Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 311

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.

Ride-sharing legislation speeds ahead in Florida House

A bill that would create the first statewide law regulating ride-sharing companies passed unanimously in the Florida House on Wednesday, 115-0.

Now it moves to the Senate.

It’s the second straight year that such a bill has passed in the Florida House, but the chances of it getting through the Senate are considered much greater than in 2016.

The legislation, sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

It would also prohibit from becoming ride-share 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.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft applauded the vote, and now hope for a similar fate in the Florida Senate.

“Today’s vote by the Florida House of Representatives is a major step toward Florida residents and visitors having permanent access to reliable transportation options,” said Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber South Florida. “We are encouraged by today’s vote, and the movement of Senate Bill 340, and look forward to working toward creating a permanent home for Uber in our state.”

“Today the Florida House overwhelmingly recognized that Florida needs a single, comprehensive set of rules for ride-sharing. Lyft is grateful to Speaker Corcoran and his leadership team for their work on this issue,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This framework will ensure that Floridians continue to enjoy the convenient, affordable rides Lyft provides across the state. We look forward to working with the Florida Senate to advance this legislation to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”

Last year’s House bill (sponsored by Matt Gaetz) passed by 108-10 margin, but a dispute over local pre-emption proved to be a bridge too far in the Senate, and the bill died on the final day of Session.

That’s not expected to be the case this year, as there has been little opposition so far in the Legislature’s upper chamber. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340). It will be heard in the Senate Committee on Rules on Thursday, its final stop before going to the entire body.

The Panhandle gets a medical marijuana dispensary as TruLieve opens fourth outpost

Trulieve, the first company to dispense medical marijuana in Florida, will open its fourth medical cannabis dispensary in the state Wednesday morning, this time in Pensacola.

“We are proud to open our fourth dispensary and our first in the Pensacola area. And this opening is especially exciting because we maintain our headquarters in the panhandle and are deeply committed to our patients here,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. “We also have our statewide home delivery program and will have more dispensary locations opening this year.”

Trulieve is one of the seven corporations exclusively licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in Florida in what is expected to be a lucrative industry, once doctors are legally allowed to begin writing prescriptions later this year.

The opening comes as the Legislature continues to discuss and debate a process on implementing Amendment 2, the measure passed by more than 71 percent of Floridians last fall legalizing medical pot for people diagnosed with HIV, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, PTSD, ALS and a slew of other illnesses under a doctor’s prescription.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health Policy Committee passed Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley’s bill that would allow for five more dispensaries to be approved by this October, and another four for every 75,000 medical marijuana patients.

That’s different than the House version, which would result in fewer grower/dispensers around the state. The legislation from Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues calls for five more dispensaries when there are 200,000 medical marijuana patients and three more for every 100,000 after that.

Trulieve’s other dispensaries are located in Tampa, Clearwater and Tallahassee.

Charlie Crist finds footing in Congress, raises record $717K in 1st quarter

Charlie Crist is reporting more than $717,000 raised in the first quarter of 2017, a record-breaking amount for any freshman lawmaker during the first months in office.

“I’m humbled by this historic outpouring of early support and honored that so many people are rallying behind the people of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “This is a part of the country that believes in bipartisanship and making sure Washington is accountable to the people. I’m doing everything I can to amplify that sentiment.”

Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

In his first few weeks in Washington, the St. Petersburg Democrat stumbled out of the gate, including missing a vote condemning a UN Security Council resolution aimed at Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But he’s since found his footing, and won raves from his constituents after hosting a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg last month.

He’s also held a number of fundraisers in his short time in office.

But raising more than three-quarters of a million dollars in a non-election year is definitely an achievement for any congressional incumbent, much less one in just his first three months of his term in office.

In that respect, Crist is the antithesis of the man he vanquished in the Congressional District 13 race last fall, David Jolly.

Jolly was not known to enjoy fundraising and wasn’t considered very good at it. One of his signature pieces of legislation he proposed during his time in Congress was the STOP Act, which would have banned federal office holders (like Crist) from raising money in office.

