Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 304

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

Charlie Crist to host health care telephone town hall meeting Tuesday

Charlie Crist wants to hear from constituents about ways to improve health care in America

The St. Petersburg Democrat is hosting a telephone town hall meeting on the subject Tuesday night.

On Friday afternoon, Crist cheered the news that House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the vote on the American Health Care Act because there wasn’t enough support among Republicans.

Crist called the decision a “win for the American people.”

“It was a bad bill, plain and simple,” Crist said in a statement Friday. “It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled.”

Crist, a former Republican, has been consistent in his rhetoric since going to Washington in January that, when possible, he is willing to work with the Trump administration to improve the lives of Americans. “We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society,” he says.

At this point, nobody is sure if Republicans will attempt to take another crack at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which remains the law of the land. Crist is a supporter of the ACA, but says it needs improvements.

Speaking in the Oval Office Friday, Donald Trump blamed Democrats for unanimously opposing the bill, saying Obamacare would soon “explode.”

“Now the Democrats own Obamacare 100 percent,” he said. They own it. It’s exploding now, and it’s going to be a very bad year. There are going to be explosive premium increases.”

If you want to participate in Crist’s telephone town hall, you need to register by 5 p.m. on Monday, which you can do so by going here.

Crist held a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg earlier this month.

Ted Deutch now wants select committee to investigate Russia’s alleged ties with Donald Trump campaign

Boca Raton Rep. Ted Deutch, the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, is now calling for an independent inquiry into alleged ties between Russia and Donald Trump‘s campaign.

His comments come days after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes broke protocol by going directly to the White House to tell Trump about intelligence reports that involved some of his associates, and not telling committee members first.

That was followed Thursday by an Associated Press report that in 2005, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort pitched a plan to a Russian oligarch that he claimed would benefit Vladamir Putin’s image inside the U.S.

“When the Chairman of the Committee decided to share information first with the Speaker, then rushing to the White House to share it with the president, information that appears to be classified information, it makes it hard for people to have confidence in his ability to move forward,” Deutch said speaking on NPR’s Morning Edition. “That’s why there needs to be an independent investigation.”

Deutch is hardly the first Florida Democrat to call for an independent inquiry, but unlike other Democrats, he’s not calling for a special prosecutor or a 9/11 style commission, saying that will take too long to set up. Instead, he wants House Speaker Paul Ryan to name a special select committee to investigate the allegations about Russian and Trump, à la the committee that looked into Benghazi.

“We should also have a discussion about whether a select committee that would give Democrats and Republicans both the opportunity to issue subpoenas and work in a more dedicated fashion to this issue alone … but independence is what is necessary, and it’s necessary right now,” Deutch said.

The South Florida Congressman noted that Ryan has not been reluctant to commit resources toward appointing select committees during his tenure as House Speaker, referring to a select committee he called to investigate Planned Parenthood.

“Certainly, it would make some sense and show some leadership and allow us to move forward with an independent investigation into the Trump campaign and White House’ ties to Russia,” he said.

Tampa Bay Partnership on board with Jack Latvala-Dan Raulerson bill creating regional transit agency

Legislation that would create a regional transit agency connecting four Tampa Bay-area counties breezed through committees in both the House and Senate last week.

The proposed agency would be created in advance of a much anticipated Florida Dept. of Transportation transit study scheduled to be completed next year.

“It’s a real project. It’s not just talk. And so we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success,” says Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the local economic development group. The creation of the agency was the number one “ask” of the Partnership going into the legislative session.

Although some observers have said the bill seems like a rehashed version of TBARTA, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority that was created a decade ago but without any funding to fulfill its goals, the newly proposed agency’s scope has been reduced from seven Bay area counties to four, and was originally just three – Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

Manatee County was added after Senator Bill Galvano advocated for its inclusion, Homans said.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson did hear some concerns from lawmakers when he introduced the bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee last week, mostly about the composition of the 13-member board. As of now, there would be seven members selected from the private sector and six lawmakers.

“The most important thing is we try to create a governance structure that encourages participation by people who think regionally,” says Homans, adding that he’s not so concerned with the exact balance, as “long as they support the mission.”

There has been increasing talk over the last year or so of creating a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Homans says that there will be a meeting on May 12 in St. Petersburg with MPO officials, elected officials and business leaders to kickoff discussions about a potential regional MPO.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday about the relative lack of requests for transportation projects by Tampa Bay area lawmakers this session.

