Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 374

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

Rapid transit plan – Wesley Chapel to St. Pete – gets unveiled

A transportation plan for the Tampa Bay area that would use bus rapid transit (BRT) and not rail to move riders from Wesley Chapel in Pasco County to downtown St. Petersburg was introduced to the public Friday.

Called a “catalyst” project because of the hopes that it would jumpstart transit planning in the region, the 41-mile, rubber transit line along I-275 was presented by a consultant to the members of the Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA) Leadership Group on Friday in St. Petersburg.

The TMA consists of political and transportation leaders from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on the initial concept of the plan last week, so most of those in attendance at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) headquarters were aware that it was a BRT and not a rail project, but all were hungry for more specific information.

“This is not your everyday bus,” Scott Pringle with Jacobs Engineering said in introducing the plan. Jacobs Engineering is the company conducting the transit.

“It doesn’t look like a bus, it looks a train, and has the same passenger amenities that rail service has,” he said.

Though not exclusively throughout its 41 miles, there would be a separate lane at different parts of the route for the bus to bypass congestion, enabling it to travel as fast as a train. There would also be transit stations along the route, some elevated. Because of those differences, Pringle calls it “rubber tire” rather than bus service.

Originally called a premium transit study but now renamed the regional transit feasibility plan, Pringle said that the research that his team at Jacobs did last year ultimately came down between two options – the I-275 Wesley Chapel to St. Petersburg BRT project, or a nine-mile CSX rail corridor project between the USF area in Tampa to downtown Tampa.

He presented a slideshow on how and why his team ultimately chose the BRT project. Much of it came down to costs.

Pringle presented side by side comparisons showing that the cost per trip is cheaper via the I-275/BRT project at $8-$10 a ride, vs. $10-$13 from CSX.

The total cost for the I-275/BRT project would range between $380-$455 million. The CSX project would range from $490-$620 million.

There is also this: There would be no need to build right-of-way for the BRT project vs. the CSX project, and it would take roughly half as much time: 5 years vs. 10 years, to construct the BRT project. He said it would initially serve about 4,100 passengers.

Jacobs said the decision to jettison rail and focus on BRT came last November when realizing the total dollars involved. Jacobs Engineering realized that it would cost between $2.5 and $4 billion to build passenger rail or a dedicated interstate median.

The project also connects to a number of transportation projects in the region either underway or in the planning stages, such as Pasco County’s Vision 54/56, the City of Tampa’s Streetcar Extension, the Florida Dept. of Transportation’s (FDOT) identification of Regional Intermodal Centers, and St. Petersburg’s  Central Avenue BRT (which will actually run on First Avenue North and First Avenue South).

FDOT is funding the $1.5 million study, but it’s the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority which has been overseeing the project. FDOT’s District 7 secretary David Gwynne said that while his agency has nothing to do with the plan being proposed, it has set aside $5 million if a project is decided upon that will enter the process for federal funding.  He agreed that there are already plans by DOT to improve roadways along I-275 that could create “synergies” with the proposed BRT route, lowering the overall costs of the project.

Reviews were scattered.

“I think project definitely gets us started,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. 

Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said she was fine with the express buses and limited stops as an option, but opposed the idea of spending money on elevated stations.

“I don’t think it will be transformative,” she said.

“Today’s presentation if off to a good start by showing we can significantly lower costs, attract federal funding and innovate with existing structures,” said St. Pete City Councilwoman and PSTA Chair Darden Rice. 

Transit advocates in Tampa weren’t so impressed.

“This Regional Transit Project seems to be more of the same a little bit of money spent that won’t create as good of benefits as the less sexy work of making urban transit service work,” said Kevin Thurman. “I’ll take the dedicated transit Right of Way to operate service in, but the project itself isn’t too impressive no matter what mode (rail, Bus, etc). If people want a transit upgrade here it must be combined with a massive commitment to increase the usability of the bus service — not follow a gutting of the service with this kind of project. “

Michelle Cookson with the Tampa-based group Sunshine Citizens said the entire process of the transit feasibility plan is flawed because of a lack of meaningful input and collaboration with the public.

