Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Ruta Jouniari becomes second Democrat to join HD 72 contest

Sarasota businesswoman, philanthropist, and community activist Rita Jouniari announced her candidacy for the special election in the House District 72 seat, becoming the second Democrat to join the race.

A Boston native, the 50-year-old Journiari has worked for much of her career in health care, beginning with Aetna U.S. Healthcare.

She founded the International Staffing Group, back in January of 2004. It’s a recruiting agency that places aviation personnel globally.

In 2016, she founded Universal Crescent Clinic, a free Sarasota healthcare clinic staffed by volunteers that provides care for those without insurance in Sarasota, Manatee, Desoto, and Charlotte counties.

Jouniari joins Margaret Good in the Democratic primary.

House District 72 was won handily last November by Republican Alex Miller, who abruptly announced a month ago that she was resigning from her seat, citing family and business reasons.

Realtor James Buchanan, the son of Congressman Vern Buchanan, has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the seat. Republican Alexandra Coe and Libertarian Alison Foxall has also entered the contest.

The Democratic primary takes place on December 5, with the general election scheduled for February 13, 2018.

David Jolly, Patrick Murphy ready to take their act on the road

While he’s not sure if he will attempt to resume his political career by running against Charlie Crist in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, former Republican congressman David Jolly says he will be part of another campaign in the future – a GOP effort to block Donald Trump from being renominated in 2020 as the party’s presidential nominee. Read more

Kathy Castor: Graham-Cassidy health care bill would ‘devastate’ Florida families

If the latest Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed in the U.S. Senate next week, Kathy Castor believes it would be “devastating” to Florida families.

“We’re dealing with devastation from the hurricane, but here is a bill that’s going to be devastating to families all across America,” the Tampa Democratic congresswoman said at a news conference Thursday in front of a Tampa Family Health Center in North Tampa.

The bill, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy, would shift federal funds away from states that have managed to expand coverage to the states where Republican leaders refused to expand Medicaid or encourage enrollment.

Castor depicted the bill in draconian terms, saying that those currently on the ACA, as well as those relying on Medicaid, would be deleteriously affected. Even those getting employer-based health care would suffer, she said.

“What this bill does is raise costs, it rips coverage away for millions of Americans, it imposes an age tax, and it tanks all of the efforts that were underway to create a bipartisan solution to lower costs and increased coverage across the country.”

That bipartisan legislation Castor mentioned was a proposal by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Washington Democrat Patty Murray intending to stabilize 2018 premiums in the individual health insurance market.

On Tuesday, Alexander declared those negotiations were dead as the GOP establishment rallied around the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Damian Caraballo, an emergency medicine physician, said the American College of Emergency Physicians is dead-set against the GOP bill, adding that it had several “concerning provisions.”

“What we really want is to make sure that our patients have access to care and access to specialists,” he said.

The March of Dimes is one of more than a dozen organizations opposing the Graham-Cassidy bill. “We are more interested in the bipartisan approach,” said the organization’s Heddy Sumpter.

Advocates for the bill say that devolving the issue to the states will be a boon for the public since state lawmakers are more in touch with their constituents than is the case in Washington.

But in a state in which GOP lawmakers rejected expanding Medicaid that would have provided health care to at least 700,000 more Floridians, Castor said it was too big a risk to let Tallahassee have more control over people’s health care.

“I’m afraid based on our history with Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature the guarantee against discrimination for pre-existing conditions would be at risk,” she said. “I believe they would have a very skimpy package for essential health benefits that’s currently provided by the ACA. I think they would cut Medicaid substantially over time.

“It would all be in their hands, and there would be very little federal oversight to make sure that families get the care that they need,” the Tampa Representative added.

Senate Republicans likely will vote on the bill by the end of next week. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will only bring up the bill if it will be successful. Republicans need 50 votes for it to pass.

Florida needs to improve sewage systems, enviro group says

Hurricane Irma caused massive sewage overflows in Florida, prompting an environmental group to call on local communities to improve infrastructure to prevent that from happening again when the next big storm hits.

“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, but sewage in our streets and bays shouldn’t be,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “As these storms get more severe and frequent, we have to be ready for some pretty challenging conditions. We’re not ready now.”

The Department of Environmental Protection has received more than 200 cases of sewage spills since Irma barreled through Florida 10 days ago.

Environment Florida, Florida PIRG and the Frontier Group released a factsheet Wednesday demonstrating that many of the sewer systems in the state’s biggest coastal cities were unable to handle the strong rains and winds that a hurricane like Irma delivered.

Advocates say that the bacteria and viruses in wastewater can infect humans and animals.

