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Conservatives welcome Donald Trump with delight – and wariness

For the past eight years, thousands of conservative activists have descended on Washington each spring with dreams of putting a Republican in the White House.

This year, they’re learning reality can be complicated.

With Donald Trump‘s presidential victory, the future of the conservative movement has become entwined with an unconventional New York businessman better known for his deal-making than any ideological principles.

It’s an uneasy marriage of political convenience at best. Some conservatives worry whether they can trust their new president to follow decades of orthodoxy on issues like international affairs, small government, abortion and opposition to expanded legal protections for LGBT Americans — and what it means for their movement if he doesn’t.

“Donald Trump may have come to the Republican Party in an unconventional and circuitous route, but the fact is that we now need him to succeed lest the larger conservative project fails,” said evangelical leader Ralph Reed, who mobilized his organization to campaign for Trump during the campaign. “Our success is inextricably tied to his success.”

As conservatives filtered into their convention hall Wednesday for their annual gathering, many said they still have nagging doubts about Trump even as they cheer his early actions. A Wednesday night decision to reverse an Obama-era directive that said transgender students should be allowed to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity has thrilled social conservatives.

“He’s said that on multiple occasions that he’s not a conservative, especially socially,” said Zach Weidlich, a junior at the University of South Alabama, “but my mind-set was, give him a chance, especially now that he’s elected.'”

“He was the better of two evils given the choice,” added Timmy Finn. “I agree with his policies, however, I think he’s moving a little too fast.”

Trump has a somewhat tortured history with the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual convention that’s part ideological pep talk, part political boot camp for activists. Over the past six years, he’s been both booed and cheered. He’s rejected speaking slots and galvanized attendees with big promises of economic growth and electoral victory.

At times, he has seemed to delight in taunting them.

“I’m a conservative, but don’t forget: This is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party,” he said in a May interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, said Trump’s aggressive style is more important than ideological purity.

“Conservatives weren’t looking for somebody who knew how to explain all the philosophies. They were actually looking for somebody who would just fight,” he said. “Can you think of anybody in America who fits that bill more than Donald Trump?”

Trump is to address the group Friday morning. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak Thursday as are White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior advisers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

The tensions between Trump’s brand of populist politics and conservative ideology will be on full display at the three-day conference, which features panels like: “Conservatives: Where we come from, where we are and where we are going” and “The Alt-Right Ain’t Right At All.”

Along with Trump come his supporters, including the populists, party newcomers and nationalists that have long existed on the fringes of conservativism and have gotten new voice during the early days of his administration.

Pro-Brexit British politician Nigel Farage will speak a few hours after Trump.

Organizers invited provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters at the University of California at Berkeley protested to stop his appearance on campus. But the former editor at Breitbart News, the website previously run by Bannon, was disinvited this week after video clips surfaced in which he appeared to defend sexual relationships between men and boys as young as 13.

Trump “is giving rise to a conservative voice that for the first time in a long time unabashedly, unapologetically puts America first,” said Republican strategist Hogan Gidley. “That ‘America First’ moniker can very well shape this country, but also the electorate and the Republican Party and conservative movement for decades.”

Trump’s early moves — including a flurry of executive orders and his nomination of federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — have cheered conservatives. They’ve also applauded his Cabinet picks, which include some of the most conservative members of Congress. The ACU awarded his team a 91.52 percent conservative rating — 28 points higher than Ronald Reagan and well above George H.W. Bush who received a 78.15 rating.

But key items on the conservative wish list remain shrouded in uncertainty. The effort to repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law is not moving as quickly as many hoped, and Republicans also have yet to coalesce around revamping the nation’s tax code.

No proposals have surfaced to pursue Trump’s campaign promises to build a border wall with Mexico that could cost $15 billion or more or to buttress the nation’s infrastructure with a $1 trillion plan. Conservatives fear that those plans could result in massive amounts of new spending and that Trump’s penchant for deal-making could leave them on the wrong side of the transaction.

“There is wariness,” said Tim Phillips, president of Koch-brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress, others believe there’s no way to lose.

