Phil Ammann, Author at Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.

WTSP exposé examines Florida’s ‘weakest in nation’ texting, driving laws

Florida lawmakers will probably not make texting while driving a primary traffic offense in 2017, although it is the law in 41 other states.

Right now, Florida doesn’t allow officers to pull over drivers for texting and driving unless they notice another potentially dangerous or deadly offense at the same time.

In an interview with Noah Pransky of WTSP, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran suggested that legislators may need more information before they decide to change the law, perhaps by seeing what such a change had accomplished in other states.

“You need to have evidence,” Corcoran said in a brief clip posted on Facebook. “Let’s look at what those other 41 states are doing … the number of incidents they have related to texting and driving and what it has done [for] their safety … comparisons based on population, based on demographics, based on cities.”

Corcoran added that by studying the data, the Legislature could come to an “objective decision” whether to make texting while driving a primary offense.

In another Facebook video, Pransky says gives three reasons legislators are in no rush to change “some of the country’s weakest distracted driving laws.” They claim texting isn’t dropping in the states where texting while driving laws are in place; banning such activities could represent a potential threat to civil liberties and police could abuse those rules to pull anyone over, for practically any reason.

Pransky calls those ideas simply “excuses” for lawmakers dragging their feet.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway tells WTSP that his department needs a driving while texting law to crack down on this dangerous behavior effectively.

“We need that tool in our toolbox so we can educate our people,” Holloway said.

Pransky will have a two-part report on Florida’s texting while driving and distracted driving laws Monday and Tuesday night at 11 p.m. on WTSP.

In 1st House speech, Charlie Crist vows ‘Commitment to Civility’

Charlie Crist wants to see more of the Golden Rule in Congress, with a call for civil discourse on Capitol Hill.

In his first speech on the floor of the U.S. House, the St. Petersburg Democrat joined a bipartisan class of 46 freshman lawmakers who signed a “Commitment to Civility” pledge.

This pledge seeks to “restore collegiality, trust and civility to Congress, encourage productive dialogue, and work to build consensus and the public’s trust in America’s institutions.”

In the letter, the group promised to remain: “dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue, and modeling civility in our public and private actions.”

“While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office,” they write.

Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I am honored to represent Pinellas County in Congress, and I promise to fight for the needs of my home county. But I pledge to do so in keeping with the ‘Golden Rule,’ to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Crist said in his speech. “I am proud that our freshman class has put forward this ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge. It states that despite our political differences, at the end of the day we must work together to move our country forward, putting people over politics and treating each other with respect — even when we disagree.”

Other first-year members of the Florida delegation signing the Commitment include Matt Gaetz of CD 1, Neal Dunn of CD 2, John Rutherford of CD 4, Al Lawson of CD 5, Darren Soto of CD 9, Val Demings of CD 10, Brian Mast of CD 18 and Francis Rooney of CD 19.

St. Pete City Council candidate Barclay Harless hosting young professional fundraiser Feb. 21

A trio of local young professionals are holding a fundraiser next week to support Barclay Harless in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council.

The event is Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Brewer’s Tasting Room, 11270 4th St. N in St. Petersburg. Suggested contribution is $50.

Harless is running for the District 2 seat, which covers most of Northeast St. Petersburg and is now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy.

Hosting the event are attorney Gill Lazenby, banker Mark Stroud Jr., and wealth manager Brooks Wallington. Both Harless and Stroud serve as vice presidents at the Bank of the Ozarks in St. Petersburg.

So far, Harless will face Brandi Gabbard, a former president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

Information and donations to Harless’ campaign can be made through

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg mayoral race are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.10.17 — The long arm of the law

Is One Door Closing on Corrine Brown?: The big story of the week in Jacksonville — the intrigue in the One Door for Education case.

The week started with Corrine Brown and her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, as co-defendants facing 24 counts for the allegedly fraudulent charity that turned $800,000 in donations into $1,200 of charity and significant walking around money for Simmons and Brown.

By Wednesday, Simmons pleaded guilty to two of those 24 counts. His sentencing will be delayed, and possibly mitigated, by cooperation with the state. But as of now, he faces 30 years in lockdown, $500,000 in fines, and $1.287 million in restitution.

Thursday revealed the extent of Simmons’ cooperation.

In Brown’s hearing, her attorney signaled the former congresswoman’s “firm intent” to go to trial, noting she refused entreaties for a plea deal from the Feds.

As well, a request for a 60-day delay to the start of the trial was rebuffed. As of now, it’s slated for late April.

Brown and her lawyer, along with Martin Luther King III, who was there in support, took questions after the hearing Thursday afternoon.

The leitmotif: Brown was “surprised and shocked” that Simmons turned on her.

Apparently, Brown hadn’t been talking to local media, some members of which may have had a pool on the date that turn would happen.

Brown eschewed the confrontational tone of past gaggles.

Rather, when asked how she felt about Simmons’ betrayal, she asked plaintively how one does “sign language for a broken heart.”

And in this guise, the reinvention of Corrine Brown into her perhaps final public form is apparent.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from Reggie Fullwood’s wire fraud case, which also resolved this week, it is an emotional appeal can mitigate situations where facts aren’t necessarily with a defendant.

***Southern Strategy Group is Florida’s powerhouse lobbying firm with a dedicated Jacksonville office, as well as locations in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee. Our nearly 25 lobbyists work daily to get our clients and their issues in front of key local and state elected officials. Whether in City Hall, the State Capitol or somewhere in between, we’ll work with you to create and execute a strategy that moves your agenda from the starting point through the finish line. Every industry. Every interest. Powerful advocacy begins here. Call us today at 904-425-8765 or visit to learn more.***

So Much for 204 Years: Arguably the best defense against campaign finance fraud in Northeast Florida history occurred this week: former State Rep. Reggie Fullwood avoided prison time for what was originally 14 felony counts against him.

Fullwood, who kept moving campaign finance funds into personal accounts (a perk of being his own treasurer), managed to plead ignorance of the law, while witnesses (including the father of his estranged wife) had his back.

Crying when he took the witness stand helped. As did a genuinely sympathetic judge, who spent more time noting what Fullwood had overcome in his life — beyond expropriating campaign donations for televisions, jewelry and liquor.

Fullwood will serve 180 days of house arrest starting March. Though he may leave the house for work, it is probably a good time for Fullwood to invest in the MLB Extra Innings package as he rides out the toughest part of that stretch.

MMJ, a sticky mess: This week, the Florida Department of Health has had rules workshops throughout the state, in the wake of Amendment 2.

Monday was Jacksonville’s turn. And the Florida Times-Union reports that, as is the case everywhere else in the state, people who voted for Amendment 2 want access to the palliative that has proved elusive.

“You just make it so hard on us patients,” one person said. “I’m about forced to move to Colorado.”

Others complained about the prohibitive costs, with more than one suggesting the black (green?) market is better than the state-sanctioned alternative.

An apparent consensus: the system, initially set up in 2014 for low-THC cannabis, isn’t working.

Puff, Puff. Pass: The Florida Times-Union had the puffiest editorial puff piece in quite a while this week when it lavished hundreds of words extolling the relationship between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the city.

“The relationship between the NFL Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville continues to evolve in a very positive way. And for this, we are thankful,” the T-U wrote.

The ostensible subject: Opening of the amphitheater (Daily’s Place) near the sports complex, a big piece of a $45 million bonded-out city investment. Coupled with a $43 million buy on scoreboards, the city’s bed tax will be paying for these investments until after their useful life ends.

The Curry administration sold the amphitheater as a way of bringing unique value-added acts to town that otherwise wouldn’t come. But the slate of shows is underwhelming.

Far be it from the T-U to note that sorry selection, though.

Bootlicking is more the paper’s speed: “We’re incredibly lucky to have an NFL owner like Khan, who will throw in 50 percent of this major investment in our city.”

Wake me when he pays for septic tank removal.

Unions Hold Ground in Collective Bargaining: Last year, Mayor Curry got his pension reform bill through both Tallahassee and a voter referendum, but this year, collective bargaining has proved to be more of a slog.

The city is still pushing defined-contribution plans for new hires. The latest proposal, advanced this week from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, concerns individual pension contracts.

The city, meanwhile, offered a ten-year deal, negotiable at three-year windows, with a chance to reopen negotiations for a plan more to the unions’ liking.

That didn’t fly. Neither did the city’s proposal for annuities as a Social Security substitute for new hires.

