Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 294

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

Bill to make Miami-Dade County Sheriff an elected position advances in Florida Senate

A bill sponsored by Miami Republican Frank Artilles that would bring back the position of an elected mayor position in Miami-Dade County advanced in a Florida Senate Committee on Tuesday.

The Florida Constitution requires each county to elect a county sheriff, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector, and clerk of circuit courts. However, the constitution also allowed individual counties to change the way those positions (or equivalent positions) are filled either by special vote or in the county charter. Miami-Dade is the only county out of the 67 in the state that does not elect their sheriff. In their current system of governance, Miami-Dade has an appointed chief law-enforcement officer whose title is Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Officially, the county government wants to keep things just the way they are.

“We’re opposed most significantly to the state deciding for Miami-Dade County, because even if Dade had voted against an elected sheriff, the rest of the state could impose that elected sheriff on Miami Dade County,” said Jess McCarty, a lobbyist for the Miami-Dade County government. “And I would ask each of you to think of your own communities, whether that’s what you would like – the state voting on local affairs?”

Fellow Miami resident Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat, also opposes the proposal. “I don’t think that a very, very blunt instrument going statewide is the way to resolve this.”

Others disagreed.

“We need autonomy. We need some separation of power. Otherwise you have absolute power and absolute corruption,” said John Rivera the president of both the statewide and Miami-Dade County chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. He said that Carlos Gimenez, the current Miami-Dade County Mayor, prefers the status quo.

“The Mayor has too much power,” complained North Miami Beach Senate Democrat Daphne Campbell. “This is why Miami did have so much corruption going on,” she said. “Once you’re elected, you have eyes watching you. When you’re selected, you have nobody watching you.”

She also accused Gimenez of intimidating his opponents.

Gimenez has been thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks, after he became one of the first mayors in the country to renounce his jurisdiction’s status as a sanctuary county, after President Trump threatened to yank federal funding from those cities and counties around the nation.

“It just does not compute to me that the sheriff is not elected,” said Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean. “Let’s give Miami-Dade a chance to have elected officials that are directly accountable to the people.”

And that’s exactly what the Senate Community Affairs Committee did on Tuesday, with only Campbell and Javier Rodriguez dissenting.

Artiles’ proposal needs approval by three-fifths of the Senate and three-fifths of the House, as well as support from 60 percent of voters in the 2018 election. It would apply statewide.


Ridesharing bill advances 21-1 in House committee

A bill to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies easily advanced in its last committee stop Tuesday in the Florida House, but not without some dissent from a handful of Democrats on the panel.

The bill (HB 221) is sponsored by Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls, and officials with Uber and Lyft are hoping that this is finally the year that such legislation is finally passed.

The bill would require transportation network companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. People would be prohibited from becoming rideshare drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The bill also tells local governments they cannot set their own conflicting regulations, which is why the Florida League of Cities opposes it.

All told, 21 of the 22 members of the House Committee on Government Accountability supported the bill. The lone dissenter was Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson, who said she has severe concerns about safety, specifically taking issue with the fact that background checks on ride-sharing drivers will only take place every three years.

“This bill is lacking in so many ways,” she said. “So many public safety issues are brought to bear.”

Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said she continues to consider the fact that the bill does not mandate signage on rideshare vehicles to be “problematic.”  She stated that the problem is now acute at the Fort Lauderdale airport and seaport.

“Somewhere along the line I hope we realize that signage is not only good for the company, the company’s already doing it, it’s good for those who are calling for the service, and I also think it’s really important for those governments that are having to do with so many drivers on governmental property,” Jacobs said.

“It’s been a cluster,” Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith cracked regarding the lack of uniformity of ridesharing from city to city in Florida. “The reality is when tourists come to our state, they’re coming from around the country, they arrive in airports in our state, and they’re confused because they’re able to request Uber and Lyft rides at certain airports, but they’re not able to request them in other airports.”