“Elevated levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage spills can pollute oceans, lakes and rivers,” said Justin Bloom, director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “These nutrients can trigger algae blooms that eventually suffocate wildlife.”
Among the examples of communities waste water systems unable to handle the storm included:

— In Fort Myers, 32 of the city’s 200 or so lift stations were offline as of September 14, with local reports of wastewater flowing out of yards and into streets.
— From September 11 to 13, Jacksonville Electric Authority reported spilling more than 2.2 million gallons of sewage due to power outages, water inflows and equipment failure following the hurricane.
— The sewer authority in Miami-Dade County reported releasing 6 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into Biscayne Bay.
— A boil-water notice was sent to all residents in Collier County following “extensive damage” to sewer and drinking water lines on September 11.

In Tampa, more than a third of the city’s 230 sewage pumping stations lost power during the hurricane. The amount of untreated waste water spilled has never been fully reported.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said that ensuring that doesn’t happen during the next major storm is something that has to be addressed. “We’ve got to find a way to buy generators or some other way to harden it so that even in a Cat 1 storm or a squirrel attack, they can’t knock the lines out,” Buckhorn said last week.

“Sewage isn’t just disgusting. It’s also a health hazard that can make us really sick,” Rubiello said. “We need to do everything we can to keep it away from our homes.”

To prepare for future storms, Environment Florida is calling on lawmakers to update leaky pipes and ensure that pumping stations have access to power, as well as implement low-tech solutions to minimize future spills such as including installing rain barrels and restoring wetlands.

DOJ says Bernie Madoff victims are finally about to be compensated

Nearly nine years after former Nasdaq chair Bernie Madoff was arrested for running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, his victims may finally start receiving compensation within the next few months.

More than $4 billion sits in a fund created in 2012 to repay Madoff’s victims in one of the biggest fraud cases ever. The fund consists of $2.4 billion from the estate of one of his Madoff’s largest investors, the late Jeffry Picower, as well as $1.7 billion from a 2014 forfeiture deal with Madoff’s bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The Department of Justice says that the special master hired to review the petitions filed by the victims, Richard Breeden, has now completed his work in evaluating those applications. All told, Breeden evaluated over 65,000 petitions from victims in 136 countries, and approved 35,000 petitions.

“The Department recently notified victims whose petitions have been approved and is poised to issue initial distributions from the Assets Forfeiture Funds by the end of 2017,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd writes in a letter to Congressman Vern Buchanan. In May, the Sarasota Republican had contacted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging him to expedite payments for those Madoff defrauded.

“These victims, many of whom are from Sarasota and Southwest Florida, were cheated out of their security and life savings,” Buchanan said in a statement Wednesday, noting the Ponzi scheme also affected charities and retirement funds for police and firefighters. “I’m pleased the Justice Department is finally taking action to help these victims, but it should have happened much sooner.”

Florida is home to the second-largest number of Madoff victims after New York, where the investment company was based. As reported by the Miami Herald, according to Madoff’s client list, nearly one in five of his customers hailed from Florida.

The highest concentration of Madoff victims was in South Florida. In Miami-Dade County, there were 251 victims. Palm Beach County was second most with 1,183; Broward County had 311 victims.

The Justice Department says that the initial distributions from the Assets Forfeiture Fund will represent the largest in the history of the fund.

In his letter to Sessions back in May, Buchanan noted that while Madoff’s victims had yet to receive a penny in compensation, Breeden’s company had been paid $39 million.

Madoff surrendered in December 2008. The former Nasdaq chairman was sentenced to 150 years in prison in 2009 after he pleaded guilty to fraud charges and admitted he had used funds from some investors to pay others — all while living a life of luxury.

 

Ross Spano files bill declaring pornography a ‘public health crisis’

Does Florida have a pornography problem? State Rep. Ross Spano thinks so.

That’s why the Dover Republican proposed a resolution that would recognize pornography is creating a “public health crisis” in the Sunshine State.

According to the proposal: “The public health crisis created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change to protect the citizens of this state.”

Like other bills filed by Florida GOP lawmakers, similar legislation has already been introduced and passed in additional Red states.

More than a year ago, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution declaring pornography a “public health hazard.”

Tennessee lawmakers approved a joint resolution in June that “recognizes pornography as a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and [social] harms.”

In Virginia,  Republican Bob Marshall filed a resolution last December to declare pornography “a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.” The text of his proposal calls for “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Spano was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning.

One week after Irma, Rick Scott says ‘we’ve got to get tourists back’

With so much of Florida’s economy tied to tourism, Rick Scott believes it is essential the state get back to normal as soon as possible following Hurricane Irma, making the state inviting for visitors to return.

“One out of every six jobs in the state are tied to tourism. So we gotta make sure that we’re always marketing our state,” said the governor — who is always focused on jobs and the economy — after thanking first responders in a brief appearance Tuesday at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Dept. on East Falkenberg Road.

“When the national news is about a hurricane, people rightfully are going to say, ‘wait a minute. Is that a place where I should go?’ So we gotta get our message out.”

Before that can happen though, the governor acknowledges there’s still extensive cleanup that needs to happen. That’s why he’s asked for a plan from all sixty-seven counties in the state about how they will remove the extensive debris that litters many parts of the state following the storm’s ascent up the entire state nine days ago.

