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Charlie Crist opens political action committee

First-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist opened a political action committee Monday that he can use for his own re-election and help other candidates.

The former Florida governor is listed as the chair of Charlie Crist PAC, with Peggy Gagnon serving as custodian of records and Joseph Saunders taking the treasurer job.

The FEC filing reads that the “committee supports/opposes more than one Federal candidate and is NOT a separate segregated fund or a party committee.”

“In addition, this committee is a Leadership PAC,” the filing concludes.

Saunders is hosting a fundraiser for Crist at his and his wife Kathy’s home in St. Petersburg on March 26. The event is from 4:30 -6 p.m. at 4916 62nd Ave S.

Crist beat former Republican Rep. David Jolly in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional district, which covers southern Pinellas County, last year.

Since his swearing-in January 3, Crist has been regularly fundraising for his 2018 re-election bid.

Charlie Crist gives a thumbs down to GOP health care replacement for the ACA

In recent weeks, Charlie Crist has heard loud and clear from constituents that he should stand behind the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Republican registered his strong opposition to the Republican House replacement for the ACA that Democrats say will result in over 10 million Americans to lose their health care coverage.

“The plan Republicans have put forward falls far short of current law — driving up health care costs, stripping away important protections, and leaving millions without coverage,” Crist said. “Even more troubling, it slashes Medicaid, a program that 70 million Americans depend on, hurting those most in need of coverage — seniors and long-term care recipients.

The GOP House bill would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of individual tax credits and phase out most of the ACA’s taxes. It would ultimately phase out current Medicaid funding, instead distribute a per-person allotment to the states, but not until 2020.

While Democratic opposition isn’t surprising, criticism from some conservatives exposes the fissures within the Republican Party on how best to replace President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands upon them,” said Michael Needham with Heritage Action.” Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’ The AHCA does all three.”

“Keep Medicaid in place until 2020?” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. “We didn’t have Medicaid expansion in the bill we sent to President Obama, but we have it in the one we send to President Trump? That makes no sense to me.”

Crist said that Congress should work in a bipartisan fashion to improve the Academic, “so it works better for all Americans.”

“This proposal would just make things worse for the middle class, cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of seniors and working families,” he said.

Kathy Castor calls new GOP House health care plan ‘Robin Hood in reverse’

Congresswoman Kathy Castor has always been an unflagging champion of the Affordable Care Act, so you could bet she would have a harsh reaction to the plan unveiled by House Republican leaders on Monday night.

“It’s pretty horrendous,” the Tampa Democrat told a group of reporters gathered in front of a medical building Tuesday morning on West Swann Avenue in South Tampa.

Castor said Floridians arguably have the most to lose under the GOP proposal. More than 1.7 million Floridians signed up for ACA plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016, the most of any state. They would automatically lose coverage when the exchanges are eliminated.

Although Florida Gov. Rick Scott did not allow for Medicaid expansion which could have brought on at least 750,000 more Floridians to the ACA, there are groups of Floridians — children, the disabled, people with Alzheimer’s and others — whose coverage is funded by Medicaid. The GOP House plan calls for a change Medicaid funding which would have it distributed by a per-person allotment to the states.

“If they devastate Medicaid, they will harm families across the state,” Castor warned.

Approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA receive some government subsidy to pay for their coverage. Under the House GOP plan, that subsidy would go away, to replaced by a tax credit that would start at $2,000 annually for those under 30 years of age, and max out at $4,000 for seniors.

“Instead of going to the doctor’s office, they want to ask working families across America to go to the accountant’s office for care,” Castor remarked, adding that such credits won’t be available until after a citizen gets their income tax refund, which could be a full year or longer from when they would have to pay for a medical procedure.

Higher-income Americans could pay fewer taxes and get more tax benefits with the new plan, according to an analysis from CNN/Money. The legislation would eliminate two taxes that Obamacare levied on the wealthy to help pay for the law. Nearly everyone in the top one percent who earn more than $774,000 a year, would enjoy a hefty tax cut, averaging $33,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Those in the top 0.1 percent would get an average tax cut of about $197,000.

“It’s a reverse Robin Hood,” the Congresswoman quipped. “It’s a steal from the poor to give to the rich, and even (a) steal from working families,” adding, “to give huge tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and withdraw coverage to so many more of our neighbors? I don’t understand that.”

As she has done in previous news conferences focused on maintaining the ACA, Castor featured a Tampa citizen who testified on behalf of the current health care system. Joe Nammour, 36, is a small-business man who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis five years ago, where he said that he was denied access to coverage because it’s a disease that is very expensive to treat. He praised the ACA for not discriminating against people like him who have a pre-existing condition.

Republicans are touting that the most popular provisions of the ACA, including not discriminating against pre-existing conditions, are maintained in their proposal. Like Obamacare, it requires insurers cover these people and prevents carriers from charging them more because of their health.

However, the GOP plan would lift the requirement that insurers cover a certain share of the cost of getting care. This change would allow carriers to offer a wider selection of policies, including more with higher deductibles and copays. That could make it harder to find plans with low deductibles that the sick often want.

