Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 317

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

Equality Florida says Donald Trump’s executive order on religious liberty not as bad as it feared

For the second time in his short presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty that’s not nearly as meaningful as his supporters and critics thought.

The measure could allow churches and other faith-based organizations to become more active politically. It promises to “vigorously promote religious liberty,” as well as direct the Internal Revenue Service “to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious leaders from speaking about politics and candidates on the pulpit.”

And it will allow federal agencies to exempt some religious organizations from Affordable Care Act requirements that provide employees with health coverage for contraception.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist group Equality Florida had scheduled a conference call with reporters Thursday to discuss the order but opted to call it off once their attorneys read the contents of it.

“This is the second time that an anti-LGBTQ “License to Discriminate” Executive Order has been threatened and watered down,” said Equality Florida’s Public Policy Director, Hannah Willard. “Each time, rumors were forcefully denounced and met with huge outcry, demonstrating the public’s strong opposition to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of religion.”

In February, a supposed draft of an executive order on religious issues was leaked to The Nation. That version contained provisions designed to protect religious organizations and individuals who speak out against same-sex marriage, transgender identity and premarital sex.

While acknowledging that this executive order doesn’t actually go that far, Equality Florida warns the worst may be yet to come.

“The final Executive Order released today may be a watered-down version of the draconian draft we feared, but make no mistake: we have absolutely no reason to believe a more explicitly anti-LGBTQ action won’t come at a future date,” says Willard. “And if anyone in Florida uses this Executive Order to discriminate against a single member of our community, Equality Florida will be there to fight back with everything we have.”

Conservatives are not happy with Trump today. The National Review’s David French writes,” he should tear it up, not start over, and do the actual real statutory and regulatory work that truly protects religious liberty.”

Tim Schultz, the president of the First Amendment Partnership, which works with legislators at the state and national level on religious-liberty issues, told the Atlantic that the conservative reaction to the order would be mixed, especially because it leaves out protections for those who object to same-sex marriage.“


Gwen Graham vows to ensure Amendment 1 funding if elected Governor

Gwen Graham believes Floridians should be outraged over state lawmakers failing to honor voters’ wishes on land and water conservation.

This week, the Florida House reversed course – by a nearly unanimous vote – to procure funding for the Florida Forever land conservation program starting in 2018.

Approved Tuesday, the bill provides $57 million for Florida Forever through 2035, $200 million in total.

North Fort Myers Republican Matt Caldwell said the bill is a way for the Legislature to begin living up to expectations after Amendment 1 passed by nearly 75 percent of the voters in 2014, which requires the Legislature to set aside money for land and water conservation.

The fact that the Legislature is being sued for not adhering to promises laid out in Amendment 1 should make every Floridian “appalled,” said Graham, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor.

“Floridians across the state should be up in arms about the fact that what they voted on, what they said to the state of Florida, that we want you do this and they’re just being ignored,” Graham said in an interview Thursday on WMNF-88.5 FM in Tampa.

“They’re being ignored by the Legislature and the governor. As governor, I will make sure that Amendment 1 dollars are spent to protect and preserve sensitive lands and sensitive waters because, at the end of the day, I want Florida to be the Florida that I was fortunate enough to be growing up in. I want this Florida to be here for future generations.”

Florida Forever regularly received upward of $300 million annually after it became law in 1999, but those expenditures were dramatically reduced after the recession hit a decade ago. Last year the program received $15.1 million.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million. A number of environmental groups have filed suit over its lack of sufficient funding.

Graham was in Tampa Thursday for another of her “work days,” where she learned how ecologists map habitats and plan restoration projects at Ulele Springs.

Although well-known as political circles as the daughter of former U.S. Senator and Gov. Bob Graham, the 54-year-old never entered the political realm as a candidate until three years ago when she ran for Congress. Instead, she was an environmental attorney and worked in the Leon County school system.

“I believe that my life has given me such an opportunity to experience many different areas that will make my service as governor beneficial to the people of Florida,” Graham said.

If she indeed becomes the Democratic nominee, Graham could face Adam Putnam, the 42-year-old Agriculture Commissioner and lifelong politician who served in public office half of his life.

Undoubtedly, Graham will raise that issue if the two were to tangle for the job next year.