“He sits in a room with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Is there a bad a deal to made with those three in the room?” asked veteran anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. “A deal between those three will, I think, always make me happy.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

DCF files: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids

It’s another interesting day in the Florida child welfare business and not a bit has anything to do with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) child protection investigator being arrested. That’s good news.

Starting with the positive, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Tony Dungy was in the state capital to speak at a DCF Black History Month Celebration, giving a 15-minute talk to those in attendance. He serves as a spokesman for the Tampa-based nonprofit, All-Pro Dad.

“I think that’s what this month is all about,” he said, the Democrat wrote. “Black history month, celebrating children and families. One child at a time. One family at a time. One step at a time. You never know what that step is going to be, where it can go, what it’s going to lead to.”

Moving on, we have another positive story out of Tallahassee by ABC affiliate WTXL, which reported Tuesday that two foster children are going through the adoption process out of 32 foster children they reported in a special series.

Three-year-old Tenley and her sister 5-year-old Taylyn are set to be adopted by Greg and Nancy Brannen, says WTXL. Though the process is taking time, the children are in their care right now.

“Every day I come home, I open the door and they’re like, ‘Daddy, daddy,’” the prospective father told the station. “They’re such a joy.”

Next, things get weird.

A woman – Jessica Elizabeth Combee, from Westville, near the border with Alabama – appeared in court last week on a violation of probation charge in connection to a 2014 arrest in which she filed a whopping 28 false reports to the state’s abuse registry website, according to the Chipley Paper.

At the time, the newspaper reported Tuesday, Combee told investigators she did it to “create havoc.”

Filing of a false report of abuse is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison with DCF reserving the right to impose a fine not exceeding $10,000 for each violation.

Getting worse …

In Sarasota County, a woman pulled up to a Venice gas station with a one-year-old child in the backseat and fell asleep, reported the Bradenton Herald WednesdayKathryn Miller, 30, then woke up, went into the store – leaving the child in the car, which was parked at pump No. 16, and it was around that time someone had called law enforcement.

When the cops showed up on the scene, she was asked to show them where the child was and they looked in the car, finding a Mason jar in the back with a marijuana bud in it. When later searched, Miller was found to have another three small baggies of pot in her purse, too.

The child was taken into custody by DCF authorities.

She was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of child neglect, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia, writes the Herald. She was released Sunday on a $6,000 bond.

And last, but not least, we bring you the case of Matthew McRee, 36, and Christina Mattessino, 30, were sleeping in a silver Cadillac with a child in a soaked diaper in the backseat of the car, according to the Spanish version of the Bradenton Herald (hit translate at the top right of your computer screen when the option box appears).

Typically, as is the case in these situations, McRee seemed disoriented and didn’t have a driver’s license, the newspaper reported Tuesday. But that wasn’t the end of it for McRee, who has a lengthy arrest history, per public records.

According to the Herald, “McRee was taken to Sarasota County jail on several counts, including child negligence, drunken driving, possession of heroin and marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under suspended license. Mattessino, meanwhile, was taken to jail on $ 17,000 bond, facing child malpractice charges and possessing drug paraphernalia.”

The toddler was handed over to close relatives and the incident was reported to DCF, the Herald said.

George Gainer’s bill would strip Tri-Rail of funding, contracting authority

A new bill from state Sen. George Gainer would strip Tri-Rail of state funding unless its board rescinds a controversial $511 million contract, and it require state approval of future contracts.

The Bay County Republican’s Senate Bill 1118, introduced Tuesday, would force the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to decide between the ten-year, $511 million operations and maintenance contract it is awarding to a sole qualified bidder, or the $42 million in state funding it expects each year.

The bill also would require state approval for any future SFRTA contracts for the South Florida commuter rail system that would be paid for with state money. Tri-Rail provides commuter rail service through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority provisions are buried in what is a much broader transportation bill from Gainer that covers everything from bridge inspections to natural gas vehicle regulations.

A companion bill, House Bill 865, from Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, does the same thing.

The bills continue an onslaught from Tallahassee that has included deep criticism of the SFRTA contact from Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Department of Transportation and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, chair of theAppropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development. Brandes has called for an investigation. Scott did not include SFRTA money in his proposed budget.

