Tampa Bay Archives - Page 6 of 53 - Florida Politics

Alan Grayson files bill named after Tampa youth to promote civil rights compliance

In perhaps his last act as a member of Congress, Orlando-area Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson announced on Friday that he was filing the “Andrew Joseph III Act,” a bill which requires any jurisdiction seeking a specific federal grant to have an independent civilian review board in place.

In February of 2014, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies ejected 99 students from the Florida State Fair, including Andrew Joseph III, a 14-year-old African American, for rowdy behavior during the annual Student Day – a day off from Hillsborough County Schools with free admission to the fair. After interrogating him, stripping him to the waist and arresting him without notifying his parents, deputies dropped Andrew two miles from the fair. He was killed trying to cross I-4 to return to the fairgrounds.

In February, the family of Joseph filed a lawsuit naming Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee and several deputies, the Florida State Fair Authority, the Hillsborough County School Board and the school district. The suit alleged the “unjustified arrest and detention of a nonviolent and non-resistant juvenile.”

In 2015, Student Day’s rules were changed. Deputies would have to contact the parents or guardians of any juveniles who were ejected. Students must also be with an adult after 6 p.m.

“This is not just one person’s tragedy. It is not just the tragedy of these parents standing at his grave site. It is the tragedy of America,” Grayson said from the House Floor earlier this year. “We persist in being a country of sometimes casual racism, racism that sometimes goes unnoticed.”

Grayson first took interest in the case publicly in the fall of 2015, where he held a press conference with the parents of Andrew Joseph in Tampa. Two months later, he sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling on her to have the FBI investigate the case.

“Andrew was forced to take off some his clothes, for the stated purpose of allowing the police to check for gang-related tattoos,” Grayson wrote. “He was photographed, and information about him was entered into a database. With no evidence of wrongdoing, or even suspicion of wrongdoing, the police nevertheless removed Andrew (a 14-year-old without adult supervision) from the Fair, by patrol car. The police released Andrew well away from the Fair, by patrol car. The police released Andrew well away from the Fair, near four busy thoroughfares, two of them Interstate highways. At no time did the Sheriff’s Office attempt to contact Andrew’s parents, or direct him to do so.”

In March of 2016, Grayson returned to Tampa near the scene of Andrew Joseph III’s death to announce that the Justice Department would not be investigating the case. In a letter to Grayson that he made public that day, Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik wrote that “accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgement are not sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation.”

“It’s been two years!  And I don’t have a police report. Not one sentence,”  Joseph’s father, Andrew Joseph Jr. said at that news conference (The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says that the Florida Highway Patrol did write up a report).

“I absolutely do not know how I can ever show my appreciation and gratitude to Congressman Grayson,” said Deanna Joseph, Andrew’s mother, in a statement on Friday. “This has given us hope that the world will never allow another tragic death of a child in the manner in which Andrew Joseph III’s life ended.”

The Andrew Joseph III Act, H.R. 6505, calls for building a stronger system of law enforcement accountability, and instill a greater confidence in community policing.

Grayson will be leaving Washington when the new Congress is sworn in next month. He gave up his congressional seat earlier this year to run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, where he fell a distant second to Jupiter Representative Patrick Murphy.

Bob Buckhorn says, if asked, he would have signed immigration letter to Donald Trump

On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel traveled to Trump Tower to hand deliver a letter signed by 17 big-city Democratic mayors urging President-elect Donald Trump to reconsider his vow to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the provision that protects young, so-called Dreamers who came to the country before the age of 16 from deportation and allows them to study and work in the U.S.

“Ending DACA would disrupt the lives of close to one million young people, and it would disrupt the sectors of the American economy, as well as our national security and public safety, to which they contribute,” Emanuel wrote. “We encourage your administration to demonstrate your commitment to the American economy and our security by continuing DACA until Congress modernizes our immigration system and provides a more permanent form of relief for these individuals

Bob Buckhorn was not a co-signer to the letter, but that does not mean he doesn’t agree with the sentiment.

The Tampa Mayor’s press secretary, Ashley Bauman, tells FloridaPolitics in an email that Buckhorn was not asked by Emanuel to sign the letter. She says he would have done so if asked.

In that respect, Buckhorn is like other mayors who say they would have signed the letter if asked.