“It has that same feel of ‘here’s the pre-determined outcome, a political solution’ instead of listening to the public that has consistently, repeatedly communicated that they want emphasis on a vision and comprehensive plan- one that includes several, connected mass transit modes (light rail, gold standard BRT, modernized, extended streetcar),” she wrote in an email.

Cookson also criticized what she said has been a glaring lack of transparency in the process.

Pinellas County Commission candidate and Greenlight Pinellas foe Barb Haselden praised the fact that rail was now off the table.

“On behalf of the 62 percent of Pinellas voters that voted against rail, we hope you will no longer go down that road,” she said, referring to percentage that the 2014 transit tax went down to defeat.

Pringles said that there would be a very robust outreach period taking place over the spring and summer. After incorporating that feedback, the plan will be finalized in the fall.

Ted Deutch co-sponsors bill to strengthen Congress’ sexual harassment policies

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch is joining a bipartisan coalition of House members to unveil legislation to improve workplace protections in Congress.

Under the proposal, called the “Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act,” taxpayers would no longer pay for sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress.

Members would be required to pay such settlements themselves, as opposed to the current system, which has been described as confusing and secretive.

“At a moment when women around the country are standing up to sexual harassment, Congress is finally taking action to strengthen our antiquated workplace protections,” said Deutch, the ranking member of the House Committee on Ethics. “The Congressional Accountability Act passed almost a quarter of a century ago, and victims of sexual harassment in Congress have encountered a system with no transparency, little respect for the abused, and too many hurdles to seeking justice.

“Everyone – from Congressional interns to Members of Congress – deserves a safe workplace environment free from harassment or abuse. This bill will make it easier for victims to speak out, ensure that legal resources are available to them, and most importantly offer them a way to seek justice without fear of retribution. And when Members of Congress pay for their bad behavior, taxpayers will no longer foot the bill.”

The Office of Compliance released information in November indicating that it has paid victims of sexual harassment more than $17 million since its creation s. That included all settlements, not just related to sexual harassment, but also discrimination and other cases.

The bill removes the requirement that a nondisclosure agreement be signed in order for someone to open a complaint.

It also say that any confidentiality agreement must be agreed upon by both parties. It also removes a mandatory 30-day counseling stage and 30-day mediation stage that has often intimidated accusers from moving forward. Instead, an investigation is opened immediately and mediation is voluntary, according to a summary of the legislation by NBC News.

A number of members of Congress have resigned their seats in recent months due to allegations of sexual harassment or assault, including Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks and Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken. Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold and Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen have also announced they would not seek reelection following multiple sexual harassment allegations that emerged against them, and both face House ethics committee probes stemming from those claims.

St. Pete Police Chief says only problem on MLK Day was lack of communications

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the City Council, and Police Chief Tony Holloway received an earful from the public Thursday as residents expressed their frustration with the shutting down of areas in the south side of town following a parade honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Officers blocked streets, parking lots and other spaces where people might congregate, infuriating residents, most of whom are African American.

Yet to Holloway, Monday was a success. The only apology he offered was for his department’s failure to to inform the public about the plan to close off certain parts of the city.

Citing several shooting and deaths which occurred on past MLK holidays, Holloway said he has been working with members of the community to make the day a safer event.

“The plan worked,” he said, “except we did a bad job in communicating to the community when and how we were going to direct traffic through the community.”

Citing the St. Anthony’s Triathlon as an example, Holloway said that during every major event in the city, the police move traffic; so what they did Monday was not unusual or specific for the southside. And the chief said by the indices he goes by, Monday was a very good day.

“No homicides. No fights. No arrests. No people were fined. And people had a good time that day up until we did the traffic,” he said.

Still, Holloway said he hoped to create a task force comprised of members of the community to make the day flow more efficiently in 2019.

Kriseman said the top priority of city government is public safety, although he acknowledged that must be balanced with respect for the community.

