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State Attorney Brian Haas endorses Ben Albritton in SD 26

State Attorney Brian Haas

State Attorney Brian Haas is endorsing Republican Ben Albritton in the Florida Senate District 26 seat now held by Denise Grimsley, who is forgoing re-election for an Agriculture Commissioner bid.

“Ben has the right convictions and values to serve our area well,” said Haas, who serves the 10th Judicial Circuit covering Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. “He believes, as I do, in holding criminals accountable for their actions to keep our community a safe place to live, work and visit.  He also understands the importance of early intervention to keep our youth on the right track. I look forward to Ben’s continued leadership in the Florida Senate.”

Haas was elected State Attorney in 2016 after a stint as Chief Assistant State Attorney under Jerry Hill. A graduate of Bartow High School, Haas earned a bachelor’s degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine and a law degree from the University of Florida.

Over his career, Haas has prosecuted a range of crimes from misdemeanors to capital felonies and was assigned to the Special Prosecution Division at the State Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted cases involving sexual crimes against children.

“Brian Haas is an outstanding servant-leader,” Albritton said in a campaign statement. “He values people and treats everyone with the fairness and respect they deserve. I greatly appreciate Brian’s endorsement and look forward to continuing to work with him for the betterment of our area.”

Haas’ endorsement of Albritton comes on the heels of the recent endorsements by U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney.

Albritton was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, where he has been a conservative advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He served as chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee.

Albritton, term-limited from running for re-election in 2018, serves as chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Florida Chamber backs Vern Buchanan startup tax relief bill

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is announcing the Florida Chamber of Commerce is endorsing his bill seeking to make it easier and less costly for entrepreneurs to start a new business.

The Sarasota Republican’s “Support Our Start-Ups Act” seeks a fourfold increase in startup costs small-business owners can deduct from their federal income taxes, raising it from $5,000 to $20,000.

 “in Florida alone, there are more than 2 million small businesses, which create two out of three jobs in Florida,” said David Hart, Florida Chamber’s executive vice president. “The Support Our Start-Ups Act removes some of the initial barriers to creating a business, putting money back in the pocket of our state’s best job creators – setting start-ups on a path toward success.”

Only around 20 percent of new small businesses survive their first year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Support Our Start-Ups can help businesses stay afloat and grow by making it significantly less costly to start a new business.

“At a time when millions of Americans are unable to find good-paying jobs, the government should be doing all it can to encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs,” said Buchanan, a senior member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “I want to make it easier and less costly for hard-working Americans to realize their dream of starting a business.”

Buchanan, himself a self-made businessman, said that he knows firsthand the costs of starting a new business. Before even opening their doors, entrepreneurs must often pay legal and consulting fees, marketing research, recruiting expenses and office supplies.

A longstanding principle of tax law has prohibited the deduction of these initial costs until the business opens – with only a $5,000 maximum deduction.

Buchanan is a widely respected leader in the state’s business community. With a 40-year business career, he chaired both the Florida Chamber and the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. He also served as a U.S. Chamber board member, and was inducted into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame in 2005.

Jeff Brandes, Dana Young endorse Ed Hooper

Republican state Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Dana Young of Tampa on Friday endorsed former state Rep. Ed Hooper in his quest to replace Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, who is term-limited in 2018.

Brandes called Hooper “a true advocate for his community … thoughtful, collaborative, and trusted.”

“These are some of the best qualities in a Senator and I’m happy to endorse him in his campaign for the State Senate,” he said. “He will help make Florida a more prosperous state for generations to come.”

Added Young, who left the House for the Senate last year: “As a former colleague of Ed’s, I can tell you from firsthand experience that he is a true leader and highly respected. I know he will make an excellent Senator and represent the people of Pinellas and Pasco counties with dignity and honor.”

Hooper said he was “honored” by the endorsements. Senate District 16 includes northern Pinellas and part of southwestern Pasco.

“They’ve set an example of how to work together to seek common sense and innovative solutions to Florida’s challenges,” he said. “Their continued leadership will make Florida a better place to live, work, visit, and retire.”