“First, you have to have a plan,” Homans says about why that’s the case. “We don’t have a plan. Then you need an organization to implement it and build it, and then you need an organization to operate it, and we don’t have those things in place. We’re moving towards putting those structures into place to make the ‘big ask.'”

The bill is being pushed in the Senate by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who has a keen interest in seeing the local transit agencies work closer together.

“We’ve got a lot of folks in my party that just bury their head in the sand when it comes to transportation,” the venerable lawmaker said last summer when talking about the handling of the critical Tampa Bay area issue.

Jeremy Ring says he’ll decide on CFO race after 2017 Session

Former Broward County Democratic state Senator Jeremy Ring said Thursday he’ll likely decide on whether he will run for Chief Financial Officer after the current legislative session concludes in May.

Coincidentally, that’s when Governor Rick Scott is expected to name a replacement for current CFO Jeff Atwater, who announced earlier this year that he would step down from the Cabinet-level position to take a job at Florida Atlantic University.

Last year, Ring told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that he was thinking of running for Governor in 2018, but says that idea only came after the paper wrote an editorial that said he’d be the best candidate for the job.

“That got my ego going a bit,” he said on WMNF-88.5 FM with this reporter. “It cost probably $75 million to run for governor in the state of Florida, so I’m not quite sure right now.”

Ring is a New England native who attended Syracuse University before beginning a lucrative career with Yahoo, starting in New York City before migrating to the West Coast from 1995-2001.

He then moved to Broward County to work for a new company before deciding 2004 that he wanted to be a state senator, where he said he wanted to help create an “innovation economy” when he was elected in 2006.

He admits it was a culture shock to go from Silicon Valley to South Florida.

“You go down (Highway) 101 between San Francisco and San Jose today you see Apple and Facebook and eBay and Twitter, you name the companies,” he says, “and then you go down I-95 between Palm Beach and Miami and you see strip clubs and pill mills, and that’s sort of world.”

He said he was motivated to create an “innovation economy” in the state, and discovered that Florida universities were doing plenty of innovating, but weren’t commercializing on any of those patents. “So I wanted to create an environment where we could have an innovation economy where we could commercialize our innovation in Florida.”

Regarding current legislation, Ring predicted that after the Legislature produces a medical marijuana bill this spring, activists will probably go to the courts, a la what environmental groups did after the Legislature failed to implement Amendment One a couple of years ago.

Regarding the other Democrats who are in the mix as potential gubernatorial candidates next year, Ring speaks highly of Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine.

“When you think about Philip Levine, there’s nothing teleprompter driven about him,” Ring says. “We need people who are going to inspire and inspire you in that way. He’s not going to bore you.”

You can hear the entire interview here.

American Bridge slams Mario Diaz-Balart for ‘selling out’ to support GOP health care plan

(Update – The House of Representatives has announced that there will be no vote tonight on the GOP health care plan).

In the hours left before Congress’ scheduled vote on the American Health Care Act, President Donald Trump and GOP House leadership were doing whatever it took to get the 216 votes necessary for passage of the bill.

In the case of Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, could change in U.S. policy toward Cuba implemented under the Obama administration be the catalyst to lock in his support?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart sought assurances from White House officials that the president would maintain his campaign pledge to reverse Obama’s recognition of diplomatic ties with the Raul Castro-led Cuban government.

Diaz-Balart supported the health care plan in the Budget Committee last week, which narrowly passed on a 19-17 vote. A White House official said there was no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

The bill has already been changed to get additional GOP support.

The Times reported in that same story that New York Republican Claudia Tenney said she was likely to support the bill after House leaders added a section that would shift Medicaid costs from New York’s counties to the state government.

The horse trading brings back memories of when the shoe was on the other foot eight years ago, when Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were doing everything in their power to get enough buy-in from Senate Democrats to back the Affordable Care Act in late 2009.

First, there was the $300 million increase for Medicaid in Louisiana designed to win the vote of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in what was derisively referred to as the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Next came the infamous “Cornhusker kickback” to get Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson’s vote. That involved giving Nebraska a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion. That meant federal taxpayers would have had to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade (a provision ultimately removed from the bill).

There was also “Gator-aide,” the label given to the request from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson for the Senate version of the ACA. That included a formula for protecting certain Medicare Advantage enrollees from facing what could be billions in cuts. The formula would only apply to five states, most notably Florida, where 800,000 of the state’s 1 million Medicare Advantage enrollees would be exempted from cuts.

Referring to the Times story, Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, took a swipe at Diaz-Balart.