Miami Mayor Thomas Regalado tells the Miami Herald that, “I would have signed that letter in a heartbeat,” adding that “I think they’re missing a lot of mayors, and I hope that they expand it. It should be a Republican, Democratic and independent thing.”

In an interview with Time Magazine published on Wednesday, Trump said he’s “going to work something out” with regard to Dreamers, saying, ““I want Dreamers for our children also. We’re going to work something out. On a humanitarian basis it’s a very tough situation. We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. But that’s a very tough situation.”

Last month, approximately two dozen activists delivered a letter to Buckhorn calling on him to designate Tampa to be a “sanctuary city,” a jurisdiction where local law enforcement doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. On the campaign trail, Trump said that he would work with Congress to pass legislation to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities.

The ACLU of Florida released a report last year identifying some 30 counties in Florida that currently have policies declining to respond to Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests, or to honor them only in limited circumstances, such as when they are accompanied by a judicial warrant. They include Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Sarasota Counties.

On Wednesday, Buckhorn told WMNF’s Rob Lorei that “we’re “looking at that” when asked about the possibility of Tampa becoming a sanctuary city.  He said he may not officially make such a declaration because “that has other impacts, but added that,”I’m not interested in disrupting families and breaking up families, purely because they are of an undocumented status.”

Hillsborough Commission to copy Richard Corcoran’s proposal to ban texting by lobbyists?

Hillsborough County Commissioners approved a motion on Wednesday directing their attorney to research and provide draft language on a proposal that would ban them from receiving text messages from a lobbyist during a board meeting.

However, the proposal’s ultimate passage is unclear, based on comments from some members.

“In the event that we did receive a text message during a commission meeting from a lobbyist related to official public business, we would have to disclose that communication by filing it with our … lobbyists registration within 48 hours of receipt,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman in announcing her plan.

But Murman’s proposal doesn’t include any penalties for a commissioner who would violate the ban, something that bothered Commissioner Les Miller. “I see where you’re trying to go with this,” he told Murman, saying that it echoed the recent lobbying rules that were approved last month by the Florida House of Representatives.

Under the new lobbying rules promulgated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, lobbyists who violate the ban would lose their privileges to lobby the rest of the session. Miller then speculated that there “might be some punishment of making them, taking them off a chairman of a committee or moving their office space or parking space.” He then asked Murman what penalty would a commissioner face for violating the ban?

“There’s not going to be any reprimand, or fine,” replied Murman. “This is going to be a matter of disclosure.”

“If there’s not going to be any enforcement, what’s the need for?” asked Miller.

“Well, the need for it is transparency,” Murman responded.

Actually, the new rules passed in the Florida House don’t address any sanctions for lawmakers if they receive texts from lobbyists.

Commissioner Ken Hagan dismissed the idea outright, calling it “symbolism over substance.” Hagan added that the proposal attempts to solve a problem that just doesn’t exist in the county. And noting that he received only one email on the subject, Hagan deduced that the public doesn’t really care about it.

Newly-elected Commissioner Pat Kemp expressed concerns about any banning of texts from members of the public, “especially from community advocates sometimes that I have communications with.”

County Commissioners earlier this year passed an ordinance requiring all lobbyists to register by name, who they met with, what they talked about and who they represented when meeting with board members. They were prompted in large part by the controversy around how transportation engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff became contractor for the Go Hillsborough effort — and subsequently hired Beth Leytham as a subcontractor. Leytham never registered as a lobbyist when she communicated with commissioners via text message and email during that process.

Commission Chair Stacy White said he understood the concerns expressed by Hagan and Miller, but said he wanted to see the draft language that Fletcher employs when he brings the proposal back to the board, and said he supported it. He also emphasized that he didn’t want to give up the option of looking at his smartphone during a board meeting, even if did take away his attention from the proceedings at hand. “What I don’t want is for people to think that if a commissioner up here at this dais grabs a cellphone that there’s somehow corruption or somehow something underhanded going on.”

The measure passed 5-1, with Hagan dissenting.

Attorney Chip Fletcher and his staff draft a proposal and present it to the commission at a future meeting.

The time is right: Embrace Bill Edwards’ bold vision for Rowdies, Al Lang Stadium

I like Bill Edwards’ bold plan to privately finance an $80 million renovation of Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. I like his swagger in going hard to land a spot in Major League Soccer for his Tampa Bay Rowdies to play in that stadium.

