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Louis Betz & Associates earns $520K in 2017

Louis Betz and Travis Mitchell received $130,000 in lobbying compensation between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to finish out the year with an estimated $520,000 in earnings.

Louis Betz & Associates had 25 legislative branch clients and 11 executive branch clients last quarter.

Top principals included Waste Management Inc of Florida, which paid $30,000 for executive and legislative lobbying, followed by red-light camera company American Traffic Solutions, Tampa Taxi Coalition and Ygrene Energy Fund Florida, each of which paid $15,000 for representation in the Legislature.

Lobbyists are required to submit reports detailing their client roster and compensation for legislative and executive lobbying each quarter.

Reports for the last three months of 2017 were due to the state on Feb. 14.

Those reports list compensation from principals in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate compensation.

The fourth quarter numbers for the two-person shop make for $520,000 in earnings last year.

Top clients across all four quarters were mostly mirrored the Q4 list, with Waste Management leading the pack at $95,000 paid last year.

American Traffic Solutions paid $15,000 a quarter for a total of $60,000 last year, as did Tampa Taxi Coalition and Ygrene Energy Fund Florida.

Several other clients clocked in at the $40,000 level for the year after writing a pair of checks clocking in at $5,000 each for legislative and executive representation each quarter.

Those clients include the City of Temple Terrace, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority.

At the $30,000 level was Mindshare Technologies, which split its payments down the middle for executive and legislative lobbying, followed by a trio of groups that paid $20,000 for only legislative representation last year: Covanta Energy, Energy Systems Group and MOSI.

Link-Systems International paid $15,000, including $10,000 for legislative work and $5,000 for executive, followed by Costa Creative at $10,000 for the year and Designated Gaming Services and Metrotech Net at $5,000 apiece.

Chris Sprowls gets Democratic opponent in HD 65 race

While Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is expected to glide to another two-year term in the Florida House this November, at least the Democratic Party has now put up a candidate to run against him.

On Friday, Alex Stephen Toth, also of Palm Harbor, filed to run for the House District 65 seat.

Sprowls, 34, has been on a fast track in the Legislature since winning HD 65 in 2014. He currently serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and is in line to become Speaker in 2021.

He’s raised more than $119,000 in his race to win reelection this year, with more than $100,000 still available for him to spend.

Toth was not immediately available for comment.

HD 65 includes Clearwater, Dunedin, and Tarpon Springs in northern Pinellas County.

Sean Shaw: Second Amendment silent on assault weapons

The Second Amendment has already surfaced as an issue in the Attorney General race, although a different perspective will likely emerge once Sean Shaw hits the campaign trail full-time.

The Tampa Democrat hasn’t done much campaigning since he officially entered the contest last month, but, undoubtedly, he will transition into candidate-mode when the Legislative Session concludes.

Speaking to parishioners Sunday at Bethel African-American Episcopal Church in East Tampa, Shaw was incredulous that House Republicans rejected a proposal to discuss banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, despite the pleas from students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The vote came just six days after a former student killed 17 people at the Broward County school.

“I don’t care what you hear, I don’t care what you see, or who you speak with, that is a fact, and it’s very upsetting,” Shaw said.

Speaker Richard Corcoran and other House Republicans say it would have been unprecedented to address the bill (HB 2019) since it had not been passed out of committee.

Republicans in the Legislature will have a chance to vote on gun regulations this week, beginning Monday, when the Senate Rules Committee will discuss provisions which include raising the legal age for purchasing any firearm, imposing a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases, and increasing school safety measures. A similar package will be taken up by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

Shaw says he supports those proposals and will vote for them in the House. But he also says the proposals do not address assault weapons, a common denominator in the Parkland and Pulse massacres.

“People should not have access to these weapons of war,” he said angrily. “I don’t care what (people say) the Second Amendment says and I read it and I’m a lawyer and it does not give you the right to have an assault rifle. It’s not what the Second Amendment does. The Second Amendment allows the government to regulate gun laws and that’s what we intend to do.”

In the early stages of the Republican race for Attorney General, Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant accused former Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody of being insufficiently supportive of the Second Amendment, and challenged her to a debate on the subject (Moody declined).

While the political fallout from Parkland may rejigger the calculus for some Republicans on gun regulation matters, Fant does not appear to be in any sort of retreat, tweeting just days after the Parkland massacre that “liberals on fake news” were driving the gun control debate.

Shaw was elected in 2016 to represent the heavily Democratic-leaning House District 61 in Tampa and other parts of Hillsborough County, but he says that constantly being on the losing end of party-line votes like last week’s bill on discussing an assault weapons bans is in large part what has compelled him to run for Attorney General this year.

“I worked very hard for this seat, but you can hear the frustration in my voice, and that’s one of the reasons why I decided to run for attorney general, because, as one of 120 members of the Florida House, I can’t do anything but vote in the minority to address those kids that we’re standing up at that gallery,” he said, “but I know what I can do as Attorney General. I don’t have to ask nobody for nothing! If I want to do something, it gets done.”

Ryan Torrens is the other Democrat in the race. Pensacola state Rep. Frank White and Dover state Rep. Ross Spano fill out the Republican field.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

How the dominoes could fall after ‘Rooney out’

Last week U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney put out the “Rooney out” message, launching a wave of speculation over who could step in and win the heavily Republican CD 17 in the fall.

So far, all the GOP candidates running to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman, Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley – have taken their names out of the hat. Fort Myers Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said she wasn’t ruling out a run, and a host of other elected officials within CD 17 have been even less public about their plans.

Florida’s 17th Congressional District covers parts of Sarasota, Lee and Polk counties as well as the whole of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee.

The seat is a Republican stronghold that voted plus-27 for President Donald Trump.

The massive district covers a number of state legislative seats, but outside of Benacquisto’s nexus in Lee County, most of the GOP power players in CD 17 are concentrated in Sarasota County, though Rep. Michael Grant, who represents Charlotte County, is thought to be mulling a run, as is Rep. Ben Albritton, who represents DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk.

At the top of the heap in Sarasota County are Sen. Greg Steube, Rep. Joe Gruters and Rep. Julio Gonzalez. Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has said he will not run for the seat.

Then there are former pols such as Ray Pilon, who could jump in and muddy the vote within the Sarasota area even more, though he could just as easily lay out a return trip to the Legislature if enough of his former colleagues abandon their posts.

If any of those lawmakers make the plunge there could be a chain reaction that shakes up the Republican landscape in the Sarasota area, though Steube’s entry would register much higher on the Richter scale.

If he makes the call, his Senate seat will be a more natural step up for some contemplating the congressional jump, and a more realistic option for those lower down the totem pole.

Gruters is in no way at the bottom of that totem pole –  he chairs the Sarasota GOP and was one of President Donald Trump’s top men in Florida. Trump connections may not have played well in the HD 72 special, but both CD 17 and SD 23 have far greater Republican advantages.

The freshman lawmaker hasn’t ruled out a CD 17 run, but his likely play is to wait for Stuebe to announce for Congress and pounce into the Senate race, where he would have a massive advantage.

SD 23 covers all of Sarasota County and part of Charlotte.

GOP voters outnumber Democrats 161,000 to 114,000 and the seat voted plus-14 for Trump in 2016, putting it outside the common threshold for a “blue wave” flip.

So, who runs for Gruters’ seat if he goes for an upgrade?

Perhaps there will be a do-over for James Buchanan, the loser of the HD 72 special. He didn’t have to go through a primary in that race, but if he wants to become a lawmaker this year he’ll have to.

His opponents will likely have more political experience than him this time around. Likely to join him in the HD 73 race are Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Lakewood Ranch Republican Club head Steve Vernon. Vernon took Gruters to the wire in the 2016 primary for HD 73, losing by just 385 votes.

That three-way primary would be a pricy one, but it’s a guaranteed House seat for the winner. HD 73 went plus-25 for Trump in 2016 and Democrat Liv Coleman, who is currently filed to run against Gruters, has only $5,000 of loans in her campaign account.

If Gonzalez’ makes a move, it’s likely for Congress. He told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he’s “absolutely” interested in the seat. If he makes the plunge, there’ll be another battle royale for a state House seat.

HD 74 has a strong GOP edge. Republicans have 21,000 more registered voters than Democrats in the district, making the seat’s GOP advantage half again better than the 13,000-registrant advantage in neighboring HD 72, which recently flipped with the election of Democrat Margaret Good.

Gonzalez beat Democrat Manny Lopez with 63 percent of the vote in 2016, and no candidate has filed to run against him in 2018.

If he hops into the congressional race, his legislative assistant, Vickie Brill, is likely to take a shot, as are North Port Vice-Mayor Linda Yates and up-and-comer Justin Taylor.

Firsthand experience in the legislative process has been more than enough to win a seat for many lawmakers, but Yates brings the experience of an elected official, while Taylor has enthusiasm and ties to former Sen. Nancy Detert working in his favor. An endorsement from Detert, now a Sarasota County Commissioner, could make a big difference early on in a campaign.

No matter who replaces Rooney, expect a few extra fresh faces when the 2019 Legislative Session begins.

Tallahassee house used by Jack Latvala on sale for $1M

The Tallahassee residence used by former state Sen. Jack Latvala is on the market.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 4,554-square-foot abode was recently listed for $1 million by Armor Realty of Tallahassee, according to Zillow. The owner of record is listed as his wife, Connie Prince, who bought it in 2004. She married Latvala in 2015.


Latvala, a 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, resigned from the Senate in December after two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment. He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010.

Built in 1985, the house has “a dramatic foyer and beautiful hardwood floors, and “beautifully-crafted cabinetry” in the kitchen, which has “a DCS gas range, Sub-Zero refrigeration system, a wine cooler, granite countertops, a generous pantry (plus a 6′ x 8′ butler’s pantry), double ovens, and more.”

Outside, there’s a “beautiful pool, outdoor kitchen, outdoor fireplace, gazebo, and paver-lined pathways. The entire property is fenced and gated at the entry and exit ways of the driveway.”

The master bedroom “has a separate 15′ x 15′ sitting room complete with a private fireplace, a 6′ x 7′ dressing area, and a generous amount of closet space and storage.”

Latvala, who is technically still running for Governor, was term-limited in the Senate next year. His other home-away-from-home in Boothbay, Maine, does not appear to be on the market.

Hundreds of high-school students protest gun violence in Tampa rally

Chanting “we want change now,” hundreds of Blake High School students marched to Curtis Hixon Park Friday afternoon, calling for gun-control measures in the wake of the massacre in Parkland last week.

The crowd was stacked with mostly students, joined by other Tampa Bay area activists determined to perhaps finally see gun regulations enacted following the most recent shooting attack on primarily teenagers which stunned the nation.

“We don’t want your prayers, we want legislation,” read a sign held by Elizabeth Smith, who said that she’s never been much of a fan of the National Rifle Association, the all-powerful gun-rights organization that for nearly two decades has been described as the single most significant force for Congress and state legislatures failing to enact gun regulations.

“I feel like once we get rid of the NRA, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) can step in and figure out why these things are happening,” Smith said. “They say ‘they’re just high school students, they’re too young to know anything, but here we are. We know why we’re here, and we know what we’re talking about, and we know that if we do this, and we’re collective about compromise and change that we can get something done.”

Antonio Walker held a sign reading: “How many lives is your gun worth?”

Walker hopes that the anger in the country about Parkland can result in a diminution of the NRA’s power.

“I hope that they hate what we’re saying and they understand that it’s an issue for everybody,” he said of school gun violence. “It can happen to their kids. It can happen to any of us.”

While he won’t turn 18 until after the election, Walker can’t wait to vote in 2020.

“We’re about to vote and make change ourselves in our own voices,” he said, “so it’s time that we actually do that.”

Zoe Gallagher is a 14-year-old sophomore at Blake who also dances at the Patel Conservatory. She attended the march with her mother and little brother.

When she learned of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, Gallagher was shocked and scared.

“I’m not really a big follower of politics, but things like that have made me think more about how I want to make sure to stay attuned about what’s going on, ” she said. “its made me more conscious.”

High-school students weren’t the only ones at the protest.

Sixty-eight-year-old Kent Fast says he vividly remembers the protests against the Vietnam War that was led by the younger generation half a century ago. He said the protests this week against gun violence “feel different,” a feeling he attributes directly to youth leading the activism, something not seen in America in a very long time.

A hunter and gun owner, Fast says he’s not “stupid” and sees no reason anybody needs an AK-47, AR-15 or any other type of assault weapon.

“I want some reasonable gun control and I think there’s some room for that,” he says, adding that “even Marco Rubio was moving off the square” regarding his announcement on live television on Wednesday night in the CNN town hall from Sunrise where he announced he now supported some gun regulations he had never previously believed in.

At 29, Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Pigott is used to being one of the younger people at social protests. He calls it “very encouraging” to see so many people just half his (relatively young) age out in the streets calling for social change.

“Their eyes are open, and they’re determined to keep on knocking, until somebody answers,” says Pigott, a pastor from Riverview.

Ross Spano, Grady Judd call for allowing guns in schools, churches

In the aftermath of the shooting massacre in Parkland last week, Florida Democrats (and some Republicans) have talked about reducing the ability for some individuals to acquire firearms.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ross Spano, a candidate for Attorney General, is going in the opposite direction.

Spano and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd released their own sets of proposals Friday to address gun violence, pre-empting similar announcements scheduled to be made later by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders.

“All week we’ve seen people react to the Parkland tragedy reflexively, often without substance or long-term vision,” Spano said. “We owe the families and friends of those 17 victims, as well as the thousands of survivors, something much better than an empty gesture,”

The recommendations include provisions for making schools safer and addressing mental health issues, but one measure would allow churches and other religious facilities to allow members of a congregation who are licensed to carry a concealed firearm to carry during services.

It would also expand the ‘sentinel program‘ that would allow teachers, administrators and parents who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon. The program would require participants to pass enhanced background checks, undergo emotional/psychological evaluation and complete comprehensive standardized training.

The measures introduced do include Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs), a proposal that U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said earlier this week that he could support.

These GVROs would permit a narrowly defined group of people (law enforcement, spouse, parent, sibling, roommate, etc.) to petition the court for an order to temporarily remove a troubled individual’s gun rights.

The order would be appealable and would lapse after a defined period of time, that is unless petitioners or the state can produce clear and convincing evidence that it should remain in place.

With eight days left in the 2018 Legislative Session, Judd was asked if there is time to approve such a wide-ranging program.

“They can certainly approve it at the macro level,” he said. “These plans will have to be tailored to each county to provide safe environments for the children.”

 Judd said whatever is finalized, there must be permanent recurring funding.

“One time doesn’t work,” he added.

“My focus has been that you can have a firearm at home to keep your children safe, businesses can be armed to protect themselves. The only gun free zones are the schools, where our treasures, our children are.

“A resource deputy is not enough. It is one-on-one. We want to overpower the attacker,” Judd said.

Second Amendment rights have surfaced as a major issue among the four candidates running for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Spano is running against former Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody and state Reps. Jay Fant from Jacksonville and Frank White from Pensacola.

Fant and White have attacked Moody as insufficiently tough enough in her defense of the Second Amendment. A winning strategy perhaps in the primary, but a stance that could be problematic in the general election, depending if the fervor for gun regulations that emerged this week in the wake of Parkland will continue throughout the rest of the year.

“We need a better system in place to interdict credible threats when they are made,” Judd said. “And, we need a realistic, last best chance to keep our children alive in schools by having a group of select, well-vetted and well-trained teachers, coaches, and staff who will carry concealed weapons on campus to stop a killer if he shows up.”


Bill Rufty contributed to this report.

David Jolly: Assault weapon license should be as hard to get as White House security clearance

David Jolly says he’s not sure that a ban on assault weapons is possible in Washington, but believes a solution that could happen immediately is to make them “functionally obsolete” for the average citizen.

“Make the requirements to get an assault weapon as hard as it is to get a security clearance in this White House,” the former Republican congressman quipped to laughs while addressing the Cafe Con Tampa crowd at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“That would be a yearlong process,” he said, turning serious to say that it would allow authorities to get as much information about a person’s background as possible, including serious training and storage requirements that he thinks would only allow the most trained sportsman or woman to handle.

Like many Republicans, he also says that enforcing current laws on the books to a greater extent would also work, or as he says, “Enforce the gun laws as strictly as Donald Trump wants to enforce the immigration laws.”

Though not a card-carrying NRA member, Jolly did receive $9,600 in contributions from the gun rights organization in his special election against Democrat Alex Sink in 2014 and was the beneficiary of the group spending more than $100,000 against Sink in that same campaign.

He said the current background check process is relatively toothless, consisting of a criminal conviction check and little else. People’s mental health history, including counseling, is currently not part of such a check.

And with all that has been learned about Parkland confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, Jolly said it should be.

Universal and comprehensive background checks should include every transaction involved with a gun, Jolly said, so if somebody wants to sell it to a family member, it should be done at the local sheriff’s department.

Jolly said he’s now “evolved” to the point where he believes such medical background history needs to be included in such a background check.

Joining the Indian Shores Republican in the discussion was former Treasure Coast Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, who called guns like the AR-15 “weapons of war” designed to kill human beings, and said they need to go away.

Cruz used an AR-15 to kill 17 people last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

“If you need 50 rounds to kill a deer, you need a new sport. Bottom line,” he said.

Murphy said in the current climate in Washington (controlled by Republicans in both the House and Senate)  banning assault weapons isn’t a viable possibility, but says it should be the ultimate goal.

Eliminating bump stocks, addressing mental health and reinforcing school safety are “baby steps” that Murphy believes are possible to achieve now.

A joint appearance by two moderate former members of Congress (who collectively only spent six and a half years in Washington) was part of their traveling road show on ways to get Washington working better, a tour they are holding across the state and other parts of the country since the fall.

To their credit, Jolly and Murphy aren’t preaching to the crowd that they need to be as moderate politically as they are, but that it’s essential to find common ground to fix the problems that our political system is supposed to do but has been breaking down over the past few decades into increased partisan rancor.

Jolly attributes the beginning of the fissure was the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. However, he also insists that Democrats were poised to do the same thing if they were in charge (which they were for decades in the U.S. House before 1994).

“Newt Gingrich realized not only did we take control of the House of Representatives, we’re now going to demand that K Street give us all their money that they’ve been giving to Democrats,” he said, “and then we’re going to go around the country and set up these funds to push lobbyists money into the states, so we can take over our state legislatures, and start to redistrict, start to close primaries, and put a chokehold that ensures that Republicans have a structural advantage for the next couple of decades.”

“And that’s what they did.”

After losing a re-election bid after redistricting in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2016 to Charlie Crist, Jolly has become omnipresent on CNN and MSNBC as one of the most outspoken Republican critics to President Trump. Although he’s said as recently as a month ago that he was still considering a run for office in 2018, he all but admitted on Friday that’s increasingly unlikely.

“Not only am I candidate without a party, I’m a candidate without a donor base.”

He did add that he is already involved with efforts to help out a Republican primary presidential challenge to Trump in 2020, having recently met with Republicans in both Iowa and Washington D.C.

Murphy said the teenagers who were directly affected by the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and have been protesting this week about gun violence give him great hope.

“It’s powerful for our country,” he said.

Murphy concluded: “To get involved, to knock on doors, to get out there to vote, or at least get others to vote. That’s a powerful thing. Politicians, by and large, will care more about that than the money, or anything else, if they see that as a sustaining movement, it can’t be one week, two weeks and done.

“This has to continue for months, and unfortunately probably years to be effective, but with the passion that I see, I am optimistic that this can be a generation that does lead to results.”

Bob Buckhorn now says Tampa may not appeal firefighter’s sexual discrimination ruling

At one time, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn “vowed” to appeal the federal jury verdict for firefighter Tanja Vidovic, winning her case of claiming that the city discriminated against her because she was pregnant and fired her in retaliation for complaining about it.

But the mayor’s office is now saying Buckhorn, in fact, has not decided whether to challenge the ruling.

“The mayor hasn’t decided on (an) appeal,” said spokesperson Ashley Bauman.

This revelation startled Vidovic during an appearance on Tampa’s WMNF 88.5 FM.

“Everything that I had heard from both [city attorney] Tom Gonzalez and from his statement in the newspaper was that he was [filing an appeal], so that’s news to me,” she said.

Before that, the perception had been that the city would indeed appeal the decision.

In a conversation with the Tampa Bay Times February 14, Buckhorn said: “We are appealing this with valid legal reasons.”

The next day, a Times editorial opined: “Having had its day in court and lost, the city should have respected the verdict and moved on.”

The op-ed continued: “But Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended Tampa Fire Rescue this week and vowed to appeal. That was exactly the wrong tack, legally and morally, and it could open taxpayers to even further financial exposure in a case that already has cost the two sides about $1 million in legal fees.”

In December, a federal jury found in favor of Vidovic in her case against Tampa Fire Rescue, awarding her $245,000 in damages. Last week, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich ruled that she should be reinstated back to Tampa Fire Rescue within the next two months.

In the interview Thursday, Vidovic, a married woman, recounted how she had been sexually harassed during the first five years of her career at Tampa Fire Rescue, including having captains text or outright ask her for sex.

Initially, she never complained about it.

“There’s a system in there when you’re called like a rookie for the first five years,” Vidovic recalled. “You’re not supposed to talk. Harassment is supposed to be part of it.”

“I was hoping it would end, and then when it didn’t, when it became more severe, I decided I should speak up.”

Vidovic continued: “After speaking to some women in the dept. and explaining to them what happened, they’re like ‘yeah, it happened to me, it’s going to happen to you.’ There was one woman who said ‘it’s not the first time, it’s not going to be the last.'”

During her eight-year career with Tampa Fire Rescue Vidovic was pregnant three times. Her employment there ended the day after she filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2016. Vidovic never wanted to sue, but she wanted to go through mediation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also during the radio interview, she complained there was no paid maternity leave at the time. “I requested it.”

Now, that leave is available for all city employees, as the mayor announced in early 2017 that the city would begin providing paid parental leave to full-time workers. The policy will offer primary caregivers with eight (8) weeks and secondary caregivers with two (2) weeks of paid leave after the birth of a new child or an employee with a child placed for adoption or foster care.

Bob Gualtieri vexed over immigration misinformation

A community forum to discuss the recent agreement between 17 Florida Sheriffs and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is scheduled to take place Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

That agreement allows local authorities to hold undocumented immigrants beyond the time they normally would have to be released based on state or local cases. It was announced at a press conference at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo last month, and came about after courts objected to sheriffs making their own decisions based on a civil detainer request. Under the new arrangement, the migrants are booked under federal auspices.

Indivisible FL-13, For Our Future FL, the Allendale United Methodist Church, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Women’s March Pinellas and others have organized the event at the Allendale United Methodist Church.

A press release announcing the event said that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was invited but is unable to attend. Gualtieri confirms that he won’t be available to participate, but says that he’s concerned and frustrated by what he calls misinformation being perpetuated by critics of the agreement.

“What we’re talking about in this area is solely one hundred percent only criminal illegal aliens, and when I see in the literature that’s being distributed that what we’re doing is in the same sentence as ‘dreamers’ is absolutely erroneous, and it’s very concerning, because they’re putting fear into the community needlessly by this misleading information,” he says.

