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.

Glades landowners double down on Joe Negron to reveal his ‘willing sellers’

Joe Negron recently visited Pahokee High School for a town hall meeting to discuss his plans for taking farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

During the meeting, the Senate President said he is in discussion with “many owners of land south of the lake” in the effort to acquire 153,000 acres of productive land to set up a reservoir for Lake Okeechobee runoff.

That claim didn’t go over well with farmers and landowners.

In a letter to Negron sent Monday, owners of more than 2,500 acres of farmland in the EAA each reaffirm that they will not support any government acquisition of lands south of Lake O.

Negron argues the land is necessary to store water to avoid discharging into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Last summer, discharges were connected to a rash of blue-green algal blooms in regional waters, leading the state to declare a four-county state of emergency.

Nevertheless, many in the Glades area communities insist taking such productive farmland would result in widespread job losses. They are unwilling to sell private property to the government under Negron’s SB 10, which seeks to buy the land from “willing sellers.”

At the town hall held March 17, state Rep. Rick Roth asked, “If we find no willing sellers, which I believe is the case, you are not going to find any, sir, what does the second part of the bill say and what is going to happen if the bill becomes law?”

Negron replied: “Well, first of all, with all due respect, I do not agree with you that we will not be able to find sellers. And there are many owners of land south of the lake that are in discussion with us to try to solve this problem once and for all.”

Negron’s claims forced landowners in the EAA to reassert their position, calling the senator to reveal these so-called “willing sellers.”

For Negron’s plan to work, said John Scott Hundley, of EAA Farmers, Inc., it would require the “participation of landowners who own larger tracts of contiguous land.”

“If Senator Negron is in discussion with landowners south of the lake, he should make it clear who he is referencing because they are not the co-signers of this letter,” Hundley said.

EAA Farmers stands for a coalition of farmers and supporters in the Everglades Agricultural Area, which they point out is one of the nation’s most vital farming regions and the largest supplier of winter vegetables — sweet corn, radishes, green beans, lettuce and other leafy greens.

According to Everglades farmers — who strongly oppose Negron’s SB 10 — the EAA region is the largest producer of rice in the Southeast and the nation’s top producer of sugar cane.

American Medical Association sides against optometrists in Florida Eyeball Wars

The nation’s largest association of physicians is the latest group to come out against a bill at the center of Florida’s so-called “Eyeball Wars” between ophthalmologists and optometrists.

On Thursday, American Medical Association President and CEO James Madara sent a letter to House Health & Human Services Committee chair Travis Cummings, in which he called on lawmakers to reject HB 1037, a measure that seeks give optometrists expanded practice to perform a certain type of laser surgeries in Florida.

The two-page letter expresses several concerns with the bill, including the relative lack of education and experience of optometrists compared to ophthalmologists — who “possess the comprehensive medical knowledge necessary to safely perform surgical procedures on patients.”

“Patient safety and quality of care demand that patients be assured that individuals who perform invasive procedures have appropriate medical education and training,” Madara wrote. ” Quite simply, safe use of lasers and scalpels requires extensive medical education and training. Surgery on or around the human eye is not something to be taken lightly.

“The AMA strongly opposes HB 1037 because there is no way to safely perform surgical procedures without the comprehensive education and clinical training received in medical or osteopathic school,” Madara added. “The lack of specific additional education and training proposed by HB 1037 comes nowhere near this standard.”

In a procedural move, House Speaker Richard Corcoran removed HB 1037 from the schedule of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee. In response, Florida Society of Ophthalmology President Adam Katz said the move — which he suggested was “orchestrated” — gave his organization one less opportunity to stop the measure from becoming law.

Supporting HB 1037 include the Florida Optometric Association, which has hired a team of a dozen lobbyists to promote the bill, including Michael Corcoran, brother of the House Speaker.

POLITICO Florida reports that March 20, the FOA hired influential Capital City Consulting lobbyist Nick Iarossi.

Speaker moves Eyeball Wars closer to House floor; docs say optometrist testimony ‘patently false’

Florida’s “Eyeball Wars” between ophthalmologists and optometrists could soon be spilling onto the House floor.