The Mayor’s Office set a Saturday deadline to accept the current deal on the table. The city’s urgency is driven by budget forecasting, more than economic necessity: starting in March, the city begins to formulate its departmental budgets.

If the city knows it can rely on the actuarial certainty created by the guarantee of future local sales tax money (predicated on closing at least one of the city’s extant pension plans), then it can plan accordingly.

If not? Another lean year for local budgets.

Unless Shad Khan has an ask.

Religious Reconciliation: Two years ago, the African-American Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church merged with the suburban, white Ridgewood Baptist Church.

The Washington Post followed up on this merger recently, and it apparently has benefited all parties … an instructive lesson for Jacksonville as it deals with the ongoing challenge of racial reconciliation.

Blacks and whites worshipping at a single Baptist church — a seemingly unlikely prospect at one time — created a situation where a rising tide lifts all boats, ameliorating the de facto segregated Sundays in many churches.

Candid Camera: Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, fresh off telling the police union to take Curry’s pension deal (extending defined contribution plans to new hires), ticked off the rank and file again in a Jacksonville City Council committee.

The Florida Times-Union reports Williams said body cameras would not be subject to collective bargaining.

The police union, of course, disagrees.

“We are confident PERC will follow the rulings of every other state that has heard this issue and order the sheriff to bargain the policy with the FOP,” said Steve Zona, head of the police union.

Williams may face opposition in 2019 if he keeps undercutting the bargaining positions of the union.

Lucky 13: Will it be Happy Valentine’s Day? Or Valentine’s Day Massacre?

That’s the question to consider when the Jacksonville City Council votes up or down Tuesday night on the expanded Human Rights Ordinance.

The bill cleared three committees, with the closest margin being a 4-3 vote Wednesday in Finance.

Voting against the measure in committees: Bill Gulliford, Sam Newby, Matt Schellenberg, Danny Becton and Doyle Carter.

Expected to oppose it Tuesday when the full council mulls the HRO: Al Ferraro.

The bill needs 13 votes to be veto-proof. If the 13 other members actually show up Tuesday and vote for it, the bill is golden.

Councilman Reggie Brown, who opposed such legislation in 2012, has yet to render a committee vote. Brown is expected to vote yes, but there are no guarantees.

Any attrition from the magic number of 13, and Curry — who last year said the legislation isn’t “prudent” — will be faced with the choice of casting his first veto, or risk someone run from his right against him in 2019.

There are different things he’ll do, depending on who in his orbit you ask.

Meanwhile, Curry is not saying.

Race Mutters: While the HRO drowns out everything else happening in City Council next week, other bills are up for consideration.

One that should pass: Garrett Dennis’ bill to fund a (currently unfunded) director position, instituted in 2008, to ensure the city’s independent authorities and government are taking meaningful steps toward a workforce that looks like Jacksonville.

Discussion in the Finance Committee Wednesday indicated one lonely voice of dissent: Matt Schellenberg, who said — among other things — that the bill ran contrary to the “American way.”

Schellenberg asserted the proposed legislation is “discriminatory on its basis — what you’re dealing with is race and gender.”

Jacksonville, in the early days of consolidation, was slow to address issues of racial reconciliation. The Tommy Hazouri administration tackled issues like minority set-asides. In the quarter century since Hazouri left office, however, the city has pretended as if old divisions have been solved.

Dennis was amicable about Schellenberg, despite the councilman’s attempt to blow up his bill and question his Americanism.

For Schellenberg, who made a play for council leadership last year, incidents like Wednesday’s illustrate why a meaningful role for the second-term Republican is a non-starter.

State of JAXPORT 2017: JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor delivered the 2017 State of the Port address during a Propeller Club – Port of Jacksonville luncheon at the University of North Florida. Taylor discussed recent business growth, highlighted by the port’s 19 percent growth in Asian container shipments, along with major growth projects completed in 2016. The Propeller Club of the United States is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the maritime industry in the U.S. and abroad. As one of the longest running clubs in the nation, the Port of Jacksonville chapter advocates for the maritime industry in Northeast Florida. Video of the speech is available at

St. Johns River of Lights: To boost Jacksonville’s waterfront, local architects are envisioning columns of lights and lasers placed along the St. Johns River as it flows through downtown. The display will look like a “glittering necklace,” reports the Florida Times-Union. The concept is still in its early stages, with one supporter being City Council President Lori Boyer. The American Institute of Architects Jacksonville chapter imagines a high-voltage display with skyward beacons to connect several attractions downtown.