“There are a number of things that can be improved upon next year, one of which is communication with the community prior to the event,” the mayor said, adding that he told Holloway on Tuesday morning that going forward, he is to be briefed about the police department’s plan for public safety prior to any major event.

More than two dozen people spoke during the Council meeting. Many seethed with frustration about having some of their basic freedoms thwarted without any given reasons.

Why so many police officers? Why couldn’t they visit their friends and family members? Why were they threatened with arrest and fines for cooking and refusing to leave public and private property when people were not doing anything wrong?

“We were treated as if we were in a police state,” said Linda McBivens. “You violated our civil rights. I have never witnessed such violation of my rights.”

Activist Gwen Reese said the police were extremely disrespectful to members of the public. This shows a need for additional training, she said.

“What we saw was totally unacceptable,” said Reese, who called it “blatant disregard and disrespect for the African American community.”

Many learned about the blockades on Monday from video posted on Facebook by activist Brother John Muhammad.

“I’m opposed to policies that intentionally prevent black people from gathering. And preventing us from moving about freely in our community was reminiscent of the sundown laws, black codes and Jim Crow practices Dr. King gave his life fighting to abolish,” Muhammed told the Council.

Many others referenced the racial disparities in the police seemingly allowing anything to go on when the Pride festival takes place versus the actions by black residents on a national holiday celebrating a civil rights icon.

After the initial thirty minutes of public comment, Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman attempted to move on to the regular agenda, as per Council rules. She informed those who still wished to speak that they could do so after the meeting, and called for a ten minute recess.

Members of the public challenged her decision. After the break she resumed public comment after addressing one time-sensitive issue.

One member of the public afterwards said her initial move to end public comment would be remembered when she runs for re-election next year.

Vern Buchanan says CHIP funding enough reason to support short-term spending bill

To garner sufficient support to keep the government from shutting down midnight Friday, House Republican leaders are including funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to a four-week spending bill.

That’s good enough for Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan to get on board in supporting the bill.

“We cannot allow this program to lapse and jeopardize the health of 9 million children nationwide,” Buchanan said Thursday. “I am urging congressional leaders from both parties to work together on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize this critical program for six years.”

However, that plan may have blown up when President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short-term, extension!”

That was followed up shortly by a tweet from Texas Senator John Cornyn, who reminded the president that, “the current house Continuing Resolution package has a six-year extension of CHIP, not a 30 day extension.”

As the clock ticks down toward a potential government shutdown, there remains doubt about whether Congress will support a continuing resolution, the fourth since last October.

If Congress fails to act, funding for the CHIP program is scheduled to expire March 31.  While most members of Congress say they need to reauthorize the program, Democrats, in particular, have said that the issue should be decoupled from the spending bill. CHIP is a bipartisan program that provides health insurance to 9 million children. It’s provided to the children of families who earn too much for Medicaid but do not receive insurance through their employers.

Buchanan says that isn’t the right call.

“We should not be playing politics when the health of our children is at stake,” he said.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is asking Democrats to vote against the continuing resolution Friday, despite the inclusion of CHIP funding. On Wednesday, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist announced he would not vote for the resolution.

Charlie Crist a ‘no’ vote on bill to avoid government shutdown

While Congress stares at a potential government shutdown Friday, St. Petersburg U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is one House Democrat who says he won’t vote for another stopgap spending bill to keep the government afloat for another four weeks.

“The House of Representatives is once again being asked to vote on a short-term spending bill that fails to address the many urgent challenges facing our nation. I voted for the last two continuing resolutions to allow more time to negotiate these issues. But ‘time’s up,'” Crist said in a statement Wednesday night.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to vote against the latest measure proposed by GOP leaders that would fund the government until February 16.

The continuing resolution, or “CR,” would be the fourth since the fiscal year began on October 1.

“This is no way to run a government. What does kicking the can to mid-February help solve that we can’t hash out this week? The answer: nothing,” a disgusted Crist said.

Democrats are unhappy that the CR currently does not include a plan to deal with the more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.” It does extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and delay some Affordable Care Act taxes that also help pay for the health insurance program.

