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Some lawmakers worry children will suffer under new Florida work-for-welfare bill

A bill approved by a Florida House committee Tuesday would increase penalties for Floridians receiving food stamps and cash aid that have not met obligations to find work.

HB 23 would return those penalties to levels before the 2008 Great Recession.

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle, who introduced the same measure in the 2016 Legislative Session which the Senate later rejected, re-introduced HB 23 to the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, citing instances of wanton abuse in the system.

Eagle said he saw an advertisement on Craigslist “to sell a (food stamp) $100 card for $50 to buy drugs, alcohol, you name it.”

While there have been numerous documented instances of abuse with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards in every state, the drugs-and-alcohol citation is an oft-cited refrain used by fiscally conservative Republicans looking to justify legislation that curbs welfare programs.

In the case of HB 23, it also includes the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program.

According to the bill’s language, HB 23 “revises penalties for noncompliance with work requirements for temporary cash assistance; limits receipt of child-only benefits during periods of noncompliance with work requirements; provides applicability of work requirements before expiration of minimum penalty period; requires DCF to refer sanctioned participants to appropriate community services; requires DEO, in cooperation with CareerSource Florida, Inc., & DCF, to develop & implement work plan agreement for participants in temporary cash assistance program; prohibits use of EBT card at specified locations; requires DCF to impose replacement fee for EBT cards; revises eligibility guidelines for Relative Caregiver Program with respect to relative & nonrelative caregivers; provides appropriation.”

Eagle’s bill changes sanctions by increasing the length of time a recipient is slapped with a penalty for not finding employment within the required period allotted to do so, as set forth through an employment-assistance program run by the state through the Department of Children and Families.

Primarily, if an individual doesn’t find a job in time they lose both food stamps and cash assistance.

Rep. David Richardson asked Eagle what the total funds distributed through the TANF program were in 2016.

Eagle didn’t know.

Rep. Jason Brodeur chimed in: “About $130 million.”

For those individuals already on the edge and legitimately reliant on state assistance, the sudden loss of it can be a disaster, said committee member Rep. Daisy Baez, who previously worked in health care but now works as a social worker outside her role as a lawmaker.

She asked Eagle what a family of four received in cash assistance per month through the TANF program.

The bill’s creator didn’t know, he said.

Brodeur said it was about $200. (He was wrong.)

“Well, I do know that anyone that is trying to survive on $200 a month already has a multitude of problems with rent, transportation, food, putting clothes on their children,” Baez said. “I think the punitive approach is not the way we need to go.”

Eagle was quick to clarify his bill.

“We want to help people … but we want people to comply,” he said. “Again, the key word in temporary cash assistance is ‘temporary.’”

He said the abuse needed to stop so that those committing fraud within the system weren’t “stealing tax dollars” off Floridians.

The bill would require a one-month penalty before recipients would be allowed to reapply after their first failure to meet the goal of getting a job. The second missed deadline would then warrant a three-month suspension before the recipient could reapply. The third time — six months. The fourth time — one year before reapplication would be allowed.

Eagle also noted EBT cards and TANF could not be used to purchase marijuana in the soon-to-open dispensaries in Florida, presumably for edible marijuana products, or in tattoo shops.

He cited that among those recipients who failed once in their requirements to receive assistance, 40 percent went on to successfully comply with the guidelines, while 60 percent went on to at least a second sanction, he said.

The greatest concern those in attendance voiced was what affect these penalties would have on the children of parents not meeting the job-attainment mandates in time.

Luckily, Eagle’s measure would allow the dependents of parents to receive assistance after the first sanction. However, after the first sanction, the children would also be cut off from food and-or cash assistance benefits.

This was a sticking point for a few in the public gallery as well. During an opportunity for public debate, Karen Woodall, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, took the podium to state her case against HB 23 to the committee.

She said of the roughly 16,000 Floridians on TANF, nearly all had incurred at least one sanction.

“Let’s dig in and take a breath, and look at this over the next year and stop punishing people that, in the end, is really just going to affect children,” Woodall, who has more than 30 years’ experience in this budgetary area, said. “TANF is different from EBT for a reason.”

She said Eagle’s bill essentially saw the two as the same and treated penalties for them as one, which would be a mistake.

“And by the way, as I understand it, a family of four on TANF gets $303,” she said, accurately citing the figure loosely tossed around per Baez’s question. “While this bill is a good effort, it doesn’t really address the needs of Florida families.”

