Charlie Crist – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Sean Shaw enters AG race, promises contrast to Pam Bondi

Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw has made it official: he’s running for Attorney General this year, promising if elected to operate differently from term-limited Pam Bondi.

“The people of our state should be able to count on their Attorney General to protect them and to always enforce the rule of law, not have someone more concerned with how their actions will play during their next Fox News hit,” he told reporters at a news conference outside the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.

“Soon, they will have one.”

Shaw said if he were elected, he would be an activist-oriented Attorney General to protect the interests of all Floridians. “No longer will unconstitutional laws be defended, costing taxpayers millions,” he said. “And no longer will Florida stand on the sidelines while other states battle to end this horrific opioid epidemic.”s

Shaw is the son of the late Leander J. Shaw Jr., the state’s first black chief justice. He referenced him in his speech.

“He knew, and he imparted to me, that standing up for the rights of our fellow Floridians was an incredible responsibility that could never be taken lightly,” Shaw said. “Because the rule of law should act as the ultimate equalizer for everyone, no matter where you’re from, what God you worship, or who you love.”

Shaw also took a shot at President Donald Trump in his brief speech, saying, “There is a man inhabiting the White House in Washington whose lawlessness and contempt for the norms that have allowed our country to thrive for centuries seem to have no bounds.”

Shaw said that makes it incumbent for attorneys general throughout the nation to be “truly independent” to uphold the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution, “because this movement is not just about what’s happening here in Florida It is about people everywhere who want to know that their families will be kept safe and their rights will be protected.”

Although he’s only serving in his second Session as a member of the Florida Legislature, Shaw is well-versed in Tallahassee and state government. He grew up in the capital city, and after attending college at Princeton University and getting his law degree from the University of Florida, returned to run for a House seat in 2008, but lost to Alan Williams.

Shortly after, he was picked by former Gov. Charlie Crist to serve as the state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate from November 2008 through September 2010. He is also the founder of Policyholders of Florida, a group focused on campaigning against unfair property insurance increases on Florida families.

Shaw moved to Tampa and ran for the House District 61 seat in 2014, but lost to Ed Narain in the primary. He subsequently won the seat in 2016 against fellow Democrats Dianne Hart and Walter Smith.

The only other Democrat in the Attorney General race is fellow Hillsborough County resident Ryan Torrens, an attorney. In a statement, Torrens said he welcomed Shaw’s entry into the race.

“Now Floridians will be able to determine for themselves which candidate will be the steady, crusading attorney general that Florida’s Democratic leaders have long been saying Floridians need and deserve, now more than ever,” Torrens said.

The Republican field includes former Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody and state House Republicans Ross Spano from Dover, Jay Fant from Jacksonville and Frank White from Pensacola, all of whom have raised nearly $1 million already.

“Florida’s a big state, and we’ve got to raise substantial resources, but I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that,” Shaw said when asked by reporters about how much he’d be able to raise for his campaign. When asked if it would be $4 million, he said it would be more than that.

The Republican Attorneys General Association blasted Shaw in an announcement, calling him an “extreme liberal who would put his personal political agenda ahead of anything else — including the law.”

“There should be no doubt, Shaw would join progressive Democrats across America as an activist attorney general — legislating through the court at every turn,” said RAGA executive director Scott Will. “This is an affront to our system of government and speaks volumes about Shaw’s disrespect for Floridians. Florida deserves an attorney general who defends the rule of law, protects its citizens and champions opportunity for every person.”

New crop of not-ready-for-primetimers launch congressional campaigns

There’s more than a few key races heating up among Florida’s congressional seats, but for every true competitor in a 2018 battleground district there are a dozen head-scratchers who’ve mounted hopeless House campaigns.

No, none of these candidates have sacrificed a goat as part of a pagan ritual, but it likely wouldn’t make their long-shot odds any worse if they had.

In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, there’s Republican Judson Sapp who billed himself as a “New Republican” when he announced Friday he would challenge incumbent Ted Yoho for the Gainesville-based seat.

“He represents a bold, new path forward and a rebirth of the Republican Party as one that represents all people – not just special interests or the elites,” his campaign said in an email.

That bold new path?

He wants “to end bipartisan obstructionism and to bring integrity and accountability back to our government.”

So far, so good. How does he plan to do it?

“He plans to use his business experience to make deals…”

Next!

The race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District might actually be competitive this year.

In 2016, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy scored a 3-point win over longtime Republican lawmaker John Mica, and the GOP is looking to win it back even if new district lines make that somewhat of an uphill battle.