They’re all criticizing the deal because the SFRTA first threw out five other proposals, all for less money, after concluding every one of the competitors violated bidding requirements.

SFRTA officials have steadfastly defended their actions and the final contract offer to Herzog Transit Services, including during a hearing before Brandes’s committee last week. Gainer is on that committee.

They’ve argued that the agency’s procurement director, with input from the authority’s lawyers and an advisory committee, ruled that the other five proposals all were made conditional, based on language the companies had included in their bids. That meant that the authority could trust none of their bottom-line prices, and was a direct violation of explicit rules the authority had spelled out before the bidding process began.

But their arguments did not allay the concerns Brandes and the others had raised, particularly since the authority’s final choice cost $115 million more than the lowest proposal, which had been rejected before it could be fully considered.

Legislation to require unanimous jury rulings for the death penalty advances in Florida Senate

The state of Florida took another step towards the mainstream of American jurisprudence when a Senate committee Wednesday approved a proposal that would require a unanimous verdict from a jury to sentence a prisoner to the death penalty.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a measure (SB 280) sponsored by Orlando Democrat Randolph Bracy that would replace the current state law that calls for at least 10 of the 12 jurors to recommend death, and make it unanimous for the death penalty to be imposed. That follow a similar measure passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The death penalty in Florida has effectively been suspended since January of 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. It left it to the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the ruling should apply retroactively.

The state has not executed an inmate since then.

The Legislature rewrote the death penalty law immediately after that ruling giving juries more power, declaring that at least 10 of the 12 jurors had to agree to recommend a death sentence. However, the Florida Supreme Court struck that law down last October, saying it was unconstitutional because it failed to require a unanimous vote by jurors before the death penalty could be imposed. The Court ruled that every penalty decision since 2002 was unconstitutional.

The bills being pushed in the Legislature this winter addresses the state Supreme Court’s ruling, and it appears likely that a remedy of requiring unanimous verdicts only in death penalty cases will soon get to Governor Rick Scott’s desk.

Rex Dimmig, the Public Defender for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, said the Legislature should have passed a bill last year requiring unanimity in death row cases.

Reacting to a comment from Hillsborough County based GOP Senator Tom Lee about the heavy work load that prosecutors will have to contend with after death row cases have been put on hold over the last year, Dimmig said that as of last month, there were 313 new death row cases in the state, and will probably be around 150 cases coming back for re-sentencing in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The best estimate could cost all (state) agencies…in excess of $200 million to relitigate penalty cases in those cases,” Dimmig said, adding that the public defenders will be working with the appropriations committees in the Legislature to address those funding needs.

The bill does nothing else to death penalty itself, which remains the law in Florida and 18 other states.

Herman Lindsey says it’s still a problem. Lindsey was exonerated in by the Florida Supreme Court in 2009 after spending three years on death row for the killing of a woman during a Fort Lauderdale pawnshop robbery in 1994. He called the Bracy bill a “good move,”  but added that all it ultimately does is end up “putting a bandage over a wound that needs stitches.”

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is one of only two states that does not require unanimous jury decisions for death to be imposed. The other is Alabama.

Agency for State Technology audit scrutinized by Florida House panel

On Wednesday, a Florida House panel took the baton from a Senate committee, addressing a problem-riddled Auditor General’s IT audit of the Agency for State Technology.

The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee discussed a January Auditor General report about the Agency for State Technology and State Data Center operations.

Despite the findings of that report, which included issues with user access privileges, accounts kept active despite being unused, and other such seemingly-exploitable security glitches, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee showed little interest in the kind of specific, drill-down inquiry about remedies for these issues one might have expected.

But Wednesday in the House was a different matter.


Arthur Hart, Audit Manager for Information Technology Audits in the Office of Auditor General, addressed the audit.

“I think there is reason for some concern about some findings in the audit,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said by way of introducing Hart.

Notable: a financial audit of AST is expected later this year.


Hart laid out the case, which had twelve parts total.

“AST,” Hart said, needed to “address its control weaknesses.”

When the chair asked who was using access that lacked authorization, Hart said “several state agency employees” had admin rights to their servers, but did not relinquish those rights when server content was centralized.