“I do believe that a career politician, somebody who has only been in office, hasn’t been able to really get out and work in the real world, and raise a family, be a business person, be somebody who has faced some of the challenges that I know people across Florida face, “Graham said. “So, yes, having had the background that I have had will make me a better governor.”

Daniel Webster now a ‘yes’ on GOP health care bill

When the U.S. House votes Thursday on the latest iteration of the American Health Care Act, Republican Daniel Webster of Florida’s 11th Congressional District will be among those supporting the bill.

“I have been very concerned about Florida’s Medicaid-funded nursing home beds,” Webster said Wednesday night. “These are critical to the access some of our senior population has to our nursing homes.”

“I have spoken with President Trump, Vice President Pence, House leadership, administration officials and Floridians at length about my concerns,” he added. “They realize that this is a problem, and President Trump, Vice President Pence and House leadership have committed to find a solution to ensure Florida is equipped to serve [some] of our most vulnerable [citizens].

“With these assurances, I am now supporting the bill.”

Earlier this week, Webster expressed concern that Florida seniors will depend on Medicaid-funded nursing home beds after their Medicare coverage runs out.

Webster said that now the formula in the newly revised health care bill calculates a per capita cost, multiplied by the number of eligible Medicaid recipients for the previous year.

Adding in a normal increase in the cost of services with Florida having a growing senior population, the solution to this issue was crucial to Webster’s support.

Meanwhile, House Republican leadership is claiming to have enough support to pass a bill to finally replace the Affordable Care Act.

“We have enough votes,” California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, said Wednesday night. “It’ll pass.”

USF’s downtown Tampa medical school takes a $2 million haircut in final budget offer

The final budget offered by the Florida Legislature provides the University of South Florida with $12 million for its new downtown Tampa medical education and research center which is expected to begin construction this fall.

That’s less than the $14 million that was listed on Monday, and $5 million less than USF officials had requested from the Legislature.

“We would be very pleased to receive $12 million for the USF downtown project in this year’s state budget,” said USF spokesman Adam Freeman. “It will keep the project on schedule and we thank our state leaders for their continued support.”

The USF Health Building is considered a key anchor in the $3-billion real estate development by Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture between Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment, LLC. The group is developing 53 acres in downtown Tampa into a multi-use, urban waterfront district.

The building is expected to cost $152.6-million. To date, the Legislature has provided nearly $79 million to its construction.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron separately told their members Wednesday morning that they had reached a deal on a new $83 billion state budget, meaning the budget numbers are unlikely to change before its voted on next Monday.

Two Janet Cruz-sponsored bills headed to Gov. Scott’s desk

Two bills sponsored by Tampa House Democratic Minority Leader Janet Cruz are headed towards Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

The House on Wednesday unanimously passed SB 800, the Senate companion to Cruz’ bill that will prohibit health insurers from denying patients the ability to receive a partial refill of a prescription if they choose to enroll in a medication synchronization program through their pharmacy. According to the sponsor, this will allow more patients to synchronize their prescription plans and lead to better health outcomes.

The origins of the bill come from the fact that often patients with chronic conditions who may have been prescribed medications from different specialized physicians, face numerous refill dates and multiple trips to the pharmacy each in order to maintain their prescribed treatment plan. This lack of alignment, or synchronization, in prescription fill dates has been identified as a major contributor to medication nonadherence, which results in poor health outcomes for patients and an estimated annual impact of $300 billion a year in avoidable costs to the U.S. health care system.

“Especially for our seniors, multiple trips to the pharmacy each month can be a burden that prevents them from receiving the care they need,” said Cruz. “By passing this bill, we are allowing thousands of patients throughout Florida the ability to maximize their health outcomes and live longer, healthier lives. I am proud that we were able to work in a bipartisan manner to improve the overall health of our state.”

The other Cruz sponsored bill (HB 1189) that also was unanimously passed in the House was legislation which requires the Supervisor of Elections to notify voters that their signature was rejected and give them a chance to fix it and have their votes counted.

Cruz sponsored the bill after U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled last fall that county election offices should notify voters if their signature on a vote-by-mail ballot and their voter registration forms don’t match.  Walker called it a “bizarre law.” Currently, the state of Florida does not count votes from people who have signed their ballots with a signature that differs from what is on file with the Supervisor of Elections office. The Supervisor of Elections isn’t required to tell them their vote has been invalidated and give them a chance to remedy the situation.

