date information on weather, traffic, or even pollen,” said Akbas. “Then people can make better decisions based on their individual needs, like changing their daily commute to reduce stress or avoid environmental conditions that represent a health risk.”

The NSF grant will help uncover other potential applications for the research, including autonomous vehicle scheduling and navigation, smart robots navigation and smart utilization of transportation resources.

“It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to develop this project in the next two years and be able to hire students to help us with the process,” said Jaimes.

Clewiston hosting 32nd annual Sugar Festival on March 17

Country music and sweet treats are headed to Clewiston next week for the 32nd annual Sugar Festival.

“This community event will have plenty of music, sweet food, arts and crafts and activities to offer people of all ages,” said Hillary Hyslope, executive director of the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Clewiston Sugar Festival committee. “Sugar Festival is Clewiston at its best: good music, food and people.”

Among the visitors for the March 17 event in “America’s Sweetest Town” are music acts Big & Rich, Easton Corbin, Brooke Eden, Doug Stone and the Cody Williams Band.

Music isn’t the only draw for the all-day event at the Civic Park on U.S. Hwy 27.

The agenda also includes the Sugar Fest 5K Run, the Sweet Taste of Sugar baking contest, and plenty of food vendors, arts and craft booths, tractor displays and a car show.

Those looking for some competition can put their name down for pickle ball, horseshoe and cornhole tournaments. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is sponsoring a free Kids Park with bounce houses, inflatable slides and other activities. Additionally, the festival will feature an alligator wrestling show provided by Billie Swamp Safari.

“The Clewiston Sugar Festival is a special time for our entire community to get together and recognize another successful season,” said Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communication and public affairs for U.S. Sugar. “We look forward to hosting guests from near and far and showing why Clewiston truly is ‘America’s Sweetest Town.’”

The festival coincides with the region’s annual sugarcane harvest and celebrates the harvest’s economic significance within the Glades region.

U.S. Sugar is the main backer of this year’s festival. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, FPL and the Hendry County Tourist Development Council are also sponsoring the event.

More information on the Clewiston Sugar Festival, including a complete schedule of events, is available at clewistonsugarfestival.net and on Facebook.

Senate rejects changes to course requirement in opioid bill

A last-minute attempt to strip out a narrow requirement for the continuing education course required by the bill combatting the opioid epidemic failed in the Senate Wednesday.

Both HB 21 and the Senate opioid bill, SB 8, would require all physicians who prescribe controlled substances to take a two-hour continuing education course every two years to maintain their medical license.

HB 21, however, requires the course be administered by “a statewide professional association of physicians in this state,” while SB 8 simply required the course be board approved, similar to the requirements for other continuing medical education courses.

The House passed the opioid bill last week and the Senate is considering their version in lieu of SB 8. An amendment filed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Senate bill’s sponsor, on Monday didn’t change the language surrounding the course.

Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston attempted to remove the requirement via a late-filed amendment, but the measure was defeated Tuesday afternoon.

With the provision still in place, there are only four groups that would qualify to offer the course as of now: the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, the Florida Academy of Family Physicians and the Florida Psychiatric Society.

FMA and FOMA were singled out by House lawmakers last week as having the most to gain by the course requirement.

Avon Park Republican Rep. Cary Pigman said at the time that the associations “will get revenue of $4.4 million to $8.8 million every two years, which is probably why they support this bill. So when we vote for it with this piece in it, that’s what we are voting for.”

FMA rejects that assessment, contending that any number of organizations can take the steps to become certified.

“The amendment failed, reflecting the desire for a uniform continuing education course on controlled substance prescribing,” said FMA general counsel Jeff Scott. “It is important to note that the course will have to be approved by each board that has practitioners who prescribe controlled substances, and will be provided by any entity that has the required national certification – of which there are currently several.”

HB 21 is pending a vote in the Senate, after which it will move back to the House for a final vote, barring any other amendments.

Local transit agencies seeks testers for mobile app, smartcard system

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority said Wednesday its looking for volunteers to help test out the beta version of a new mobile ticketing app and smartcard system slated to roll out later this year.

PSTA said use of the app, Flamingo Fares, and smartcards will cross county lines, with the transportation systems in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Sarasota all signing on to use the platform.

“We’re looking for riders who are excited to be among the first group of people to see Flamingo Fares in its full form,” said Brad Miller, Chief Executive Officer of PSTA. “This innovative app is going to change the way people experience transit in Tampa Bay and across the region.”

Those looking to be among the first to get the app have until mid-April to sign up for the beta test. PTSA said its looking for 200 volunteers for the test run.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority is also looking for 200 testers. Their recruitment window also runs through the middle of next month.

“The Flamingo Fares regional payment solution is a great step toward helping our riders more easily navigate transit options across our collective communities,” said Jeff Seward, interim CEO of HART. “Our initial testing group will provide our teams with valuable insight and feedback to ensure a smooth deployment once the service launches later this year.”

Flamingo Fares is available on the Google Play and iOS app stores. Android users will need to be running OS version 4.4 or later to get the app, while Apple users will need iOS 8.0 or later.

More information on the app is available on the PSTA website.

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