Castor is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which will be voting on the new bill on Wednesday. That’s despite the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has yet to score this repeal bill, which would determine what it would cost and how many people would remain uninsured. She disputed a reporter’s question that the Democrats pushed the ACA through Congress without anyone reading the bill.

“The difference is, before we went to a committee markup, we had had months and months of hearings and heard from experts and folks from all across the spectrum, and many academics and crafted that bill,” she said, calling that notion “a canard.”

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.”

 

Charlie Crist calls new Trump travel ban ‘deeply troubling’

While calling it a slight improvement, Charlie Crist says that President Donald Trump’s newly revised version of his executive order that will bar migrants from predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. remains “deeply troubling.”

The Trump administration released its new executive order travel ban on Monday, more than a month after federal judges blocked the initial ban on residents from seven Middle Eastern and African countries that created legal challenges and spontaneous demonstrations in airports across the country. The new executive order removes citizens of Iraq from the original travel embargo and deletes a provision that explicitly protected religious minorities.

“While it’s an improvement that Iraq was taken off the list of countries under the travel ban, this executive order is still deeply troubling, and we can’t take our eye off the ball,” Crist said in a statement.

“By cutting the number of refugees able to seek freedom and safety in the U.S. by over 50 percent annually, we are condemning the lives of up to 60,000 people – a population the size of Fort Myers, Florida – who fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, or political views,” said the Pinellas County Representative. “It’s unconscionable, flying in the face of our American values as the beacon of hope and light to the rest of the world.”

Like some foreign policy observers, Crist says the new executive order makes America less safe, “damaging the alliances we need to stop terrorism at home and against our allies and interests abroad.”

The release of the statement shortly after it was announced is another example of how Crist appears to be more focused in his job as a Congressman. When the original travel ban was announced late in the afternoon of Friday, January 27, citizens converged the next night to airports around the country to protest the decision (though in Tampa, citizens who initially were rebuffed by Tampa International Airport officials relocated in front of Marco Rubio’s then Tampa office).

Crist did not issue a statement out that entire weekend, however, finally sending out a statement via his spokeswoman on January 30.

Not this time, however. Tampa Representative Kathy Castor, Crist’s Democratic colleague from across the Bay, has not weighed in with a statement as of yet on Monday afternoon.

Personnel note: Former lawmaker Kim Berfield named chief lobbyist for All Children’s Hospital

Kimberly Berfield, a former deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Health and state Representative from Clearwater, has been appointed Vice President of Government and Community Affairs for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

The hospital hopes the move will strengthen the 90-year-old hospital’s community outreach as well as increase its visibility in Tallahassee’s corridors of influence.

“Kimberly is a proven leader, coalition builder, and long-range strategist who will spearhead our community mission-based initiatives. Her addition stretches our capacity to fulfill our mission of providing child health through treatment, education, advocacy, and research, locally and beyond,” said Jonathan Ellen, M.D., Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital president and vice dean. “Due to Kimberly’s invaluable experience and expertise in both the private and public sectors, she hit the ground running when she joined our team on February 20.”

Following her work for the state, Berfield served as Business Strategy and Development Contractor for the Florida branch of Primerica and Director of Government Affairs for Tampa-based Wellcare Health Plans. Her duties included developing and implementing multi-year business plans, building and maintaining collaborative relationships and providing strategic counsel in the government relations arena.

St. Petersburg-based Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital offers a wide variety of community programs and classes designed to promote child health and safety through education, injury prevention, advocacy and research.

These initiatives, which include Safe Kids, Healthy Start, Fit4Allkids and Safe Routes to School, will benefit from Berfield’s track record as a collaborative leader in the community, Ellen noted.

Jeff Brandes amendment would give felons gun rights

A restoration of civil rights bill got an amendment from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes that would give convicts the right to own guns after completing their sentence.

SB 934, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, would automatically restore all other civil rights, such as the right to vote, when a felon completes their sentence, but specifically carves out the right to own firearms.

Thurston argues in the bill that automatic restoration helps felons reintegrate into society and takes some weight off the “cumbersome, costly” process of executive clemency.

Brandes’ amendment removes the portion of the bill carving out gun ownership and would automatically restore gun ownership rights so long as the felon was not convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, sexual battery, incest, child sex abuse or human trafficking.

Executive clemency is currently the only way felons can have their civil rights restored. To gain clemency, felons must apply and go before the governor and the Cabinet to plead their case for restoration. If a majority of the four-member panel approves, rights are restored.

Having the right to own firearms restored requires a separate application.

Florida had a more streamlined system for restoring civil rights under former Gov. Charlie Crist, who allowed non-violent offenders to regain their rights without a hearing, resulting in about 150,000 restorations during his term as governor.

Gov. Rick Scott ended that practice when he took office in 2011, and through his first term granted restoration to just 1,550 felons.

SB 934 goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday at 1:30 pm.