The same surplus of access was found among three AST employees, Hart added.


Service accounts, such as operations and scheduling accounts, were also an issue.

Some were kept active beyond the point where they were needed. Some had inappropriate logons.

These accounts, Hart said, were administrative, non-user accounts typically.

However, there are some accounts that allow, through a default setting, a log in.

Proper administrative procedure, said Hart, would disable that ability.


Reviews of access, intended to be conducted quarterly, were ignored — despite that being mandated in procedural documents.

AST, said Hart, is currently creating a process toward quarterly review, with implementation expected by the end of the year.

Ingoglia was incredulous.

“We’re talking about a year. Is that normal? I find that concerning that when we see an issue, it’s going to take a year to fix,” Ingoglia said, “especially with data.”


The fourth finding had to do with inventory.

Information was not recorded because software had not been installed, said Hart.

AST’s response? The agency is working to install the inventory agent, to catalog all state data center resources.Ci


Configuration management was also an issue.

20 of 23 servers exhibited issues with patch management and other such concerns.

Ingoglia tied that into inventory control, wondering if Florida was “left open to a breach of data.”

The audit revealed neither breach of data nor fraud, Ingoglia said.


Another recommendation: to have signed service level agreements with all customer entities; four of 34 were missing.

Ingoglia noted there was no defined contract; Hart countered that there was no current contract for three of those four, but they abided by an old deal.

Issues with timely system backup and recoverability abound also; AST is to develop backup procedures.

Backup tapes — also an issue.

Hundreds of them had been destroyed, 149 of those without records. Other tapes could not be located throughout the year-long audit.

Better controls are recommended, said Hart.

Ingoglia wondered where the tapes were.

Eventually, from Eric Larson of AST, Ingoglia learned that the lost tapes were “scratched” and “destroyed,” and could not be read without an encryption key — which is the same kind used by the federal government, and therefore, secure.

Larsen said that if those tapes were read by an outside party, that would mean “we’d have bigger problems” than an AST data breach.

Disaster recovery plans — they don’t exist in a viable way. The auditor general recommends they work that out.

Ingoglia wondered what the risk was to the state.

Hart responded that the center has a “plan in draft.”

“The center can accommodate a disaster, but you’ll have to talk to the agency about that,” Ingoglia said.

Larsen, during his part of the hearing, noted that AST has just done a successful test of its disaster recovery architecture.

“That extends to every single customer in the data center,” Larsen said.

Ingoglia noted that money was allocated for procuring DR did not go to the stated purpose.


Issues with performance metrics and problems with user controls closed out the dozen charges from the audit.

 “We recommend that AST Management improve security controls,” Hart said.

Despite the issues, Hart noted that none of these problems were related to, as Rep. Don Hahnfeldt put it, “mal-intent.”

“Clearly, there are things that need to be addressed,” Rep. Rene Plasencia said. But he believes AST needs the “tools to do it.”


Eric Larson, the interim executive director for AST, offered what he called “additional context.”

Larson noted that access issues were a problem across many agencies audited in recent years, and suggested documentation and delegation as a solution.

Agencies, said Larson, are expected to surrender excess administrative access upon request.

Unlike the Senate, Ingoglia was a bit tougher on Larson.

“You guys are the Agency for State Technology. It would seem like a basic function to make sure everybody has [appropriate user] privileges.”

Larson, when asked about the elongated time frame to fix these problems, discussed the challenges of review and remediation of “the issue of appropriateness of privileges.”


An internal tool (The Privileged Access Management Tool) will allow for management of access and privileges.

Acquired six months ago during the audit, the agency is preparing to implement, as it recognizes flaws in its mechanism of delegating access privileges.

“This issue is systemic, and we have a plan to address it. To completely implement it, it will probably take longer than a year,” Larson said.

It would also take more manpower, Larson said, as the agency has lost 20 FTEs in recent months, but is “filling positions as rapidly as possible.”

A problem: salaries lag behind the private sector, creating a “skills gap,” which AST looks to remedy by training.

Ingoglia wondered if, given the skills gap, the “perpetual problem” might need to be solved by outsourcing.

