Dana Young Archives - Florida Politics

Hillsborough state legislators clash in Tampa Chamber Session review

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.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on marijuana Special Session

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 TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

USF community outraged after last-minute budget language is inserted to keep it from achieving ‘pre-eminent’ status

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.

Senate adds slot machine provision onto House bill

The Senate on Wednesday tacked language onto a professional deregulation bill that could lead to the expansion of certain kinds of slot machines.

The provision came under the guise of trying to move fantasy sports into the non-gambling realm before the end of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers failed to agree on comprehensive gambling legislation this year, ending their efforts Tuesday.

Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, offered an amendment to a House bill under consideration, a “Deregulation of Professions and Occupations” measure (HB 7047). 

Though Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, raised a question as to whether the language was germane to the main bill, the amendment was adopted and the bill passed 36-0, sending it back to the House.

The first part of the amendment addresses fantasy sports, saying “winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants.” It also exempts fantasy sports play from state regulation, which companies like FanDuel and DraftKings favor.

But the second part of the amendment also authorizes certain veterans’ organizations to “conduct instant bingo.”

The language includes an allowance for “electronic tickets in lieu of … instant bingo paper tickets.”

That refers to what are known as “Class II gambling” bingo-style slot machines. 

“Think of it like a scratch-off lottery ticket,” gambling blogger Greg Elder explained. “The tickets are sold and there are a certain number of winning tickets. The same holds true for Class II machines. They are programmed to pay off at certain times.”

Greyhound steroid ban dies in Senate

A bipartisan bill banning the use of steroids on greyhound racing dogs is likely dead for the 2017 Legislative Session.

The last committee of reference for the Senate bill (SB 512) had been Appropriations, which did not hear it Monday at its last meeting. The House version (HB 743) passed earlier this month on an 84-32 vote.

“We had the votes to pass it,” said Senate bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican. The Senate bill cleared two previous committees on 8-2 and 9-2 margins. “Unfortunately, we were not able to get it on the last agenda.”

Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, was not immediately available for comment. He did not mention the bill during a post-meeting interview with reporters Monday.

“It’s very sad,” Young added. “I’ve been working on humane issues like this for seven years.”

The House sponsor, Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, did not immediately respond to a text message.

The measure had been vehemently opposed by racetrack and racing dog associations. There are 19 race-dog tracks remaining in the United States, 12 of them in Florida.

Smith had argued in committee that trainers use steroids on female greyhounds to keep them from going into heat and losing racing days. He called the use of steroids on dogs equivalent to “doping.”

“Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” Smith had said in a news release. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

On and off: Charlotte Jones has replaced Roshanda Jackson as district secretary for Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels.

On: Joshua Winograd is a new legislative assistant for Delray Beach Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg.

Off: Karol Molinares is no longer Slosberg’s legislative assistant.

Off: Alison Roldan is no longer a district secretary for Miami Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio.

Off: Rachel Wise is no longer a district secretary for Jonesville Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons.

Off: Beau Giles is no longer legislative assistant for Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young.

Off and on: Lydia Claire Brooks is no longer a legislative assistant for Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley, who now has three district secretaries: Jessica LambShane Roerk, and Mark Hodges.

Off: Skylar Swanson is no longer district secretary for Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry.

On: Nancy Bernier has become a legislative assistant for Indialantic Republican Rep. Thad Altman.

On and off: GeeDee Kerr replaced Tyler Teresa as Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters‘ district secretary.

On: Jeremy Stein is a new district secretary for Fort Walton Beach Republican Rep. Mel Ponder.

Off: Nicole Pontello is no longer district secretary for palm coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner.

On and off: Robert Moore has replaced Elizabeth Casimir as district secretary for Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams.

Tampa International Airport

House considers contentious Tampa International Airport audit

Budget language filed in the Florida House Saturday morning would OK a controversial state audit of Tampa International Airport.

As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee unexpectedly filed an amendment last week on the Senate floor, which proposes an audit of TIA’s renovation master plan.

Lee’s amendment raised concern with two other Tampa Bay-area Senate Republicans — appropriations chair Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Dana Young of Tampa.

The Senate rejected the amendment.

Pensacola Republican Rep. Clay Ingram, chair of the House transportation budget, offered the language in the House budget.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Ingram’s counterpart in the Senate transportation committee, should respond sometime Saturday, as part of continuing budget negotiations.

Dixon notes that Brandes did seem to agree with Lee that an audit may be needed.

“We should give great deference to any senator who asks for an audit,” Brandes said earlier.

 

Ban on steroids for greyhound racing dogs passes House

A bipartisan bill banning the use of steroids on greyhound racing dogs was approved Thursday by the Florida House of Representatives.

House Bill 743, cosponsored by Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando and Republican state Rep. Alex Miller of Sarasota, was approved in the house by a vote of 84 to 32, despite strong opposition from racetrack and racing dog associations.

The companion measure, Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 512, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Dana Young of Tampa, has passed two committees and now is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The House sponsors had argued that the use of dog steroids was both unfair to competition and harmful to the dogs. As he pushed the bill through committees, Smith had repeatedly called the practice “doping” and charged that reports indicated steroids are routinely given to female dogs to keep them from going into heat.

“I’m incredibly proud of the bi-partisan coalition we built around this common-sense measure to protect greyhound racing dogs in Florida. Anabolic steroids can have harmful long-term side effects, in addition to serving as a performance enhancer on female dogs,” Smith stated in a news release. “As long as greyhound racing continues in Florida, we have a moral obligation to ensure these dogs are treated as fairly and humanely as possible.”

HB 743 is Rep. Smith’s first bill to pass the Florida House since his election in November 2016– a rare victory for a freshman Democrat serving in a Republican dominated legislature.

There are currently 19 racetracks in the United States, 12 of them here in Florida.

With weeks left in Session, small-businesses rally for statewide fracking ban

With just over two weeks left in Florida’s regular Legislative Session, a group of over 100 members of the business community released a statement Wednesday indicating support for a statewide fracking ban.

“If something goes wrong, I know that will have an impact on us,” said Mark Amis, the owner of Little Tommie’s Tiki located at Boca Ciega Bay in Gulfport. “I just don’t think that we should be spending the amount of money we’re going to spend to get those fuels. I don’t think there’s a good tradeoff there.”

“I’m a real estate broker and I want to protect real estate values in the state,” says Darlene Goodfellow with Valrico Realty Results. “I think if we had fracking it would definitely all of our property values negatively. I remember what happened during the BP oil spill, and people move to Florida because they love our natural resources and we need to protect them.”

The letter was produced by the environmental group Food & Water Watch, which has been advocating for a statewide ban on fracking.

“The risks of fracking in Florida outweigh any possible benefits that the industry could bring,” reads a portion of the letter. “We must not put our steadiest, revenue producing industries at terminal risk from exploratory and exploitive fracking. Fossil fuel extraction follows a boom-bust cycle that leaves communities burdened with health problems, damaged infrastructure, and a weaker economy for the long-term. Please listen to the 90 communities across the state that have passed local measures against fracking and pass the statewide ban. We must protect Florida’s environment; our businesses and industries depend upon it.”

After years of failure in getting any type of fracking legislation on the books, momentum appeared strong at the onset of the session this year for a ban on fracking, after Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young unveiled a proposal to ban the practice.

“Our natural environment and our aquifer are worth protecting at all costs,” Young said in a statement released on Wednesday by Food & Water Watch. “That is why I filed SB 442, a bill to ban fracking in Florida. By preventing fracking operations, we can protect Florida’s environment which sustains our population through a clean drinking water supply and provides enjoyment for Floridians and out of state visitors alike.”

However, Young’s bill may be on life support in the wake of comments made earlier this month by Mike Miller, the Orlando Republican carrying a companion bill  (HB 451) that would ban fracking in the House. Miller told the Naples Daily News, “You never say never, but now we’re saying it looks like that will be next year.”

The reason for the impasse is the desire by some House Republicans for a scientific study to determine the potential impacts of fracking. That echoes the 2016 legislation seeking to impose a two-year moratorium on fracking while a Florida-specific study was commissioned to assess the possible implications of the drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground.

“Maryland’s recent passage of a statewide ban showed us what can be done when businesses and communities come together against fracking,” said Brooke Errett, Florida Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Florida has a tourism-dependent economy. If our legislators care about Florida’s economy and constituents, they will ensure that a ban is passed before fracking can damage our state.”

 

 

House Democrats wake up on weed

Perhaps they’ve been reading the rash of vitriolic emails and op-eds from Florida for Care, or the equally brutal reporting and editorializing from the Tampa Bay Times this past weekend.

Maybe it was the litany of emotional public comment at Tuesday’s hearing.

Whatever it was, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee – led by the always entertaining, snarky and whip-smart Jared Moskowitz – suddenly woke up on medical marijuana.

It was a huge turnaround from just a few weeks ago.

When HB 1397 – the House’s medical marijuana implementing legislation, filed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues – had the first hearing a few weeks ago in the Health Quality Subcommittee, it sailed through with nary a word from Democrats on the committee.

Only first year Rep. Amy Mercado voted “nay.”

This was somewhat surprising, given medical marijuana’s political history in Florida. The issue has always enjoyed a significant degree of bipartisan support with voters, while divided along sharply partisan lines in Tallahassee.

Florida’s Democratic Party executive committee twice endorsed Amendment 2, in 2014 and 2016; Republicans in the Legislature and the Cabinet were unanimous in opposition to the same in 2014, and while more muted in 2016, only Sen. Jeff Brandes and then-Rep. Dana Young broke party ranks to endorse medical marijuana last fall.

While 118 of 120 House districts gave Amendment 2 north of 60 percent support in the November elections, Democratic districts were much more likely to offer support – in the mid-to-high 70s.

In opening the debate on HB 1397, Moskowitz acknowledged as much, noting that he’d previously not been particularly engaged in the issue, but received nearly 76 percent support in his district.

In the first Senate hearing on implementation in December, Sen. Darryl Rouson, a longtime opponent of medical marijuana, publicly switched his position, citing the close to 80 percent support in his district (the highest of any Senate district statewide).

Moskowitz then began to pick apart the House bill’s overly restrictive nature, while also bringing up certain areas where he felt the bill could use additional tightening – most notably with
proximity to schools, and limiting the number of retail facilities an operator can open.

Per usual, Moskowitz’s shining moment arrived at the nexus of policy debate and humor, when he compared the requirement in HB 1397 that doctors submit justification of marijuana certifications to the Board of Medicine to Sarah Palin‘s famed Obamacare “death panels” comment in 2009.

Moskowitz wasn’t alone on the committee. Buttressing his snark was Rep. Lori Berman, who peppered tough questions throughout, and the stark, passionate, remarks of Rep. Katie Edwards.

Edwards had co-sponsored – along with now-Congressman Matt Gaetz – the original low-THC cannabis law the legislature passed in 2014 but has remained somewhat mute on the issue since. She attributed her relative silence to the emotional toll the issue can take, the burden of responsibility toward suffering patients and families, who pleaded with her to do more for their relief.

Edwards pledged she would apologize no more for legislation that did not go far enough toward bringing that relief and voted down HB 1397.

In voting down HB 1397, Moskowitz, Berman and Edwards were joined by all their fellow Democrats. The decks of the House being stacked as they are, the measure nevertheless moved forward handily.

Given the current disparity between the implementation proposals of the House and Senate, as well as Rodrigues’ acknowledgment of negotiations already occurring between the chambers, Democrats might necessarily have a degree of input on this legislation, as they have carved out for themselves on gaming.

It should then be noticed that the Democrats’ point person on gaming in the House – Moskowitz – was also carrying their banner on medical marijuana.

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