Nevertheless, legislators passed the measure.

Al Lawson, Darren Soto urge hirings not be frozen at Social Security Administration

Democratic U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and Darren Soto sent a letter to President Donald Trump Tuesday morning urging him to exempt the Social Security Administration from the federal hiring freeze.

“On the campaign trail, you promised to not cut Social Security—particularly the benefits for our seniors. However, a hiring freeze does indirectly cut those benefits, by making it harder for workers and their families to access the benefits they have earned in a timely fashion,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by 50 Democratic house members including U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, and Ted Deutch from Florida’s delegation.

The letter notes that SSA administrative budget has declined by 10 percent, while the number of beneficiaries has increased by more than 12 percent. This led to 64 field offices closing, a disability hearings backlog with an average of a 540-day waiting period, increased wait times at every point of contact, and extended durations for retirement and disability appointments. It also states that the SSA has instituted its own hiring freeze since last spring, and that a continued freeze will only make matters worse.

“We strongly urge you to exempt SSA from your hiring freeze so that the agency can direct surplus funding to ensure that the American people receive the first-class service they have already earned through a lifetime of hard work,” it states.


Bills to expand python control, pollution reporting move on

Bills that would expand Florida’s efforts to control Burmese pythons and other invasive species and to require companies to report toxic spills moved swiftly through a Senate committee Tuesday morning.

The toxic spill bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton, is largely a response to the massive Mosaic spill last summer that happened when a sinkhole opened up under the Polk County phosphate mining operation and went unreported for more than two weeks.

The Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 532 would require companies to report, within 24 hours, to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection any reportable pollution release, and must provide detailed information about the installation, the substance and the circumstances.

The bill drew no opposition, debate or questions, drawing support from a variety of groups ranging from the Associated Industries of Florida to the Florida Farm Bureau, and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources approved it unanimously.

Sen. Frank Artilles‘ python control bill, Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 230, also drew no opposition and was passed unanimously, but got plenty of discussion, especially after the the Republican sponsor proclaimed himself to be an experienced python hunter, “better than Bill Nelson,” who had caught a 9-foot python helping with eradication teams in the Everglades.

That bill will require the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to establish a two-year, $600,000 pilot program to control not just pythons but other “priority invasive species” which include anacondas, Nile monitors and tegu lizards, among others.

“This came about because I have basically participated in the python hunt the last three years. and we’ve seen barely a dent made,” Artilles said. “We need to help the U.S. Fish & Wildlife to help fund these types of invasive species hunts on a year-round baseis, especially in the Everglades. Little furry creatures have been decimated by the python, and as you know about four weeks ago there was a python that actually ate an alligator.”

Donald Trump to Capitol in last-ditch lobbying for health care bill

President Donald Trump is rallying support for the Republican health care overhaul by taking his case directly to GOP lawmakers at the Capitol, two days before the House plans a climactic vote that poses an important early test for his presidency. Top House Republicans unveiled revisions to their bill in hopes of nailing down support.

At a rally Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump underscored what he called “the crucial House vote.”

“This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of Obamacare,” he said of repealing former President Barack Obama‘s landmark law, a GOP goal since its 2010 enactment. “We’re going to do it.”

 Trump’s closed-door meeting with House Republicans was coming as party leaders released 43 pages worth of changes to a bill whose prospects remain dicey. Their proposals were largely aimed at addressing dissent that their measure would leave many older people with higher costs.

Included was an unusual approach: language paving the way for the Senate, if it chooses, to make the bill’s tax credit more generous for people age 50-64. Details in the documents released were initially unclear, but one GOP lawmaker and an aide said the plan sets aside $85 billion over 10 years for that purpose.

The leaders’ proposals would accelerate the repeal of tax increases Obama imposed on higher earners, the medical industry and others to this year instead of 2018. It would be easier for some people to deduct medical expenses from their taxes.

Older and disabled Medicaid beneficiaries would get larger benefits. But it would also curb future growth of the overall Medicaid program, which helps low earners afford medical coverage, and let states impose work requirements on some recipients. Additional states could not join the 31 that opted to expand Medicaid to more beneficiaries under Obama’s law, the Affordable Care Act.

In a bid to cement support from upstate New Yorkers, the revisions would also stop that state from passing on over $2 billion a year in Medicaid costs to counties. The change was pushed by Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of Trump’s first congressional supporters. Local officials have complained the practice overburdens their budgets.