“The American people elected us to solve problems, not play games,” Crist said. “Unless or until we get serious about the fixes and compromises we know we need to make to move our nation forward, I’m a NO on the continuing resolution.”

With a majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans may not need many Democrats to support the continuing resolution. However, there are a number of members of Freedom Caucus members reportedly unhappy about another short term funding bill as well.

“It’s crisis management at its worst,” Gainesville Rep. Ted Yoho told POLITICO. “Nobody wants to shut down the government, but if they load this up … they’re going to have a fight on this.”

Gus Bilirakis ‘pleased’ as FCC chair announces plan on more targeted wireless alerts

Maybe, it was a drill, after all.

Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis is applauding a proposal unveiled last week by the Federal Communications Commission that will ensure that wireless alerts are delivered only to specific regions in danger.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that providers who participate in the FCC’s Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program will be required to “deliver alerts in a more geographically targeted manner.”

“This would encourage more local officials to use these alerts during emergencies as well as lead Americans to take more seriously the alerts they receive on their mobile devices,” Pai said in a statement last week. “More precise geographic targeting should also lead to fewer people opting out of receiving WEA messages.”

Bilirakis, who brought up the issue during a congressional hearing last May, says it’s the right thing to do.

“As I indicated last spring, I truly believe that continuing to strengthen the program as new innovations and technology becomes available will have a tremendous impact on the program’s success,” Bilirakis says. “For example, this FCC action could result in real-time road closure notifications during a coastal evacuation or the alerting of people within a targeted range of a pending child abduction.

“By making the information more relevant to the target audience, we can significantly increase the effectiveness of this lifesaving program. I am pleased to see the Chairman take this action, and I look forward to its consideration at the FCC.”

As suggested by Bilirakis during a hearing held last spring by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, geographic targeting will give more specific information to those who need it, without unnecessarily alerting and confusing others. The messages people receive will be more directly applicable to a person’s immediate surroundings.

The development comes just as the country is focusing on the emergency alert system after citizens in Hawaii received an emergency missile alert incorrectly sent Saturday morning. It took the agency 38 minutes to send a second alert confirming the first message was a false alarm.

Bilirakis is demanding an immediate review of emergency alert message deployment to include safeguards that would prevent fraudulent or accidental mass messages.

“We cannot have another false alarm like we saw in Hawaii this weekend,” Bilirakis said. “Spreading unnecessary panic, especially without an immediate follow-up notification of the error, does not adhere to the public safety mission.”

The FCC will vote on making the wireless alerts more geographically targeted at their monthly meeting Jan. 30.

Watch Bilirakis address speak with Dr. Farrokh Khatibi, the director of Engineering Qualcomm Technologies and Christopher Guttman-McCabe, CEO, CGM Advisors, LLC, on behalf of Advanced Computer and Communications:

Buddy Dyer, Andrew Gillum call on Congress to include DACA fix in budget bill

Mayors Buddy Dyer and Andrew Gillum have signed on to a letter to the Florida congressional delegation demanding it includes a plan to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in any proposal to keep the government running.

Congress must pass a spending bill by midnight Friday or else parts of the government will shut down.

The two mayors are among 70 different public officials and organizations who signed on to the letter.

According to The Hill, almost every Democrat is planning to oppose a Republican plan for a short-term spending patch, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to protest the absence of a DACA fix.

President Donald Trump announced last fall that he was would be dismantling the Obama-era immigration program, but gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative fix. Most Democrats have seized on having the Republican-led Congress deal with the issue this week, but GOP leadership has resisted that call, saying there is still plenty of time to deal with the issue. DACA has shielded more than 700,000 undocumented young people from deportation.

“The undersigned organizations and individuals are writing to ask that you support a vote on the DREAM Act in the January spending bill,” reads a portion of the letter. “We are deeply troubled by the uncertain future of nearly 800,000 young immigrant DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, who are already losing their legal status and need a legislative fix now. In Florida, nearly 32,800 individuals stand to lose their DACA status and related protections if Congress doesn’t act.”

