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Dana Young craft beer bill clears Senate subcommittee

Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government was the latest successful stop for Sen. Dana Young‘s craft beer bill, bringing small-batch brewers one step closer to self-distribution.

SB 554 allows craft breweries producing under 7,000 kegs a year to distribute kegs (not bottles or cans) to other Florida craft breweries.

That applies as long as breweries don’t have distribution deals already, and has raised concerns among the beer industry that it would subvert their distribution model.

“This bill is designed to help the smallest of the small brewer,” said Young. “This is the bill for the little guy … simply to help the smallest of the small.”

Young noted that once these brewers have distro deals, they are cut off from this law.

Sen. Aaron Bean noted that distributors were “concerned” about a loosening of standards expanding self-distribution: “How do we know that the creeper isn’t coming in?”

Young noted that it took four years to pass “growler” legislation, and that self-distribution was tabled until the growler bill could be passed.

“These are the folks … left out of the three-tier system … there are only forty businesses,” Young said.

Instead of seeing these outfits as threats, Young billed the small-batch brewers as the “farm team.”

Industry mouthpieces had their say.

A representative of the Florida Brewers’ Guild spoke in support of the bill.

A representative of the Beer Industry of Florida, meanwhile, expressed opposition due to potential “regulatory slide,” saying that companies will push to increase the cap past 7,000 kegs, and that there are “lots of craft distributors” in the state.”

And a representative of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association noted “the creep is taking place already,” with this legislation undoing “much of the 2015 legislation.”

After all that, Bean found himself “struggling” with this bill.

“The creeper is alive and real and lives in all kinds of legislation,” Bean said, but he is “with Young today.”

Others on the committee felt similar qualms, willing to support the bill in committee, but with qualms after this stop.

Sen. Darryl Rouson discussed the importance of one brewery in gentrifying Midtown St. Petersburg, before saying that his “vote is not guaranteed” throughout the process.

Young vowed to continue working on the bill, including potentially changing the number of kegs.

The bill emerged favorably from the committee.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, the fourth and final committee stop for this legislation, will hear this bill Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the House version of the legislation has not been heard by a committee yet.

Tom Lee not backing down on claim of questionable spending at Tampa International Airport

Tom Lee insists he never wanted to air any “dirty laundry” about Tampa International Airport when he attempted to introduce an amendment to the Florida Senate’s budget last Wednesday that would have the airport independently audited.

But the Brandon Republican says that there are too many unanswered questions about how the airport is being run for him to stand silent.

“When you’re presented with this information, and you’re a member of the Florida Legislature, and you don’t act on at least an innocuous audit of status of the airport expansion project, that’s a pretty irresponsible disregard of your public duties,” Lee said Sunday.

The Senate rejected Lee’s amendment on a voice vote, but airport officials have stated that they would have no issue with such an audit, if one ultimately took place.

Tampa Republican Dana Young objected to the process by which Lee introduced his amendment, asking him on the floor why he couldn’t have done so when the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation (which Lee chairs) met last December.

Lee told Young and Jack Latvala, who also objected to the late-filed amendmentthat it was only because of recent media reports that he was compelled to do his own due diligence about the airport’s finances, specifically referring to a report from WFLA News Channel 8.

That story, which aired on March 1, reported that phase one of the airport’s $1 billion master plan expansion was running four months behind schedule.

A story that Lee didn’t mention on the Senate floor, but which he confirmed with FloridaPolitics.com, was a crucial source for him was reported approximately a year-and-half ago by WTSP’s Mike Deeson. That story relied on quotes from two Hillsborough County Tea Party activists who questioned the spending at the airport, as well as excerpts of memos written by former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority member Martin Garcia to board members years earlier. Garcia has been a frequent critic of TIA executive director Joe Lopano and his spending plans at the airport ever since Garcia abruptly left the agency after less than a year of service in May 2014.

Lee says that he “stumbled across” Garcia after he had done some initial research on the airport’s finances, and says that the former Aviation Authority board member “put some meat on the bones” of those reports.