“The vision is to create this pearl necklace, this string of lights along the river, that are connected and can really showcase our city,” Thomas Duke, chair of the Downtown Visioning Committee for the Jacksonville chapter of AIA, told the T-U.

The waterfront light show would come in good time for downtown, which is about to see new developments like The District and The Shipyards as well as popular attractions The Jacksonville Landing and Friendship Fountain.“This creates the framework that everybody can plug into,”Duke said.

Flagler Hospital wins award for clinical excellence: Health care research firm presented Flagler Hospital with a 2017 Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence. Flagler was among 258 hospitals out of 4,500 nationwide to receive the recognition, which honors facilities for performing in the top 5 percent based on clinical outcomes for dozens of common procedures and conditions.

Flagler Hospital was one of only four hospitals in Florida to receive the award and also named a Top 100 Hospital for General Surgery, Joint Replacements, and Orthopedic Surgery.

“Delivering safe, high-quality care is our top priority at Flagler Hospital,” said Flagler President and CEO Joe Gordy. “This recognition by Healthgrades reflects our commitment and ongoing investments in training, technology and evidence-based practice to achieve the best possible outcomes for every patient. Our board, our physician partners and our staff truly care our patients, our hospital, and our community and this has been affirmed by our Healthgrades performance year-after-year.”

Jacksonville Historic Preservation Awards open nominations: The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission has opened nominations for its annual awards ceremony. The award recognizes outstanding projects and services that promote historic preservation in the Jacksonville area. Recipients will be honored by the Historic Preservation Commissioners at an awards ceremony in May, coinciding with the celebration of National Preservation Month.

Nomination forms with information on eligibility, judging and nominating procedures can be found through the Planning and Development Department or at

Jacksonville Manatee Fest: The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will host the Jacksonville Manatee Festival Saturday, Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will include live music, arts and crafts demonstrations, parades and conservation to celebrate Florida’s state marine mammal. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will provide tours of its manatee rescue boat and transport truck, and conduct a manatee ‘rescue’ for children. The festival is free with admission. More information at

UF Health Jax surgeons tackle challenging cancers: If not treated quickly and aggressively, esophageal and pancreatic cancers can be deadly. UF Health profiles Dr. Ziad Awad, medical director of the minimally invasive surgery program at UF Health Jacksonville, who tackles those two cancers on a daily basis. “Both are very complex cancers to manage in the sense that they need a big, multidisciplinary approach,” Awad said. “Because the majority of these cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, the patient needs a lot of guidance in terms of lung function, heart health and their nutrition profile before we can do anything surgical.”

Approximately 85 to 90 percent of patients receive upfront treatment, like chemotherapy and radiation, before Awad’s team will perform surgery — some surgeries other physicians are reluctant to do.

“Since it’s a university setting, we take on the complex cases,” Awad said. “We do a lot of advanced cancer removal that is minimally invasive, but sometimes we perform open surgery.”

Rick Scott salutes Jeff Atwater’s work as CFO

Gov. Rick Scott praised the work of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who announced Friday he will be joining Florida Atlantic University after the 2017 Legislative Session.

“I got to know CFO Jeff Atwater well in 2010 on the campaign trail, and like me, he has been laser-focused on keeping the cost of living low for all Floridians,” Scott said in a statement. “I am proud that the state has paid down over $7.6 billion in debt since 2011,” adding that Atwater “aggressively helped us achieve that goal.”

Scott noted Atwater’s fight “to reduce burdensome regulations that hinder job growth, protect families from financial fraud” and as well as his efforts to return $1 billion in unclaimed property to the rightful owners.

Calling Atwater “a proud Floridian, father, husband and friend,” the governor said he will “truly miss” working with him.

“The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state,” Scott said, “and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

Pensacola community leader Bentina Terry moving to Georgia Power

Bentina Terry, Gulf Power’s Customer Service and Sales vice president, is leaving Pensacola for a new job with Georgia Power.