“The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy,” said Cruz. “Passing this bill gives Floridians the chance to fix problems with their signature and ensures their voice is heard at the ballot box. I’m pleased that all of my colleagues in the House, as well as the Senate, joined me to pass this much-needed legislation. I look forward to Governor Scott signing this critical bill into law to guarantee that all votes in Florida are counted.”\

TBARTA bill passes unanimously — now goes to Rick Scott for signature

By a vote of 117-0, the Florida House passed a bill to revamp the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

With the Senate approving the bill last week, it now goes to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk.

Although Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson sponsored it in the House, that chamber actually substituted his bill with the Senate version, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala (SB 1672).

The legislation would downsize TBARTA from seven counties to five (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Hernando), and it would change TBARTA’s focus to transit (and not merely transportation).

“It is the beginning of a long journey,” Raulerson said, acknowledging that by itself, the bill does not change the lack of transit options in the region. “But hopefully it will be a fruitful journey, and one that will improve the transportation process in Tampa Bay.”

“I look forward to a new and improved transportation system in Tampa Bay,” enthused Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison, who made suggestions to Raulerson for improving the bill.

“We have quite a challenge in Tampa Bay in getting our transportation problems fixed,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond. “I think this bill is an important first step to do that in creating a regional authority.”

Two weeks ago, an amendment filed by Tampa Bay area Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes made it harder for the region to push for light-rail, but Latvala was able to make changes to that amendment last week, which appeared to have satisfied supporters of the bill.

However, the measure still requires that if the TBARTA board opts to pursue state funding for commuter, heavy rail or light rail transit projects, they will first need a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization where such investment would be made, in addition to approval by the Legislature.

Under the new reorganization, the TBARTA board will be made up of 13 members, which includes a county commissioner from each of the five counties making up the new agency. Two members shall be the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg. PSTA and HART will also select a single member. The governor will name the remaining four members.

The bill was a huge priority for the Tampa Bay area business community.

“For years, the members of our legislative delegation have asked the community to provide a unified voice on the issues that matter most to our region,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “This session, our regional business leaders did exactly that, stepping up in a big way to champion this bill, and the result is a huge win for Tampa Bay.

“This legislation will transform TBARTA into a streamlined and effective regional transit authority, which is a critical first step toward the development of a regional transit system in Tampa Bay; one that connects our residents to new job opportunities and our businesses to prospective employees.”

Christian Ulvert will NOT run for the SD 40 seat vacated by Frank Artiles

Christian Ulvert indicated last Thursday he was seriously considering a run for the Florida Senate District 40 special election.

On Wednesday morning, however, the veteran Democratic political consultant announced he will not be seek the Miami-Dade County seat vacated by the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles.

“In doing my personal assessment on my path forward,” Ulvert says in a statement. “I came to a simple conclusion.”

He explained: “I work with some of the most talented and thoughtful elected officials who aim high when they set the bar for making a positive impact for our community. This matters to me because my calling to run was to do more for my community. But through my reflection, I recognize and appreciate that by working with my clients, I am fulfilling that desire and holding elected office isn’t a requirement to meet my personal objective.”

Ulvert is deciding to stick with his political consulting gig, which he says includes working on getting Dan Gelber elected as Miami Beach mayor this fall.

“I think of all the good that will come from his service and I realize that for me, there are friends and elected leaders who I am eager to join on their path before I enter elected office myself,” he says.

The 35-year-old Ulvert has never ran for political office. He’s also been working with current Democratic Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is exploring a run for governor in 2018.

The SD 40 seat opened after Artiles announced his resignation two weeks ago. Governor Rick Scott has yet to announce a date for a special primary and general election.

House District 114 Democrat Daisy Baez announced earlier this week that she would run for the seat.

Four Tampa Bay Republicans undecided as health care bill vote nears

When Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Bill off the floor of the House for a vote in March, it saved some Republicans from having to actually declare whether or not they supported the controversial legislation which would replace the Affordable Care Act.

Now, round two is taking place this week and Tampa Bay area Republican congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Daniel Webster remain undecided.

In a newsletter sent to constituents on Monday, Webster, who previously represented constituents in the Orlando-area before redistricting compelled him to run in the open CD 11 seat vacated by Rich Nugent, says he remains concerned about the new version of the American Health Care Act because Florida will be penalized under the bill because of demand for Medicaid-funded nursing home beds has not been fixed.