Enter Vennia Francois, an Orlando Republican who announced last week she would run against state Rep. Mike Miller, businessman Scott Sturgil and a couple others in the Republican Primary for the seat.

She’s got some political experience, having worked for former Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux, but man if her message isn’t a bit dusty.

“I believe in the American Dream because I have seen so many achieve it, both in my immediate family and all across Central Florida,” she said. “But there’s much more we need to do to ensure its legacy, especially for those still struggling in the wake of the Recession of 2008-2009, and I want to lead those efforts,” Francois said in her campaign’s opening message.

If Francois wants to lead the post-recession recovery, she might need to grab a time machine and head back a decade.

Moving on to her actual policy positions, she wants spearhead efforts to close tax loopholes and enact economic policies that help small businesses create even more jobs.

Oh my.

Actually, forget going back a decade. She needs to figure out who traveled to the future and stole her idea for the Republican tax plan.

Also in Central Florida, CD 10 Democratic Rep. Val Demings picked up a primary challenger this week in Wade Darius, a 36-year-old Haitian-born businessman.

Darius runs his own company, TD Homes Marketing, and claims to have helped more than 200 people get down-payment assistance for homes last year. Citing the district’s large immigrant population, the he  said his primary goal as a congressman would be helping reshape U.S. immigration policy.

Not a bad start.

Still, he managed to hamstring himself in record time by saying he wouldn’t take corporate campaign contributions and by bashing Demings’ record on police brutality. Maybe he should have asked Bob Poe how that one played out for him in 2016.

The answer: 57-17.

Then there’s Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist was running unopposed until Wednesday, when Republican George Buck declared for the seat.

“George Buck, is a father of two; a son who is a professional firefighter, and daughter-in law who is a nurse. His daughter is currently studying to be a middle school math teacher at USFSP. George is a Veteran (Four years active duty and Florida National Guard), Firefighter (Ret), Professor/Author.”

Thank you for your service, George, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you or somebody close to you needs to pick up a copy of When Words Collide. There’s an impressive resume somewhere under that punctuation soup, especially when looking past the ambiguity on whether the daughter and daughter-in-law are the same person,

Also, maybe take a long, hard look at whether CD 13 is the place to run. Even well-liked former U.S. Rep. David Jolly is having a hard time seeing a path to victory for a Republican in the Pinellas-based seat.

Bill Nelson has $8M cash-on-hand for re-election campaign

Bill Nelson‘s campaign says the senator will report raising just over $2.4 million in the final three months of 2017. That brings him to more than $8 million cash-on-hand heading into this election year.

Nelson has represented Florida in the Senate since 2000. It’s widely expected that he’ll be challenged in his reelection bid this fall by Gov. Rick Scott, who has yet to declare his candidacy, but is expected to announce this spring ahead of the early May deadline.

Nelson received more than 30,600 contributions from more than 21,500 individual donors during last year’s final fundraising quarter.

The Florida Senator spent the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday participating in events in St. Petersburg, part of the Tampa Bay area media market, the biggest in Florida.

After defeating Republican Bill McCollum for an open seat in 2000, Nelson has been blessed with less than formidable opponents in his reelection bids in 2006 (Katherine Harris) and 2012 (Connie Mack IV).

But that won’t be the case if Scott is the GOP nominee. The former health care executive has shown that he is willing to spend big on his campaigns.

Scott raised more than $70 million in his victory for governor over Democrat Alex Sink in 2010, and another $12 million against Charlie Crist in 2014, both narrow victories.

Wengay Newton continues to increase fundraising advantage in HD 70 race

St. Petersburg House District 70 Democrat Wengay Newton now has two opponents going after him as he attempts to win reelection this summer, but at least at this early junction, he’s not being challenged seriously when it comes to fundraising.

Newton raised $1,000 in December, and has now raised $17,370 overall for the seat with a little over $15,000 of that money on hand.

Vito Sheeley, a former congressional aide to both Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, raised just $200 last month, and has brought in $4,922 since announcing his candidacy over the summer. He had about $2,000 in the bank at the start of 2018.

Sheeley was endorsed earlier this week by a number of high profile St. Petersburg Democrats, indicating that Newton could be vulnerable in the August 28 Democratic Primary, but if so, it has yet to translate into campaign dollars.

St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would soon officially enter the HD 70 Democratic race, but hasn’t done so yet.