Like Watson, he also expressed concerns about the safety standards on ridesharing vehicles. The Sprowls-Grant bill (sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes) does not require mandatory vehicle inspections, as happens in most local jurisdictions regarding taxicabs and limousines.

“Our work on this bill, I think is far from done,” Guillermo Smith said, blasting the notion that the Ubers and Airbnb’s of the world are the future of the workforce in America. “I hope not, because most Uber drivers are driving for supplemental income,” he said.

The taxicab industry remains unsatisfied as well with the progress of the bill.

Louis Minardi, the owner of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa, feared that the bill allows for very limited oversight of ridesharing vehicles, “because most cities and counties will quit doing what they were doing before,” regarding regulations.

Other critics, like Dwight Mattingly from Palm Beach County, said that with more public transit agencies partnering up with Uber and Lyft, TNC drivers “must conform” to the same regulations that public for hire vehicles have had to adapt to.

Sprowls disagreed, saying those transit agencies can place those regulations in contracts with those companies. “If they want to add more onerous regulation than we have in our bill because they feel that they want to…they are able to do that,” he said.

A former prosecutor, Sprowls disputed the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than the ones that ridesharing drivers will be subjected to. “The FBI database has 95 million records. These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill, have 500 million records,” he said.

After passage of the bill, Uber and Lyft representatives were ecstatic.

“Today’s bipartisan vote is an encouraging indication that lawmakers recognize the safety and economic value of statewide access to ridesharing,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager with Uber Florida. “At Uber, our highest priority is the well-being of riders and drivers alike. Our commitment to innovation has created a layered system using the latest technology to protect all involved.

“Today’s approval of the ridesharing bill by the House Government Accountability Committee clears the way for this important legislation to be voted on by the full House,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “We are grateful for the advocacy of Reps. Sprowls and Grant on behalf of the millions of passengers and drivers who benefit from ridesharing in Florida. We look forward to continuing to advocate for consistent statewide rules for ridesharing that expand economic activity, prioritize public safety, and encourage innovation across the state.”

Marco Rubio to attend meetings in Europe this week – not in Tampa

While federal workers get Presidents’ Day off, Congress takes off the entire week.

For some lawmakers, that means coming home to host townhall meetings, which for many GOP lawmakers have become contentious affairs.

Others are traveling overseas this week, such as Florida’s U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio.

The recently re-elected Senator is traveling to Europe to speak with officials regarding the U.S. relationship with the European Union, NATO operations and Russian aggression in Europe.

That’s according to Rubio’s Facebook page. The post says that, “Senator Rubio is traveling overseas this week to attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Appropriations Committee, and Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Rubio is conducting this official oversight trip to discuss the U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs, and Russian aggression in Europe.”

What that means is that Rubio won’t be attending any townhall events, including one that was created by activists who had hoped he would attend this Wednesday night at the Tampa Letter Carriers Hall.

“Sadly, we have all grown accustom [sic] to our absent Senator,” writes Melissa Gallagher, who created the event on Facebook. She says that the townhall will go on without Rubio.

“The fact his team refuses to even consider him skyping in or connecting with us is beyond disappointing,” she writes.

“As part of the strategy of disruption outlined in their online activist manual, the organizers are deceiving people by falsely advertising this event, which is not connected to us in any way,” responds Rubio spokesman Matt Wolking.

“The protesters – some of whom failed to show up for meetings they scheduled with our staff – continue to fundraise off of it even though we informed them days ago Senator Rubio will not be there,” Wolking says. “We have been fully accessible and responsive to constituents, and our staff has already met with dozens of these liberal activists at our offices across Florida. As their manual reveals, their goal is to flood offices with calls and emails, disrupt our ability to respond, then complain to the press that they aren’t getting a response.”

Organizers had created a GoFundMe page to rent the hall for Wednesday, and as of Monday morning had raised $2,242, short of their $3,000 goal. The original fee was much lower, but Gallagher says that it was increased “after the venue received several calls from police in Tallahassee and Orlando.”