I would even go so far to say that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg are a perfect marriage of a city on the move and a sport that Americans increasingly embrace.

Then again, what’s not to like?

In my view, not much.

Edwards resurrected the iconic Rowdies franchise when he purchased controlling interest in the team in 2013. At the news conference announcing the deal, he prophetically said, “sometimes it takes money to make money.

Because Al Lang is on city property and part of the waterfront landscape, his plan must go before voters for approval. The stadium currently seats about 7,000 and would have to be expanded to about 18,000 to meet MLS specifications.

Voters tend to connect the words “sports owner” and “stadium” into a cash grab out of their pockets, so it will take forceful and repeated reminders of the words “privately financed” to calm those fears.

Then, there is the matter of convincing MLS to come here. The league has talked about expanding by up to four teams and cities like Cincinnati, Nashville and St. Louis are among those actively seeking admittance.

Something tells me that isn’t as big an issue as it might seem. In a statement, MLS said in part it is “impressed with (Edwards’) vision and plans for a world-class soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront in St. Petersburg.”

Edwards checks all the boxes the league is looking for: committed local ownership, deep pockets, and located in a city that can support this venture.

St. Pete will need to prove that, of course, before any stadium expansion goes forward. Edwards made it clear he wants to see a waiting list for season tickets, among other things.

Soccer is a different financial animal than Major League Baseball, though and a team in St. Petersburg would not be as dependent on people from Hillsborough and Pasco making regular jaunts across the bay.

Businesses, especially those downtown, would have to love the idea of having soccer crowds visit the waterfront for at least 17 nights per season. Throw in exhibitions, playoffs and possible international matches and the number swells.

There also would be the potential for a new rivalry with the Orlando MLS franchise, although I guess we’d modify the name from “War on I-4” to the “War on I-4, through Malfunction Junction and across the big bridge.”

We’ll work on that one.

Orlando does control territorial rights to St. Petersburg, but the MLS has signaled that it shouldn’t be a major stumbling block should the league decide to expand here.

I was around in 1975 when the original Rowdies took Tampa Bay by storm. I remember sitting in a downpour at old Tampa Stadium to watch them beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I remember the huge crowds for games against the Strikers and New York Cosmos.

Trying to replicate that didn’t work when MLS placed the Tampa Bay Mutiny here a charter member of the league. They played five mostly forgettable seasons before folding. This is a different deal, though.

The league ran the Mutiny because no local owner stepped up and attendance lagged. Ownership is not a problem this time, and for St. Petersburg, well, it’s simple.

This is the right time and the right plan.

Baseball commissioner: Rays stadium is about location, location, location

Another year has almost passed and, so far as we know, nothing much has happened to lead anyone to believe the Tampa Bay Rays are anywhere close to securing a new stadium. But there were two developments this week that seemed to be forces pulling in the opposite direction. That’s never good.

On Monday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred told reporters that the No. 1 priority for a stadium is location, location, location.

“I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good,” he said at a Q-and-A session at George Washington University.

In case we didn’t get the message, Manfred added this: “Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation. At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

The “end game” got an interesting twist a day later when state Rep. Brian Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed HB-77. Boiled to its essence, the measure would outlaw pro sports teams from leasing government-owned land to build or renovate a stadium.

A couple of points about all this:

Manfred is correct on his point about the requirement that a new stadium be “appropriately located” in the Tampa Bay market. Right now, it doesn’t look like they’re close.

There has been a lot of chatter about building a new ballpark adjacent to Tropicana Field, but that would just double-down on the original disastrous decision that stuck the Rays in the extreme western part of the marketplace.

The only places that make sense for the long term are downtown Tampa, the Westshore area in Tampa, or a spot in Pinellas off the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Rays have to be in the center of the market. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

The question of money brings us to the second point: How to pay for this.

I’ll conservatively put the cost at $600 million (although I believe it will be higher than that). The Rays will be expected to pony up a large chunk of that cost — perhaps through ticket surcharges and other fees. To do that, they’ll need a large season-ticket base, which in baseball means corporate sales.