On Monday, Speaker Richard Corcoran removed HB 1037 — a controversial bill to allow optometrists to perform surgery, among other things — off the agenda of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

A representative for Corcoran told POLITICO Florida that the measure, which seeks to expand optometry further into the practice of surgery, was one of 12 bills removed from Appropriations under Rule 7.18(c) because they had “no fiscal impact.”

The move has raised the alarm of Adam Katz, president of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, who felt the appropriations hearing would represent his organization’s best shot at defeating the bill.

“We feel like this is being orchestrated,” Katz, a Vero Beach ophthalmologist, told Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida.

In the bill’s earlier stop — the House Health Quality Subcommittee — HB 1037 was narrowly passed by an 8-7 vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, the bill is strongly opposed by both the Florida Society of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons. The measure is still on the schedule for the House Health & Human Services Committee.

“We have a responsibility to make sure everyone has access,” Diaz told reporters last week.

Nevertheless, testimony at last week’s subcommittee hearing did not sit well with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which makes Corcoran’s procedural move even more disturbing. The Florida Optometric Association have strongly pushed HB 1037, employing a team of a more than a dozen lobbyists that include Michael Corcoran, Speaker Corcoran’s brother.

In a letter to House Health Quality chair Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican and emergency care physician, Dr. Mark Michels, board member of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, pointed out several misleading and inaccurate accusation made during testimony from optometrists and their representatives.

“I cannot stay silent when the process is used by others to perpetuate falsehoods, especially when those falsehoods could endanger patients,” Michels writes. “It is for that reason, and out of respect for all of you and the integrity of our legislative process, that I am writing to bring your attention to two patently incorrect statements made by the representative of the Florida Optometric Association (FOA) at the hearing. “

One of the major selling points for HB 1037 is that it would expand access to glaucoma surgery for Medicaid patients, because in some rural regions — Bradenton was the example used in testimony — ophthalmologists do not accept Medicaid.

Michels called that claim “spurious,” pointing out that “information readily accessible in the State’s database–the AHCA Provider Master List — clearly shows that there are at least 24 active individual ophthalmologists that see Medicaid patients in Bradenton.”

He also pushed back on testimony that said “there are “less than 400 ophthalmologists in the entire State that take Medicaid.” In fact, there are nearly 1,200 active, enrolled ophthalmologists in Florida that see Medicaid patients.

A second issue is a contention that the surgery optometrists are asking to perform is not “invasive” and restricted to only lasers to “stimulate tissue in the eye.”

“Those statements are fallacious and exemplify a dangerous ignorance of what laser surgery is and the complications that can arise from the use of lasers,” Michels writes.

Lasers authorized by HB 1037 are powerful enough to cut ocular tissue — in a process called photodisruption — which can lead to several complications which can be adequately understood only by a medical professional with the training and experience of ophthalmologists.

“This knowledge is obtained from years of experience and seeing thousands of patients,” Michels writes, “all while being directly supervised by a board certified ophthalmic surgeon.”

Michels then calls out the FOA representative for holding himself as a “subject matter expert,” pledging to the committee that lasers authorized in the bill “do not cut,” are “noninvasive” and are only “stimulating” lasers similar to those used in “a new product contained in a baseball hat and used to stimulate hair growth.”

This stance is both “inexcusable and dangerous,” Michels said, before calling Pigman to do his part to “stop this dangerous bill from becoming law.”

Next for HB 1037 — the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars — is the House Health and Human Services Committee, one of only two stops before heading to the House floor.

Ophthalmologists ‘disheartened’ by House advancing bill for optometrists to practice surgery

Cary Pigman, the Avon Park Republican and emergency care physician who chairs the Health Quality Subcommittee.

Optometrists enjoyed a narrow victory Wednesday in Florida’s renewed Eyeball Wars when a House committee advanced a bill to allow optometrists to perform certain types of eye surgery.

After a two-hour hearing, the House Health Quality Subcommittee approved HB 1037, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz and opposed by both the Florida Society of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons.

Diaz, a Republican from Hialeah, argued the bill gives patients in rural areas better access to eye surgery, as well as helping lower-income patients since ophthalmologists rarely accept Medicaid.

“We have a responsibility to make sure everyone has access,” Diaz told the committee.

Dr. Ken Lawson, chair of the Florida Optometric Association, told lawmakers that the laser-based surgical procedures were non-invasive and did not involve actually cutting into the eye.