While the bill received plenty of media attention, it went nowhere in the House of Representatives.

House gets one step closer to passing statewide regs on Uber, Lyft

Legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNC) in Florida advanced Tuesday on its second reading through the Florida House.

The bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“That includes a multistage, multi-jurisdictional background check, a search of the National Sex Offender website, and a review of the public driving history of the applicant,” Sprowls said on the House floor.

Although critics say that the measure should include Level II federal background check requirements, Sprowls said that database is smaller than the one that Uber and Lyft will have to use in Florida. “The National Certified Background check has up to 500 million records,” he said.

The proposal would prohibit from becoming ride-share 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.

Amendments proposed by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson that would require the ride-sharing companies to have a nondiscrimination policy regarding the hiring of drivers were defeated. At one point Sprowls said that he would work to have language added to the bill that would require TNC’s to follow state law on public accommodations.

Richardson said that really wouldn’t work since gays and lesbians are not currently protected under current state law.

Sprowls did amend the bill to make it more compatible with its Senate counterpart (SB 340) sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes. Those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

The bill has one more reading through to pass the House, while it will be heard in the Rules Committee in the Senate Thursday.

Bill to reform public utilities advances in House committee

Legislation that would bring new measures of accountability to Florida’s Public Service Commission passed a House Committee on Tuesday.

Pinellas Republican Kathleen Peters’s bill (HB 7071) would create performance-based incentives for utilities by rating their reliability, customer service, power plant performance and costs. It also would bar lawmakers from serving on the commission within six years of leaving the Legislature. The five commissioners, who are appointed by the governor, would represent different regions of the state and be limited to two four-year terms instead of the current three. It would also move the Office of Public Counsel from being under the Legislature’s wing over to the Attorney General’s Office.

It is strongly opposed by the four biggest investor-owned utilities in Florida – Florida Power & Light, Gulf Energy, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Company.

Susan Clark, a past counsel and chair of the PSC, represented the utilities in the hearing, said the changes would have a negative effect on electricity ratepayers.

“The main flaw in the legislation, is the premise that the utilities should be graded annually on performance, and then have their rates of return adjusted annually based on that performance,” Clark said. “That is designed uncertainty, that will result in credit rating downgrades, which will increase the cost of equity and debt, and lead to rate instability, neither of which is good for customers.”

The bill received three no votes from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Government Operations and Technology. One was from Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw, who said that while he liked many parts of the bill, strongly disagreed with moving the Office of Public Counsel to the Attorney General’s office, saying it will “dramatically increase the politicization of that office.” Peters disagrees, saying that it should give the OPS more freedom.

Another dissenter was Villages Republican Don Hahnfeldt, who expressed serious concerns about the new performance evaluations of the utilizes (which would still be under the purview of the PSC). He also focused on what the changes might mean for ratepayers, asking if a higher utility performer get a higher return, which would be passed down to consumers?

“Yes, they can earn a little more,” Peters conceded, adding that depending on the utility, the maximum they can increase rates is by 11.5 percent.

Kissimmee Democrat John Cortes also acknowledged having some “agita” regarding whether the bill would raise rates for ratepayers.

Susan Glickman with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said that the Peters bill provides some important provisions, such as reducing the need for the utilities to build more power plants that she says the state doesn’t need. Although the proposal would ban lawmakers from serving on the PSC for six years after they leave the Legislature, Glickman said the bill should also place a moratorium on PSC staffers going to work for the utility companies.

This is the second committee that Peters’ bill has gone through. Currently, there is no Senate companion.

Vern Buchanan calls for V.A. probe of dog abuse

After reading published reports documenting experiments on dogs being conducted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Sarasota U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan has contacted the Inspector General for the VA to demand answers about what’s going on there.

Stars and Stripes and Military Times reported last month that an animal rights activist group has accused the VA of conducting medical experiments on dozens of dogs at a Virginia laboratory with insufficient public disclosure on the practice. Those reports experiments reportedly induced heart attacks, invasive brain-damaging surgeries and a variety of stomach ailment simulations which mutilate or kill the animals.