Already, businesses in Hillsborough are reluctant to buy Rays’ tickets in mass quantities because clients and employees won’t make weeknight trips through the area’s stifling traffic at rush hour to get to the Trop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say they work out the location requirement and ticket sales spike. That bar is pretty low, by the way. The Rays attracted a little less than 1.3 million fans last year, by far the lowest in baseball.

Based on 2016 attendance figures, Tampa Bay would need an additional 1 million fans per season to be in the middle of the pack (San Diego, at No. 15, drew 2.3 million). That’s a jump of about 14,000 extra fans per game.

Before they can focus on that, though, the question for politicians becomes how to subsidize the stadium cost without having taxpayers storm their offices with pitchforks and flaming torches. We’ve all heard things like dedicating some tourist tax and rental car money, but I’m not even sure that’s feasible. Those industries have potent lobbyists who will be shouting in the ears of people like Brian Avila to keep MLB’s mitts off their money.

This issue has been dragging on for years and the Rays seem stuck in quicksand as a franchise. The way to change that is to heed Manfred’s words about location and stop with the nonsense of shoveling more money into a failed spot.

Nothing else can happen until they move past that.

Then, all they need to do is find a way to pay for it.

Then actually build it.

Then figure a way to put a competitive team in that new building.

To be continued …

Pinellas County launching educational campaign to renew Penny for Pinellas

Pinellas residents can expect to hear a lot next year about the number of roads, fire stations, parks, buildings and other projects the county and cities have constructed during the past 30 years.

Residents will also hear a lot about construction planned for Pinellas’ future.

It’s all part of an education campaign that the county and municipal governments will undertake as they try to persuade Pinellas voters to renew the Penny for Pinellas sales tax for the fourth time. If approved, the renewed Penny would be collected from 2020 through 2030. The current Penny will end in 2020.

“Job No. 1 in 2017 is to educate the public, so when they cast their ballots, they will make an informed decision,” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard said Tuesday.

He was speaking during a Pinellas County Commission workshop that was devoted in part to the Penny for Pinellas.

Pinellas County commissioners agreed.

“The Penny is so precious,” Commissioner Ken Welch said. “We have to be very clear what these dollars are used for.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers said, “It’s critical in so many ways.”

The Penny for Pinellas was first passed by voters in 1990. Since then, three major bridges have been built, more than 1,000 miles of roads have been resurfaced, more than 20 fire stations and emergency facilities have been constructed, and water quality and drainage projects have been completed, county records show.

“They Penny for Pinellas has been a ‘good news’ story for the city of Clearwater,” said Bill Horne, the Clearwater city manager.

Among the projects Horne said could be traced to the Penny: Fire Station 45, Pier 60 and the Countryside Library.

It’s unclear how the future Penny money might be used. County commissioners will develop a wish list next year as will the 24 municipalities, each of which gets part of the Penny.

The Penny referendum is Nov. 7.

By only 65 votes, Luis Viera defeats Jim Davison in Tampa District 7 run-off

By just 65 votes, Luis Viera defeated Jim Davison in the Tampa City Council District 7 special run-off election, taking 50.64 percent to Davison’s 49.36 percent, a difference of only a single percentage point.

Viera received 2,588 votes to Davison’s 2,523, just 65 votes out of 5,120 cast.

The special election was held to succeed Lisa Montelione, who was re-elected without opposition to the North Tampa district seat in early 2015. Last fall, Montelione announced that she would run for the state Legislature, creating the opening for a new candidate.

Turnout for the runoff was low on Election Day, with 815 people voting. The clear majority of those who did participate voted by mail — 3,730. In four days of early voting (Thursday through Sunday), an additional 575 people cast ballots.

Viera’s victory maintains an all-Democratic Tampa City Council. If Davison had won, he would have been the first Republican on the board since Joseph Caetano, a District 7 councilmember defeated by Montelione when he ran for re-election in 2011.

Viera was endorsed by top Tampa area Democrats like Congresswoman Kathy Castor and City Council Chair Mike Suarez, a longtime friend. He also received a late endorsement from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said he was irked by Davison’s statement in the last week of the campaign that he would not dismiss the idea of threatening New Tampa secede from the rest of Tampa.

Although some speculated that Buckhorn would have ultimately endorsed Viera anyway, a fellow Democrat, Davison’s “Brexit”-like attitude made for a more dramatic element to the race.

A poll Friday by St. Pete Polls showed the two candidates tied at 39 percent, with 21 percent undecided. Undecideds apparently broke for Viera, if just narrowly.