Sheely and Bell, if she makes it official, will have a chance to catch up to Newton over the next several weeks as lawmakers are not allowed to raise money while the Legislature is in session. That means Newton will post a goose egg in February and depending on how well his pre-Session fundraiser went in St. Petersburg, he may even do a bit of a backslide in January.

Newton put out the call to his supporters in the fundraising invite, asking them to “consider supporting the campaign early” due to the primary threat.

HD 70 is a Democratic stronghold and the winner of the 2018 race will certainly come out of the Democratic Primary. The minority access seat covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. About 45 percent of the population is black, and 15 percent is Hispanic.

Newton won his first term last year, when he replaced now-Sen. Darryl Rouson in the district. In that race, he defeated his Republican opponent, Cori Fournier, with 76 percent of the vote on Election Day.

Most of Florida congressional delegation protests lifting oil rig safety rules

A bipartisan group from Florida’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the Donald Trump administration opposing any rollback of safety regulations adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the group of 20 lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — warned that “an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and inflict long-term environmental damage” and asked the secretary to “reject any proposals to roll back regulations that were specifically adopted to address systemic safety failures that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.”

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced last week that some of the regulations adopted in response to the tragedy created “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” on oil and gas operators. The proposal to roll back safety rules was published in the Federal Register at the end of 2017.

Proposals to weaken safety requirements reportedly under consideration include:

Reversing a rule that called for more frequent testing of blowout preventers — the same device that failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill, which is intended to serve as a fail-safe against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

No longer requiring independent auditors to certify that safety and pollution prevention equipment works under extreme conditions. This would remove any federal requirement and instead allow [the] industry to adopt their own set of standards, the guideline industry utilized prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Scrapping the requirement that an investigation into equipment failure be completed within 120 days. This would enable oil companies to delay indefinitely with no required date of completion.

Removing the federal government’s authority to regulate maximum or minimum drilling pressures at new sites. This important provision maintains a safe pressure for drilling that prevents surges and potential blowouts similar to what occurred in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The letter was led by Republican Vern Buchanan from Longboat Key and Democrat Alcee Hastings from Delray Beach. It was signed by GOP Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Carlos Curbelo, Bill Posey, Dennis Ross, Brian Mast Frances Rooney, John Rutherford and Illeana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrats who signed on included Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

The Florida members of Congress said, “It would be a huge mistake to weaken these safety regulations and risk not only lives, but catastrophic consequences to our environment. Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we should not jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards.”

You can read the entire letter below:

The Honorable Ryan Zinke

Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

1849 C Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Zinke,

We are writing to convey our strong opposition to any attempts by the U.S. Department of the Interior to weaken critical oil drilling safety rules adopted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. As Floridians know all too well, an oil spill can devastate a regional economy and inflict long-term environmental damage.

That is why we are asking you to reject any proposals to roll back regulations that were specifically adopted to address systemic safety failures that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Recently, a division of your agency, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) stated some of the regulations adopted since the spill created “potentially unduly burdensome requirements” on oil and gas operators.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon spill spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, claimed the lives of 11 workers, decimated the region’s iconic wildlife and severely damaged our fishing and tourism industries.

It would be a huge mistake to weaken these safety regulations and risk not only lives, but catastrophic consequences to our environment. Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we should not jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards.

As you are undoubtedly aware, BSEE adopted these regulations over the course of several years and after significant input and engagement with the public, federal policymakers, and industry stakeholders in order to enhance the safety of offshore oil and gas drilling.

Some of the most noteworthy and egregious proposals under consideration would:

Reverse a rule that called for more frequent testing of blowout preventers — the same device that failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill, which is intended to serve as a fail-safe against explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

No longer require independent auditors to certify that safety and pollution prevention equipment works under extreme conditions. This would remove any federal requirement and instead allow [the] industry to adopt their own set of standards, the guideline industry utilized prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Scrap the requirement that an investigation into equipment failure be completed within 120 days. This would enable oil companies to delay indefinitely with no required date of completion.

Remove the federal government’s authority to regulate maximum or minimum drilling pressures at new sites. This important provision maintains a safe pressure for drilling that prevents surges and potential blowouts similar to what occurred in the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Our constituents, which were severely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill, vehemently oppose any effort to weaken these common-sense regulations, and increase the likelihood of another oil spill off the coast of Florida. We urge you to reject these ill-advised proposals.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and we look forward to your prompt response on this critically important matter.

Sincerely,

High-profile St. Pete Democrats now backing Vito Sheeley in contentious HD 70 primary

Wengay Newton received a rebuke Monday when several high-profile St. Petersburg Democrats announced their support of Vito Sheeley, the political operative challenging the incumbent in the overwhelmingly Democratic House District 70 this year.