Other co-signers include Orlando state Sen. Randolph Tracy and state Reps. Robert Ascencio of Miami, Joseph Geller from Dania Beach, Evan Jenne from Hollywood and Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith from Orlando — all Democrats.

Groups signing onto the letter include Equality Florida, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU of Florida and Mi Familia Vota.

Democrat Bob Buesing wants rematch against Dana Young for state Senate seat

Tampa attorney Bob Buesing will again challenge Republican Dana Young in Senate District 18

The 64-year-old Buesing lost to the 53-year-old Young by seven points in 2016, but that was not a one-on-one matchup.

Adult club entrepreneur and progressive activist Joe Redner ran an aggressive campaign (mostly against Young) as well, and finished a distant third with nearly ten percent of the vote.

Although Buesing and other Hillsborough Democrats denied that Redner’s presence would be a drag on his candidacy, Buesing admitted in a brief interview with Florida Politics last week that in fact he had been.

Redner has already announced his support for Buesing in 2018.

Whether Buesing can beat Young in a straight-up matchup remains to be seen, but Buesing says he is confident that with a surge of intensity amongst Democrats, he can be successful.

Young has a substantial head start in fundraising. She now has $160,418 in her campaign for Senate account, and an additional $690,595 in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million in 2016, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

The race between the three candidates was intense in 2016, and Buesing seems ready for that same level of intensity  this year. Although he was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, he told Florida Politics last summer that “it is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign.” B

District 18 covers much of Tampa and western unincorporated Hillsborough County.


ICE, Florida counties strike deal on new immigrant detention policy

Saying they’re tired of Congress punting on the issue, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, joined by the acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced a new agreement under which 17 local jails in Florida will hold undocumented immigrants for 48 hours after the inmate has posted bail to give federal agents time to take them into custody.

“Today is a good day for ICE. Today is a good day for Florida law enforcement. Today is a very good day for the residents of the state of Florida,” declared acting ICE Director Tom Homan, kicking off a news conference Wednesday announcing the new plan at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office in Largo.

The deal comes after months of (sometimes painstaking) negotiations between the Donald Trump administration, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) and the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA).

For years, most (but not all) sheriff departments around the country abided by the ICE policy of requesting local law enforcement agencies hold suspected undocumented immigrants for periods of up to 48 hours before being transferred to ICE custody for possible deportation.

But that changed after a 2014 U.S. District Court ruling in Oregon found that state’s Clackamas County was liable for a woman’s unlawful detention under an ICE request, leading many sheriff departments to stop abiding by ICE’s requests to detain the undocumented.

“Sheriffs were between a rock and a hard place,” Gualtieri said. “We had to choose between releasing criminals out of our jails to commit more crimes and victimize our communities, or hold these illegal aliens and risk being sued and having to pay six-figure judgments for civil rights violations. Both options are bad places to be as a sheriff.”

Under the new presidential administration, ICE also began issuing new “detainers forms” last spring. The previous detainer policy recommended that ICE officials issue detainers when an undocumented immigrant had a prior conviction, like a felony, or had been caught illegally re-entering the U.S. after being deported. The new detainer policy included no detailed guidance, meaning ICE could send local police a detainer for any “subject” they believe “is removable from the United States.”

Under the BOA, sheriffs will enter into written agreements with ICE to hold undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours. According to a statement from ICE, BOA is not a contract but rather set of terms negotiated between an agency and a service provider that contain a description of services to be provided, terms applicable to a future order between the parties, and a method for pricing, issuing, and delivering on future orders. The agreement will allow local sheriffs departments to get paid $50 for holding undocumented immigrants for 48 hours.

The name Kate Steinle was invoked several times throughout the news conference. She’s the woman killed in 2015 while walking along the San Francisco waterfront by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported from the U.S. five times before the 2015 incident.

Steinle’s case became a bête noire for critics of the current immigration system in America.

Prosecutors argued that Juan Garcia Zarate intentionally shot the 32-year-old Steinle, but last month a San Francisco jury ruled it an accident and instead convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which could bring a three-year sentence.