“I urge you to investigate this situation and share your feelings with my office,” Buchanan wrote to VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal last Friday. “Specifically, I am interested in learning why these experiments are not being adequately disclosed to the public, whether animals are being harmed unnecessarily and whether taxpayerd dollars are being misused.”

Working through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. the group White Group Waste Projects says they have found three instances of violations in the research program at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va.

The groups says that lab experiments have induced heart attacks on the dogs and for some resulted in “sudden cardiac death.” Another report details a botched surgery, a doctor mistakenly sliced into a dog’s lung, killing the dog.

The Government Accountability Office says it will be doing an audit of the animal testing at McGuire and at other federal agencies.

“VA animal research is strictly controlled and monitored with accountability mechanisms in place,” the VA said in a statement to Stars and Stripes. “As part of that commitment, VA takes seriously any reports of not adhering to standards and will immediately review and correct processes if and when those issues arise.”

Buchanan is the co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and was named as the U.S. Humane Society’s Legislator of the Year  last year.

“While we should do all we can to ensure that veterans are getting the treatment and care they deserve, I also feel strongly that the public has a right to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent – and the extent of any experimentation on animals – at the VA,” Buchanan writes.

Bill to automatically expunge juvenile arrest records passes, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough

A bill that would automatically expunge a youth’s arrest record after a diversion program is completed passed through a House committee on Monday, but goes in a different direction than its Senate companion.

The House bill sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern and Deltona Republican David Santiago (HB 205) would allow police officers the discretion to decide when offering a first time juvenile offender a civil citation is appropriate. That’s a distinction from the Senate companion by Miami Republican Anitere Flores (SB 196), which would mandate that law enforcement offer civil citations to juveniles guilty of a variety of 11 first-time misdemeanors.

That difference was noted by the only two members of the public who addressed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday afternoon.

“Why arrest a child for a non-serious misdemeanor when there is another option that we know works better in every sense?” asked the Reverend Bernie Powell Jackson from the First United Church of Tampa. “Why spend more money to expunge a record rather then give a civil citation, which gives the child no record to start with?”

Unlike Flores Senate bill, law enforcement backs the House version because it gives officers discretion on whether to charge a youth with a misdemeanor or a civil citation. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has publicly endorsed the bill, saying it’s modeled on what his agency has been doing with juveniles. However, Carrie Rosalino says HB 205 does not work like the Pinellas system, because that system withholds paperwork from the FDLE and the Dept. of Juvenile Justice if the youth completes the program – not the case under HB 205.

She also quoted a retired U.S. Naval commander as saying that a person who signs up of for the military but claims they have never been arrested because their record was expunged is actually in violation of the law.

“Military regulations trump all other protocols, ” Rosalino continued. “Wee think it’s unfair to block our youth from military service because of this confusing expungement system.”

Those complaints went nowhere with the committee, however, as no member debated the bill before voting to move it through.

At economic lunch, Bob Buckhorn blasts ‘Koch Brothers led ideology’ in Tallahassee

Bob Buckhorn announced last month that he won’t run for governor next year, saying it wasn’t worth separating himself from his family over the next couple of years. It’s certainly not for lack of how he would run his campaign, based on remarks he made on Monday in Tampa.

Appearing with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the two mayors of the Tampa Bay area’s two largest cities took turns bashing the state Legislature at the Florida Economic Forum Luncheon.

Hundreds of local members of the business community gathered at the Brian Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in West Tampa for the lunch, and with the local business leaders in the audience, Buckhorn used the opportunity to advocate for the continuing existence of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, the two state organizations in the line of fire this legislative session due to the influence of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Earlier this month, the House passed a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and nearly two dozen tax incentive programs. The House passed an additional “corporate welfare” bill that would subject Visit Florida, the state’s taxpayer-funded tourism marketing corporation, to higher accountability standards that any other state government agency while cutting its annual funding from $76 million to $25 million.

“All of you need to get your phone and call your legislators and say, ‘stop this foolishness. Stop it now,'” said a disgusted Buckhorn.