Ophthalmologists have always maintained that optometrists do not have the same medical training or qualifications to perform eye surgery.

For the past four years, optometrists and ophthalmologists have held a truce in the so-called “Eyeball Wars,” which optometrists are now actively seeking to break.

Signed into law in 2013 by Gov. Rick Scott, HB 239 had allowed optometrists to prescribe a limited number of oral medications and forbid them from prescribing Schedule I and II controlled substances. It also said optometrists must complete 20 hours of added training, pass an examination, and carry medical malpractice coverage at the same level as medical doctors. The bill also needed optometrists to report all adverse medical incidents – the same as ophthalmologists and other practitioners.

Optometrists would also have to refer patients with severe glaucoma to an ophthalmologist within 72 hours.

Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons, sent a letter of protest Tuesday to Rep. Cary Pigman, the Avon Park Republican and emergency care physician who chairs the Health Quality Subcommittee, saying the bill worked against the “interest of patient safety and maintaining the highest standards of surgical care.”

Jason Goldman, Coral Springs-based physician who sits on the Florida medical Association Board of Governors argued in the hearing that Medicaid reimbursement is no excuse to allow optometrists – who are without the training and education required for ophthalmologists – to perform surgery.

Several Legislators opposing the bill echoed the same argument.

In a statement, Dr. Adam Katz, President of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology said he was “disheartened” by the vote.

“The bill language, created without the consultation of a single Ophthalmologist, allows Optometrists to bypass medical school and begin performing surgery after a brief period of instruction,” Katz said. “The first patient an Optometrist performs surgery on will be their first experience with a live patient. This puts the health and well-being of all Floridians in jeopardy and drastically lowers the standard of care our patients deserve.

“If an optometrist wants to perform surgery,” he added, “their first stop should be medical school, not the Legislature.”

House bill advances to give University of Florida $2.5M for medical marijuana study

The University of Florida would get about $2.5 million to study the effectiveness of medical marijuana under a bill that cleared the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

HB 3159 by Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle is aimed at the compassionate use bill lawmakers approved in 2014, which legalized low-THC, high-cannabidiol marijuana for the treatment of some diseases, such as epilepsy in children.

A similar, $1 million UF study was approved by the legislature back in 2015, with that money heading to a pediatric neurology lab.

Eagle’s budget request form for the bill lists UF Pharmacy professor Almut Winterstein as the requester. According to the document, about $1.2 million of the money will go to salaries and $654,000 for contracted services with most of the rest going toward data storage and travel expenses.

Since the 2014 law, the Legislature has approved full-THC marijuana for terminally ill patients and Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for many other non-terminal medical conditions.

Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell said Eagle’s bill was a “key component” of the legislation lawmakers need to pass in order to put that constitutional amendment into action.

HB 3159 now moves on to the full Appropriations Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for a floor vote in the House.

Joe Ayoub wins solid victory to return as Safety Harbor mayor

Joe Ayoub will again serve as Safety Harbor mayor, after decisively defeating City Council member Janet Hooper by more than 30 points in Tuesday’s municipal elections. He will replace Mayor Andy Steingold, who had retired from local politics.

“We have a special city and I absolutely love serving our community,” Ayoub said. “it is humbling and an extreme honor to become your next Mayor. I am ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work to protect our small-town charm and give a voice to all of our residents.”

Unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections show Ayoub received 3,001 votes, just under 66 percent of the 4,579 votes cast.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Ayoub vowed to continue a “thriving downtown, a waterfront park that is usable and attractive for all residents” as well as “laser focused on keeping taxes low and our spending is in check. I am looking forward to working with the Commission to improve Safety Harbor for all residents.”

Nick Janovsky, Ayoub’s campaign manager, added: “Safety Harbor voters have spoken with a resounding message and they want a fiscal hawk with a proven track record who has a vision for progress as their Mayor by electing Joe Ayoub with 66 percent.

“I’m proud of the issues based campaign Joe Ayoub ran and his hard work to give all residents a voice in city hall,” Janovsky continued. “Joe is a rising star and I can’t wait to see the results he brings Safety Harbor and Pinellas County in the future.”

From March 2007 to January 2013, Ayoub was a City Council member, before chosen as mayor, a job he held until March 2014, losing re-election to Steingold.