Hooper, a retired fire Lieutenant, served on the Clearwater City Council before spending eight years in the Florida House. He was term-limited in 2014. His only declared opposition is Democrat Bernie Fensterwald.

Continuing strong fundraising effort, Charlie Crist adds more than $550K during second quarter of 2017

First-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist raised more than $550,000 between April 1 and June 30, according to a campaign source familiar with the congressman’s fundraising efforts.

Crist has more than $1.1 million cash-on-hand for his re-election bid.

Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, led the Florida congressional delegation in fundraising and was one of the top Democratic fundraisers overall during the first quarter of 2017, outperforming incumbents from both parties.

Although throughout his career, Crist has always been a prodigious fundraiser — most notably as Florida Governor and candidate for U.S. Senate — one reason for this most recent fundraising success could be traced to an overwhelmingly positive message, particularly in the push for more civil discourse in politics.

“As public officials, I believe we have a responsibility to try to lead by example,” Crist said recently.

Last month, St. Petersburg Democrat co-sponsored a measure to designate July 12 — in a nod to the Bible  — as a National Day of Civility.

According to Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. … shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

This theme of the “Golden Rule” — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is a common thread through much of Crist’s career and first year in Congress.

The Day of Civility proposal, which has gained traction after the shooting of Crist’s colleague Steve Scalise during a charity baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, urges congressional leaders to set a more cordial tone for the nation.

“It is obvious that we need to be kinder, we need to be nicer. We need to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself,” said Crist at a news conference announcing the measure. “We all learned that … as little kids growing up and yet somewhere along the way it seems to have been forgotten.”

“I think it’s important to have these reminders …,’’ he added. “We need to do it every day, all 365 days.”

Crist also plans to supply fellow lawmakers with yellow wristbands saying: “Practice the GOLDEN RULE every day.”

Vern Buchanan calls on Senate to pass his bill punishing cop killers

Vern Buchanan is seizing on heavy media coverage of a New York City police officer’s execution Wednesday, calling for the U.S. Senate to pass legislation making the murder or attempted murder of a police officer an “aggravating” factor in death penalty determinations.

New York City Police Officer Miosotis Familia was sitting in the back of a marked van writing in her memo book when she was shot and killed with no warning by a gunman at around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The gunman, Alexander Bonds, was subsequently shot and killed by NYC police officers. It’s been reported that he wrote anti-police posts on Facebook and claimed officers kill inmates at the jails he was in.

The story of her death is featured on the Thursday covers of both of New York City dailies the New York Post and the New York Daily News.

The “Thin Blue Line Act,” sponsored by the Sarasota Republican congressman, passed the House in May. The proposal makes the murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer an “aggravating” factor in death penalty cases.

“It’s time to protect those who put their lives on the line for us every day,” Buchanan said in a statement Thursday. “We need to send a strong message that the heinous targeting of police officers or first responders will not be tolerated.”

So far in 2017, there have been 67 line-of-duty deaths, an 18 percent spike from the same point in 2016, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Most law enforcement agencies around the country support the bill. It is applicable in cases where the person is murdered on duty, because of the performance of their duty, or because of their status as a public official. covers federal, state and local police officers, firefighters and first responders. The only requirement is that the homicide involves federal jurisdiction, such as the interstate homicide of an officer, or an officer killed on federal land, or while serving as part of a joint task force.

The bill would cover federal, state and local police officers, firefighters and first responders. The only requirement is that the homicide involves federal jurisdiction, such as the interstate homicide of an officer, or an officer killed on federal land, or while serving as part of a joint task force.

Former Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly sponsored the original bill, introduced in 2015 and again in 2016.

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey sponsored the Senate version.

Tampa Bay residents passionately urge Bill Nelson to keep fighting for Obamacare

Ten days ago, South Tampa resident Karen Clay told a national cable audience on MSNBC about how Medicaid is more than just a lifeline for her severely disabled son, Mike Phillips. “It’s been a life.”

Clay and her family have been able to take care of him at home through a federal waiver, which would go away if massive budget cuts to Medicaid goes through as proposed in legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

“It is amazing this at this point in time, that we are fighting to spend less money. That’s what we just cannot understand,” Clay told Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and reporters gathered at his Tampa district office Monday afternoon. “It’s unconscionable that we are having this occur.”