Republican support teetered last week when a nonpartisan congressional analysis projected the measure would strip 24 million people of coverage in a decade. The Congressional Budget Office also said the bill would cause huge out-of-pocket increases for many lower earners and people aged 50 to 64.

Democrats have opposed the GOP repeal effort. They tout Obama’s expansion of coverage to 20 million additional people and consumer-friendly coverage requirements it imposed on insurers, including abolishing annual and lifetime coverage limits and forcing them to insure seriously ill people.

The GOP bill would dismantle Obama’s requirements that most people buy policies and that larger companies cover workers. Federal subsidies based largely on peoples’ incomes and insurance premiums would end, and a Medicaid expansion to 11 million more low-income people would disappear.

The Republican legislation would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills based chiefly on age, and open-ended federal payments to help states cover Medicaid costs would be cut. Insurers could charge older consumers five times the premiums they charge younger people instead of Obama’s 3-1 limit, and would boost premiums 30 percent for those who let coverage lapse.

House approval would give the legislation much-needed momentum as it moves to the Senate, which Republicans control 52-48 but where five Republicans have expressed opposition. Trump used Monday’s trip to single out perhaps the measure’s most vociferous foe — Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul.

“He’s a good guy,” Trump said of one 2016 rival for the GOP presidential nomination. “And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed, in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do till this happens.”

Enactment of the health care bill would clear the way for Congress to move to revamping the tax code and other GOP priorities. Defeat would wound Trump two months into his administration and raise questions about his ability to win support from his own party moving forward.

Among the disgruntled were GOP lawmakers in the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, though the strength of their opposition was unclear. The group has seemed to have around 40 members, but that number may be lower now and some have expressed support or an open mind for the bill.

Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., an outspoken opponent, said the group was not taking a formal position on the measure. That could indicate that a significant fraction of its members were not willing to vow “no” votes.

Meadows said he believes the House will reject the bill without major changes.


Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

New poll shows Floridians thinking lawmakers going too slow in implementing medical marijuana initiative

As the Florida Legislature continues to debate the implementation of a popular medical marijuana initiative, voters believe the state is moving too slow in doing so, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The survey by nationally-recognized pollster Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, Lee & Associates found that 44 percent of Floridians believe the implementation of Amendment 2 is going too slowly, compared to 30 percent who think the state is moving at the right clip. Just 9 percent think it is going too fast.

Those who voted for Amendment 2 are even more likely to feel the state is taking too long, with 57% saying it is going too slowly compared to only 30% who think the state is moving at the right speed.

Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature get poor marks on their efforts to implement the bill. A total of 34 percent support how Scott is acting on the issue, with 41 percent opposing. Amongst the Legislature, 37 percent support them and 40 percent oppose.

“We hope the Legislature will respect the wisdom of the people and fight the bait-and-switch game recreational proponents are playing,” said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Smart Medicine for Florida. “Passage and implementation of Amendment 2 should never be about recreational use or putting pot shops on every corner.”

There was intense criticism from the public when the state Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use held public hearings on the issue earlier this year.

Regarding the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that will be accessible, those polled say that they believe the measure would limit the number of dispensaries, by a 54 percent to 30 percent margin. The poll does not specify any number of dispensaries.

There are currently campaign efforts to get a constitutional amendment before the voters next year to legalize marijuana outright, but the poll shows that measure is nowhere close to getting the 60 percent margin required for passage. 48 percent oppose the legalization of pot for everyone, and 46 percent support it. Amongst Amendment 2 supporters, the measure gets strong support, with 6o percent in support and 34 percent opposing.

The poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates was conducted February 28, 2017 through March 2, 2017, and polled 800 Floridians who self-identified as having voted in the 2016 General Election.  The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence interval is plus or minus 3.46 percent.

Florida Dems hire Johanna Cervone as Deputy Communications Director to focus on Hispanic outreach

The Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone to serve as its Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary.

As the Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary, Cervone will expand the party’s press outreach, with a special focus on Hispanic media and issues.

Cervone will also serve as the main point of contact for the media throughout the state.