Garcia is the head of a Tampa-based investment firm and served as Pam Bondi’s campaign manager for her successful run for Attorney General in 2010. Lee says he knew of Garcia from local GOP circles, but not well before the recent conversation about the airport.

During those discussions, Lee stated that Garcia told him that he was in possession of documents that referred to the extent of which airport management had “gone out of its way to conceal some of the facts and had refused to proceed in a fiscally irresponsible manger with these independent feasibility studies.” But when Lee asked him if he could share that information with him, he said Garcia told him he would not do so “without a subpoena.”

A call to Garcia for comment was not returned.

Garcia also told Lee about his issues with Gigi Rechel, the Aviation Authority’s former attorney who Garcia encouraged the Florida Bar to investigate regarding text messages she had sent to him that could not be recovered.

In February, the Florida Bar ruled that Rechel did not violate the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Lee admits that other various other media reports about other incidents about the airport have inspired his zeal for an audit. One of those incidents was a report about an alleged security breach and questionable business practices by staffers in the IT department. Two of those staffers ultimately resigned, and a business consulting firm found no security breaches.

Lee says that his request for an audit was a “perfunctory” request, and says he remains surprised that it has become such a major story. But while he insists he doesn’t have a “settled opinion” on whether improprieties are happening with the airport’s finances, Lee also injected the arguably inflammatory words “potential public corruption at the airport” early in his discussion of the debate on the Senate floor last week.

He defends those comments, saying it came later in the public debate after Young challenged him.

“The airing of the dirty laundry on the Senate floor is not my doing,” he maintains, saying he did everything he could to avoid that conversation and said that there had already been ten minutes of discussion off the floor of the Senate before he made that comment (You can watch the debate on the Senate floor, beginning at the 5:30:45 marker here).

Lee also says that Young was advised by lobbyists for the Aviation Authority not to challenge him on the floor because they knew that it could result in exposing “dirty laundry.”

(FloridaPolitics.com reached out to Young and the two lobbyists working for the airport to confirm the accuracy of the claim. None immediately responded).

Acknowledging that an internal state audit could be time-consuming, Tampa Airport officials say that they would welcome such a review because they have nothing to hide.

“If an audit turns up any findings, we certainly would adjust practices as necessary,” says airport spokesperson Janet Zink, “but we feel really comfortable with the way the project has been managed.”

Zink says the Aviation Authority provides monthly updates to the Florida Department of Transportation and has their internal auditing team reviewing the project on a regular basis, as well as producing an annual audit with an external auditor.

“There is a lot of monitoring going on, and we’ve been really, really diligent and careful in the way that we’ve managed the project,” she says.

Lee says that he also is concerned that there hasn’t been much public discussion about phases II and III of the ultimately $2.6 billion master plan. However, Zink says that there will be a board workshop at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Aviation Authority’s boardroom on Phase II of the Master Plan (public notice was the first week of April). There will also be an open house April 27 at 6 p.m. in the boardroom for more people to get information about the project.

Over the weekend, FloridaPolitics reached out to two Aviation Authority members for comment; neither Mayor Bob Buckhorn nor Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist chose to respond. Crist initially responded to a request to talk, but later returned a subsequent message.

Sparks fly with Tampa Bay GOP senators over Tom Lee’s call for Tampa International Airport audit

Sparks flew on the floor of the Florida Senate Wednesday between Tampa Bay-area Republicans after Tom Lee stated that “potential public corruption” is taking place at Tampa International Airport.

The Brandon Republican then proposed inserting an amendment to the Senate budget calling for the Auditor General to review spending at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which is currently in the midst of a billion-dollar-plus master plan renovation.

“There have been allegations of gross representation,” Lee told Dana Young of Tampa (as well as the rest of the Senate), saying reports surfaced on local television and in “newspapers.”

Young objected, as did Jack Latvala of Clearwater; both stated that they had no idea what Lee was talking about.

“That’s a very inflammatory thing to say,“ Latvala said. “Can you tell me which channel it was on and maybe a little more about it, because obviously none of us condone corruption, but since you’re the only one in the delegation that has seen it, maybe help us a little bit?”

Senate President Joe Negron then interrupted, saying all legislators should be cautious when talking about the reputation of others, or, in this case, Tampa International Airport.

Lee then backed away slightly, saying that what he has seen was the definition of public corruption, but “perhaps I shouldn’t use that term.”

After seeing a report on WFLA News Channel 8, Lee said he reviewed the financial statements on the airport’s website, as well as pulling the Fitch bond report from last summer.

“I concluded that … rental fees going up from $2.50 a couple of years ago to $5.00 and now $6 a day … maybe our airport is having a problem sinking those bonds,” Lee said. “Based upon that personal analysis … I concluded that we needed a second set of eyes.”

Latvala noted that several lawmakers had just tried to Google “Tampa airport corruption.” They came up empty.

“So maybe you can tell what they said?” he asked.

Lee said he was convinced financials from the airport “weren’t just matching up.”

Young added that she believed in complete transparency; her only concern was the method Lee presented his amendment.

By bringing the issue up without making very much concrete information available, Latvala said: “We’re potentially putting a black mark on the name of that airport.”

Jeff Brandes then piped up. The St. Petersburg Republican took Lee’s side, saying: “We should give great deference to any senator who asks for an audit.”

But after a 20-minute debate, the Senate rejected Lee’s amendment. Nevertheless, Lee’s proposal had one effect — a dramatic spike in interest on the spending habits of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Dana Young, environmentalists still hold hope for fracking ban in 2017

House members now say the possibility of a fracking ban is dead for the 2017 Legislative Session.

Sen. Dana Young thinks it’s premature to administer last rites, at least just yet.

“You never say never, but now we’re saying it looks like that will be next year,” Rep. Mike Miller, an Orlando Republican, told the Naples Daily News about his bill (HB 451) as the first month of Session ended this week.

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.

That’s a bill Young supported a year ago.

And while the Tampa Republican maintained that it was, in fact, an anti-fracking bill, environmental groups and Young’s opponents in the Senate District 18 race hit her hard on the issue in 2016, prompting her to declare that she would introduce a clean proposal banning hydraulic fracking in 2017.

It was then Young sponsored SB 442, which immediately gained support from those same environmental groups who opposed her.

And with more than 80 Florida cities and counties already adopting ordinances or resolutions in support of a ban, momentum looked strong for such a ban coming into Session.

But Miller and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues say that a scientific study is required. Rodrigues has previously said that it would be “foolish” to ban the practice without any scientific evidence (neither Miller or Rodrigues returned calls for comment).

On Friday, Young said that she hadn’t spoken with House leadership; if they are interested in a study, she says they should still go ahead and push the legislation forward.

“What I would say is, move a bill in your chamber that has a study and a ban in it,” Young says, “and then let’s let other members in on that and see where we end up.”

Miller’s bill is co-sponsored by Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz, who said she thought with “Republican muscle” behind the bill this year, it has to pass.

“It’s absolutely incredible and amazing that the citizens of Florida, if you look at the numbers, overwhelmingly support a ban on fracking,” Cruz says. “Yet once again, we have a Legislature that continues to ignore the wills and the wants of the people to serve big business.”

With more than half the session to go, though, some environmental activists are refusing to throw in the towel on the prospect of finally getting a ban in the Sunshine State.

“The House bill that bans fracking may not survive, but the fight is long from over,” says Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters. “Nearly half the Florida Senate – Republicans and Democrats alike – have already cosponsored Senator Dana Young’s good legislation. Now Senator Rob Bradley has the opportunity to teach the House a lesson about how to best protect our water and tourism economy by keeping the ban moving in the Senate.”

With 18 co-sponsors of her bill in the Senate, Young says she’ll have no problem getting the bill passed through the Legislature’s upper chamber. She said then it’s up to the House to respond in kind.

Other environment groups are keeping the heat on as well.

On Friday, the environmental group Food & Water Watch held a press conference in House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s district, where they called on him and Senate President Joe Negron to follow “the will of the people,” says organizer Michelle Allen.

“I think towards the middle of Session, they start to say things like that,” Allen says of Miller’s comments that the bill was dead in the House. “We’re going to keep pushing.”

Food & Water Watch will hold another media event in Key Largo Saturday, calling on to bring Republican Holly Raschein to support the House bill the Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee she chairs.

Unless legislation is changed, Joe Redner says he’ll sue over Legislature’s medical marijuana

Advocates of Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida, have been expressing disdain for HB 1397, moving through the Legislature this Session, sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues.

“Folks, this bill is bad,” wrote Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, the organization that campaigned for the constitutional amendment that passed with more than 71 percent support of Floridians last fall.

“If passed, it would basically cancel out the vote we had last fall, if not make the situation worse,” Pollara added.

Specifically, Pollara and others are denouncing the bill as currently written, primarily because it bans smoking, vaporizing and eating of medical marijuana. It also requires patients recertify with the state every 90 days and compels patients to sign an “informed consent” document warning them about the dangers of marijuana use and reminding them that it is illegal federally.

In the past, Pollara said he knows organizations and individuals who may sue if the ultimate legislative product has those elements.

On Thursday, Tampa adult entrepreneur and gadfly Joe Redner confirmed he would be one of those individuals.

“We have a constitutional amendment, and I loooove the court system,” Redner said Thursday on WMNF-88.5 FM.

In the 1980s and 90s, Redner frequently battled the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County over his adult nightclubs, winning more than a million dollars in damages, according to a 2012 Deadspin report.

“I cannot wait to sue the state Legislature. Please don’t pass a good law!” he joked about the efforts of Rodrigues, who is pushing the main medical marijuana bill in the Florida House.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” Rodrigues recently told a Tampa radio station.

“However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people,” Rodrigues explained. “Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

Accompanying Redner at WMNF were Adam Elend and Jeff Marks, his former “Voice of Freedom” cable access show co-hosts back in the aughts.

Redner said the two had been working in Colorado on marijuana-based businesses after the state legalized pot in 2012. Redner intends to work with them on a medical marijuana-related business in Tampa.

Whether he gets that opportunity is again subject to the whims of the Legislature, which seems bent on reducing the field of companies that can grow and distribute medical pot — keeping it to seven companies statewide. However, that number could grow if the patient population does.

Of all the medical marijuana bills now floating in the Florida Legislature, only a measure from St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes would open competition two more than those seven companies.

Brandes’ proposal would also let cities and counties determine how many retail facilities would be required.

During the interview, Redner admitted that despite proclamations to the contrary, Democrat Bob Buesing asked him to drop out of the four-person Senate District 18 race against Republican Dana Young last fall.

At the time, Buesing said Redner’s presence would not hurt him in his battle against Young. Young defeated Buesing by 7 percent, while the independent Redner took 9 percent.

Recently, Redner said he would not enter another race in 2018 if Buesing was again the Democratic candidate.

Redner also revealed that he had not spoken to his son, Cigar City Brewing head Joey Redner, until just recently, since Joey gave a financial contribution to Young in the Senate race.

“To me, it was my son telling me, he thought she was a better person than I was,” Redner said, adding that he is not sure he will ever get over it.

 

medical marijuana

House Health Quality Subcommittee approves medical marijuana implementing bill

A House panel approved legislation Tuesday that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, despite concerns from some advocates the proposal doesn’t honor the spirit of the amendment.

The House Health Quality Subcommittee voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill (HB 1397) that would implement the 2016 constitutional amendment. Sponsored by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill would, among other things, maintain the current vertically integrated regulatory structure, only allow terminally ill patients to use vaporizers or consume cannabis products, and would make medical marijuana exempt from sales tax.

While the committee strongly supported the proposal, several members expressed reservations about some of the provisions outlined in the bill, including one that essentially calls for a three-month waiting period before a physician can recommend medical marijuana.

Rodrigues defended the inclusion of the language, saying it was part of low-THC medical marijuana bill passed passed in 2014. The state put in the requirement in response to the pill mill crisis in hopes it would shut down any “cash for prescription” operations.

He said he decided to keep the same 90-day waiting period in the implementing bill because the belief is that by making it easier for doctors to register and get certified to order medical marijuana for a qualified patient, more physicians across the state are likely to do so.

In that scenario, Rodrigues said it is likely that patients would be seeing a doctor they already have an established relationship with. But there is also a chance that physicians specializing in medical marijuana will emerge, and in that case Rodrigues said having the waiting period could help ward off bad actors.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with implementing the law.

The health department began the process of creating rules in January, and has until July to put them in place. The Senate Health Policy Committee held a workshop on implementing the constitutional amendment last week, and Sen. Dana Young, the committee chairwoman, said it could be a few weeks before the panel votes on a measure. Five implementing bills have been filed in the Senate.

Opponents to the constitutional amendment lined up in support of Rodrigues’ bill on Tuesday, calling it a way to implement voters will, while balancing the public health and safety concerns.

“We believe this bill includes language that address our concerns and the concerns of our community,” said Amy Ronshausen, the deputy director of Save Our Society from Drugs. “We believe this bill clearly puts the public health and safety before the interests of big marijuana.”

But Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, said the fact that so many one-time opponents have come out in support of Rodrigues’ bill should show it isn’t “representative of the will of the people.”

Pollara, who helped craft the constitutional amendment, commended Rodrigues for his thoughtful approach to the legislation, but said “unfortunately the result was he got the policy wrong.” He pointed to several provisions, including the 90-day waiting period, that he said created onerous barriers to patient access.

Committee members acknowledged the bill was not perfect, but said they appreciated Rodrigues’ willingness to work with those involved to hammer out the details going forward.

“We have a responsibility as lawmakers to make sure we do this right,” said Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

medical marijuana

Senate begins discussion of medical marijuana implementing legislation

Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida.

Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health would be required to register five more treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

But on Wednesday, Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon.

Braynon’s bill (SB 1666), among other things, calls on the state to register 10 additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October 1. It then requires the Department of Health to register four more treatment centers each time the compassionate use registry adds qualified patients after Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.

“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

What Bradley doesn’t support, however, is a proposal to blow up the entire system and start from scratch. All but one — a bill (SB 614) by Sen. Jeff Brandes —  of the five proposals keeps the current regulatory framework in place.

Brandes’ bill gets rid of vertical integration, creating four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. His bill also allows for treatment centers to get a combination of licenses, a departure from current law, which requires treatment centers to grow, process and sell their own product.

“I hear a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach,” said Bradley. “This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”

The workshop marked the Senate’s first steps toward medical marijuana implementation, giving members a chance to questions Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, the committee’s chairwoman and a co-sponsor of Bradley’s bill, about medical marijuana measures that could be coming before the committee.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Sen. Denise Grimsley have also filed bills to implement the 2016 medical marijuana amendment.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

The Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules in January. The state agency has until July to put rules in place, but a recent poll found Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the amendment.

The poll, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, found 44 percent of Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the law. Of those people who voted in favor of the measure, 57 percent said they believe the state is moving too slowly.

No action was taken during Wednesday’s meeting, and Young said a bill will be discussed and voted on at a later date.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Bob Buesing contemplates 2018 rematch versus Dana Young

Bob Buesing may be looking for a rematch.

One of the most bitter races in all of Florida politics last year took place in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democrat Buesing faced Republican state Rep. Dana Young and independent Joe Redner.

Although Democrats believed Young was vulnerable to a serious opponent she ultimately defeated Buesing 48 to 41 percent. Redner finished a distant third with 9.5 percent.