Terry, a popular community activist in the Panhandle area, has been named Georgia Power’s senior vice president of the Metro Atlanta Region. She began her career at Southern Company in 2001, and has been with Gulf Power since 2007.

“My time in Pensacola has been an incredible part of my life,” Terry says in a news release. “I’ve met and become close with so many special people who will continue to have a big impact on who I am.”

In 2014, Terry became Gulf Power’s customer service VP, where she oversaw marketing, customer service, community development and relations. In a news release, Terry expressed gratitude for her supporters, and as her ideas for the community.

“Most importantly, I want to thank our customers,” she says. I’ve learned and grown so much through serving them and plan to take those lessons with me in my new role serving customers in Atlanta,”

Terry was named Pensacola Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leader of the Year in 2013. She was ranked No. 1 on the InWeekly Power List, naming the 100 most powerful and influential people in the greater Pensacola area. INFLUENCE Magazine also named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in Florida Politics in 2015.

From 2012-14, Terry served chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and chaired Leadership Florida from 2014-15.

“Since coming here in 2007, Bentina’s vision has helped our team position Gulf Power as more than your local energy provider,” Gulf Power president and CEO Stan Connally says in a statement. “Over the last nine years, her dedication and passion for our customers and our community has made us better.”

“She will be missed,” Connally added.

Barclay Harless nabs first union endorsement in St. Pete City Council bid

Barclay Harless nabbed the first union endorsement in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council.

The 31-year-old St. Petersburg banking executive, received support Monday of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 123.

Harless is running for the District 2 seat, which covers most of Northeast St. Petersburg and is now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy.

“The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 123 are committed to quality and excellence in their craftsmanship, and believe in Barclay Harless’ vision and unique, fresh perspective to get things done in city hall,” says a union statement.

Since his first week after filing for the race, Harless announced more than 100 individual donors in a campaign that is beginning to build momentum, with a broad coalition of support.

Harless, a graduate of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is an assistant bank officer at Bank of the Ozarks. Before that, he was a legislative aide to then-state Rep. Darryl Rouson. Harless also worked on Alex Sink’s 2014 campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Possessing a record of community activism, Harless also served as state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and held a role on the Pinellas Charter Review, which helped craft an amendment that requires citizen input in future county commission redistricting.

So far, Harless will face Brandi Gabbard, a former president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

Information on Harless and his candidacy are at

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg mayoral race are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.


South Pasadena holding commission candidate forum Wednesday

Contenders for two South Pasadena City Commission seats will appear at a meet-the-candidates forum Wednesday.

Moderated by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, the event will be held 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at the commission chambers in South Pasadena City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S.

The forum will also be simulcast on the city’s cable channel 643.

Dan Calabria, Gigi Esposito and David Magenheimer are running for a pair of open seats on the commission, the two top vote-getters will win the spot. Commissioners Bruce Howry and Arthur Penny have decided not to run for re-election.

Calabria is a former mayor, first elected in 2013, who once faced a removal vote in 2015 for alleged “belligerence” and his behavior with the city clerk another female staff members. Commissioners tabled the recall vote that March.

Magenheimer is an insurance audit consultant in St. Petersburg.

South Pasadena, which has a commission form of government, elects five at-large commission members for three-year terms, one selected as mayor.

The last day for voter registration is Feb. 13; municipal elections are March 14.

More information on South Pasadena and its government are at

St. Pete Chamber releases legislative wish list for 2017 Session

As Tallahassee gears up for the annual 60-day Legislative Session, now a month away, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce outlines its agenda for 2017.

Among the leading matters for the Chamber are transportation, the unification of PSTA-HART, tourism, and state regulation of vehicles for hire — including a bill (SB 340) from state Sen. Jeff Brandes setting rules to promote the growth of transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft.

However, at the top of the wish list is a call for greater diversity, with the Chamber supporting the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (HB 623 and SB 666) two measures would seek to create statewide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Business leaders say the Act will help ensure St. Petersburg and Florida attract the best, brightest and most creative workers.

Among economic development issues, St. Petersburg business leaders are asking lawmakers to approve $3 million for the Pinellas Center for Innovation for a series of improvements in addition to the creation of a state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot enterprise incubator facility. For the growing Warehouse Arts District, the Chamber asks $500,000 in state funds go to renovate six storage buildings, which would seek to revitalize nearly 3 acres of blighted property.