Lawmakers push to create registry of those convicted of animal cruelty

A bipartisan bill that would prevent animals from being sold to or adopted by people who have been convicted of animal abuse has been filed in the Florida House of Representatives.

The bill (HB 871) is sponsored by South Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz and David Richardson and Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia. It would create a publicly accessible animal abuse registry listing those convicted of felony crimes relating to animal cruelty. Under the legislation, pet dealers, animal shelters, and humane organizations would not be allowed to sell or allow animals to be adopted until they have verified that the person acquiring the animal is not on the animal abuse offender list.

Last year, Tennessee became the first state to adopt a state-wide animal abuser registry. According to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, nine other states are contemplating similar legislation in 2017.

“People who have been convicted of animal abuse shouldn’t be sold more animals,”said Moskowitz. “Making this data available as a resource to pet dealers is a commonsense and transparent solution that ensures the safety of Florida’s animals.”

“Today, Representative Moskowitz, Representative Richardson, and I are pleased to file HB 871 in an effort to reduce the sales of pets to individuals who have been convicted of animal abuse,” said Ingoglia. “The creation of an animal abuse registry will work similar to the sexual offender registry in that it will empower pet dealers and adoption agencies in knowing their customer.”

“We look forward to widespread bipartisan support for legislation that will reduce the level of cruelty and abuse of animals in the state of Florida,” declared Richardson. “After speaking with many constituents about these issues we recognize the significant value of moving forward with reforms. I look forward to working on this legislation with my colleagues.”




Moms Demand Action promise to be a presence during Session

Late last week, a federal appeal court struck down an NRA-backed law that restricted doctors in Florida from talking to patients about gun safety.

The legislation, often referred to as “Docs vs. Glocks,” passed during the 2011 Legislative session. It said doctors could be censored, fined, and have licenses revoked if asked or talked to patients about their firearms.

The court ruling stands out as a rare loss for the National Rifle Association in Florida, but only because they haven’t faced strong enough opposition, contends Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“The truth is, the gun lobby has run roughshod over the state for decades and they’re finally being countered by a coalition of concerned Floridians, moms, gun owners, educators, gun violence survivors and gun owners themselves,” she says of her organization, created in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Bills in the 2016 legislative session on open carry and allowing guns on college campuses passed through the House but were thwarted in the Senate after Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla refused to hold hearings on those two bills. However, the Miami Republican was defeated in November for re-election, and the pre-session hype is that those bills have a better chance in the 2017 Session.

Acknowledging that Diaz de la Portilla’s departure is “deeply felt,” Gajda says she remains confident that her organization’s advocacy can make a difference on those and other NRA-sponsored bills that will be winding their way through the Legislature when the regular session begins next month.

To assert their presence, more than 100 volunteers from Moms Demand Action intend to visit legislators in the Capitol Tuesday, where they will be joined by activists with the Michael Bloomberg founded gun control group Everytown, as well as gun violence survivors.

“The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” Gajda boldly declares. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight. They’re used to operating in rooms in with closed doors in secret meetings and in committee hearings that nobody attends, and what Moms have been able to do is force their agenda into the daylight, and we will be at every single committee hearing, telling them that this is not what Floridians want.”

At least eight bills dealing with guns are currently pending in the Legislature this year.

Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action are sponsoring the screening of a documentary, “The Armor of Light” Wednesday night on the USF campus.

The film centers around the relationship between Lucy McBath, the mother of unarmed 17-year Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by in 2012 in circumstances that highlighted the state’s Stand Your Ground law, and Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who is searching to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in the U.S.

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor is scheduled to speak before the screening, and there will be a panel discussion after the film featuring former Tampa assistant Police Chief Mary O’Connor, Hillsborough Safe & Sound Executive Director Freddy Barton, Assistant State Attorney Chinwe Fossett and Hyde Park United Methodist Director/Pastor Reverend Justin LaRosa.

That screening will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Lecture Hall on the USF campus. Parking will be available at the USF Sun Dome. (You can RSVP here).

Speaking of Stand Your Ground, on Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up HB 245, filed by Palatka Republican Bobby Payne and Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer. HB 245 would shift the burden of proof in “stand your ground” self-defense cases to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings. Last year, a similar bill was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley in the Senate and passed through before dying in a House committee.

“I want to make it super clear that there’s absolutely no constituency crying out for this bill,” says Gajda, “Not a single private citizen demanded this legislation. The gun lobby just wants to override Florida courts to advance its own agenda. There’s no demonstrated need to expand Stand Your Ground.”

“What I hope is the outcome of this is something that I hope we all agree on, that people who should not be arrested are not arrested, and people who should not go to trial do not go to trial,” Bradley said after his bill passed in a Senate committee last month. “If I believed that an individual who was otherwise guilty would go free because this bill passed, then I wouldn’t have filed the bill.”

Bill Nelson to vote against Scott Pruitt’s nomination for EPA Secretary

Citing his close ties to the oil industry, Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson said Thursday that he will be voting against Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s been well documented that the president’s pick is a friend of the oil industry,” Nelson said on the floor of the Senate. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but this is an industry that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to Mr. Pruitt and the PACs supporting him over the years.

Pruitt has received more than $200,000 in individual and PAC money from energy industry companies and employees since 2010.

As Oklahoma Attorney General, he went to court to fight more the 14 times, including President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. And according to a letter from more than 400 former EPA workers last week, issued more than 50 press releases celebrating lawsuits to overturn EPA standards to limit mercury emissions from power plants, reduce smog and haze, clean up the Chesapeake Bay and control greenhouse gases.

In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt notably said that he did not believe that climate change was a hoax. But Nelson says he also said that his views on climate change are immaterial to the job of the EPA administrator. Not so, said the senator.

“I can’t think of a more relevant issue for our EPA administrator to be concerned because Florida is ground zero when it comes to the effects of sea-level rise,” Nelson said, adding that “it’s critical that we have an EPA administrator that understands there are things that are happening because of climate change. It’s not immaterial to the job of the EPA administrator. It’s very relevant.”

On Wednesday, Maine’s Susan Collins became the first Republican Senator to announce her opposition to Pruitt’s nomination.

A final vote is expected before Friday evening.



Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Petersburg next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to

Pro-Trump super PAC chaired by Rick Scott dealing with FEC on reporting issues

Rebuilding America Now, Governor Rick Scott’s Super PAC that was established to elect Donald Trump, is being scrutinized by the Federal Elections Commission for inadequate reporting in the third quarter of last year.

On January 11, the FEC sent a Request for Additional Information (RFAI) regarding two items for that October quarterly report.

One of the items noted is the listing of a negative entry for $10,800 for return of a list rental fee to Castleblack, Ltd in Alexandria, Virginia.

“This method of reporting would clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and more accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amount,” reads the letter written by the FEC’s Kaitlin Seufert, Sr. Campaign Finance & Reviewing Analyst in theReports Analysis Division.

The other item noted by the FEC was an expenditure of $1,344,000 to Multi Media Services Corporation,  a political media planning and buying agency in Alexandria, Virginia.

The FEC letter notes that a political committee must file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours of any independent expenditures aggregating $10,000 or more with respect to a given election, made any time during the calendar year up to and including the 20th day before an election.

Ryan Call, the treasurer for Rebuilding America Now, responded in a letter sent on Wednesday to the FEC that the October quarterly report “will be reviewed and amended to properly reflect the receipt of offsets to operating expenditures on Schedule A supporting Line 15 of the Detailed Summary Page to clarify for the public record the total amount of receipts and accurately disclose the cash-on-hand amounts.”

Regarding the expenditure to Multi Media Services Corporation, Call writes that “The October Quarterly Report and subsequent reports will be reviewed and amended to ensure that disbursements in the required 48-hour reports, which were voluntarily filed as soon as the inadvertent filing omissions were identified, have been properly reported and fully itemized to clarify for the public record the total amount of independent expenditures and to accurately disclose the Committee’s cash-on-hand amounts.”

Rebuilding America Now spent $22,763,915 to get Trump elected in 2016, the second most of any pro Super PAC for Trump. Only the Great America PAC raised more.

Trump’s campaign committee directly raised $247 million in the campaign.

House advances bill pulling Florida out of refugee assistance program

A bill that would remove Florida from the federal refugee resettlement advanced in the Florida House after a party-line vote Thursday.

The legislation sponsored by Deltona Republican David Santiago would direct the state’s refugee coordinator to provide notice to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement by June 30 that it intends to withdraw from the federal program by year’s end. The House Children, Families and Seniors subcommittee voted to take the first steps in separating the state from the federal program. However, the bill is highly symbolic in nature, since the resettling of refugees into Florida will continue, but with the federal funds that currently flow into the state for the program instead going directly to the social service and nonprofit groups that work with the refugees.

The vote comes after House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised President Donald Trump for his “bold action” in temporarily banning refugees from entering the United States (that decision was reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals last week).

The issue of resettling Syrian refugees in Florida has been a hot topic for Governor Rick Scott and other Republicans in the Legislator for going back to late in 2015, when he joined more than 30 other governors around the nation in telling the Obama administration that it was time for a pause in bringing any more Syrian refugees to the U.S.

“The bill doesn’t actually do anything to improve the security situation for refugees that are settled here,” said Scott Duncan with the Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday.”It doesn’t stop refugees from being resettled here. It doesn’t stop refugees from other states from coming here. What it does say is that Florida is going to wash its hands and close its eyes.”

But Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez says the federal government’s failure to provide more information to the state regarding the refugees makes it a bad deal for the state.

“This is not a partnership,” said Gonzalez. “This is not is a negotiation between two equal standing parties for mutual benefit. There is no mutual consideration.”

Dover Republican Ross Spano agreed. “Don’t tell us to like it or lump it,” he said of the federal government’s stance on the issue.

According to The Cato Institute, between 1975 and 2015 only 20 refugees were involved in terrorism or planning attacks – and none of those attacks played out in Florida or were planned in the state.

Newly-minted Florida Democrats leader Stephen Bittel says he’s raised $500,000 in first month on the job

Among the attributes that supporters of Coconut Grove developer Stephen Bittel offered in the race to become the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party was his talent for fundraising.

In listing his slate of accomplishments one month into his tenure, the FDP issued a statement on Wednesday touting that he has raised half a million dollars for the party’s coffers.

“I ran for Chair on a platform of reform and securing much needed resources to rebuild the Democratic Party’s grassroots efforts. Today, I’m proud to announce that in the first 30 days we’ve raised an immediate $500,000, established a committee to draft bylaws that work for a modern, big tent Democratic Party, and invested more than $100,000 into our clubs, executive committees and caucuses,” Bittel said in a statement.

The FDP also highlighted other achievements that Bittel has succeeded in.

  • Established a charter and bylaws revision commit tee to draft a new, more inclusive governing structure for the Party.
  • Launched a $100,000 challenge grant to grow Democratic rolls and rebuild grassroots activism in all 67 counties.
  • Announced three new senior level communications positions, including a director of Hispanic media.
  • Expanded Florida Democratic Party presence and offices in South Florida.
  • Launched a national search for a President and two new Senior Vice Presidents of the Florida Democratic Party

Bittel was the establishment choice going into the election for party chair on January 14, and he easily defeated Tampa’s Alan Clendenin for the post, getting 612 votes to Clendenin’s 211. Progressive backed Dwight Bullard received 150 votes.

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