Gualtieri says the agreement does not give his deputies carte blanche to start detaining whomever they believe might be undocumented, contrary to claims by some critics. Instead, he says it’s all about people who have been arrested for violating a law and then later determined to be out of status, a much more narrow population.

“A lot of these these people … either are ignorant about it or they are intentionally misleading and then causing others to be misled and causing concern in the public and in the immigrant communities needlessly, because they’re trying to scare these people.”

At a protest in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Ybor City two weeks ago, Father Peter Ruggere of Corpus Christi in St. Petersburg said service is the image expected from local law enforcement, not handing off undocumented immigrants to the federal government.

“We do not expect them to be handymen, cleaner-uppers for ICE. That’s not their job,” he said. “Their job is to serve and protect this community, and that’s why we’re here.”

At a rally in Tampa a week ago, activists put out an “emergency travel advisory” for Florida, warning potential visitors to be cautious about entering a state where racial profiling is occurring.

“We’re also advising that they particularly avoid high-risk areas, such as the counties that are increasing their collaboration with ICE and DHS as well as airports, seaports, Greyhound bus stations, 7-11 convenience stores and gas stations,” said Briann Gonyea, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations.

There have been incidents where the undocumented  have been picked up on Greyhound buses and in 7-11s, though in most cases reported it’s been at the hands of Border Patrol officers, who work for Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the Homeland Security Department.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Border Patrol officers are working without permission on private property and setting up checkpoints up to 100 miles away from the border under a little-known federal law that is being used more widely in the Trump administration’s aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.

Gualtieri says that’s not what sheriff deputies in Florida are up to.

“It’s all nonsense, ” he says. But he says if a person is undocumented and committing crimes, “We’re going to help ICE get you out of here, and that’s the way it should be.”

Gualtieri says that of the estimated 11-13 million undocumented people in the U.S., approximately one million have committed crimes – and that’s who he’s concerned about (In 2016 the Migration Policy Institute estimated that 820,000 of the 11 million unauthorized have been convicted of a crime).

“This isn’t about Sheriff Gualtieri,” said CAIR Florida attorney Robert Sichta .”This is about some law enforcement agencies deciding to ride the wave of a new and dangerous shift in policy that attempts to divide our communities into persons who deserve the protection of the Constitution and those who do not. The Constitution is still the law of the land. People are not criminals until found guilty. Existing detention laws follow the Constitution. The fact that any local government would expose itself to liability from unlawful detentions boggles the mind.”

Marc Rodrigues of the Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition rejects the idea that activists like himself are promoting fear, saying there’s already enough of that in immigrant communities due to the current political climate.

“Sheriff Gualtieri can talk about safety all he wants, but members of the community we speak with are in fact feeling less safe as a result of these policies, less likely to approach law enforcement if they are victims of crime,” he said.

“The reality is that that what is often considered a misdemeanor infraction for a U.S. citizen that is resolved routinely, thousands of times every day across this country through the paying of a fine or the posting of bond, results, for an immigrant, in utter life-shattering devastation,” Rodrigues added.

“When an undocumented immigrant repeatedly drives without a license to be able to work and to keep a roof over their head and food on the table in a state that won’t allow that immigrant to apply for a driving permit, that person is deemed a ‘felon’ and subjected to these Sheriff-ICE collaboration, detention, deportation, family separation policies. Then we’re asked to remain silent as politicians and Sheriffs, eager to capitalize on fear to advance their careers, crow about how incredible of a job they’ve done to keep US citizens safe from the dangers of a housekeeper, tomato picker, landscaper or construction worker who was found driving with a broken tail light. We will not remain silent.”

The 17 counties participating include: Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Columbia, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Suwannee and Walton.

An organizer for Thursday’s event, Vickie Dunn, says that her group would have welcomed Gualtieri speaking to the group at a later date, “but that option wasn’t offered.”

The roundtable discussion is scheduled to take place Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Allendale United Methodist Church, 3803 Haines Rd. N. in St. Petersburg. Those who plan on attending are advised to RSVP online.

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