Jeff Brandes bills keep Enterprise Florida, but with tight leash

State Sen. Jeff Brandes‘s new economic development proposal would continue operations of the embattled Enterprise Florida and state Department of Economic Opportunity, but on tight leashes.

Senate Bills 1110 and 1112 spell out a new way of doing business for two of Florida’s major economic development programs that have been under fire for accountability, particularly through their spending and penchants for luring out-of-state business with incentives in cases that go awry.

Brandes’s bills focus more on fostering small businesses and startups already in Florida, with tighter controls on EFI’s spending and salaries. That includes creating a grant program for new business incubators and accelerators.

The plan behind the bills calls for full funding for Gov. Rick Scott‘s budget recommendations for Enterprise Florida and protection for current incentive programs. After that, though the rules will change.

Brandes’s bills could become the counter offer to what may come out of the House of Representatives, where Speaker Richard Corcoran is targeting Enterprise Florida for elimination due to concerns over its lack of accountability. House Bill 7005, introduced Tuesday, would abolish Enterprise Florida and strip to bare-bones another state-chartered economic development corporation, VISIT Florida.

Brandes is calling for redirection for Enterprise Florida. It does not address VISIT Florida.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes stated in a news release. “Fostering a startup culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive. This legislation provides greater oversight and safeguards over our current economic development programs. This bill recasts our focus on new businesses that breathe the entrepreneurial spirit and diversify Florida’s economy.”

Among the proposals, Brandes’s bills would:

— Require the return of $117 million currently held in escrow for the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund to the State Economic Enhancement and Development (SEED) to increase the rate of return on those funds.

— Sanction businesses that relocate from the state within three years of receiving final incentive payments, and prohibit the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) from making material amendments to incentive contracts.

— Restructure Enterprise Florida Inc.’s board to be broader based, including reserving seats for the president of CareerSource Florida and someone from the Small Business Development Network, and requiring it to include at least one member with expertise in rural economic development.

— Prohibit any employees at Enterprise Florida from being paid more than the governor, and restricting bonuses, while requiring Senate confirmation for the president of Enterprise Florida.

— Establish a “Startup Florida Grant Program” within DEO, providing $50 million per year for the development and operation of small business incubators and accelerators throughout the state. The grants would be limited to $5 million a year.

— Establish the Small Business Information Center (SBIC) within the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network Lead Center of the University of West Florida. It would serve as a clearinghouse for small businesses seeking help from DEO.

— Require the DOE to provide, to the governor and the Florida Legislature, annual reports on the estimated contractual obligations of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

— Require two-thirds board votes for any contracts involving any board members who might have conflicts of interest with the companies involved.

— Limiting new incentive contracts to ten years.


House committee passes controversial change to ‘Stand Your Ground’

Members of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice passed a highly-contested bill Tuesday, potentially changing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws.

If passed, it would place the burden of proof on the prosecution (or state) in cases of those who claim self-defense immunity in acts of violence when brought before judiciary proceedings.

HB 245 was co-sponsored by 41 legislators, led by Rep. Bobby Payne, who was present at the subcommittee.

The bill gives procedural clarification in those cases of self-defense by shifting the language in the original 2005 law from an affirmative defense to an automatic defense, Payne said.

“The state’s attorney office would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they can prosecute this case in a pretrial hearing,” Payne added. “Then, if they do have enough proof, they would move to a jury trial.”

Several members of the committee expressed concern about aspects of the bill, notably over scenarios in which only two people were present in the situation, where no one else was a witness and in cases of domestic violence.

Reps. Sharon Pritchett and Ramon Alexander both expressed trepidation as to whether or not the bill – in addition to the original 2005 law – would be used to disguise or deflect guilt, or would be used frivolously by those charged with domestic violence.

Advocates of the bill said it was about improving the due process in legal actions, something that had been lost through the years as the courts primarily viewed defendants as guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around.

“I think this bill places that burden of proof back on the government where it’s supposed to be,” Rep. Gayle Harrell said at the meeting. “I think we need to remind the courts of that.”

Greg Newburn, state policy director for the Florida chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, asked committee members to put aside their personal feelings about ‘Stand Your Ground’ and to think of today’s discussion as getting language into the law that should have been there in the first place.