“This is critical to the access some of our senior population has to Florida nursing homes,” he writes. “Florida is a very efficient state when it comes to providing Medicaid services, however we are among the fastest growing states in the nation. Many seniors depend on Medicaid-funded nursing home beds when their Medicare coverage runs out.”

Webster says that the increase of Medicaid services, coupled with one of the fastest growing senior population in the country, “puts Florida particularly at risk for exceeding the costs established under the bill.”

“If a state’s costs exceeds the funds provided, the monies are taken out of the next year,” Webster writes. “I am concerned that this creates a vicious cycle of costs that – given our growth rate – Florida would likely never overcome. I continue to work with leadership and am still hopeful for a solution before bill comes up for a vote.”

Tarpon Springs Republican Bilirakis supported the March version of the American Health Care Act, even after enduring intense criticism at three town hall meetings he conducted to hear from his constituents regarding his support for repealing the ACA.

And now?

“He is undecided as conversations continue about the final form of the bill,” says Bilirakis spokesperson Elena Hernandez.

A spokesperson for Polk County Congressman Dennis Ross says he is uncertain as well.

“As the healthcare bill is still being tweaked and amended, Rep. Ross has not issued a position and will continue thoroughly analyzing and reviewing the final bill product before he does so,” said spokesperson Joni Schockey.

A spokesperson for Vern Buchanan says that with the bill still a work in progress, “Vern is going to wait until we see the final language,” says Gretchen Andersen. “One thing is clear – we need to replace the ACA with a new approach that lowers premiums, gives people choice and drives down the cost of health care.


TBARTA revamp one step closer to Rick Scott’s desk

Legislation to revamp the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) by reducing its footprint passed Tuesday a second reading on the Florida House floor.

One more vote in the House, and the bill goes to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

Sponsored in the House by Plant City Republican Dan RaulersonHB 1243 would downsize TBARTA from seven counties to five (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Hernando), and change the TBARTA’s focus to transit (and not simply transportation).

Two weeks ago, an amendment filed by Tampa Bay area Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes made it much harder for the region to push for light-rail, but Senate sponsor Jack Latvala of Clearwater was able to make changes to that amendment last week, which appeared to have satisfied supporters of the bill.

There was little discussion about the bill Tuesday on the House floor.

St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton asked Raulerson what were the differences between his bill and Latvala’s bill in the Senate? Raulerson said the main difference was that the governor would have four picks to put on the TBARTA board, whereas the House bill limits his power to two choices.

The bill now goes to the full House Wednesday for a third and final reading. The Senate bill passed last week.

New coalition intent on bringing down cost of pharmaceuticals launches Florida campaign

A coalition of seniors, health plans and private companies advocating lower prescription drug costs is launching a campaign in Florida.

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) believes taxpayers should get a full accounting of how much they pay for high-cost drugs through federal programs like Medicare, or through research at the National Institutes of Health.

The coalition includes not only groups like Wal-Mart, AARP and the Service Employees International Union 1199, but health care organizations like Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the American College of Physicians.

“Out-of-control prescription drug prices hurt every American. From the patients who need the medications and the consumers who pay higher and higher health care costs, to the businesses that are forced to choose between providing health benefits and creating new jobs, and the hardworking taxpayers who foot the bill for hundreds of billions of dollars every year,” said John Rother, Executive Director of CSRxP. “We need real solutions now. Let’s work together to deliver market-based solutions that increase competition, create more choice, and ensure that open and honest prices are driven by the value that they bring to patients.”

The organization says that their campaign will include on-the-ground, grassroots initiatives in states across the country to help patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, businesses, and taxpayers who feel the consequences of rising drug prices every day.

For years, congressional Democrats have tried to pass legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices for millions of beneficiaries. It was a major component of Bernie Sanders campaign for president a year ago, and President Trump continues to talk about doing something substantively on the issue.

Last month, House Democrats Elijah Cummings from Maryland and Peter Welch from Vermont met privately for about an hour with Trump and HHS secretary, Tom Price, to discuss ways to combat high drug prices.

Trump tweeted the day before that meeting that he wanted to drug prices to come down.

CSRxP says that they will air their first ad on broadcast and cable television Tuesday that will run in Washington, D.C. and the districts of key lawmakers around the country. However, they did not return our request for comment on what congressional districts in Florida where the ad may run.

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