In a joint statement, Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said they were backing Sheeley’s bid to unseat Newton.

Sheeley is a former district aide to both U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and spent some time this year in an unusual alliance with former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, the Republican who Crist defeated last November.

Kriseman’s endorsement of Sheeley shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Newton alienated several Democratic activists in St. Pete last year after endorsing Republican Rick Baker over Kriseman in the hyper-intense mayoral contest.

“Vito’s track record speaks for itself,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I’ve known Vito for years, and know his heart and how hard he will work on behalf of the people of his District and this community. We need Vito’s leadership in District 70.”

 In the 2016 Democratic primary for HD 70, Kriseman endorsed Dan Fiorini, one of Newton’s opponents.

“I went to Kriseman for support in my House race. He told me to pound sand,” Newton said last year when asked about supporting Baker. But Newton insisted that backing Baker had nothing to do with that snub, saying that the former two-term mayor was the best man to lead St. Petersburg in the future.

“Rick Baker is my friend for over ten years. It’s a shame that in the areas of greatest need, they’re still talking about that here in 2017,” Newton said about the economic conditions in South St. Pete.

Welch, Wheeler-Bowman and Flowers were also strong Kriseman supporters in the 2017 mayoral race.

“Vito brings people together to listen to stakeholders, work as a team, solve problems and uplift our community — that’s something we desperately need in Tallahassee,” Welch said Monday. “I know that Vito will continue his service to our community and bring common sense solutions to the capital.

“The continued attacks aimed at diminishing our education system is besieged with unfunded mandates, and any sense of integrity has eroded daily, we need representation in line and in tune with the needs of District 70,” Flowers said. “For a strong leader aligned with our values and ideals, Vito Sheeley receives my endorsement as the next member of the House of Representatives, District 70.”

“Vito has the skills, the temperament, and the drive to represent our community successfully,” added Wheeler-Bowman, who was officially elected to chair the St. Pete City Council this year last week. “South St. Pete needs a strong voice who can go to Tallahassee, work constructively, and bring home results.”

“Simply put, Vito is the right person for the job.”

Newton held a campaign kickoff barbecue at Dell Holmes Park in South St. Pete on Saturday. He has raised $17,370 in the race. Sheeley has raised just $4,722, though his numbers for December have yet to be reported.

Sheeley said he was “humbled” by the support.

“They know me as an advocate who will always put my constituents above the broken politics we’ve had to endure for too long. I look forward to continuing that work representing District 70.”

Newton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would soon officially enter the HD 70 Democratic race.

HD 70 covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

David Jolly, pondering political run, admits progressives’ energy is ‘massive’

David Jolly says that if the physical boundaries in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County were the same as they were when he won the seat twice back in 2014, he’d already be running against Charlie Crist this November.

The reality is that it’s the same Democratic-leaning seat that he ended up losing to Crist in 2016 by a 52 percent-48 percent margin.

That fact, as well as what he predicts could be a Democratic tsunami at the polls this fall, has effectively quelled his entry into the contest, though he insists he hasn’t completely closed the door on running for political office later this year.

“I am still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by filing deadline,” the Indian Shores Republican said this week.

A frequent political analyst on cable news, Jolly says that before he were to commit himself to a campaign, he needs to ask and answer the question that he says every Republican should be asking in 2018: Is this a year to be a Republican on the ballot?

“The energy on the left is massive,” he says, pointing specifically to the results in Virginia’s state legislature last November as an indicator of the pent-up momentum among Democrats nationally.

In that election, Democrats flipped 16 Republicans seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, nearly seizing control of that chamber (Republicans maintained control this week only after their candidate’s name was picked out of a bowl to break a tie with a Democrat). The last time Democrats had taken more than five seats in that body was in 1975, a year after Richard Nixon resigned from office because of the Watergate scandal.

Virginia’s house races shows that the amount of energy on the left “is remarkable,” Jolly says.

“People on the left cannot wait to get to November,” he adds. “I don’t think the right has that enthusiasm.”

Congressional District 13 was one of eight congressional districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 needed to be redrawn by the Legislature to comply with the Fair Districts constitutional amendment, passed in 2010, that prohibited lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favored incumbents or political parties.

That resulted in CD 13 moving from being a rare swing district with a slight GOP advantage to becoming a large Democratic-leaning seat.

That initially led Jolly to opt out of a run for re-election to instead run for what was an open U.S. Senate seat. That changed once incumbent Marco Rubio decided to run again for the seat, compelling Jolly to attempt to win the seat that he originally said after redistricting was one that no Republican could possibly win.

The Cook Political Report last month listed the CD-13 set as as being “likely Democratic” in 2018.

Charlie Crist co-sponsors pair of puppy protection bills

Charlie Crist is co-sponsoring two bills aimed at protecting puppies by improving standards for federally licensed commercial dog breeders.

“The Bible teaches us to care for all of God’s creatures, and that includes man’s best friend,” said the St. Petersburg Democratic congressman. “I’m proud to help introduce bipartisan legislation that protects dogs from unprincipled dealers and breeders, providing a voice for the voiceless.”

Crist is working with Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick on proposals aimed at strengthening the Animal Welfare Act, which is meant to ensure dogs in federally licensed facilities are treated humanely, but which critics charge falls woefully short.

The two legislators are introducing the Puppy Protection Act, which creates stronger standards for veterinary care, housing, breeding practices, and specific standards for socialization and placement of retired breeding dogs.

They are also sponsoring the WOOF! Act, which would prohibit the USDA from issuing commercial breeding licenses to individuals or shell companies directly connected to dealers of dogs who have had their licenses suspended or revoked.

Like the Puppy Protection Act, the bill will not impact family pets, livestock, or hobbyist breeders.

“It’s crucial we stand up for animals — both as individuals and as a society. That means strengthening important regulations under the Animal Welfare Act to meet this goal,” says Fitzpatrick. “As a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, I’m committed to ensuring our government is doing its part to promote animal welfare.”

The bills also have a buy-in from the animal rights community.

“No dog should spend her entire life in a tiny cage, her paws never touching grass, outside and exposed to frigid temperatures and winds, and bred so relentlessly that her body eventually wears out,” says Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society. “Some puppy mill operators game the system and register their mill under a different name after they are cited for animal welfare violations.

“These two bills will prevent that trickery and also strengthen the standards of care for hundreds of thousands of dogs on commercial breeding facilities.”

“The bills introduced by Representatives Fitzpatrick and Crist would significantly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs kept in inhumane conditions by federally licensed commercial breeders,” adds Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO.

Local DEA raids lead Bill Nelson to inquire on Canadian drug availability

Recent DEA raids on storefront shops that specialize in selling Canadian prescriptions drugs to Central Florida seniors have U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and others in Florida’s congressional delegation wondering whether there has been an unannounced change in federal policy.

In the past few weeks, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided nine shops in the region Central Florida region including Tampa Bay, The Villages and Orlando, seizing records including customer lists, Canadian pharmacy vendors, drug transactions, and electric bills.

According to Bill Hepscher, co-owner of Canadian MedStore, which runs six of the raided stores, the businesses have been operating for up to 15 years, using direct computer links to allow customers, mostly senior citizens, to buy lower-priced prescription medications such as blood-pressure drugs.

Hepscher insisted the shops do not deal with any controlled substances such as opioids, and do not handle cash or medicines, but provide direct-link services to accredited pharmacies for mail delivery to Florida.

The FDA did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday from Florida Politics but has indicated that it is concerned about the quality of prescription medicines not approved under U.S. regulations.

Hepscher just returned from a trip to Washington D.C., where he met with Nelson and members of Congress or their staffs, including those of Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross, and Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, and Stephanie Murphy.

Nelson immediately responded Wednesday with a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. demanding answers about why the DEA raided the Central Florida companies, and whether this meant the administration of President Donald Trump would oppose Americans buying lower-cost Canadian medicines when they are available. Hepscher said he received assurances of similar concerns from other Congressional offices.

“I appreciate that we need to keep dangerous drugs like fentanyl and counterfeit pharmaceuticals out of our country, but many of my constituents are confused about why they are suddenly receiving a seizure notice instead of their necessary medication — if there has been no change in policy,” Nelson wrote. “To the best of my knowledge, no new FDA policies have been publicly announced or shared with Congress.”

American access to Canadian drugs has been a long-standing issue for Nelson, who first got involved in 2004, according to a news release from his office. That year he sent a similar letter to the heads of the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after the government seized an elderly Florida couple’s medication ordered from Canada.

Two years later, at Nelson’s request, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the customs department seizure of prescription drugs purchased for personal use from pharmacies outside the U.S.

Later that same year, Nelson, along with Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, filed legislation, which Congress passed and the president signed into law, that allowed Americans crossing the Canadian border to bring back small amounts of prescription drugs.