When only a few people in the audience began clapping quietly, Buckhorn exhorted them to clap louder. “You eliminate those organizations, and you’re going to put all of us at the local jurisdiction at risk.”

But Buckhorn was just getting warmed up. A little later in the Q&A (hosted by Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper), the Tampa Mayor tore into the libertarian oriented Americans for Prosperity, though not by name.

“What you’re finding in the Florida House is an ideological attempt, driven by the Koch Brothers and paid for by one of their think tanks, to reduce government down to virtually nothing,” he proclaimed. While acknowledging that offering tax incentives to lure businesses “don’t always make the case,” he nevertheless insisted that it would be universal disarmament for cities in Florida not to have that tool available to work with.

“If there’s problems with Enterprise Florida, they’re fixable,” agreed Kriseman.

Buckhorn later unloaded to this business-friendly audience that Tallahassee Republicans were hypocrites for their zeal in trying to take away control from cities, mostly controlled by Democrats, he asserted.

“I have never seen the assault on local government on all fronts,” the Tampa mayor said, insisting that his comment wasn’t political in nature. Buckhorn accused states like Florida that have both a Republican governor and Legislature of “cutting and pasting” state legislation that preempts local governments ability to do anything on issues like gun violence, LGBT rights and immigration.

“It is a frontal assault on us, because we happen to be Democrats and because many of these legislators are rural and they don’t get votes in the city. So they are punishing us,” Buckhorn said, adding, “Leave us the hell alone.”

Kriseman said he feared that the Legislature will eliminate Community Redevelopment Agencies, governmental bodies created to promote affordable housing, economic development, health and safety in under-served neighborhoods. St. Petersburg is devoting major resources to a CRA in the city’s Southside.

Buckhorn later blasted the fact that the Legislature is no longer in the business of offering tax incentives to lure film productions to Florida, specifically lamenting the fact that the Ben Affleck/Denis Lehane adaptation of Live By Night was filmed in Georgiaeven though the novel was set in Ybor City, where Affleck and the producers wanted to film parts of the movie, but chose not to when there weren’t any incentives available.

On transportation, Buckhorn said that Hillsborough County may be ready to put up another half-cent sales tax referendum on transit in 2020, but not anytime sooner, a notion that Kriseman agreed with. As he has done in the past, Buckhorn blasted the critics of any such referendum, labeling them either as largely limited to living in the eastern provinces of Hillsborough County or as “disaffected former washed up politicians and PR firms who will try to throw any amount of sand in the gears to distract people from the fundamental question, which is, we need more mobility options.”

Kriseman again brought up the notion of the Legislature changing state law that would allow big cities like St. Petersburg and Tampa to hold their own transportation referendums, a familiar complaint that has gone nowhere for years in Tallahassee. In fact, he admitted that it wouldn’t happen in the near term, and said that meant St. Petersburg and Tampa need to get creative for themselves.

“Whether it’s grant funding for state and federal governments or it’s governments coming together and working together and saying, ‘we’ve got to try something.'”

That then provided Kriseman with one of his passion projects – the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project which runs boats daily for passenger travel between Tampa and St. Petersburg, and which has seen an uptick in business in the past few months. “We’re going to have to bite off pieces that we can do on our own until we get significant funding.”

Whenever you get the two mayors together, inevitably the conversation moves towards the Tampa Bay Rays and their continued search for a new location in the Bay area. Buckhorn gave major props to Kriseman for coming to terms with the franchise to allow them to sniff around for possible sites in Hillsborough County, adding that “I don’t have a couple of hundred millions dollars laying around to pledge for a baseball stadium.”

“I have confidence in Pinellas County and in particular, St. Petersburg,” said Kriseman, who continues to advocate that the best place for the Rays to play is back at the Tropicana Field site, though with a different stadium and more development at that site.

Longtime friends and disciples of the centrist leaning Democratic Leadership Council of the 1980’s, the two  spoke often about how they are not in competition with each other, but are working together to make the entire Tampa Bay area a better place for the business community.

“You will never hear us disparage each other, you will never hear us disparage our respective communities,” Buckhorn said. “We’re here to grow together.”