Cervone most recently served as the South Florida Regional Press Secretary for the Hillary for Florida campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, she served as the Communications Director for Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

“Florida families deserve a spokesperson who will hold our failed Republican Governor and legislature accountable to their harmful policies. Today, I am pleased to announce that the Florida Democratic Party has hired Johanna Cervone as our Deputy Communications Director and Hispanic Press Secretary. As Chair of the Party, I am more committed than ever to make sure that every Florida family has a voice in our democracy and a fair shot in our economy. Johanna brings a wealth of communications and outreach experience to the team and she will help us amplify our message of Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel.

“I am very excited to join the FDP team. I look forward to working with stakeholders across Florida to spread the party’s message in English and Spanish and build on FDP’s strong digital and communications program,” said Cervone.

Cervone’s career in politics and government began with President Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012 and she has since been involved with several local, national and international campaigns. A native of Argentina, Johanna was raised in Miami.

In 2015, a group of Spanish-language journalists and community leaders sent a letter to the respective chairs of the Florida Republican and Democratic parties, calling on them to hire a bilingual spokesperson to “successfully relay your message to the Latino media.” Leading the effort was Evelyn Perez-Verdia, a Fort Lauderdale Latina activist who has argued that, with a growing Latino community that thirsts for information about the political climate, both state parties should hire bilingual communication directors.

The RPOF fulfilled that demand when Chairman Blaise Ingoglia hired Wadi Gaitan (Gaitan stepped down last year after Donald Trump became the GOP presidential nomineee). That didn’t happen under Allison Tant’s tenure with the FDP, however.

Now it has under Bittel.

“After years of fighting for this cause, it is a wonderful feeling to see it come to pass, and see both parties reaching out to the Latino/Hispanic community,” Perez-Verdia told FloridaPolitics.
“The Democrats have a big win with a person like Johanna Cervone,” she continued. “From what I have read, she seems to be the perfect person for this position and I am sure we will hear more and more from her in years to come.  I thank Stephen Bittel and Mayra Macias within the FDP for the vision.  I also would like to thank Vivian Rodriguez from the Florida Hispanic Democratic Caucus for always advocating for this issue that was so important for many Hispanic leaders in the State of Florida.”


First daughter Ivanka Trump gets West Wing office

Cementing her role as a powerful White House influence, Ivanka Trump is working out of a West Wing office and will get access to classified information, though she is not technically serving as a government employee, according to an attorney for the first daughter.

Since President Donald Trump took office, his eldest daughter has been a visible presence in the White House, where her husband, Jared Kushner, already serves as a senior adviser. On Friday, she participated in a meeting on vocational training with the president and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Jamie Gorelick, an attorney and ethics adviser for Ivanka Trump, said Monday that the first daughter will not have an official title, but will get a West Wing office, government-issued communications devices and security clearance to access classified information. Gorelick said Ivanka Trump would follow the ethics rules that apply to government employees.

“Our view is that the conservative approach is for Ivanka to voluntarily comply with the rules that would apply if she were a government employee, even though she is not,” said Gorelick, who also helped Kushner with the legal strategy that led to his White House appointment. “The White House Counsel’s Office agrees with that approach.”

Ivanka Trump’s role has already come under scrutiny because there is little precedent for a member of the first family with this kind of influence. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A person with knowledge of Ivanka Trump’s thinking, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said she believes she can offer more independent perspective to her father by not serving as a White House staffer.

A popular surrogate for her father on the campaign trail, Ivanka Trump moved her young family to Washington at the start of the administration and signaled plans to work on economic issues, like maternity leave and child care. In a statement, she said: “I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life.”

Federal anti-nepotism laws prevent relatives from being appointed to government positions. But the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel recently said the president’s “special hiring authority” allowed him to appoint Kushner to the West Wing staff. Gorelick noted the office also made clear that the president could consult family members as private citizens, arguing that this is what Ivanka Trump will be doing.

The first daughter has sought to distance herself from the Trump Organization and her lifestyle brand, which offers shoes, clothing and jewelry. She has removed herself from executive roles and will have a more hands-off approach to the brand — though she will still get certain information and will have the power to veto new deals if they raise ethical red flags.

Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who served as President George W. Bush‘s chief White House lawyer on ethics, said that Ivanka Trump is effectively working as a White House employee. He said that “means that she, like her husband, has to follow the rules. It’s not a huge deal if she stays out of things that affect her financial interests.”

Painter said that means Trump should avoid anything to do with foreign trade with countries where her products are made, as well as recuse herself from real estate matters, given Kushner’s family real estate business.