Shah said: “No matter what his justification, here are the facts: Congressman DiazBalart is selling out millions of Americans in order to cut billions in taxes for a few millionaires, and this bill might not have even be alive today had it not been for his vote in committee. The White House may have been able to buy his vote, but the public is going to hold him accountable.”

Katrina Valdes, the Communications Director for Congressman Diaz-Balart, sent out this statement that he made last week.

“My committee vote does not mean I will support final passage of this legislation as it presently reads. I have clearly stated that I have some serious concerns with the bill in its current form. This isn’t the end of the road, but rather, one step of a long process that will include conference with the Senate.”

“Congressman Diaz-Balart remains in negotiations with House leadership and his colleagues about multiple aspects of the bill,” says Valdes.

Gus Bilirakis introduces late resolution removing Medicare ‘Donut Hole’ in GOP health care bill

Hours before Congress votes on the American Health Care Act, Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis is introducing a resolution calling Congress to support the elimination of the Medicare Part D coverage gap — known as the “Donut Hole” — as part of the AHCA.

“Seniors in my district have expressed concerns about rumored changes to Part D under the American Health Care Act,” Bilirakis said Thursday morning. “As a result, I introduced this resolution to ensure that the ‘Donut Hole’ coverage gap will continue to be filled-in and to reaffirm our commitment to seniors.

“I believe this provision of the American Health Care Act truly helps the millions who rely on Part D, and I urge all my colleagues to get on board.”

Currently, 39 million Medicare beneficiaries rely on Medicare Part D for necessary prescription drugs. A study from the Healthcare Leadership Council found 89 percent of seniors are satisfied with their coverage under Part D.

However, beneficiaries will reach a coverage gap — the Donut Hole — when total drug costs exceed $3,700; catastrophic coverage does not kick in until costs reach $8,071. Under the American Health Care Act, the Donut Hole will continue to be phased out by 2020 (as it was under the Affordable Care Act).

Under the American Health Care Act, the Donut Hole will continue to be phased out by 2020 (as it was under the Affordable Care Act).

Bilirakis already announced his support for the bill, but more than two dozen of his Republican colleagues oppose the legislation (as of now), which could doom its passage when it is voted on later Thursday. His resolution is aimed at winning over some of those reluctant GOP House members.

House advances bill allowing guns in private religious schools

A bill in the Florida legislature that could arm teachers with guns in private religious schools passed the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The legislation, sponsored by Polk City Republican Neil Combee (HB 849), would carve out certain religious private schools from Florida law that prohibits anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, regardless of whether those schools are public or private. The decision about whether to allow concealed guns in these schools would be made by the owner of the church/school.

Doug Bankson, an Apopka City Commissioner and a pastor, said that this is very much a “real world issue.”

“Our public institutions are more and more a target, and our churches have become more and more a target,” he said, adding that the majority of his student body are minorities. “We need [an]  opportunity to protect them.”

Others disagreed.

“This bill would leave a gaping hole in the laws that are designed to protect our schools and keep guns out of school, said Gaye Valamont, a volunteer with the gun control group, Moms Demand Action.

“This bill does not solve the problem of protecting our children.”

“This is not a bill about guns on school property,” said Eric Friday with Florida Carry. “This is about private religious organizations having the right to regulate the use of their property, and who has the right to carry on their private property.”

Dania Beach Democrat Joseph Geller agreed with Combee that religious institutions should have the right to decide on their own if they want to allow arms on their campuses. But the bottom line for him was that “guns and schools do not mix.”

Geller said that the current law in place banning guns in schools is a good one, and “the chances of something going wrong are too great.”

Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison said it was critical to “tread very carefully” on such a sensitive issue, but praised Combee as having “threaded the needle” perfectly in how he crafted his bill.

In closing on the bill, Combee blasted gun-free zones which are on many school campuses, calling them “dumb.”

“If someone wants to do harm to our children … or the public, they’d like nothing better than to have a gun free zone, they got no opposition,” he said. “That’s the dumbest thing in the world.”

There is currently no companion bill in the state Senate.

Tougher texting-and-driving ban sails through Senate committee

Legislation to make texting while driving a primary offense passed Wednesday unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia sponsored the legislation (SB 144).

Florida was one of the later states in the country to adopt anti-texting laws, not doing so until 2013. But the fact that it’s a secondary offense has led critics to call the law toothless. Under Garcia’s bill, police could pull over drivers for texting while driving.

In the past, some lawmakers have expressed concerns that such legislation could allow law enforcement to profile black motorists racially.

“The current Florida ban on texting laws is almost impossible to enforce, and the general public knows this,” said Lake City Police Chief Argatha Gilmore, speaking as a representative of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “If texting while driving was made a primary offense, we believe it would deter this potentially deadly driving behavior.”

“As an industry, we lose between five and ten of our employees are killed nationwide by people who are distracted while driving,” said Charlie Latham, Florida Chair of the National Waste and Recycling Association.

Voting for the bill was Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who outed himself as a chronic abuser of texting while driving, adding that he’s always opposed such bills in the past because it represented another loss of personal freedom.

Baxley said that he didn’t believe texting was a problem per se, but distracted driving is.

There is a companion bill in the House sponsored by Democrat Emily Slosberg (HB 47).

With little debate, Senate advances Greg Steube’s courthouse carry gun bill

A proposal to allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to store firearms with security officers at courthouses advanced in the Florida Senate Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube (SB 616), is one of 10 firearms-related pieces of legislation the Sarasota Republican has introduced in the current Session. Unlike many of those proposals, however, opposition to this bill isn’t as fevered in comparison.

Steube added an amendment to his bill that would define what a courthouse is. The current statute (790.06) explicitly refers to a “courthouse.”

“Would you agree that there are persons approaching a courthouse or going there on matters that might be emotional to them and that encouraging a person to bring with them such a weapon such as a knife or gun even to the front of a courthouse might be problematic?” St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson asked Steube.

Steube replied that under current Florida law, any citizen could walk up to the front of a courthouse with a license to carry. “I just can’t enter the courthouse, because 790.06 specifically says that’s a gun-free zone,” Steube said.

Like Rouson, Steube is an attorney, and he agreed with his Democratic colleague in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee that there many people who go to court in a highly emotional state. But Steube added that attorneys are already sitting ducks for a disgruntled member of the public when they enter and leave a courthouse because they’re not allowed to carry a firearm while approaching or exiting a courthouse.

Broward County public official Edward G. Labrador said his county doesn’t want any guns in public buildings. He stated that courthouses are county facilities, not state facilities.

“Frankly, we should have a say in deciding whether or not guns can come into our facilities,” he said, adding that the proposed law requires court security officials to hold on to the firearms in a secure area.

“We just built a courthouse for $300 million, and it doesn’t have the capability of having storage facilities of all of the members who are going to bring their concealed weapons,” Labrador said, calling it an unfunded mandate.

Rouson said this would not even be an issue were it not for Steube being stopped by private security guards and a sheriff’s deputy on Valentine’s Day when he tried to enter a Manatee County courthouse.

Steube corrected him, saying that in fact he was stopped going into the clerk of the court’s office in Manatee County. 

The bill passed on a party-line vote, 4-3.

Kathy Castor says GOP health care bill getting worse as it gets closer to vote in the House

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor says that the House Republican health care bill “is actually getting worse” as it gets amended to try to win over more conservative votes in Congress.

“TrumpCare will be devastating to Florida families and Speaker Ryan is desperately trying to ram this bill through the U.S. House before the American people understand the impact,” Castor said in a statement issued Tuesday. “TrumpCare rips insurance coverage away from millions of Americans, including at least 1.7 million in Florida who have gained coverage, and increases costs on everyone. It includes larger cuts to Alzheimer’s patients, the disabled, children and families who rely on Medicaid and larger tax breaks for the wealthy. Rather than improve health care for my older neighbors and listen to our concerns, Republicans made no change to help people age 50-64 keep their coverage.  In fact, premiums for our older neighbors are poised to increase by thousands of dollars so that coverage is simply out of reach.”

Castor made those comments after House Republicans made changes to the legislation late Monday night to win over more conservative voices in the GOP House caucus. Among the key changes she says is making the legislation worse include prohibiting states like Florida from expanding Medicaid at the enhanced federal matching rate; allowing states the option of imposing work requirements for Medicaid (even though the majority of adults on Medicaid are already working); allowing states a block grant option for Medicaid, which health care experts warn poses the same dangerous risks for states and beneficiaries as the previous bad provision; and, accelerating getting millions in tax breaks into the hands of those wealthy few.

“TrumpCare would already be the largest transfer of wealth from working families to the rich in our nation’s history. After stealing health coverage from millions of families, and billions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare, the Republicans hand $600 billion in tax giveaways to the rich and big corporations. In fact, the Republican bill gives $2.8 billion to the 400 richest families in America each year,” Castor added.

The vote on the American Health Care Act will take place on Thursday. There is still considerable doubt about whether the Republicans will get the votes they need to pass the legislation through the House. There also appears to be too many Republican Senators currently who would not vote for the bill in its current form.

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