For the 62-year-old Davison, this is his third loss running for office. He failed at two previous attempts for Hillsborough County Commission in 2002 and 2004.

Davison was also the co-founder of the New Tampa Transportation Task Force and has served on other transportation committees, including the Committee of ’99, which endorsed the idea of a sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.

Viera is a 38-year-old attorney with the downtown Tampa law firm of Ogden & Sullivan. He has been a member of the city of Tampa’s Civil Service Review Board since 2011.

Like Davison, Viera too is a resident of Hunter’s Green in New Tampa.

In the race, Viera raised more than four times the amount of campaign cash as Davison: $107,474 to Davison’s $25,630.

For the first round of voting Nov. 8, Davison won a plurality of votes in a six-person field. Viera came in second, behind by nearly eight percentage points (31-22 percent).

Two of the four remaining candidates – Avis Harrison and Cyril Spiro – endorsed Davison, while the other two Democrats in the contest – retired police officer Orlando Gudes and La Gaceta writer/editor Gene Siudut – opted to stay neutral.

The fact that Viera wasn’t endorsed by competitors “spoke volumes,” Davison charged at a debate in Forest Hills last week.

District 7 includes New Tampa, the University area, Terrace Park, Forest Hills and Temple Crest.

Viera will make $43,139 annually in what is considered a part-time job.

Personnel note: Rick Scott names Lauralee Westine to trial bench

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday named local-government and land-use attorney Lauralee Westine to replace retiring Judge Bruce Boyer on the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court.

Westine, 45, of Palm Harbor, concentrates on zoning and permitting for cell towers and other towers through the Law Office of Lauralee G. Westine, according to her practice’s website.

She has worked in private practice since 2000, the Governor’s Office said. Earlier, she was a prosecutor in the Sixth Circuit, which includes Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Westine is married to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

She holds master’s and law degrees from Stetson University.

Boyer, first elected in 1991, was running into the mandatory retirement age for judges — 70.

Uproar at Hillsborough DEC meeting; City Council, School Board members leave in disgust

After a rough start, Hillsborough County Democrats re-elected Ione Townsend as party chair Monday night.

A raucous first 50 minutes of the group’s reorganization meeting culminated in five Tampa City Council members and two Hillsborough County school board members leaving the hall in disgust when they were not allowed to participate in the Democratic Executive Committee election for local officers.

In a related development that skewed the final tally of his race, Alan Clendenin, vice-chair of the Florida Democratic Party and a man considered a serious contender for party chair next year, lost his race for state committeeman to Russ Patterson, 42-30.

It was thought that many of those elected officials who were not allowed to vote supported Clendenin.

Alma Gonzalez was voted state committeewoman, defeating Donna Lee Fore 39-32.

Townsend sparked the controversy when she announced two weeks ago that, in consultation with Florida Democratic Party Rules Committee members, she interpreted party by — laws to mean that it would not permit Democrats elected in nonpartisan races to vote in Monday’s meeting. In addition to party chair and committee members, that included other party leadership positions.

For more on the details on her decision, read our Friday story.

That meant that the five members of the City Council and two school board members who attended the meeting were not allowed to vote, and they began shouting out at Townsend after she announced her ruling at the Letter Carriers Hall in West Tampa.

“You’re out of order!” shouted Councilwoman Yolie Capin. “What you just said was out of order. We’re elected officials who are registered Democrats. That is outrageous what you have just said!”

“This is a great way to grow the tent,” Tampa City Councilman Harry Cohen bellowed disdainfully.

Other audience members yelled out: “Let ‘em vote.”

“Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction,” shouted School Board Chair April Griffin, who stood with colleague Susan Valdes, also banished from voting.

“Since 2006, I stood against the far right on the school board, and you’re telling me I don’t have the right to vote?” she asked.

Townsend said she would allow the elected officials to vote with a provisional ballot if her decision was appealed to the Florida Democratic Party judicial court.

But DEC member Bryan Ferris made an official objection, and he called for a vote to overrule Townsend.

Mike Suarez, the current chair of Tampa City Council, took to the microphone to question how his Democratic Party bona fides could be challenged.

Suarez said he had recently queried some of the candidates running for the Democratic National Committee Chair.