Trump says she will follow ethics rules and some of her financial information will be included in Kushner’s official disclosures. She would have to disclose additional financial information if she were in a senior White House role, said Painter. That could include more details about her lifestyle brand, including her contracts and income.

Attorney Andrew Herman, who has advised lawmakers on ethics issues, said he thought the administration should make her role official. He said: “I think the right way to do that is to make her a special government employee. But that implicates all kind of formal and disclosure issues.”

Ivanka Trump continues to own her brand. But she has handed daily management to the company president and has set up a trust to provide further oversight. The business cannot make deals with any foreign state, and the trustees will confer with Gorelick over any new agreements. Ivanka Trump will also be able to veto proposed new transactions.

Ivanka Trump has also barred the business from using her image to promote the products in advertising or marketing.

To be sure, the trustees are in the family — her husband’s siblings Joshua Kushner and Nicole Meyer. But Gorelick said the goal of the trust wasn’t to shield Trump from everything, but to remove her from the day-to-day operations. She also acknowledged that the arrangement did not eliminate conflicts, but she said Trump is trying to minimize them and will recuse herself from any administration decision-making that affects her business.

With the Trump Organization, Ivanka Trump has stepped down from a leadership role and will receive fixed payments rather than a share of the profits.

Ivanka Trump has also written a book, “Women Who Work,” that will be released in May. The proceeds and royalties will be donated to charity, Gorelick said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Court: Florida dairy’s skim milk is skim milk, not imitation

A small, all-natural dairy isn’t being deceptive when it calls its skim milk “skim milk,” a federal appeals court ruled Monday in a victory for the creamery that’s fighting the state’s demand to label the product “imitation” because vitamins aren’t added to it.

The ruling overturns a decision last March when a federal judge sided with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which said the Ocheesee Creamery couldn’t label it’s skim milk “skim milk” because the state defines the product as skim milk with Vitamin A added. The state instead said that if the creamery wanted to sell the product, it should label it as “imitation” skim milk.

That didn’t sit well with a dairy whose whole philosophy is not to add ingredients to natural products. So instead of complying, the creamery has dumped thousands of gallons of skim milk down the drain rather than label it as an imitation milk product.

“The State was unable to show that forbidding the Creamery from using the term ‘skim milk’ was reasonable,” the three-judge, Jacksonville-based panel wrote in its ruling.

The court said the state disregarded far less restrictive and more precise ways of labeling the product, “for example, allowing skim milk to be called what it is and merely requiring a disclosure that it lacks vitamin A.”

The Institute for Justice is representing Ocheesee Creamery owner Mary Lou Wesselhoeft in the lawsuit against the state.

“All Mary Lou wants to do is sell skim milk that contains literally one ingredient – pasteurized skim milk – and label it as pasteurized skim milk,” Institute for Justice lawyer Justin Pearson said in a press release.

The creamery, about 50 miles west of the state capital, has offered to put on its label that it doesn’t add vitamins to the product, but the state hasn’t accepted the compromise. It was selling between 100 and 300 gallons of skim milk a week for $5 a gallon before the dispute. The product made up about 25 percent of its profits.

The dictionary definition of skim milk is simply milk with the cream removed. But the Department of Agriculture says under state and federal law, skim milk can’t be sold as skim milk unless vitamins in the milk fat are replaced so it has the same nutritional value as whole milk.

The department didn’t immediately return phone calls and an email seeking comment.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Philip Levine comes to Tampa but insists he’s still not a sure thing to run for Governor

Despite the fact that he was speaking to a Tampa Bay-area Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants you to know that he is not a candidate for Governor in 2018. Not yet, anyway.

“I’m very undecided. I’m going around the state talking about what I think is important and listening,” he began in addressing the Hillsborough County DEC at the Letter Carriers Hall in Tampa. “One thing I know is you’re the customer, and if you listen to the customer, you’ll understand what you need to do and what’s necessary.”

If that sounds like something a businessman would say, Levine would probably take that as a compliment. He made a fortune as a cruise ship magnate before opting to utilize his political science degree from the University of Michigan to run for Mayor of Miami Beach in 2013, where he’s since become a leader on combating climate change.

“The Democratic Party has historically been the party of working men and women,” he said. “I think it’s important that we learn from our past. Let’s start having candidates who have actually worked,” he said to sustained cheers. He said it could be a bartender, busboy, teacher or technician, but he said that people should for office who have some real life work experience.