“We’ve got to get our tourists back because so many jobs are tied to tourism,” Scott repeated, adding that so many of those in the service economy in Florida are paid by the hour and make their living off tips.

“It’s very important that we get tourists back as quickly as we can all across the state,” he said.

Irma most devastated Florida’s lower Keys. Yet Scott imposed an aspirational October 1 deadline to open the region to visitors.

“We’ve had issues with the sewage system, but the real issue [in both short- and long-term] is housing,” the governor said.

Scott was also asked on three different occasions during his brief media scrum with reporters about the performance of the public utilities in the state. In Seminole County on Tuesday, state lawmakers questioned a Duke Energy official about the company’s response to Hurricane Irma.

Chris Flack, the Vice President of Government Affairs for Duke Energy, started the session with an apology to their customers, saying that the company had let them down.

Scott gave deference to the utility companies for their performance in the storm, but finally admitted that when a company sets a deadline and fails to meet it, people are going to be disappointed. That was the case in Pinellas County, where Duke Energy officials promised most people would have power back by midnight Friday.

“We all expect people to live up to what they tell us, that’s just how we all work in our own lives, right?” he said. “So the expectation is that if you put a deadline out, you meet your deadline.”

Scott said he often speaks with heads of some Florida public utilities; linemen and linewomen have had to contend with a lot of foliage due to downed trees throughout the state, he explained.

“They also told me that if you’re more rural, there’s more downed trees out there,” he said. “I expect everybody to live by what they tell people. We all want our power back as soon as possible. They’ve had seven days. We’d like to get out power back.”

Democrat Margaret Good running for HD 72

Florida Democrats now have a candidate vying for the open House District 72 in the Sarasota area recently vacated by Republican Alex Miller. She’s attorney and community activist Margaret Good, who announced her candidacy over the weekend.

“As we struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, I’ve been helping my neighbors and our community with recovery – but I know there is so much more I can do,” Good said in a statement. ”It’s time to shake things up in Tallahassee and fight for the health care and jobs we need, the education our children deserve, and the environment that we love.”

Good is the first Democrat to enter into the special election, which is slated to take place next February. Realtor James Buchanan, the son of Congressman Vern Buchanan, is the only Republican to enter the race. He had been running for the House District 71 seat, where he had already raised more than $165,000.

“Margaret is a ‘dream candidate,'” declared former Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Christine Jennings. “Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike will support her because of her spirit of caring about people, her intellect, and her character.”

Good was born in Georgia and received her undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina. She then attended law school at the University of Florida, where she edited the Florida Law Review. She now works at the Sarasota-based law firm of Matthews Eastmoore.

“We love working with Margaret for the same reasons voters will want her working for them: an outstanding educational background, extensive business and real-world experience, and a demonstrated commitment to caring about people and finding practical solutions to problems which people of all political persuasions agree must get done,” says Lamar Matthews, former general counsel for former Florida Gov. & U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and a founder of Matthews Eastmoore.

The HD 72 seat became open after Miller announced last month that she would be stepping down from the seat almost immediately to spend more time with her family.

The third candidate in the race is Libertarian Alison Foxall, who announced her candidacy shortly after Miller’s said she would exit the Legislature.

 

Vern Buchanan says he’ll back extending CHIP

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan said Monday he intends to support the federal-state program that provides health coverage to millions of children in lower-and middle-class families.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is up for renewal at the end of this month.

“This important program provides peace of mind to families that if their children get sick, they will get the medical attention they need,” Buchanan said. “I grew up in a blue-collar home with five brothers and sisters, so I understand how important that is.”

That appears to be the overriding sentiment on Capitol Hill, where the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, announced last week that they had reached agreement on a plan to keep the program afloat.

CHIP covers more than 9 million kids, most from families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers health care for people with low incomes. Income eligibility levels for CHIP vary widely among states, though most set thresholds at or below 200 percent of the poverty level — about $49,000 for a family of four. Unlike Medicaid, CHIP is usually not free to participants. Enrolled families pay an average premium of about $127 a year.

There is bipartisan support for the bill, though there are probably more Democrats than Republicans who support it in the House. In May, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to cut $400 million from the program.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor participated in a news conference late last month with other local Democrats urging Congress to reapprove funding for the program.

Buchanan voted for extending CHIP the last time its funding came before the House nearly a decade ago.

The legislation originally was created for the federal government and the states to share its costs, but the Affordable Care Act increased the federal share in each state by 23 percentage points. As a result, the federal government pays the entire cost in 11 states, according to The New York Times.

The agreement by the Senate leaders would gradually restore the financial partnership between the federal government and the states. The federal share would continue to be enhanced by 23 percentage points, as under current law, for two more years, in 2018 and 2019. The increase would then be halved, to 11.5 percentage points, in 2020, and would be eliminated in 2021 and 2022.

 

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