“Even if you think ‘Stand Your Ground’ is not a good law, this is still a good bill here,” Newburn told the committee. “This is not the vehicle here today to oppose ‘Stand Your Ground.’ This is about fixing and protecting peoples’ fundamental constitutional rights. That’s what this bill is about. If you support those things, you should support this bill.”

For those who can’t afford tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees in what can often be a lengthy legal process, the current Stand Your Ground law – without the amendment – gives an advantage to defendants who are wealthy, represented by lawyers pro bono, or in contingency cases.

Detractors of the bill said the amendment would backlog the court dockets, prosecutor caseloads and keep law enforcement in court, rather than out doing their jobs on the street.

Phil Archer, the elected state attorney for the 18th Judicial District, spoke to committee members on behalf of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Archer said precedent had always dictated a defendant prove beyond the preponderance of doubt their innocence, but it has never been up to the prosecution to bear the sole responsibility of proof.

“That’s never been done before in this state,” Archer said. “It’s never been done anywhere in this country. … And it’s not a high standard. It’s going to be used every single time by defendants.”

He also said the fiscal impact of the bill could instantly raise expenditures by as much as $8 million across the state, citing an average of $1,000 prosecuting each case, with 104,000 currently active cases.

Nevertheless, after a spirited debate on the pros and cons of the bill, the bill passed.

Bill Nelson now targeted by group calling for his vote to repeal, replace ACA

Being a Democratic Senator up for re-election in 2018 and living in a state won by Donald Trump last fall means that Bill Nelson is going to be getting a lot of attention over the next year and a half from groups supporting Republican causes.

On Wednesday, TV ads began running on cable news networks in Florida targeting Nelson for supporting the Affordable Care Act in 2010. The ads will continue to air over the next couple of weeks.

One Nation, a 501(c)4 linked to the Karl-Rove-backed American Crossroads, has begun airing television ads in nine states calling on Senate Democrats who supported the ACA to support GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

“Last fall Americans sent Washington a clear message: clean up the Obamacare mess,” said Steven Law, president and chief executive officer of One Nation. “We’re going to make sure Washington follows through.”

Florida is in the first batch of nine states that will be seeing the ads which challenges Senate Democrats. They’re part of a $3 million ad campaign to take place over the next three weeks in 11 states. The TV ads will be followed by radio, digital, print and mail.

Michigan and Tennessee will be part of the second ten-day wave of radio and digital ads.

The ads are being unveiled on the same day that a new poll shows that the ACA is becoming more popular, now that the reality that it could be completely repealed is at stake.

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows voters are now split evenly on the law. Forty-five percent of registered voters approve of the law, the poll shows, and 45 percent disapprove. That’s an improvement from just a month ago, when only 41 percent of voters approved of the health care law, compared with 52 percent who disapproved.

The ads have begun airing on the same day that the National Republican Senate Committee unveiled a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s” liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.



Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate President Andy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 Legislative Session.



Senate Republicans begin targeting Bill Nelson in new digital ad campaign

Bill Nelson isn’t running for re-election for another year, but it’s never too early to start the campaign against him.

That’s what the National Republican Senate Committee is doing this week, unveiling a new digital ad campaign to inform Florida voters of what they call Nelson’s “liberal record” in Washington, comparing his Senate voting record to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

“Bill Nelson has positioned himself squarely on the left, voting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time,” said NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin. “Bill Nelson may try to pose as a moderate as the election approaches, but his record shows that he has more in common with Washington liberals than with Florida voters.”

Although progressive Democrats in Florida have occasionally criticized Nelson’s voting record, he was largely in sync with Barack Obama over the past eight years on the main pieces of legislation.

He’s served in the Senate for over 16 years, defeating Bill McCollum, Katherine Harris and Connie Mack IV along the way. Although there are rumors of various Republicans who will challenge him in 2018, most observers believe Governor Rick Scott is the leading contender at this point.

Nelson has said he’s ready and willing for the challenge against Scott, saying“I only know one way to run, and that’s to run as hard as I can as if there’s no tomorrow.”

The digital ads will run on Facebook and are part of a national campaign targeting Senate Democrats representing states won by Donald Trump in November.

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