Levine began his twenty-minute address by talking about his upbringing, and how he ultimately decided to run for office.

“Some people get swept into office, I got floated into office in Miami Beach,” he said about his decision early on in his mayoralty to do something about sea level rise. Levine got down to work on the issue immediately, and ended up raising stormwater taxes to the tune of $400 million on valves, pumps and raised roads from the public. That effort landed Levine national recognition in places like Vanity Fair and the New York Times, as well as a documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio called Before the Flood.”

“I play the Mayor of Miami Beach. It was a tough role,” Levine joked.

Levine also spent time talking about reforming his police department, which he said lacked leadership before he took over. He said he changed the culture when he hired Dan Oakes, the former police chief in Ann Arbor and Aurora, Colorado.

“When you run for office and you tell the police you’re going to make all kinds of changes, you’re not very popular,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t get any endorsements there.”

The other milestone that Levine has done to distinguish him statewide is challenge Governor Rick Scott by passing the first minimum living wage to $13.31 last year, becoming the first city in the state to do so. He said while Democrats are embracing the concept of raising the minimum/living wage, he says it’s actually a conservative principal. “You can’t live on $8.10 an hour. So who’s paying for these people to live? The taxpayers, with social services.”

Levine was in all in for Hillary Clinton , and boasted about being the rare Democrat to appear regularly on Fox News last year as a surrogate. In doing so, he was able to speak to all voters, which he inferred Democrats need to do more of.

“It’s important for us to be represented on Fox,” he said, “we have to reach out, it has to be all inclusive in order to win elections.”

Levine commented on the Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida issue dominating the news cycle in Tallahassee so far in the legislative session. In emphasizing his business worldview, he said it should be renamed “Entrepreneur Florida.”

“Why isn’t NASA the new Silicon Valley of our state?” he asked. He also said that every Florida student should be able to attend college, “Whether they can afford it or not,” without explaining how that plan might be paid for.

He also mourned the loss of film incentives to lure Hollywood productions to the Sunshine State, bemoaning the fact that Georgia now hosts so many film and television productions. “Why would you want to kick out an industry that somehow brings great jobs?”

“I think they’re going to fund Governor Scott’s next campaign,” he joked, saying that state leaders there are grateful for the state leadership’s failure to replenish that incentive program.

Levine took questions after his speech. He told one citizen that even though he possesses a concealed weapons permit, he believes assault weapons should be banned, earning applause.

He said his one of his biggest pet peeves out of Tallahassee is how the Legislature likes to wrestle local control away from city and county governments.

He was a little shakier when asked to weigh in on Rick Scott’s decision to remove Orlando/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s from the Markeith Loyd case in Orlando, after she announced last week she would not pursue the death penalty against the alleged cop killer.

Levine said he wasn’t an attorney, but thought maybe the governor overstepped his boundaries. But then he went on to say that Scott was taking his marching orders from the Trump administration, and then referred to Trump’s mass firing of 46 U.S. Attorneys earlier this month. He then somehow segued into saying that it was a crazy time, and that it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat, “we’re all Americans,” eliciting applause, though it was sort of a crazy ending to the question.

Levine’s appearance in Tampa shows that the unofficial campaign for 2018 has begun. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was in Tampa on Saturday, and attorney John Morgan is scheduled to address a Tiger Bay event in the city later this month.

Poll: 78% of Floridians support incentives to ‘encourage companies to stay in … or move to Florida’

Florida voters appear to support economic incentives and Visit Florida, at least according to a new survey from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The survey found 78 percent of Floridians support financial incentives to “encourage companies to stay in Florida or move to Florida from another state in exchange for creating jobs and investing in our state,” according to a polling memo released Monday. The survey also showed 73 percent of voters supported Florida “tax dollars to promote tourists visiting Florida.”

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The Florida Chamber has opposed efforts by the Florida House to slash funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and eliminate Enterprise Florida, the private-public economic development agency.

According to the polling memo, support for financial incentives crosses party lines with 87 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents “supporting Florida remaining the number on destination for jobs in the nation.”

The House voted 87-28 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The measure still needs approval from the Senate, which does not appear to be as inclined to take as severe a position when it comes to economic incentives.

The memo goes on to say that 81 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents support using tax dollars for tourism advertising. The House voted 80-35 for a bill that would, among other things, slash funding for Visit Florida.

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