Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Christian Ulvert says he is ‘seriously considering’ run for SD 40 seat

Democratic political consultant Christian Ulvert says is seriously considering a run the Senate District 40 seat left vacant with the resignation of Frank Artiles.

“I’ve had a greater calling to serve in public office just because of the issues and the work that I do,” Ulvert told FloridaPolitics Thursday morning, just before he was scheduled to get on a plane to attend a family wedding out of state.

Ulvert says since Artiles announced he was stepping down last Friday, there’s been a chain of events of friends, colleagues and his husband asking him why doesn’t he step up and run for the seat.

It would be a new role for the man recently named one of the best political campaign professionals under 40.

The 35-year-old Miami-Dade native has been working most recently with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is still in the ‘testing the waters’ phase of a potential run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Ulvert served as political director for the Florida Democratic Party from 2013 until last fall, and is the founder and president of EDGE Communications, a political consulting firm.

Prior to his launch as a political and media consultant, Ulvert served the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus as communications director and policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber during his two-year leadership term, and worked with Gelber during his campaign against Pam Bondi for Attorney General in 2010.

Ulvert said that if he is to run, he would center his campaign on three main issues – public education, health care and affordable housing. “Those are three things that I’ve faced personally and I can present a strong narrative to and talk to voters and really empathize and bring authenticity to the message because I’m living it,” he says. “I have lived it.”

If he pulls the trigger, Ulvert certainly won’t be the only Democrat to enter the race. House District 114’s Daisy Baez is also reportedly considering a run, and may rely on Florida Democratic Party staffer Dan Newman to launch candidacy, although Newman told FP that he will not be leaving the party.

Ulvert says he’ll contemplate his decision over the weekend, then meet with Democratic officials in Tallahassee next week (he says he’s already conferred with Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon).  “The most important thing is to have a Democrat represent the district,” he says.

Governor Rick Scott has yet to announce a special election to fill the Senate District 40 seat, a majority Hispanic district that covers part of inland Miami-Dade County. Scott could announce a primary for the election as soon as June with the general election taking place in August.

Or he could go another route. Local elections in Hialeah, Miami and Miami Beach, the three largest municipalities in Miami-Dade, are taking place this August and September. Though none of those cities are in SD 40, it could make some sense to hold the primary and general at the same time as those cities. However, with the Legislature meeting in January of next year, committee meetings would be starting in the fall, well in advance of a November election.

Although Artiles defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard by ten percentage points last fall, it’s also a district that voted plus-10 in favor of Barack Obama in 2012 and carries a slight edge for Democrats in voter registrations.

Artiles stepped down from his seat last Friday morning, less than 72 hours after the Miami Herald first reported that he invoked the N-word to two black colleagues of the Legislature in a private conversation earlier in the week. The resignation came after the Herald then began asking questions later in the week about why his political committee had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as consultants.

Democrats take shot at Carlos Curbelo, Brian Mast over congressional carve out

Florida Congressional Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast are once again in the crosshairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, this time in new digital ads highlighting the proposed new GOP House health care plan that includes a provision that would exempt members of Congress and their staff from the plan.

Curbelo represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District, Mast represents Florida’s 18th District. The two seats are part of the 30 that the DCCC is aiming to win back next year in Congress.

The ads will run on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in order to educate voters about the new GOP amendment introduced by New Jersey Republican Representative Tom MacArthur. That amendment, introduced on Tuesday, would allow states to waive out of the Affordable Care Act’s ban on preexisting conditions. This means that insurers could once again, under certain circumstances, charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people.

“Removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions will go down in infamy as one of the most heartless acts of this Republican Congress. As proof of the repeal bill’s devastating impact, Republican Members of Congress are exempting themselves from the punishment they are willing to inflict on their constituents,” said DCCC Spokesman Tyler Law. “This digital ad campaign will educate voters in targeted districts about this morally bankrupt Congressional Carveout.”

Curbelo supported the American Health Care Act in the House Ways and Means Committee, but later said he had concerns about the bill. Mast told CNN that he intended to support the AHCA.

“Despite attempts by Washington DC democrats to mislead Florida voters, Congressman Mast absolutely believes that Members of Congress should be treated the same way as everyone else when it comes to their healthcare,” Mast spokesman Brad Stewart said late Wednesday evening.

The National Republican Campaign Committee weighed in on Thursday as well.