The Chamber also wants to keep Enterprise Florida – as is or with some modifications — the state’s quasi-governmental business recruitment agency, as well as VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism arm. For every dollar spent through VISIT FLORIDA, the Chamber says, returns $3.20 in tax revenue for Pinellas County – tourism being one of the area’s most critical sectors.

Nevertheless, Enterprise Florida is in the crosshairs of state legislators, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has recently referred to such state-run incentive programs as “de facto socialism.” Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch proponent of Enterprise Florida, sees it as a valuable tool in attracting business growth and jobs to the state.

As for education, the Chamber gives thumbs-up to several local proposals, including $10 million For the St. Petersburg College Student Success Center, and $2.5 million for “STEM academic programming” to prepare the region’s workforce for increasing demands in health care, science, and technology. Also on the list is early learning performance and voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), which the Chamber asks to be boosted by at least $50 per student.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg gets a pair of requests, with $1.5 million for the USF College of Marine Science Coastal Ocean Initiative to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and provide three years of operations and maintenance costs. There’s also $2 million for the USF College of Marine Science Biogeochemical Laboratory Renovation, to “enhance long-term studies of the Gulf of Mexico oil spills.” Investments in these “shovel ready” projects would have an impact beyond the school campus, the Chamber says, by improving the region’s ability to compete for federal research funds to the benefit of the St. Petersburg “marine science cluster,” which provides a regional economic impact estimated at $100 million.

Trauma centers once again on the legislative radar in 2017. The Chamber is calling for legislators to reject a proposal for the Florida Department of Health to change the language to permit a “minimum” number of trauma centers a given district.

Decrying the “fragmented and underfunded” behavioral health system, chamber leaders asks Tallahassee to continue reforms passed in 2016, and uses much money is available in the state budget to expand treatment for mental health and substance abuse. They also support protecting the $450 million lawmakers have used to offset the reduction in the federal Low Income Pool, which is “vital that the existing general revenue be maintained in the Medicaid budget.”

St. Petersburg’s infrastructure woes – highlighted by last year’s city wastewater leaks into Tampa Bay – should get some attention in the 2017-18 budget.

The Chamber asks lawmakers to pass the funding request from South Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters (HB 2005) for $3 million to smoke test the city’s sewer pipes for leaks, remodel lateral clean-outs with removable plugs, and install and seal manholes.

Flood management, another significant issue facing both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, is the subject of two bills (SB 112 and HB 613) that will have the Division of Emergency Management set up a matching grant program to provide up to $50 million for flood risk reduction policies and projects.

Tax cuts, another big topic for Scott in 2017, is also on the chamber agenda, with support for the governor’s call to reduce taxes on commercial rent. The group is requesting additional reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system to address rising cost of attorney’s fees and rate increases without jeopardizing employee access to workers’ comp.

The chamber also opposes any efforts to prohibit a professional sports franchise from leasing public land to build stadiums or renovate stadiums already on public lands. The legislature is also looking at two bills (HB 77SB 122) which require any public land use to build a stadium be to be sold at fair market value.

Charlie Crist named to three key financial services subcommittees

Charlie Crist, as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was tapped to serve on three of its principal subcommittees.

The freshman St. Petersburg Democrat has been named to:

— Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, which covers all matters relating to banking, including oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, mortgages, and federal regulators of financial institutions;

— Monetary Policy and Trade, which has jurisdiction over the Export-Import Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, which impacts access to capital and interest rates; and

— Oversight and Investigation, which is tasked with overseeing administration actions relating to financial services to promote good governance in this sector.

These assignments will serve as a complement to Crist’s work on the full committee, such as ensuring flood insurance is more affordable and enacting Wall Street reform.

“Our work on the Financial Services Committee — and particularly these subcommittees — will have a direct impact on residents of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “I look forward to having the opportunity to affect policies to increase access to capital for small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned businesses that drive our local economy, as well as defending the Export-Import Bank, which has supported $200 million in exports from Pinellas County businesses since 2012On the Oversight Subcommittee, I will be a faithful watchdog on behalf of the people and their hard-earned tax dollars.”

More information on the roles and responsibilities of Financial Services is available on the committee website.


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