Charlie Crist Archives - Page 4 of 75 - Florida Politics

House advances bill to change Tampa municipal election dates

Under a new bill passed Wednesday by the House Government Accountability Committee, Tampa would need to change the dates of municipal elections every four years.

Changes to when local municipalities hold election days was one of a series of proposals included in a committee-written bill passed by the House Government Accountability Committee, approved easily by a 22-1 vote.

Historically, residents in the city of Tampa voted in primary and general municipal election held in March. Under the committee bill passed, the election would have to be held only at one of four dates — at the general election in November, after first Monday in November in an odd-numbered year, or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April in odd- or even-numbered years.

The governing body of the municipality must choose which of the dates to conduct its elections. The bill sets a format for runoff elections based on the four dates and allows elected municipal officers to continue to serve until the next municipal election is held in accordance with the bill. Changes to municipal election dates would not take effect until July 1, 2020.

For the past few decades, Tampa has held main municipal elections in early March, with runoffs scheduled three weeks later.

“Our biggest reason for opposing this is a legislative override of the will of the people,” said Casey Cook with the Florida League of Cities. “Every city when it is formed adopts a charter, and that charter is approved by the voters in that area.”

The new bill would also repeal the decade-old change in state election law, which required local or state office holders who qualify for federal office to resign from the office they presently hold if the terms, or any part thereof, will run concurrently and sets the requirements for such resignations.

It would also change the state’s resign-to-run law to include federal office holders (such U.S. senators and representatives) to the current law that mandates that lower office holders must resign if any part of the term will run concurrently with the office that the candidate presently holds.

In 2007, the law was changed by the Republican-led Legislature to allow for the possibility of then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to run as a vice presidential candidate in 2008. However, John McCain ultimately bypassed Crist, going with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Other states do allow federal officeholders to run for president and not resign from their current office. Rand Paul of Kentucky ran for president last year, but was allowed to stay in his Senate seat (where he was also on the ballot and won re-election in 2016).

The bill mandates that in any election the word “incumbent” must appear on the ballot beside the name of a candidate seeking re-election to public office when the office sought is not subject to term limits. Current law only requires a ballot to indicate a candidate is an incumbent when two or more candidates running for the same office in a primary election have the same or similar surnames.

The bill requires all candidates who qualify for office as an NPA candidate in partisan elections to be registered at the time of qualification as NPA.

Also, the measure requires an NPA candidate to attest in writing that he or she is registered as NPA. Currently, the law allows candidates to qualify without party affiliation (NPA) despite being registered with a political party.

In addition, a candidate would be required to pay his or her qualification fee with a certified check as an alternative to paying with a properly executed check.

The bill passed 22-1, with only Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith dissenting.

Smith objected to the fact that the bill did not mention what he called “the broken system of write-in candidates” in Florida elections.

In Florida, party primaries are normally closed; only voters registered with the party can cast ballots to choose its nominees. But state voters amended the Florida Constitution in 1998 to open primary contests if the winner would face no opposition in the general election. The point was to ensure that all voters would have a say if the primary would determine the winner. In 2000, however, the state Elections Division concluded that a single write-in candidate in the general election would be considered enough competition to close a primary with candidates from just one major party. Ever since, write-ins have regularly closed primaries, even though a write-in has never won an office in Florida.

Caldwell said he agreed with Smith, but said that change could only occur via a constitutional amendment, and thus could not be included in his legislation.

The committee also unanimously passed a bill from Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis (HB 521) that allows early voters to be able to turn their ballot into any early election voting site. Davis said that in her research, 31 counties currently allow voters to do that, but it is not uniform in state statute.

If HB 521 passes, it will become state law.

Charlie Crist to host health care telephone town hall meeting Tuesday

Charlie Crist wants to hear from constituents about ways to improve health care in America

The St. Petersburg Democrat is hosting a telephone town hall meeting on the subject Tuesday night.

On Friday afternoon, Crist cheered the news that House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the vote on the American Health Care Act because there wasn’t enough support among Republicans.

Crist called the decision a “win for the American people.”

“It was a bad bill, plain and simple,” Crist said in a statement Friday. “It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled.”

Crist, a former Republican, has been consistent in his rhetoric since going to Washington in January that, when possible, he is willing to work with the Trump administration to improve the lives of Americans. “We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society,” he says.

At this point, nobody is sure if Republicans will attempt to take another crack at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which remains the law of the land. Crist is a supporter of the ACA, but says it needs improvements.

Speaking in the Oval Office Friday, Donald Trump blamed Democrats for unanimously opposing the bill, saying Obamacare would soon “explode.”

“Now the Democrats own Obamacare 100 percent,” he said. They own it. It’s exploding now, and it’s going to be a very bad year. There are going to be explosive premium increases.”

If you want to participate in Crist’s telephone town hall, you need to register by 5 p.m. on Monday, which you can do so by going here.

Crist held a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg earlier this month.

Feds say ‘stay the course’ with Everglades, rejecting Joe Negron’s land buy

Joe Negron’s controversial plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges is not going over well with federal officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Last week, many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O.

At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.”

“It’s not that I’m for or against it, it’s that there’s no federal money for it,” Rubio said to a conservative blogger Wednesday. “We’re going to end up with nothing. And that’s been my argument from the beginning, and that’s my message to him, and he understood it.”

Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative, told USA TODAY he resists Negron’s plan, which is opposed by Florida Sugarcane Farmers, a group of Everglades Agricultural Area landowners refusing to sell approximately 60,000 acres in the scheme.

“Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful,” said Rooney, who prefers the government fund projects with proven success.

As for a proposed task force to consider the feasibility of Negron’s plan, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney also believes that a non-starter, at least right now.

Rooney, whose 19th Congressional District includes much of the Everglades, declined to sign a letter urging Donald Trump to act quickly on Everglades restoration.

What the Naples Republican most disagreed about the bipartisan letter — signed by Reps. Brian Mast, Charlie Crist and others in Florida’s Legislative Delegation — was a call for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make the plan a priority.

Although Rooney is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Everglades Caucus, which works to educate Congress and staff on issues affecting the Everglades, he believes another governmental task force would distract from the current federal plans for wetlands restoration.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney told FloridaPolitics.com. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do,” Rooney added, “to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized.”

Another call to stick with the current federal plan comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which partners with the state of Florida to protect and preserve water resources in the Everglades, central and southern Florida.

Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district, points to successes in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, which includes the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). SEFR represents the world’s largest ecosystem restoration program.

“I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward,” Kirk said in a conference call last week, a declaration clearly countermanding Negron’s proposal and rejects buying more land for a reservoir.

A federal lawmaker who supports Negon’s proposal is Palm City Republican Brian Mast.

“One of the most important things that we can do to save our coastal waters and our coastal estuaries is making sure we find ways to move the water south,” said Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. “That’s why I support SB 10 and it’s why the first action I took when I got to Congress was securing a spot as Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this role, I am pushing to secure the federal support and funding needed to restore our environment and protect the economy.”

Florida Congress members react to GOP health care plan defeat

As U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was gathering his conference and then announcing the failure of the Republican health care plan, many Florida Democrats were swiftly calling for bipartisan work to improve the Affordable Care Act instead.

Republicans who opposed the bill also responded swiftly, calling for a better bill to be crafted, and some even called for some bipartisan work but showed  no interest in using the Democrats’ Affordable Care Act as a starting point.

Many Florida Democrats, recognizing the ACA remains in trouble as is, are acknowledging the concerns, and offering to work across the aisle on it – after criticizing the Republican bill.

“This is a win for the American people,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “It was a bad bill, plain and simple. It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled. We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society. I’m an optimist, this was a teachable moment, and I think the lesson will be learned. Work together, put people above politics.”

Others were taking the same tack.

“I believe every American should have access to quality, affordable health care, which is why I’m pleased House leadership pulled this bill from consideration,” stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. We must reform the Affordable Care Act, but it should be done in a transparent, bipartisan way that lowers costs and strengthens coverage for all.”

“What we must do now is come together to work to improve the Affordable Care Act,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said in a statement. “It took us centuries to get to where we are now with our health care, and we’ve already helped 20 million people get the health care they need. Let’s improve the ACA to see how we can help even more people get the health care they need and deserve.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor also called for some bipartisan work, just not on ObamaCare.

“My main concern has been, and will continue to be, making sure my constituents have access to the best possible health care,” he stated. “Our efforts do not stop here to ensure our nation’s health care system is stronger, more affordable, and truly patient-centered. That is my goal, and I will keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to accomplish it.”

Others, though, suggested bipartisan efforts as unlikely, giving no quarter for the ACA. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, was the first Florida Republican to jump in, showing that the GOP bill’s opponents on the right could be just as critical of it as Democrats, without being less critical of ObamaCare.

“The House health care bill is a flawed piece of legislation produced by a hasty process and it shows: by leaving the core architecture of ObamaCare in place, it does very little to address the core problems of rising health insurance premiums and lack of consumer choice that have harmed so many Americans,” DeSantis declared. “In fact, it very well may have caused insurance premiums to increase 15-20 percent over and above the anticipated ObamaCare increases over the next several years, which is unacceptable.”

“There was no reason to rush this bill through the House to begin with,” DeSantis added. “Congress should take its time and pass a good bill that actually repeals ObamaCare, puts a downward pressure on insurance premiums and expands competition in the marketplace. Failure is not an option.”

Representative U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont had a similar response.

“For six years, I have advocated for repealing the [un]Affordable Care Act and replacing it with real healthcare reform. Obamacare is collapsing across the country – currently 4.7 million people are without an insurer. This failed policy is raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go,” Webster predicted.

“As I have said, I have concerns with the bill that was to come up for a vote today. In particular, it does not provide the dollars needed for the Medicaid-funded nursing home beds that many of our seniors rely on. I have expressed these concerns to House leadership and the administration,” Webster added.

“It is my hope that House and Senate leadership and the administration will work together and bring to the floor the conservative, common-sense healthcare reform that Americans deserve,” Webster concluded.

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz blasted Republicans in the House of Representatives for letting down Trump and the American people.

“We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible — by failing to vote on the repeal of Obamacare. I share the frustration and disappointment of Northwest Floridians who expected and deserved action. We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will,” Gaetz said in a statement.

He promised not to give up, pledging, “In the weeks and months ahead the Republican party must demonstrate the competence to govern. It is possible.

“I plan to redouble my efforts to bring a renewed sense of urgency to this corrupt and disconnected town. In the face of this setback, we need bold, conservative reform more than ever. The fate of our nation is at stake,” Gaetz concluded.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville saw repeal of ObamaCare as the first priority, but without the criticism of Congress.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option. There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City focused on how ObamaCare remains a problem. And he use his Army experience to say, essentially, that the war is not over with the first shot.

“I’ve heard over and over again about the incredible burden that ObamaCare has placed on 18th District families. Because of Obamacare, two of our counties now have only one insurer on the individual exchange, while premiums and deductibles have become beyond unaffordable.

“Our broken healthcare system will not be fixed overnight,” Mast said. As I have said from the beginning, the only way we can fix the failures of ObamaCare is through a fully transparent process that engages voices all across the country. Moving forward, I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in working to improve our nation’s healthcare system to ensure that everyone has the liberty to choose the health care that is best for their life.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City also focused on his desire to replace ObamaCare.

“Obamacare will continue to harm Americans with higher costs, lost coverage, and fewer choices. That’s unacceptable,” Dunn stated. “We were sent here with orders to end this law and replace it with a patient-centered approach that actually lowers the cost of care. Today’s events will not deter or discourage us from honoring the commitment we made to the voters that elected us.”

Some Democrats gave no quarter on the ACA either, praising it while offering harsh criticism of the American Health Care Act plan that Ryan and President Donald Trump had pushed through to a vote, only to see Ryan pull it at the last moment when its death on the floor was inevitable.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston suggested the Republicans should be thinking about reaching out to the Democrats now.

“America’s seniors, women, children and families scored a major victory today. Trumpcare was a horrible bill from the start, and was only made worse the more it was amended. The lack of transparency, hearings and proper vetting was appalling. President Trump obviously didn’t do his homework, and Republicans are clearly at war with themselves. This defeat was earned and well deserved,” Wasserman Schultz began in a statement.

“More importantly, for millions of individual Americans, Trumpcare would have been devastating. It reduced coverage for millions, gutted benefits and massively increased costs, and added what amounted to an “age tax” for older Americans. It was the worst bill for women’s health in a generation. In fact, for the entire health care system, it would have been a nightmare. The solvency of Medicare would have been weakened, Medicaid would have been gutted, and safety-net hospitals would have been further burdened to truly distressing levels. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and nearly every major medical or health advocacy group opposed it, with good reason.,” she added.

“Hopefully,” Wasserman Schultz concluded, “Republicans will now reach out to Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act in a serious, meaningful way. We’re more than ready to participate if it means truly improving our health care system.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said in a written statement that the “voices of the American people were heard.”

“Republicans have been promising to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better for seven years, but the destructive bill that they proposed would force people to pay more for less coverage, erase protections for preexisting conditions, deny veterans additional benefits, force seniors to pay more for care and prescriptions, and shorten the life of Medicare,” Demings said. “I will continue to stand strong for my constituents in my fight to protect the Affordable Care Act.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa called for continued vigilance by Democrats to protect the Affordable Care Act and its coverage.

“Today, my neighbors in Florida and hardworking families across America can breathe a sigh of relief that the Republican TrumpCare bill failed thanks to the outpouring of opposition from citizens, doctors, nurses, hospitals and advocates. They knew it would rip coverage away, raise costs and provide a massive tax break to wealthy special interests,” Castor declared.

“Although we must remain vigilant about future Republican attempts to weaken health care in America, the failure of the Republican bill will allow millions of families to keep their health care and peace of mind. Hopefully we can work together to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act that has dropped the number of uninsured Americans to its lowest in history and ended discrimination against our neighbors with pre-existing conditions,” she continued.

“Republicans tried to ram TrumpCare through the House without a single hearing and then traded consumer protections away with damaging changes to bring the right-wing tea party faction of the U.S. House on board. It collapsed under its own weight and the unmasking of the huge tax breaks to wealthy special interests while raising costs for everyday Americans and weakening Medicare and Medicaid health services,” Castor added.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton declared that “President Trump and Speaker Ryan should be ashamed of themselves for trying to force through a disastrous bill that would have ripped away health coverage from tens of millions of Americans, dramatically increased premiums, and severely cut Medicare and Medicaid. The American people spoke loud and clear; they do not support gutting their own health benefits in order to give massive tax cuts to health insurance companies. House Republicans need to start working with Democrats on real policy solutions that will benefit the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar offered to work with Republicans, but first slammed their plan.

“House Republicans and President Trump tried to takeaway healthcare from millions of Americans and they failed. Today’s defeat of TrumpCare is a victory for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, families, children, women, and every one of the 24 million people who would have had their health coverage stripped from them under the Republican plan.

“When Congress reconvenes next week, Democrats will continue to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. There are many aspects where healthcare in America can be improved. For many of my constituents, the cost of care remains far too high, while for others, access to care remains a challenge. I, like all Democrats, want to make healthcare better for all Americans. If Republicans are willing to join this process in good faith, I would welcome the conversation and work to make improvements that benefit all Americans,” Hastings stated.

“President Trump’s plan failed today because his legislation did not prioritize the American people. It prioritized a select few – the millionaires and billionaires that President Trump has surrounded himself with – and ripped coverage away from millions of hard working and working poor Americans,” Hastings continued. “I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all Americans have access to the healthcare they need. I hope Republicans learn from this experience and begin the process of working Democrats moving forward.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also weighed in.

“Today’s debacle was another example of the so-called political leaders ignoring what is going on in the real lives of every American family. Instead of doing something real to deal with the crushing cost of healthcare, Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress pushed forward a plan that would have totally eliminated healthcare coverage for over 20 million Americans, taxed seniors, and forced working Americans to pay billions more straight out of the pocket,” she stated.

“This bill was much more than a failure of leadership — it was a missed opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to cut premiums, lower prescription drug cost, and improve Obamacare. It was simply political cowardice from the Republicans in Congress, who failed in their most basic responsibility and duty to stand up for the American people,” Graham continued.

“The thousands of Floridians who spoke out against TrumpCare should be proud of their efforts to stop this disastrous legislation. But we must also stand ready to fight back if Donald Trump and Paul Ryan try once again to ram this legislation through Congress,” she concluded.

Francis Rooney says Everglades doesn’t need a task force right now

Florida’s Congressional delegation is united in its position urging President Donald Trump to fully fund Everglades restoration and to do so quickly – but a small schism has opened between Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Francis Rooney over whether there needs to be another task force.

Last week Mast, of Palm City, and and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg wrote to Trump, and got 16 of the other Florida’s 25 House members to co-sign, urging the president to fully and quickly fund Everglades restoration efforts, and included a call that Mast has made earlier, for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make sure it is a priority.

Some members of Florida’s delegation said they didn’t sign because last week was a busy week and they didn’t get the chance; but Rooney, whose Naples-based Congressional District 19 includes a good chunk of the Everglades and related areas, said he declined, because he thinks the last thing the Everglades needs right now is another task force.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney said. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do, to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized,” Rooney added.

A Feb. 3 Rooney letter to Trump garnered all 27 signatures urging the president to fully fund the Everglades. “In your Inaugural Speech, you mdd clear that infrastructure is a priority of Your Administration. We applaud your desire to work on this issue, and we invite you to look at the incredible work being done by the Everglades federal/state partnership,” that letter opened. “We are especially encouraged by your comments at the Collier County Fairgrounds on October 23, 2016, when you said, “A Trump Administration will work alongside you to protect and restore the beautiful Florida Everglades.

“As you prepare your budget for Fiscal Year 2018, we request that you strongly support Everglades restoration projects,” it continued.

Rooney is running the long game, inviting and hosting key congressional leaders on Everglades projects tours. Last weekend he took U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, the California Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, on helicopter, car and airboat tours, showing him what’s being done, what still needs to be done, and what needs funding.

Rooney said he is also lining up similar tours for Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson of Idaho, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Kevin McCarthy of California, who all hold key leadership roles.

 

Charlie Crist, Brian Mast lead 18-member Florida delegation urging Everglades attention from Donald Trump

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast have pulled together 18 of Florida’s 27 members of Congress to co-sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging that he “expedite and energize” Everglades restoration projects.

In addition to Crist of St. Petersburg and Mast of Palm City, the letter is signed by Republicans Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Tom Rooney, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Democrats Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Val Demings, and Kathy Castor.

The letter follows up on a plea Mast made earlier this month on the House of Representatives floor when he called on Trump to create an “Everglades Restoration Infrastructure Taskforce” and secure full funding to accelerate projects to completion.

The letter calls for the same thing.

“We urge you to join our efforts to expedite and energize the federal government’s role in this critical mission,” they wrote. “Specifically, we ask you to convene an ‘Everglades Restoration Infrastructure Taskforce’ to develop an action plan to secure new infrastructure funding and accelerate project completion to meet or beat the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ current Integrated Delivery Schedule timeline.”

The letter’s non-signatories include some significant omissions: Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings, and Republican U.S. Reps. Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart all have significant swathes of Everglades in their districts, but did not sign. Still, much of the Everglades are in Curbelo’s and Ros-Lehtinen’s districts, and they signed.

The letter noted Trump’s plans for a $1 trillion infrastructure program and said the Everglades need just “a fraction” of that.

“The bipartisan Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, authorized by Congress in 2000, is one of the most ambitious ecological restoration projects ever undertaken. Beyond restoring the unique Everglades ecosystem, CERP would improve vital flood protection for neighboring communities, protect the main source of drinking water for 8 million South Floridians, and enhance the Everglades’ substantial $2 trillion economic impact in the state,” the letter states. “Working together, the State of Florida, the Army Corps, and other federal agency partners have made important — but incremental — progress toward meeting the Plan’s Integrated Delivery Schedule road map of completing over 60 proposed projects over a 30-year period.

“More must be done, however, as many projects are still awaiting construction, and delays could threaten to increase project completion costs,” they add.

Few warm greetings from Florida for Donald Trump’s budget

There seems to be something for almost everyone to dislike in the budget proposal President Donald Trump unveiled Thursday morning.

“The plan doesn’t make any sense,” stated Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“I do not support the proposed 28 percent cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department,” stated Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The president’s proposed budget, released early Thursday, drew a handful of responses from Florida’s 27 members of House of Representatives, mostly from Democrats, and most of them went much further than Nelson in their condemnations, citing proposed deep cuts ranging from the arts to the Coast Guard, cancer research to the TSA, or schools to seniors’ programs like Meals on Wheels, jobs training to Everglades.

“The Trump budget is an immoral affront to nearly all of our most important priorities,” declared Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

So far only Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s congressional delegation has spoken out in strong support, though Rubio did point out something he liked in the budget: Trump’s incorporation of Rubio’s ideas to expand school choice with tax credits. But the senator cautioned to not take Trump’s budget too seriously, because, “it is Congress that will actually set the nation’s policy priorities and fund them.

“I will continue to review all the details of this budget proposal for areas of common interest,” he concluded.

Ross, of Lakeland, said the budget was true to Trump’s promises and a snapshot of “a strong conservative vision for the size and role of our government.”

“In addition to a renewed focus on the military, this proposed budget keeps the President’s word to prioritize border security, veterans’ health care, and school choice, as well as reduce burdensome regulations that harm small businesses and economic growth,” Ross continued. “With our national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, we cannot afford to waste any more taxpayer dollars on duplicative and ineffective government programs.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart took a similar tone to Rubio, saying the budget “attempts to focus on our nation’s real fiscal challenges” and presents an opportunity for conversations about national priorities and the national debt.

Then he concluded, “I look forward to Congress exercising its oversight role and ultimately making funding decisions.”

Not many areas of common interest were cited by Florida’s 12 Democrats, including Nelson.

“You’re going to cut some of our most important agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps our air and water clean, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is working to restore the Everglades,” Nelson stated. “I agree that we must do whatever is necessary to keep our country safe, but cutting all of these important programs to pay for things, such as a wall, just doesn’t make any sense.”

In a Facebook post, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called Trump’s proposal an “irresponsible budget which decimates investments in America’s future to fund tax cuts for the rich. He proposed cuts to our Coast Guard (border security?), scientific research, commerce, state department, environment protection, agriculture and our nuclear program among countless others. We will fight to protect our future!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg declared “Budgets are statements of our values as a people. The statement made today by the Trump Administration is that climate change isn’t real, our environment is not important, diplomacy is a waste of time, medical breakthroughs aren’t beneficial, the poor are on their own, and the arts, despite their small price tag, aren’t of significance.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa went into far more detail, arguing from the start that the budget fails to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises to help the middle class and create jobs.

She cited deep or complete cuts in after-school programs, college students’ PELL grants, transportation projects such as Tampa’s Riverwalk, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s efforts to improve marine biology health, and the EPA.

“It is clear that Trump’s budget is not balanced in a way that our community needs and expects.  It shifts even more economic burdens onto the shoulders of working families, guts important services and investments in our economy, attacks vital education programs and hurts Tampa Bay’s sensitive natural resources,” she concluded.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said a budget should reflect society’s values, and that this budget does not reflect those of his district.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for job training, clean energy, medical research, and public education,” Lawson stated. “It is a shortsighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando responded only by retweeting a post from Congressional Black Caucus chair U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who noted that African Americans “have a lot to lose under this administration” and the budget proposal “is proof.”

Wasserman Schultz provided the strongest language in her condemnations.

“Aside from the horrific health care cuts that will push tens of millions of people into higher-cost plans, or no coverage at all, this budget proposal sacrifices too many safety, environmental, labor and health protections, all just to ultimately deliver grotesque tax breaks to the wealthy,” she stated in a release issued by her office. “It weakens or eliminates funding for, among many other things, transportation, clean energy, health research, public education and housing, legal services, national diplomacy, the arts and humanitarian aid. And while Trump’s budget purports to improve our national security, it reportedly starves crucial aspects of it by putting our coasts and airports in dire jeopardy. This budget proposal is a gut punch to America’s families, their needs, and their values.”

Florida Dems in Congress blast GOP health care plan after budget report

As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings.

And, as expected, many of Florida’s delegation wasted no time Monday attacking the “American Health Care Act” as “wrong,” “inhumane,” “alarming,” and “ruthless and cruel.”

No word yet from any of Florida’s 17 Republican members of Congress on how they feel about the Congressional Budget Office legislative analysis of the bill Republicans introduced last week. Its aim is to replace “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act President Barack Obama and Democrats pushed through in 2010.

Democrats loaded up Monday at several of the CBO findings of the bill being dubbed both “RyanCare” for House Speaker Paul Ryan and “TrumpCare,” for President Donald Trump. The CBO reported that 14 million people would drop from being insured in the first year, and that a total of 24 million now covered would be without health insurance in a decade. The CBO also projected rapidly increasing premiums for the first couple of years, that it would cut $880 million from Medicaid, and increase costs for seniors on Medicare. And it reported that cuts to Planned Parenthood would mainly affect low-income women.

Almost all 12 Florida Democrats decried all those findings, through news releases, social media posts and statements on their websites. Among the responses:

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“This legislation is terrible for those in their golden years, our seniors. And most distressing is how this bill treats the poor and the disabled of our society,” wrote U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “The Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

“Biggest non-shocker of the week #Trumpcare knocks 24M people off insurance,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

“This report from the nonpartisan CBO confirms what we already knew to be true, millions of Americans will lose health insurance, hardworking families will be forced to pay higher premiums, and Medicaid recipients will suffer greatly,” declared U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District. “As Republicans recklessly work to push through this plan, the people who need it the most, working families, seniors, and children stand to lose the most. The GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and Republicans know it.”

“This bill does not make good on claims by @SpeakerRyan,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. “It will block millions from coverage in exchange for cutting taxes for the wealthy.”

“Despite numerous promises by Trump that no one would lose health insurance, Republican scheme does just that!” tweeted U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. “Irresponsible @SpeakerRyan!”

“Yanking insurance coverage from 14 million people and leaving them uninsured next year would be ruthless and cruel,” wrote U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

“House Republican leaders are rushing this process with closed-door meetings and midnight committee sessions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District. “We need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health care reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

Lawsuit against Rick Scott and clemency board seeks to restore former felons’ voting rights

A class-action lawsuit filed Monday aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process, considered one of the most onerous in the nation.

The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven former felons. It targets all four members of the Cabinet, and six other state officials, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Department of Corrections head Julie Jones.

Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised — the highest state total in the nation — and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.

There is currently an effort to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot 2018 by the group Floridians for a Fair Democracy that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons.

The lawsuit cites the lack of any rules governing the Executive Clemency Board’s decisions to grant or deny applications. Without any rules, the system and the applicants are prone to arbitrary treatment, violating the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

“Unlike the overwhelming majority of states, Florida simply has no law that tells ex-felons when their voting rights are restored. Instead, they must beg state officials to give them their rights back, and this setup violates our Constitution,” said Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “The right to vote should be automatically restored to ex-felons at a specific point in time — the completion of a sentence — not whenever a politician decides you’ve earned it.”

Giving government officials unfettered discretion, according to the complaint, leads to unequal treatment of people in similar circumstances. The lawsuit quotes Gov. Rick Scott speaking of the process at last month’s Cabinet meeting, when he said, “Clemency is … is — there’s no standard.  We can do whatever we want.

The current voting rights restoration process requires former felons who have completed their full sentences to petition the Executive Clemency Board, which consists of the Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture. Once they have applied, they must wait an indeterminate amount of time to be placed on the Board’s quarterly meeting agenda. The suit says this can take as long as 10 years for some applicants or months for others. The lawsuit also challenges both the lack of any time limits for making decisions on restoration applications — which the plaintiffs contends is another violation of the 1st Amendment — and the 5- and 7-year post-sentence waiting periods Gov. Scott imposed.

“Our most precious right is the right to vote. Ex-felons should not be denied the opportunity to have their rights restored nor to participate in fair and free elections. Yet, the Florida Clemency Board’s obstruction of restoring voting rights runs counter to everything we as Americans stand for.  This important class action lawsuit will fight to restore these citizens’ right to vote,” stated Theodore Leopold, partner with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

About 1.6 million Floridians are disenfranchised because they were convicted of a felony and have not had their voting rights restored. This includes men and women of all different political parties, races, ethnicities, ages, from cities and rural areas, as well as veterans, small business owners and others.

As of March 1, the backlog of applicants for voting rights restoration stood at 10,513, but the suit alleges that the Clemency Board only hears an average of 52 cases per quarter. “At this rate, if no new applications were submitted, it would take the Clemency Board almost 51 years to hear the entire backlog of applicants,” the plaintiffs write.

The suit also says that the number of applications granted has dropped significantly since Scott took office in 2011, with only 2,488 applications having been granted. Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist,  issued revised rules of executive clemency, resulting in 155,133 applications being granted.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer returns to Florida for Charlie Crist fundraiser March 24

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will be back in Florida later this month as special guest at a fundraiser for St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.

Hosted by Kathy and Joe Saunders, JoAnn and John Nestor, Janette and Tom Carey and Watson Haynes, the reception will be Friday, March 24, at the Saunders’ St. Petersburg home at 4916 62nd Ave. S. The $500-a-ticket event begins 5 p.m.

Hoyer represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District and has served as House Majority Leader (2007-11) and House Majority Whip (2003-2007). The last time he was in Central Florida was October in Sanford to stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Crist, the freshman lawmaker representing Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, sits on the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.

RSVPs are available online; for more information, contact Evan Lawlor at Evan@CharlieCrist.com or (202) 741-7215.

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