Trump blasted the verdict, and Homan criticized San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy, saying the incident could have been prevented if the city simply turned Garcia Karate over to ICE as requested, rather than releasing him back onto the streets.

ICE is instituting the BOA process with a relatively small number of partner jurisdictions in order to ensure a smooth rollout but intends to gradually expand implementation with willing law enforcement partners over the coming year.

Participating county sheriffs are Pinellas, Lee, Manatee, Bay, Walton, Hernando, Brevard, Polk, Indian River, Charlotte, Monroe, Sarasota, Columbia, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Hillsborough and Pasco.

After the news conference, the ACLU issued a statement criticizing the agreement.

“This plan is simply a repackaging of failed detainer policies that leaves sheriffs and jails on the hook for civil rights violations,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project.

“Nothing announced today addresses the basic legal problems with detainers that courts have repeatedly recognized, and this is yet another example of the Trump administration running roughshod over the law in pursuit of its mass deportation agenda.”

Anticipating the blowback, Gualtieri said the premise is “blatantly false.”

“These administrative warrants issued by ICE are in full compliance with the law, and it has been upheld by the courts,” he said, adding that federal judges had no authority to issue warrants.

“This basic agreement is a return to the rule of law,” said Polk County Sheriff and MCSA head Grady Judd. “We don’t create the law. We don’t interpret the law. The people in this country expect us to enforce the law.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said that Sheriff Gualtieri approached him about joining the agreement just a few weeks ago. He said that it just “reaffirms” what the HCSO has been doing already. “This just formalizes the process of having an agreement in place with immigration for them to have up to 48 hours to come take custody of an individual if they want to.”

Gualtieri said that it will take sometime before the proposal is unveiled to other counties in Florida, and ultimately the rest of the country. When asked if this was a mandate that every sheriff’s department would be forced to adhere to, Gualtieri said it wasn’t a legal mandate, but a moral one.

“I view it as a mandate because we need to do the right thing,” he added.

The new reaction to the policy seemed divided along party lines.

“The trauma of witnessing or experiencing discrimination, detention, and deportation can have long lasting impacts on physical and mental health. Couple this with lack of access to healthcare that communities of color already face, and we are creating more problems than offering real, meaningful solutions that all Floridians deserve,” said House District 47 Democratic candidate Anna Eskamani

“The project also furthers the goals of House Bill 9, recently passed by the Florida House, to support federal immigration enforcement and safeguard the citizens of Florida,”  said Florida House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Sprowls, a Republican from Safety Harbor. “The project will see federal and local law enforcement agencies working together to protect our community and strengthen the legal immigration process. I am happy to support this initiative.”

Bill to remove public email addresses for judges stalls in House committee

Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw’s first bill (HB 507) to go before a committee since he declared his candidacy for Attorney General was not well-received Wednesday.

Shaw unveiled a proposal to provide an exemption from public records requirements for business email addresses of current justice and judges in Florida.

Appearing before the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, Shaw said the legislation was necessary because there have been cases where an email address of a judge or justice has been included in ex parte communications, which could result in the judge or justice having to recuse themselves from a case.

But several members of the committee questioned the need for the bill, since all Florida judges already have official email addresses.

“We all have email addresses right, but I’m not over a case that may be before me where it’s inappropriate for me to engage in communications with the litigants,” Shaw told Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison.

Lee Circuit Judge Margaret Steinbeck told the committee that the Florida court system strongly supports the bill. She said that litigants in a court case don’t know that it’s inappropriate for them to contact the judge in their case directly, and said it happens frequently in family cases.

Steinbeck said that when she receives an email from someone she doesn’t know, she refuses to open it, and instead asks her assistant to read it “because I don’t want to recuse. That’s the problem.”

When asked by Pensacola Republican Frank White if she had ever had to recuse herself from a case because of such an issue with a litigant, Steinbeck said she had not.

Feeling the tenor in the room, Shaw asked that the bill be temporarily postponed.

The legislation is opposed by the First Amendment Foundation.

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