Clay and her son were part of a small group of citizens in attendance whose lives have been enhanced through the Affordable Care Act. The told the senator to continue fighting Republicans attempts to replace and repeal Obamacare, which they are able to do if they can muster the 51 votes in the Senate in support.

At the end of last week, there were approximately 8-9 Republican Senators reportedly balking at the plan, however, as currently drafted.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted last week that the Senate Republican bill to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act would reduce federal spending on Medicaid by a total of $772 billion.

At the age of 40, Elizabeth Isom was hit with a hard-to-diagnose ailment that ultimately forced her to leave her job and lose her health insurance. The St. Petersburg resident was forced to get care at health care clinics, which she said could never invest in researching what was actually wrong with her. Ultimately, the clinic discovered a tumor in her sinus cavity, where it remained for another year.

The tumor then penetrated her skull, resulting in optic neuritis, aneurysms, and lesions throughout her body and mouth.

When insurance became available on January 1, 2014, Isom was finally able to access coverage through the ACA.

“If it wasn’t for the ACA, I don’t know if I would be alive, truthfully, ” she told Nelson.

Sarasota resident Olivia Babis was born disabled without arms and later contracted two autoimmune disorders. Because of her pre-existing health conditions, the only insurance company who would offer her insurance (pre-ACA) would have charged her $1,800 in monthly premiums.

Babis has been able to get affordable insurance through the ACA and doesn’t want it to go away.

“If they repeal it, there’s no insurance company that’s going to insure me,” she told Nelson. “My prescriptions are $1,500 a month without insurance. There’s no way that I can afford that,” she said, as her voice cracked.

“I’m not going to let them eliminate the ACA,” Nelson responded immediately. “I’m going to do all in my power, and I believe we will be successful because I think that stories like yours and Elizabeth’s, I think these stories are finally going to go through to them [congressional Republicans].”

Regina Hebert of Sun City has had severe arthritis, resulting in joint replacements over the years.

Stressed by a corporate job, Hebert quit to launch her own business, thereby losing employer-based health care insurance. Taking the independent route, Hebert went without coverage until the fall of 2013, when she signed up immediately as the government began allowing people to register for the health care exchanges.

Later, Hebert was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, resulting in chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was able to access through participation in the ACA exchanges. “The ACA saved my life. Absolutely saved my life,” she vowed.

“The ACA saved my life,” she vowed. “Absolutely saved my life.”

Nelson admits the ACA has legitimate problems, and he has offered two proposals that could save billions of dollars.

One would create a reinsurance/catastrophe fund for the health care insurance companies, which Nelson says would lower the premiums in Florida by 13 percent.

The other would be to allow Medicaid to be able to buy prescription drugs in bulk, as in Medicare, thus reducing overall drug costs (Nelson offered that proposal as an amendment to another piece of legislation, which was ultimately defeated).

“What we ought to be doing is fixing the existing law, instead of repealing it,” Nelson said, adding that the partisan politics in Washington when it comes to health care is a “sad commentary, but that is what we’re facing.”

While the citizens in Nelson’s office praised the senator fulsomely for acknowledging their stories, they had a decidedly different attitude toward Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Marco Rubio.

“Marco Rubio’s office won’t even talk to us,” Hebert said.

Clay said she was denied an opportunity to speak with Rubio during a visit to Washington last week.

J.D. Alexander rides again to save Polk County arts center

Remember former Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Lake Wales Republican who almost single-handedly created Florida Polytechnic University by use of his power as Senate Appropriations chair?

Alexander has been out of the Senate for almost five years, but it would appear that the old power cell is still charged and ready to zap when needed.

Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey recently praised Alexander saying he was the main reason that budget cuts that would have shut PSC’s JD Alexander Center in Lake Wales were restored in the Legislature’s recent special session.

“It is not just coincidence that J.D. Alexander on hearing that the funds were vetoed by the governor, got into his car, drove to Tallahassee and began knocking on doors,” Lindsey said. The comment came during a speech in which Republican Lindsey complained that the all GOP county delegation hadn’t done enough to protect the county from cuts.