“I think I’m not only loyal, but as an elected official I represent all Democrats,” he said. “If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t know what else to say about being a Democrat.”

Nevertheless, those statements weren’t enough to carry the day, as Ferris’ motion did not get the required two-thirds vote to override Townsend’s decision.

Griffin also took a microphone, stood behind the podium and went off a verbal tear.

“We are here to build this party up, not tear it down,” Griffin said. “We are better than this. We are the party of intellect, the party of compassion. We are looking like a bunch of circus freaks.”

That irked Democrat Andrea Brayboy, who replied: “I am ashamed of you people in the back.”

Looking at the council and school board members, Brayboy said: “You come here and acted like children. I won’t have that. The rules are what the rules are. Let’s just get on with it and move on!”

Tension in the room remained as the voting members were poised to vote.

“I want to see who votes against us,” Capin said.

After the vote had come down against the elected officials, Griffin yelled out she wanted her name removed from the Hillsborough DEC’s website.

Maria Ayala, the DEC credentials committee chair, yelled back: “Yolie Capin, don’t expect us to volunteer for you.”

The vote probably didn’t affect the overall count for Clendenin, but the loss was a bitter one for him and his supporters, who were looking to put on a full-fledged campaign for the state party chair next month. Clendenin lost to Allison Tant by just 80 votes, 587-507, in January of 2013.

Clendenin’s rejection came despite getting verbal support from former Florida CFO and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink. “He has been a very, very effective voice and has perspective and history at both the state and the national levels, and is an important voice for Hillsborough County,” she said.

But the majority of rank and file Hillsborough DEC members felt otherwise, seemingly killing his chances of running for state party chair. FDP rules state that only party chairs or committeemen or committeewomen are eligible to run for the top post.

“As your state committeeman, I promise you that I won’t be a rubber-stamp for more of the same,” said Patterson in his speech to the DEC members.

Hard feelings persisted as the meeting concluded.

 Yvette Lewis, political action chairwoman for the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, said she was appalled by what she had seen earlier, calling it another form of disenfranchisement by a party who says they’re about inclusion. “I’m very disappointed in some of the people who are here.

DEC member Mark Nash criticized the elected officials however, accusing them of “grandstanding,” and asking why they haven’t found the time to attend any previous DEC meetings in recent years.

The meeting was held at the spacious Letter Carriers Union in West Tampa, a move from the party’s usual meeting headquarters at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City. A huge new influx of new members necessitated the change.

Charlie Crist calls on Congress to extend tax breaks before adjourning for the year

Charlie Crist is calling on the 114th Congress to extend tax breaks benefiting students and seniors before it adjourns for the year.

The congressman-elect on Tuesday asked Congress to extend several soon-to-expire tax breaks, including a medical expense deduction for seniors, and a tuition and fees deduction. Congress is expected to adjourn for the year later this week.

“These tax breaks are important to seniors, students and homeowners struggling to make ends meet,” said Crist, Florida’s former governor, in a statement. “Congress can and should extend them before the end of session.”

Crist has honed in on five tax breaks that help seniors, students, and middle class homeowners. The breaks are:

— A medical expense deduction for seniors, which allows seniors to write off health care costs once they’ve spent 7.5 percent of their gross income on health care. If the tax break isn’t extended, the threshold is expected to increase to 25 percent.

— A tuition and fees deduction for higher education costs, which provides middle and lower income students with a $4,000 tax credit annually.

— A mortgage insurance deduction for homeowners making under $100,000 a year — $50,000 for married couples filing separately — that allows them to write off their mortgage insurance premium or private mortgage insurance.

— A home debt forgiveness program for homeowners underwater on their mortgages. Currently the discharge of the debt is excluded from being considered as income. Without the extension, the debt could be considered income and would be fully taxed.

— Energy efficient tax credits for homeowners that purchase qualified energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, heating and air conditioning units, water heats, and other environmentally home improvements. Under current law, homeowners can write off 10 percent of the purchase price of the items, up to $500 in credit.

“The Majority in Congress wants to delay consideration of these tax breaks until next year, when they hope to overhaul the tax code,” said Crist in a written statement. “The better way forward would be to do what’s right for our seniors, students and middle class homeowners and extend these tax breaks now!”

Crist defeated Republican Rep. David Jolly to become the Democratic representative from Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

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