Shortly after Nelson’s bill was approved, U.S. customs officials announced in Oct. 2006 that it would no longer seize individuals’ prescription drugs purchased from pharmacies outside the U.S.

That same year, Nelson received assurances from the FDA that it, too, would no longer act on small amounts of prescription drugs being imported into the U.S. for individual use, according to the news release.

Despite the agency’s 2006 announcement, some Floridians have reportedly received notices in the past couple of months indicating their prescription drugs are being held at their local post office at the request of the FDA, Nelson’s office reported Wednesday. That occurred around the same time as the raids on the Central Florida storefront operations.

“If there has been a change in policy, I urge the FDA to announce those changes publicly,” Nelson wrote. “Americans, especially our seniors, shouldn’t be left in the dark waiting for needed medication to arrive without clear guidance from the agency.”

Dana Young, Jamie Grant seeks to provide cash for ‘innovative’ Tampa Bay transit

It’s no secret that one of the most significant problems dragging down the Tampa Bay-area economy is a lack of sufficient transportation options, as well as the lack of money to fund potential solutions.

Attempting to provide a partial solution are Tampa-area state legislators Dana Young and Jamie Grant, who publicly discussed their bill that would provide $25 million for the recently revamped Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA) in what is being called “innovative” transportation options.

“We think it makes a lot of sense to see how quickly we can put innovative solutions out on our roads at a cost-efficient way to our taxpayer,” said Grant, who is sponsoring the bill (HB 535) in the House. He hopes that the funding would “leverage the innovation” that is occurring when it comes to developments like Automatic Vehicles (A/V), ride-sharing, ferries and Bus Rapid Transit.

Young says the proposal (SB 1200) would repurpose $60 million annually out of a $240 million existing rail fund and would be labeled the Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority. Of that $60 million, $25 million would go to the Tampa Bay area (and be administered by TBARTA), $25 million would go to Miami-Dade County, and the remaining $10 million would be allocated to projects throughout the state that are ranked by the state Dept. of Transportation. There would have to be local funding to match the state grant, though the specifics of how that will work out is still being considered, Grant said.

One thing officials gathered at the news conference that was held outside the Tampa Convention Center were adamant about is the money would not go toward funding any light-rail projects.

“What we don’t want to be is SunRail,” Grant said, referring to the commuter rail system started up in Orlando three years ago. “What we don’t want to be is a local community having a train that costs us more money to print a ticket than it would to give away the ride for free.”

In fact, the bill takes funding currently going toward SunRail and redirects it to the Tampa Bay and Miami regions.

“I think we have to look at a whole constellation of different ideas in Tampa Bay, and not just locked into the old idea that rail is the only way. Because rail is not the only way,” said James W. Holton, the president of Holton Companies. Holton is Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked choice to head TBARTA.

“There are numerous other ways to do it,” Holton added. “And potentially the combination of a lot of different modalities is where we want to go.”

Created a decade ago under former Gov. Charlie Crist, TBARTA is a regional transportation agency through the seven counties of the Greater Tampa Bay area. But TBARTA always struggled due to a lack of significant funding from the Legislature.

Reconfigured in the 2017 Legislative Session as a smaller agency (though not much smaller; now consisting of five counties — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee, and Hernando) with an emphasis on transit, TBARTA still did not get additional funding.

Legislation sponsored by Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters (HB 2451) to fund the agency with $1 million has been introduced for the 2018 Session.

“I’m thrilled to hear about this legislation,” gushed St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. “As a member of TBARTA, it’s one thing to come up with a plan, but if we don’t have the resources to see that plan implemented, then we’ve all spent a lot of time and energy not really moved the ball at all.”

While additional funding would not go toward light rail, an ongoing project studying transit options for the Tampa Bay region paid for by FDOT released their top five recommendations back in SeptemberThe number one ranked option was a light-rail system from Wesley Chapel to the University of South Florida Tampa campus and on to St. Petersburg.

Young said the proposal would not interfere with other transit studies.

“We’re not taking anything off the table for traditional projects that would be funded in a traditional way through the FDOT five-year plan,” she said. “What we are doing is providing an additional fund that we are going to dedicate to innovative, alternative transportation projects.”

Even if the bill passed the Legislature in the 2018 Session, nobody would see those funds for years.

According to a news release issued after the news conference (but not mentioned during it), “funding for TBARTA and other statewide projects through the authority will not be available until the 2021-2022 fiscal year.”

The bill has already passed through one committee in the House.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

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