Because the center was named for him, Alexander was reluctant to take credit for saving the center. But Lindsey was not reluctant about giving the former senator the credit, noting that many are now taking credit for restoring the money.

Supporters have said PSC’s Lake Wales campus is vital to the town. It has taught 11,291 students in music, visual arts and theater classes, all of which are required for an associate in arts degrees at state colleges. More than 40 percent of the students there are over the age of 25.

Alexander instead praised Polk’s two state senators and “a ton of community support” for getting funding restored.

“It is very important to help the hard working people who are enrolled at Polk State,” Alexander said in a recent text. “And I don’t know many things that are more important.”

Ready for another run for office, Senator?

And the beat (and rumor) goes on

Conservative Republicans who voted for school cuts are finding some threats from conservative Republicans.

The latest rumor that just won’t stop is that Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, could be challenged in the Republican Primary next year by Deputy Superintendent of the Polk County School District John Small.

Several incumbents have been challenged or will be. That’s a highly democratic (that’s right, a small “d”) trait. But if you are an incumbent you likely are already receiving money from special interests and their lobbyists for 2018.

Bill Nelson hosting health care roundtable in Tampa

Sen. Bill Nelson visits Tampa Monday for a roundtable discussion with those “hardest hit” by the latest attempt from Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The Democratic senator will speak with residents on Medicaid as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Nelson is back in town during Congress’ weeklong July Fourth recess, after the Senate did not get the required 50 votes to repeal and replace “Obamacare” by a late June deadline.

Republican Senate leaders now say the new goal is to pass a bill sometime this month ahead of the long August recess – frustrating many conservatives, including President Donald Trump.

POLITICO Florida reports that during a Friday conference call with reporters, conservatives questioned Republican commitment to following through with campaign promises to end Obamacare, and warned of a backlash in the 2018 midterms.

A longtime Obamacare supporter, Nelson joined Democratic senators recently to call for support of a series of bills to fix the U.S. health care system, urging a bipartisan solution.

“Why can’t we work together?” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “We do in our committees … Why can’t we do it with health care?”

Nelson’s roundtable event begins 1:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Avenue, Tampa.

 

Janet Cruz reflects on racially-tinged incident at Florida Democrats gala

Two weeks ago, state Rep. Janet Cruz was part of a group of Democrats angry at Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel for racially-tinged remarks made backstage at the Party’s biggest annual fundraising event.

Now, the House Minority Leader from Tampa says those bitter feelings are mostly forgotten as the party looks to seize on anti-Donald Trump sentiment in 2018.

“It was disappointing,” Cruz says about the fact that before former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage to give the keynote address to more than 1,300 Democrats gathered at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood, the auction raised $250,000 in a matter of minutes, “not the kind of stuff that Democrats have an easy time doing.”

“Everything was done so well, and yet the focus was on this one area,” Cruz says, referring to Bittel’s labeling some members of the legislative black caucus “childish” after they complained of being bypassed from recognition on stage before Biden’s appearance.

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon had told POLITICO that Bittel said: “The black caucus members were acting like three-year-olds and childish.”

Cruz, the first Latina Minority Leader in the history of the Florida Legislature, definitely took umbrage at the comments. But she’s known Bittel for a long time, and doesn’t think ill of either his motives or intentions.

“I know Stephen Bittel, and I have never, ever thought of him or known him to be a racist,” she says. “I think perhaps he might be elitist, but I have never known him to be a racist, so I was really sad that was the focus of the press and the focus of the attention.”

Cruz also cautions Democrats in Hillsborough and throughout Florida that while energy at the grassroots level has been astonishing since November, it’s still a long time before the 2018 election, when Florida Republicans traditionally vote in much larger numbers than Democrats.

“People continue to tell me that it’s the midterms and Trump’s numbers are in the crapper, but I don’t underestimate the followers and the following that Trump has,” she says. “I don’t underestimate that. If they feel the threat of the midterm, I think that they will come out in record numbers,  so nothing is a given.”

“If they feel the threat of the midterm, I think that they will come out in record numbers,  so nothing is a given.”

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