Jack Latvala files bill to create regional transit authority for Tampa Bay

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala has filed legislation (SB 1672) that would create the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, consisting of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties,

The board would consist of 13 members, three of whom would be selected by the Governor. The Senate President and Speaker of the House would get two selections. The four counties would select one representative; there would be one representative from the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). They would serve two year terms, for no longer than three terms.

According to the bill’s language, the authority is charged with developing a regional transit development plan “that provides a vision for a regionally integrated multimodal transportation system.”

The authority would have the ability to employ an executive director, an executive secretary, its own legal counsel and legal staff, technical experts and engineers.

The wheels for such an agency have been in motion for months, ever since Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long began speaking about of combining the transit agencies of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties for a “Regional Council of Governments.” Recently the two agencies signed a local operating agreement.

The Tampa Bay Partnership has also made it a priority to impress upon state legislators that there is a need for regional transportation governance in the Tampa Bay region.

There is no companion bill yet filed in the Florida House.

2017 Legislative Session preview: Sewage, transportation, beer issues face Tampa Bay

As the gavel falls Tuesday on the 2017 Legislative Session, several key issues face Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.

With 40 official members, the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation — sometimes known by the not-so-attractive acronym BALD — represents a vast region of eight different counties.

Among the significant topics BALD is looking to see some action:

Transportation

With lawmakers hailing from areas as disparate as Lakeland, Trilby and Longboat Key, no issue has the delegation more unified in getting something accomplished than transportation.

While the ideal bill would include lots of money to fund a regional transportation entity (think TBARTA but with money attached), it’s likely to come in smaller increments.

That could include the creation of a multicounty Metropolitan Organization (MPO).

Also a regional center for transit operations and a regional transportation study.

Another priority will legislating ride-sharing, with bills already moving smoothly through committees in both the House and the Senate.

Frustrations in Tampa with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission — which had many lawmakers clamoring for its dismantling — will be an animating factor.

Ride-sharing

“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 on a recent call with the group Floridians for Ridesharing.

With that, Rohrlack blamed “the status quo” (predominantly the taxicab industry) 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.

Sewage

After the city of St. Petersburg’s wastewater issues last summer, South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters sponsored two separate bills to appropriate funds for the St. Pete inflow abatement program and sanitary sewer improvements.

Peters and St. Petersburg Senator Republican Jeff Brandes have also filed legislation to incentivize local governments and private utilities to dedicate more resources to improving their sewage infrastructure.

Craft breweries

South Tampa Sen. Dana Young and Clearwater’s Jack Latvala are teaming up on craft brewery legislation.

The bill pushed by the two Bay Area Republicans would give smaller craft breweries, those producing less than 7,000 kegs a year and without a current distributor agreement, the ability to move product through other craft breweries.

However, don’t mark this one as a surefire winner just yet.

The Florida Beer Wholesaler Association was successful in denying relatively simple legislation legalizing 64-ounce growlers, mostly due to concerns the craft beer industry was encroaching on the power of major distributor. Mitch Rubin, the executive director of the group, is making similar complaints about Young and Latvala’s new legislation.

Enterprise Florida

The Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation is as seemingly split on this as the rest of Tallahassee.

However, it is good to note that two of the Bay area’s most prominent House members agree — Speaker Richard Corcoran and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz from Tampa.

It should also be noted there a lot of lip service given to the fact that the Tampa Bay Area Delegation makes up nearly 25 percent of the entire Legislature, yet the group rarely acts as a single unit, unlike their South Florida brethren.

Earlier this month, Manatee County Senator Bill Galvano said there was too much parochialism in the past, especially when it comes to local governments wanting to help out other governments in the 2.9 million universe known as the Tampa Bay area.

“I don’t know if we can get there,” he admitted. “It’s a real challenge, getting the mindset that you may have to ante up in your community for a regional plan that’s not going to impact your community for maybe one, two, three or maybe four years.”

James Buchanan – son of Vern – launches campaign for House District 71

James Buchanan, the son of Sarasota area Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, has filed to run for the House District 71 seat in 2018.

The 35-year-old is the founder of James Buchanan Realtywhich specializes in residential, luxury, waterfront, condominiums, commercial, and land real estate.

“I’m running because as a small business owner with deep roots in our community, I want to be a voice for those conservative principles,” he said in a statement. “I understand firsthand how decisions made by government can affect local businesses ability to grow and create jobs. I also know that a healthy and vibrant economy is the key to addressing many of our other critical priorities, like great schools for our children or a secure retirement for seniors.”

Buchanan is a graduate of FSU with a dual degree in Finance and Entrepreneurship. He received a MBA from USF in Tampa.

House District 71 is currently occupied by Republican Jim Boyd, who is term limited out next year. Bradenton attorney Will Robinson has already filed to run for the seat.

“There is a wave of conservatism sweeping our country and our state and it is more important than ever that we have business-minded, community leaders in elected office who will honor their campaign promises and pursue conservative solutions to our state’s challenges,” Buchanan said.

District 71 encompasses Bradenton, Palmetto and parts of northern Sarasota County.

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