In his bid to return to City Hall, Ayoub received bipartisan support, earning endorsements from both former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, a Democrat and Neil Brickfield, a Republican.

As a Countryside High School graduate, Ayoub earned an accounting degree from the University of Florida and a master’s degree from the University of South Florida. The 26-year Safety Harbor resident serves as CFO at Data Blue.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer returns to Florida for Charlie Crist fundraiser March 24

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will be back in Florida later this month as special guest at a fundraiser for St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.

Hosted by Kathy and Joe Saunders, JoAnn and John Nestor, Janette and Tom Carey and Watson Haynes, the reception will be Friday, March 24, at the Saunders’ St. Petersburg home at 4916 62nd Ave. S. The $500-a-ticket event begins 5 p.m.

Hoyer represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District and has served as House Majority Leader (2007-11) and House Majority Whip (2003-2007). The last time he was in Central Florida was October in Sanford to stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Crist, the freshman lawmaker representing Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, sits on the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.

RSVPs are available online; for more information, contact Evan Lawlor at or (202) 741-7215.

Florida House faults universities over salaries and spending

A top Florida House Republican says that state universities are spending way too much money inappropriately and that they don’t need more help from taxpayers.

State Rep. Carlos Trujillo also suggested Wednesday that legislators may need to look at how much university presidents are paid, as well as even how much football and basketball coaches are paid. The Miami Republican and House budget chief said too many people work for universities or university foundations who earn more than $200,000 a year.

The House is scrutinizing university spending at the same time that the Florida Senate is poised to approve a major overhaul of colleges and universities that includes spending more. Senate President Joe Negron is pushing the proposal to put Florida schools on par with other well-known universities.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

House committee passes military Occupational Opportunity Act

A House subcommittee unanimously passed a bill to help service members and spouses find and keep jobs when they relocate to Florida.

HB 615, known as Occupational Opportunity Act, sailed through the Florida Careers & Competition Subcommittee Tuesday with a bipartisan vote. Next stop for the bill is the full Commerce Committee.

Palm Beach Republican Paul Renner filed HB 615, with Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg introducing the Senate version.

The Occupational Opportunity Act seeks to expand opportunities for the military community in Florida by lengthening the time an occupational license stays valid after a service member retires or a spouse moves into the state.

If passed, HB 615 would waive licensing fees for new in-state applicants among those in the military community.

Concerned Veterans for America Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri calls the bill a “huge step in ensuring Florida veterans and service members have a fair transition back into their civilian life after returning home from protecting American freedoms abroad.”

Echeverri says HB 615 paves the way “for greater economic opportunity” for millions in the state’s military community.

After nearly 50 years in news, Mike Deeson announces retirement

In a sudden announcement, longtime WTSP investigative reporter Mike Deeson says he is retiring from the Tampa airwaves, effective immediately.

“I know this will come as a surprise to many of my friends in Tampa Bay,” Deeson says in a Facebook post published Monday, “but I have decided to retire from Channel 10 effective today.”

Deeson, named one of the INFLUENCE Magazine’s top 100 Florida influencers in 2015, will use the time to “put more effort into many of other projects I have been trying to juggle while working full time … Maybe I’ll even improve my golf game.” He explains that he had been thinking about retiring for a while “especially because of the changing landscape of TV news.”

The 68-year-old Chicago native is one most highly awarded reporters in Tampa bay region. According to his WTSP bio, Deeson has been recognized with 6 Green Eyeshade awards (one of the oldest journalism contests in the country), more than 50 AP, United Press International and Society of Professional Journalist Awards including several Outstanding Individual Achievement in the state and Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Southeast.

As for his seemingly sudden announcement, Deeson says he “didn’t want the long goodbye tour,” instead “ripping off the bandage” and go forward immediately.

“My nature is to come to a conclusion and act on it quickly without looking back,” he says.

Deeson also talked about finishing up a book of his nearly half a century in the news business, which he promises will be “extremely frank.” Deeson and his wife have plans to travel overseas, and he wants to “finalize this life changing decision beforehand” so it wouldn’t distract from his journeys.

“I want to thank all the people who have been so kind to me over the years,” he writes. “The viewers, my colleagues, the friends I have made. I have loved every minute I’ve spent with all of you.”


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons