When the history of the 2025-26 Legislative Sessions is written — undoubtedly Tallahassee Democrat reporter Bill Cottrell will be on his sixth retirement by then — what transpired July 25, 2017, may play a definitive role. Read more
Republican state Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Dana Young of Tampa on Friday endorsed former state Rep. Ed Hooper in his quest to replace Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, who is term-limited in 2018.
Brandes called Hooper “a true advocate for his community … thoughtful, collaborative, and trusted.”
“These are some of the best qualities in a Senator and I’m happy to endorse him in his campaign for the State Senate,” he said. “He will help make Florida a more prosperous state for generations to come.”
Added Young, who left the House for the Senate last year: “As a former colleague of Ed’s, I can tell you from firsthand experience that he is a true leader and highly respected. I know he will make an excellent Senator and represent the people of Pinellas and Pasco counties with dignity and honor.”
Hooper said he was “honored” by the endorsements. Senate District 16 includes northern Pinellas and part of southwestern Pasco.
“They’ve set an example of how to work together to seek common sense and innovative solutions to Florida’s challenges,” he said. “Their continued leadership will make Florida a better place to live, work, visit, and retire.”
Hooper, a retired fire Lieutenant, served on the Clearwater City Council before spending eight years in the Florida House. He was term-limited in 2014. His only declared opposition is Democrat Bernie Fensterwald.
Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved the Legislature’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act,” which gives the state authority to regulate “personal delivery devices (PDDs) and unmanned aircraft systems.”
A “personal delivery device” is a machine for use on sidewalks, usually not traveling more than 10 miles per hour.
London-based Starship Technologies, for instance, makes a six-wheeled “self-driving delivery robot” that was starting to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of this year.
“The bill authorizes, subject to local government regulation, the operation of PDDs on sidewalks, but prohibits them on certain state-owned trails,” a staff analysis explained.
It also “prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (or drones),” but they can “enact ordinances regarding illegal acts arising from the use of unmanned aircraft systems if the ordinances are not specific to unmanned aircraft systems.”
Limiting the operation of a drone means applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The bill was backed by Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville in the House.
“This bill adds important protections to Florida’s critical infrastructure and provides certainty and clarity to law enforcement,” Young said in a statement. “I’m delighted that Gov. Scott signed it into law.”
As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.
Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.
With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.
“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.
On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”
“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”
The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.
Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.
The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.
The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.
The event, hosted by House Majority 2016 and featuring special guest Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is Thursday, June 29, beginning 5 p.m. at the historic Tampa Theater, 711 N. Franklin St.
Included on the extensive list of local GOP leaders making the host committee are House Speaker Richard Corcoran from Land O’Lakes, and Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor. Also on the committee are Tampa-area state Sens. Dana Young and Tom Lee; state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia; former House Speakers Will Weatherford and Dean Cannon; former state Rep. Seth McKeel; former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist, Stacy White and Sandy Murman; and Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, among others.
Harrison first served District 7 on the Tampa City Council in District 7 in 1999, the first councilman elected to represent New Tampa since its incorporation.
Harrison next served HD 60 in the Florida House from 2010 until Democrat Mark Danish defeated him in 2012. In 2014, he won a rematch against Danish for the redrawn HD 63. In 2016, Harrison won re-election against Lisa Montelione, who resigned a seat on the Tampa City Council for a House run.
Questions or RSVP requests can be directed to Ashley at (813) 774-0193.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens announced Thursday the creation of a new campaign to help get more Democrats elected to the Florida Senate in 2018 and beyond.
“Flip Florida Blue” will set out initially to invest resources to win the special election in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 40 seat formerly held by Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned from the seat in disgrace in April after admitting to using racist and sexist language to two black Democratic legislators. That primary election takes place next month (July 25), with the general scheduled Sept. 26.
The next goal is ambitious: Clemens says there are 6-7 targeted Senate Districts in the 2018 cycle they hope to flip, adding to the current roster of 15 Democrats in the 40-member body. One of them will undoubtedly be SD 18, which could see a rematch between GOP incumbent Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing. Last fall, Young won the race by seven points, with independent Joe Redner getting nine percent. Redner said that if Buesing mounts a campaign in 2018, he will not run for the seat.
“Senate Victory and my predecessors have, over the last several years, made steady progress, going from 12 to 15 Democratic Senators,” Clemens said. “Now, however, I think there is a great sense that the political and media landscape has evolved, and we need to hit reset on how we approach our campaigns and their communications,” said Clemens.
The ever-irreverent Clemens, who plays in a U2 cover band when not in the Legislature, expressed in the news release the top priority of the campaign is to “help keep Democrats from getting their asses kicked at the polls.”
“There are millions of people in Florida who think both parties suck, and we have to be clearer as to why we suck significantly less, and in fact, why voting for Democrats is a choice people can actually feel good about,” Clemens said. “Public education, clean water, justice, equality, and the ability to climb that ladder to a great job are the hallmarks of a Democratic government. Compelling communications, unfortunately, have not been the hallmark of every Senate Democratic campaign. We’re working to change that.”
The announcement comes seven months after Senate Democrats announced the creation of an “Affiliated Party Committee” that would operate outside of Senate Victory, the official committee housed within the Florida Democratic Party charged with electing Democrats to the Legislature’s upper chamber. That move was made in anticipation that Coconut Grove real estate developer and Democratic Party fundraiser Stephen Bittel would take over as chair of the FDP, which happened in January.
Although Clemens talks about “steady progress,” he admitted in January that the total net gain of only three seats was a disappointment following the redistricting of every Senate district before the 2016 election.
“Yeah, you can’t sugarcoat it. It was disappointing,” Clemens said of the results of last November’s election. “And there were seats we really felt were going our way and four weeks out; all the polls started to slip from us.”
In addition to winning SD 40 and up to seven seats next year, Flip Florida Blue’s third priority is to turn the Senate blue and take over the governor’s mansion in 2018.
Florida Republicans took over the Legislature 20 years ago, controlling the governor’s mansion for the past 19 years.
With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.
Off: Hope Holt, formerly calendar coordinator in the House Clerk’s Office, is now serving as a program specialist for the Office of Professional Development.
Off: Tina White stepped down as policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Off: Dane Bennett is no longer a legislative assistant for Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Off: Theresa Frederick and Isabela Dorneles are no longer legislative assistants for North Miami Beach Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell. Frederick has retired.
Off: Whitney Legrand is no longer legislative assistant for Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano.
On: Adriana Mitchell became a secretary for Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry.
On: Matthew Floyd became a legislative assistant for Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young.
Off: Lydia Brooks is no longer legislative assistant for Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley.
Off and on: Karol Molinares is replacing Daniela Fernandez as legislative assistant for Miami-Dade Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez
Off: Kathi Brown is no longer district secretary for Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd.
On: Robin Steele is now district secretary for Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons.
Off: Zachary Allen is no longer district secretary for Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds.
Off and on: Robert Bogle has replaced Gabriel Sheffield as a legislative assistant for Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose.
Off: Harrett Mann is no longer district secretary for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer.
Off: Dana Coleman is no longer district secretary for The Villages Republican Rep. Don Hahnfeldt.
Off and on: Among the changes in Beverly Hills Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo’s office: Christopher Melvin is no longer a legislative assistant, Adele Scordato has moved from district secretary to legislative assistant, and Dorothy Dilworth has now become district secretary.
Off: Kelly McClure is no longer legislative assistant for Orlando Democratic Rep. Amy Mercado.
Off: Jeremy Stein is no longer district secretary for Destin Republican Rep. Mel Ponder.
Off and on: Alexis Howard replaced Renay Kinloch as district secretary for Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Sharon Pritchett.
Off and on: Among the changes in Boca Raton on Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg’s office, Ed Sol has replaced Paula Rigoli as district secretary and Joshua Winograd has stepped down as a legislative assistant.
Off: Priscilla Johnson is no longer district secretary for Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Barbara Watson.
As House Minority Leader Janet Cruz notes, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation works “as a united front” when representing their community in Tallahassee.
That’s true on issues like the eleventh-hour move by the Florida Senate to push the University of South Florida out of pre-eminent status under a conformity education budget bill that passed in the waning hours of the legislative session two weeks ago.
Over that matter, members acted in unison, denouncing what they said was a fundamental unfairness, leading to USF being denied up to $16 million.
But that unity is not so apparent on several other issues, like the “Schools of Hope” education bill (SB 7069) and the lack of funding for Florida Forever, the conservation land-buying program that 2014’s Amendment 1 was meant to address.
It was those subjects where Democrats and Republicans differed sharply Friday in a post-session review luncheon sponsored by the Greater Tampa of Chamber of Commerce at Maestro’s restaurant in Tampa.
Sen. Darryl Rouson spoke wistfully about the fact that the education bill would have only taken one more vote in the Senate to have been defeated.
“It’s almost an insult to call it a schools of hope bill because every school is a school of hope,” the St. Petersburg Democrat declared, adding that unlike in the House, the Senate wasn’t willing to give tens of millions of dollars to high-performing out of state charter school before offering those funds to existing public schools.
Republican Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa countered that the $140 million slated to go to charter schools is a better purpose of taxpayer funds than giving it to public institutions graded as “F” schools for three consecutive years.
Grant said House Republicans deserved praise because most of these charters aren’t in their home districts.
Republican Sen. Dana Young of Tampa said the “disagreement and negative feelings” expressed on the panel stemmed more from the process — adding the bill to a conforming bill completed in the last few hours of Session — than the policy itself.
Rep. Wengay Newton argued that the idea of cutting funds to struggling public schools is wrong. The St. Petersburg Democrat blasted the fact that Florida is ranked 42nd in the nation for education funding per student and 49th for the number of instructors per 100 students in public schools.
(Apparently, the public favors the Democrats in this argument. The Miami Herald’s Kristen Clark reported that by a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott via email and phone calls that they want him to veto the bill).
Sometimes the arguments transcended party lines, such as the legislation to completely defund VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism agency.
“I’m not willing to put my name behind anything that is adverting to Syrians that could be invested in education or we could be talking about the rising costs of health care,” said Grant, referring to recent reports of wasted taxpayer dollars spent by the state agency.
But he received strong pushback from both Democrats and Republican on the panel.
“There were problems with transparency, there were problems with contracts, those should be addressed on an individual basis,” agreed Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat. “But for a state that depends on tourism as much as Florida, I am very leery of destroying and eviscerating the entity that is responsible for that tourism.”
“Every product needs marketing to get it out there, and we are going to have our lunch eaten by Utah and Michigan and Austin and all of these other places that advertise if we don’t advertise … particularly in Europe, but not Syria,” Young added.
State Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon joined Grant to defend the Legislature over criticism from environmentalists that they failed to adhere to 2014’s Amendment 1 when it comes to allocating money to properly fund Forever Florida, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.
“I think it would be deeply disingenuous to say that a constitutional amendment us to purchase land,” Grant said. He insisted the amendment’s language calls for the Legislature to act as “stewards of that land,” which Grant said wasn’t the same thing as purchasing said land.
“I think it would be equally disingenuous to only say we’re going to manage it and not acquire (land),” Shaw responded, quoting the exact language of the amendment.
Lee alienated the Chamber and other parts of the Tampa Bay area establishment with his stance on several issues during the past session. Though he wasn’t asked (and didn’t volunteer) to discuss his controversial request for an audit of Tampa International Airport, he did speak freely about why he and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes inserted an amendment on a bill to reconfigure TBARTA.
Lee said he spoke with many officials involved with efforts to increase transit in the Tampa Bay area, and said what he heard back was by no means monolithic. “The truth is, there really wasn’t us among you all about what to do about TBARTA,” he said.
And Lee compared a new TBARTA with the extremely unpopular Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, the troubled county agency in that lawmakers voted to kill at the end of the year.
“They become their own runaway train, spending millions of dollars at your expense, and these feasibility studies sometimes end up being twice the cost for capturing the ridership,” Lee said. “Nobody’s scrubbing these things except the people whose real estate projects stand to benefit from them.”
Regarding USF, Young put into perspective the disappointment of the school missing benchmarks to quality for pre-eminent status as well as the millions that would have gone into receiving that designation.
The university received $42 million in new recurring operational funds, Young said, as well as $12 million for the Morsani Medical School to be built in downtown Tampa and $3 million for dormitories.
“The future of USF is bright,” she said.
Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email.
Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.
An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.
A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”
Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”
“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.
Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on Twitter. Morgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.
Officials associated with the University of South Florida this weekend are fervently seeking to change the language in an education conforming bill that will keep the university from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status next year.
A loss of the pre-eminent status for USF could result in losing much as $15 million in state funding.
“The amount of people who are upset about this as of this morning is like anything else,” said Mike Griffin, president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and a USF alumnus.
In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, granting an extra $5 million to $15 million in state funding to universities that could meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks used by the state to measure success. Measures include the ability to retain freshmen enrolled beyond their first year, the timely graduation of undergraduates, and the financial growth of the institution.
Since its inception, only the University of Florida and Florida State University have achieved such “pre-eminence,” but the state Board of Governors produced data last week that showed that USF was well on its way to breaking into that exclusive club, having achieved 11 of the 12 benchmarks.
Heading into this year, the university reached 10 of those 12 benchmarks, but its path to pre-eminence was paved by legislation passed by the Florida Senate that changed one of those benchmarks that a university had to achieve to a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent or higher, a mark that USF exceeded.
However, in the conforming bill written after the budget was finalized Friday, that benchmark was amended to what it had previously been — a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better for full-time, first-time, in-college students. That statistic exceeds USF’s graduation percentage rate for the last six years, now standing at 67 percent. USF’s Annual Work Plan says that the school’s 4-year graduation rate is unlikely to meet the new 70 percent threshold until at least 2020.
Griffin, currently chair of the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, is calling on local leaders and lawmakers to petition Senate President Joe Negron to repeal the new conforming language.
“The mistake by some at the University of South Florida was assuming that the Legislature would adopt the 50 percent graduate rate to be immediately applied retroactively,” Negron told the Tampa Bay Times. “As everyone knows, legislation is changed throughout Session.”
“This is unfortunate for USF, and for our entire region,” Griffin said.
Former House Speaker Will Weatherford commented on Twitter: “It was unfair to move the pre-eminence goal post on @USouthFlorida at the last moment …”
Last June, the Florida Board of Governors formally designated USF as the state’s first “emerging pre-eminent state research university,” resulting in $5 million in targeted research investments, which the University has spent on enhancing heart health and medical engineering,
“It is important that our state leaders fully understand the effects of arbitrary changes to our Preeminence goals and metrics,” said USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb in a statement issued out by the University. “Shifting the goal posts at the endgame impacts the resources and facilities of USF’s students, our ability to attract the best and brightest to our university and city, the success of the Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in downtown Tampa, and the economic growth and competitiveness of our region.”
The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the final budget on Monday in Tallahassee.
USF lobbyist Mark Walsh said he has been in contact with the Tampa Bay delegation to alert it about the financial implication of what the budget language does.
Walsh said the university had issued a “call to action” Saturday to students, faculty and alumni to contact the delegation for help.
“At the last minute, the Legislature is planning to make a change, taking away millions of $$ of funding for USF meeting pre-eminent university metrics,” the alert said. “This late change excludes SOLELY USF from qualifying for pre-eminence AFTER the Board of Governors had certified (that) USF met the necessary criteria that had been in the proposed (bill) language since January. It will also badly hurt our downtown Tampa med school and heart institute and other USF Colleges.”
Tampa Republican state Sen. Dana Young called the change in the conforming bill, “very concerning,” and said Saturday afternoon she has a been working “to get to the bottom of it.”
This is a developing story …
Peter Schorsch contributed to this story.