“Unlike the Democrats, both Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo have proven to be effective leaders more interested in representing their constituents than in standing by and watching a failed law crumble under its own weight,” said Maddie Anderson, a spokesperson for the NRCC. “The DCCC’s attempt to keep 100 percent of Obamacare as it stands is dangerous for all Americans.”

Carlos Curbelo’s office did not respond to our request for comment.

 

Charlie Crist asking feds to require safety belts on all new school buses

Congressman Charlie Crist is looking to better protect students riding school buses.

On Wednesday, the St. Petersburg Democrat introduced the Best to Use Safety (BUS) Belts Act to enhance school bus safety, by requiring all new buses be equipped with safety belts.

The act would also provide grants to upgrade existing buses with seat belts.

“Families across Florida teach their children to buckle up. But for millions of kids across the country their school bus lacks this basic safety feature,” Crist said. “All students deserve access to a safe education – this measure simply extends that principle to children’s transportation to and from school.”

In the past six months, school bus accidents have killed and injured students in Maryland, Tennessee, Massachusetts and on Tuesday, in Omaha, Nebraska. Crist’s BUS Belts Act would aim to prevent injuries and deaths when school bus accidents occur.

“Children are provided the protection of three-point belts when they ride in a car. The same protection should be offered to them in school buses. This legislation would enable this to happen,” added Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Florida already mandates seat belts on school buses, per a bill sponsored by Crist when he was in the state Senate. Federal law currently only covers the driver’s seat on large school buses.

On Tuesday, the Texas state Senate voted to approve legislation requiring all new school buses to come equipped with safety belts. That measure now heads to the Texas House.

Taxing question: House OKs bill forcing county tax votes only in primary, general elections

Legislation limiting placement of local sales tax referendum to primary or general election ballots and requiring passage with 60 percent support was approved Wednesday by the Florida House.

The same bill by Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia (HB 139) passed in that chamber a year ago, but died in the Senate. Legislation sponsored by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube this year (SB 278) currently sits in the Appropriations Committee.

The final vote in the House on Wednesday was 93-23.

One of those who voted no was Dania Beach Democrat Steven Geller, who said it would result in another case of the state telling local governments how to behave. He specifically disliked the idea of a referenda item not being held when many local municipalities hold their elections in spring time.

“One of the problems we have with local tax referenda, is that right now currently counties can place that question anywhere on the ballot, ” Ingoglia responded, adding that to a certain degree, many counties have been “abusing that process.”

Citing turnout numbers hovering at 22 percent in some municipal elections, Ingoglia said he believed that “if you’re going to ask people to tax themselves, you should have the maximum participation possible.”

The original bill said counties could only hold tax referenda questions on the date of a general election to maximize the voting potential.

A problem with holding a vote in a primary is, Ingoglia said, depending on the county, participation is often much higher in number in primaries by the dominant political party in that county.

In Steube’s bill, language has been added in committee that would  allow local governments to hold a tax referendum on an off-year election cycle (such as 2017), as long as the tax increase was “revenue neutral.”

“Transparency in local tax increase referendums is critical. We commend Representative Ingoglia for passing HB 139 to strengthen local tax referendum processes to ensure more voter participation in local taxing decisions,” said Skylar Zander, deputy director of Americans for Prosperity Florida. “This is a good transparency measure and will make local tax increases more accountableWe call on the Florida Senate to pass this bill.”

Vern Buchanan asks Rick Scott to direct federal anti-drug money into his district

Rep. Vern Buchanan is asking Gov. Rick Scott to send a “significant” amount of newly received federal anti-drug money to his congressional district, parts of which have been among of the hardest hit by the opioid drug crisis.

“I want to make sure that this funding goes where it’s needed most — Florida’s Suncoast,” he wrote in his letter. “My district is suffering and this money will help save lives.”

Florida will receive $27 million in funding from The 21st Century Cures Act to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic in the state. A total of $485 million is being sent to the states for addressing the crisis of opioid addiction.

Manatee and Sarasota counties had the highest and second-highest number of fentanyl-related deaths per capita in the state in 2015.

Fentanyl, also known as synthetic heroin, killed more Floridians than heroin in 2015, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. Fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, was responsible for 911 deaths compared to 779 killed by a heroin overdose.

Buchanan also represents part of Hillsborough County, which he said should receive significant funding as well because it accounted for 12 percent of all babies born addicted to opioids in Florida in 2015.

Buchanan contacted Scott following last week’s announcement that nearly $500 million in federal aid will be distributed this year to states to confront the drug crisis.  The grant funding is part of this year’s $485 million national allocation included in the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill Buchanan strongly supported. Another $485 million national allocation will be sent to states next year. These programs take a multi-pronged approach to tackling drug problems by beefing up drug abuse treatment and prevention, training health care practitioners in best prescribing practices, and improving prescription monitoring.

According to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, Manatee County had the highest number of cocaine deaths per capita in 2015 and 2014 of all 67 counties, the highest number of Florida morphine deaths per capita in 2015 and 2014 and the highest number of Florida heroin deaths per capita in the state in 2015 and 2014

Earlier this year, Buchanan announced that he has co-sponsored the STOP Act (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act), which would toughen screening of overseas shipments of deadly synthetic drugs coming into the United States.

Florida AARP raises concerns about new GOP health care plan

Although the House has not released all the details on a revised Republican plan to replace and repeal Obamacare, the Florida AARP says that over the past few days, they’ve learned enough to be concerned.

The senior advocacy group believes that about 454,000 Floridians age 50-64 enrolled and receiving tax credits in the ACA Marketplace would see higher health coverage premiums than they are currently paying, more than in any other state.

The American Health Care Act withered last month after House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act from the floor when it became clear it didn’t have the votes. Most members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said at the time they would not vote for the bill as it was written.

One of the changes announced in the new plan would make it so insurers could secure a federal waiver that kept them from having to cover certain essential health benefits established by the federal government, and while it would still require that people with pre-existing conditions receive coverage, they could be charged higher premiums. That’s being called the MacArthur Amendment, named after New Jersey Republican Tom MacArthur, co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group.

Though a state like Florida might not want to secure that waiver, Jeff Johnson from the Florida AARP says that if the GOP plan ultimately allows buying coverage across state lines. This could still permit Floridians to purchase this health insurance “lite” plan for a low premium “perhaps not knowing that they’re not getting the coverage they would expect health insurance to cover.”

In turn, those with chronic conditions would be unlikely to choose a plan that wouldn’t cover a condition that they already have, and more likely purchase a more complete plan.

The problem with that, Johnson says, is if the healthiest people are paying for a cut-rate plan, forcing sicker people to buy a full plan, it will drive those costs up.

“So it affects those who don’t fall for the health-insurance-lite trick,” says Johnson.

Current essential benefits include:

— Outpatient care (essentially doctor visits outside the hospital)

— Emergency services

— Hospitalization

— Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care

— Mental health and substance use disorder services

— Prescription drugs

— Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, which help people with injuries and disabilities to recover

— Laboratory services

— Preventive care, wellness services, and chronic disease management

— Pediatric services, including oral and vision care for children

Another element in the new plan would allow states to end its “community rating” provisions. This would allow states to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, by creating so-called “high-risk pools” for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

“We’ve had high-risk pools in the past, and they’ve never really worked,” says Johnson. “They don’t bring in the people who need it. They’re not able to offer insurance at rates that real people can afford who actually need it, and I don’t know that there is anything that would lead us to believe that the results would be different this time around.”

Another element that Florida AARP says they’re trying to get clarity on is language that would allow states to offer a different age rating than the 5:1 that’s in the original AHCA bill. That ratio breaks down into charging those 50-64 up to five times more than those in their 20s. The AARP says that number could go higher, which “could mean worse,” said AARP’s Jeff Johnson.

Stella Mariani-Gonzalez was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2001 and ultimately spent hundreds of thousands on her treatment, after her original insurance company said they would only pay for four chemotherapy treatments. She said it was cheaper to remain uninsured after she recovered, and pay out of pocket for routine annual exams until she signed up for the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

“For the first time in years,” she said, “we had the relief of actually being able to afford health care.”

Mariani-Gonzalez acknowledges that she’s had to change doctors “a few times” and has large deductibles.

“At least I know I have something, after hearing about these high-risk pools, it’s just devastating,” she said. “I can’t imagine having to go back to that again.”

AARP also prepared a new analysis examining how Floridians of modest means would fare under the House health plan coverage, outside of high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.

The report shows that in eight Florida counties, premium costs for those aged 50-64 would eat up most, or in some cases all, their annual income.

For example, a Miami-Dade County resident age 64 with an income of $15,000 a year would see an effective premium increase of $11,666 per year, or 77 percent.

In Collier County, a similar individual would see a premium increase of $15,923, actually more than their entire annual income.

A person age 64 in Miami-Dade County with income of $25,000 a year would see effective premium increases of $10,272.  In Collier County, a similar person would see an effective premium increase of $14,529.

While political prognosticators think the newly revised plan could get through the House, there still are no guarantees it would survive in the Senate, where the rules governing the Senate’s reconciliation process requires all changes to have a direct effect on the federal budget. It’s also doubtful such a bill could they garner 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

House advances juvenile justice bill, adding adult diversion program

Over the past month, juvenile justice bills moving through the Florida Legislature this spring have veered off in different directions.

On Thursday, the House version (HB 205), sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern, changed again in the House Judiciary Committee.

Ahern’s bill would expunge the arrests of juveniles for certain first-time misdemeanor crimes. That differs significantly from its Senate companion. Miami Republican Anitere Flores bill (SB 196) would mandate civil citations to juveniles for a number of first-time misdemeanors.

Longwood Republican Scott Plakon‘s amendment to HB 205 would allow adults arrested for certain crimes to go into a pre-arrest diversion program.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who began a pre-arrest diversion program in October, gave the concept a boost. Since then, more than 800 people have participated, and more than 400 have successfully completed a program — performing over 11,000 hours of community service.

“It’s making a difference, they’re completing the program and they’re getting the exact same sanction — community service and restitution — and importantly, they’re not getting that criminal record,” Gualtieri said.

That insertion upset Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez, who for more than a year had been working on the legislation to address juveniles. He said a number of issues regarding the juvenile component of the bill remain unresolved.

Those issues were now “tainted” by the discussion over adults, Gonzalez argued.

“It opens up a completely separate discussion that I don’t think is conducive to finding out what the best solution is for children,” he said.

Ben Diamond disagreed, citing Gualtieri’s statistics.

“The numbers do show a tremendous success story in our community in Pinellas County,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said.

Fort Myers Republican Heather Fitzenhagen also supports the bill but expressed concerns over adding adults to the legislation.

“I’m going to take a look at it before it gets to the floor,” she said, “and make sure I have a comfort level with those two things being intertwined.”

Several speakers once again called on Ahern to amend the bill back to its original language, which would mandate diversion for juveniles arrested for certain offenses, marrying it to the Senate bill. Some contended that Ahern’s bill could harm those who might want to join the armed services.

Alex Kerr of the Department of Military Affairs confirmed to the committee that the military does ask questions about civil citation and even traffic tickets. But waivers are offered in those circumstances, he said, depending on the nature of the offense.

Gualtieri supports the House version and is dead against the Senate proposal. It’s a “bad thing” to take away the discretion of law enforcement to choose whether or not to arrest a youth who commits a crime, he said.

“Under mandatory civil citation, you take a kid with drug paraphernalia, with a crack pipe and a heroin syringe. That’s paraphernalia. Mandatory civil citation. No discretion,” the sheriff explained. “And so by eliminating that law enforcement discretion, it puts law enforcement in a situation where we can’t act to affect good public safety.”

 

Janet Cruz latest Democrat to call for Frank Artiles resignation

Florida Democratic Minority House Leader Janet Cruz is calling for Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles to step down, following the outrage over published remarks of his racist comments to black Democratic lawmakers.

“Frank Artiles’ comments Monday night transcend politics and get to the idea of who we are as people,” said the Tampa Representative in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. Her response was the latest in a series of calls by Democrats for Artiles to resign.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucuswhich includes seven senators and 21 state representatives, issued a letter Wednesday calling for the Senate Rules Committee to begin the process of ousting Artiles from the Senate.

Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto, the Rules chair, agreed there was “probable cause” Artiles violated Senate rules  that say a senator must “maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

Artiles apologized on the floor of the Senate Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Miami Herald reported on racist comments he made to Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville and Perry Thurston from Fort Lauderdale.

Artiles also made a sexist remark to Gibson, the Herald wrote.

“My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally,” Artiles said to Gibson. “No one deserves to be spoken to like that.”

Senate President Joe Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the comments, “disgusting,” but would not respond to questions about whether he thinks Artiles should step down.

Cruz had no such qualms.

“Do we believe in equality and treating each other well?” the Minority Leader asked in her statement. “Or do we believe that loose slurs and misogynistic attacks should be a part of our rhetoric? These disgusting remarks do nothing to bring us closer together as people and should not be tolerated by a civil society. Senator Artiles should take into account the best interests of his constituents and resign immediately.”

With weeks left in Session, small-businesses rally for statewide fracking ban

With just over two weeks left in Florida’s regular Legislative Session, a group of over 100 members of the business community released a statement Wednesday indicating support for a statewide fracking ban.

“If something goes wrong, I know that will have an impact on us,” said Mark Amis, the owner of Little Tommie’s Tiki located at Boca Ciega Bay in Gulfport. “I just don’t think that we should be spending the amount of money we’re going to spend to get those fuels. I don’t think there’s a good tradeoff there.”

“I’m a real estate broker and I want to protect real estate values in the state,” says Darlene Goodfellow with Valrico Realty Results. “I think if we had fracking it would definitely all of our property values negatively. I remember what happened during the BP oil spill, and people move to Florida because they love our natural resources and we need to protect them.”

The letter was produced by the environmental group Food & Water Watch, which has been advocating for a statewide ban on fracking.

“The risks of fracking in Florida outweigh any possible benefits that the industry could bring,” reads a portion of the letter. “We must not put our steadiest, revenue producing industries at terminal risk from exploratory and exploitive fracking. Fossil fuel extraction follows a boom-bust cycle that leaves communities burdened with health problems, damaged infrastructure, and a weaker economy for the long-term. Please listen to the 90 communities across the state that have passed local measures against fracking and pass the statewide ban. We must protect Florida’s environment; our businesses and industries depend upon it.”

After years of failure in getting any type of fracking legislation on the books, momentum appeared strong at the onset of the session this year for a ban on fracking, after Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young unveiled a proposal to ban the practice.

“Our natural environment and our aquifer are worth protecting at all costs,” Young said in a statement released on Wednesday by Food & Water Watch. “That is why I filed SB 442, a bill to ban fracking in Florida. By preventing fracking operations, we can protect Florida’s environment which sustains our population through a clean drinking water supply and provides enjoyment for Floridians and out of state visitors alike.”

However, Young’s bill may be on life support in the wake of comments made earlier this month by Mike Miller, the Orlando Republican carrying a companion bill  (HB 451) that would ban fracking in the House. Miller told the Naples Daily News, “You never say never, but now we’re saying it looks like that will be next year.”

The reason for the impasse is the desire by some House Republicans for a scientific study to determine the potential impacts of fracking. That echoes the 2016 legislation seeking to impose a two-year moratorium on fracking while a Florida-specific study was commissioned to assess the possible implications of the drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground.

“Maryland’s recent passage of a statewide ban showed us what can be done when businesses and communities come together against fracking,” said Brooke Errett, Florida Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Florida has a tourism-dependent economy. If our legislators care about Florida’s economy and constituents, they will ensure that a ban is passed before fracking can damage our state.”

 

 

Senate panel OKs modified bill to protect black bears

A modified proposal to protect black bears in Florida won support Wednesday in the Senate committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

But SB 1304 was measurably reduced in scope from Orlando Republican Linda Stewart‘s original bill.

Stewart’s initial proposal would have banned bear hunting in Florida for 10 years. The amended bill calls for no such action.

The proposal came a day after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that Florida black bear populations are on the rise and don’t warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Stewart’s legislation also called for a ban on proscribed burnings in the month of February, but a subsequent Hutson amendment limits that ban only to state lands, so that private property was not affected by the legislation.

Lane Stevens, a lobbyist with the Florida Airboat Association, said he his group still didn’t support Stewart’s bill, saying that the hunting prohibition on cub bears was a violation of the Florida Constitution.

“If this bill were ever to make it out of the Legislature,” Stevens said, “I personally would be the first one lining up to file suit over the constitutionality of that issue.”

The bill would also outlaw burns on public lands in the month of February.

Bill Palmer with Tall Timbers Research Station based in Tallahassee said that such a ban would be a “major step back for biodiversity, for game management and for water resource management in the state.”

The bill passed 4-1 in the Committee, with Fleming Island Rob Bradley the lone dissenter.

Orlando Democrat Amy Mercado is sponsoring a companion bill (HB 491) in the House.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission director Nick Wiley said earlier during Wednesday’s quarterly meeting that they didn’t believe there should be a hunt for black bears this year.

 

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