It was all Kumbaya on Kriseman’s part as well, saying that if a company he is recruiting ultimately opts not to do business in St. Petersburg, “I want them to go over to Tampa.”

Democrat Scott Fuhrman relaunches challenge to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in ’18

Democrat Scott Fuhrman intends once again to run against longtime Miami Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen in Florida’s 27th Congressional District in 2018.

“I will be the voice for families across Miami-Dade who are united in saying that the time has come for change in District 27,” Fuhrman said in a statement issued Monday. “I am running for Congress because when it comes to standing up for the needs of our community and speaking truth to power, I have proven that I will never back down from a fight that is worth fighting.”

The 35-year-old South Miami native was a political novice before challenging Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 campaign, where he ultimately lost by 10 points, 55-45 percent. Nevertheless, it was the most impressive showing against the 28-year GOP incumbent in a number of years.

Fuhrman is president of Florida Bottling Company, which has been selling fruit and vegetable juices under the brand Lakewood Organics since 1956.

“I’ve listened to heart-wrenching stories from families across our community who are desperate to see a change in Washington, D.C. I have decided to resume this fight because many of our neighbors are living in fear, and a record number worry that their government is looking out more for well-connected insiders rather than for families like theirs,” Furhman said.

“Meanwhile, my opponent, a longtime incumbent who has lost touch with the needs of her constituents, has shown again and again that she would rather side with D.C. insiders and party leaders over restoring ethics to our nation’s capital,” Furhman adds. “Her recent attempts to moderate her positions to align with our changing district smack of desperation and political expediency.”

Ros-Lehtinen is a socially moderate Republican who opposed the recently unveiled GOP House health care proposal, saying too many of her constituents would lose their insurance and there will be fewer funds to help the poor and elderly.

In his statement, Fuhrman also took a shot at Ros-Lehtinen for her vote to repeal ethics reform legislation, an embarrassing vote that the GOP ultimately had to walk back. He also chides her for failing to challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez‘s order for jails to comply with federal immigration guidelines.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has listed Florida’s CD 27 as one of four races they’re targeting in Florida in 2018. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district by more than three percent, and Donald Trump lost CD 27 by 20 points last year.

Janet Cruz’s ‘tough haul,’ frustrations of the Democratic House caucus

In Tampa, Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel waxed optimistically last month about the Democrats’ chance of winning back the state Senate in 2020.

Notably, he didn’t say anything about the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, 79-41.

Tampa Rep. Janet Cruz, serving the first year of a two-year stint as Minority Leader and four weeks into the 2017 Session, admits it’s been a tough haul.

“I feel like we’re spending so much time on bills that in caucus meetings, we’ve grown to call them ‘dead bills walking,'” she says of how Session is going so far.

“These are bills that are simply shots across the bow,” she says, specifically referring to Speaker Richard Corcoran and his campaign to kill Enterprise Florida.

The Speaker’s effort comes much to the consternation of Gov. Rick Scott, who continues to travel the state to call out individual Republicans who have voted in support of the proposal to date.

“They’re one executive branch taking shots at the other executive branch,” Cruz says. “And in my opinion, it’s all posturing to run for higher office.”

While both Corcoran and the governor are considered to have ambitious to run for higher office next year, their battle regarding tax incentives to recruit businesses to Florida has become visceral. Meanwhile, the passage this past week of Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s bill that would require unions to disclose information on it’s membership or be forced to re-certify appeared to devastate Democrats.

What both bills have in common — neither has a Senate companion.

“We are hearing bills that don’t have a chance of going anywhere,” Cruz laments.

“These are just bills that they want to send a message with more union busting. Further intimidation,” she says, adding, “Thank God for the Senate.”

There has also been legislation preemption local governments, such as St. Cloud Republican Mike LaRosa‘s proposal to bar cities from regulating vacation rentals of private homes, angering many mayors.

Cruz mused that the plan seemed something scripted from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council known to offer model legislation to Republicans.

“They realize that most cities and led by Democrats and those from the urban core,” she notes. “This is just an overreach of local control, and it’s wrong.”

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