With redistricting, half the state’s 40 Senate seats are up for re-election again next year, and Buesing said Friday he is considering another run against Young in 2018.

“It’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the community,” said the 63-year-old Buesing, a longtime attorney with the law firm of Trenam Kemker who before last year had never run for public office. “I’ll make a very reasoned decision, and once I talk to a lot of people, try to do what’s best for the community and if nobody else on the team is going to do this, and somebody needs to do [it], then I’ll think about it.”

Buesing figures to improve his performance in 2018, especially if Redner is not part of the equation.

The adult entrepreneur and progressive activist ran a serious campaign, spending more than $330,000 of his own money and producing several television ads attacking Young. Although Buesing and Hillsborough Democrats insisted Redner’s support would come equally from both Democrats and Republicans, Buesing unquestionably would prefer he not be a factor in 2018.

“I met with Joe Redner and he looked me in the eye and said he’d be proud to endorse me,” Buesing said. “And said he’s not going to run.”

“If she is her opposition, I will back him,” Redner confirmed in a separate conversation. But Redner questions whether Buesing is the right Democrat to run against Young.

“I don’t think he’s the person for the job,” he said. “I don’t think he’s aggressive enough. But anybody but her. At least his heart is in the right goddamned place.”

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

“It is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign,” Buesing charges. “With spending that kind of money, she only got 48 percent?

“Sounds to me like it’s an opportunity.”

One of the biggest issues in 2016 were attacks made by Buesing, Redner and third-party environmental groups accusing Young of a pro-fracking vote she made during the 2016 Legislative Session.

Throughout the campaign, Young defended her vote by saying it was actually against fracking. That House bill, which was opposed by environmental groups, sought a one-year moratorium on fracking while the state performed a yearlong study on the practice and its effects on drinking water in advance further regulation.

“I do not support fracking in Florida,” she had told the Tampa Bay Times in September 2016. “I will never support fracking in Florida.”

On the campaign trail, Young promised that, if elected, she would propose unambiguous legislation in the Legislature to ban the practice.

This year, she did just that. In January, Young introduced SB 442, which prohibits “advanced well stimulation treatments; clarifying that permits for drilling or operating a well do not authorize the performance of advanced well stimulation treatments,” among other things. The bill is currently in the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. A companion bill has been filed in the House by Orlando Republican Mike Miller and Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz (HB 451).

“She had six years to do that bill,” Buesing said. “I’m glad she did. It’s good for the community that she did, but what about the 99 other issues?

“I view this district as much more moderate and sensible that where she’s been on these issues, so now we get to see what her record looks like.”

When contacted later, Young stayed above the fray.

“I’m focused on doing the job the voters in my district elected me to do,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “I am not focusing on the next election cycle. If I continue to do my job, the rest will sort itself out.”

Republicans lead fight to ban fracking in Florida

Citing unresolved health concerns, Florida lawmakers are weighing the fate of a measure that would ban fracking across the state.

Legislators are pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, which is the drinking water source for 90 percent of Floridians and a major player in the state’s economy, from agriculture to tourism.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking — a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say chemicals used in the process can leak into underground water sources. Because Florida sits atop porous, spongelike sedimentary limestone, environmentalists believe it is at a higher risk of chemical leaks.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

Those opposing the measure argue the fracking ban could cost the state, litigation-wise, because it would result in taking away property rights and the ability to extract oil.

“The bill does nothing to foreclose the traditional oil and gas operations that we currently have here in the state of Florida, and we currently — at least to our knowledge — are not fracking the state,” Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor, said at a news conference.

The legislation comes at a time when the anti-fracking movement has ballooned across the state. According to a Floridians Against Fracking report, 90 communities have introduced measures seeking to ban the practice in one way or another. Young joined the momentum not too long ago. Last year, she helped advance a bill in the House that would have created a pathway to legalizing the practice, but the measure died in the Senate.

Young said her stance changed after meeting with stakeholders and “exhausting hours of research and soul-searching.”

On day one of the 60-day legislative session, Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee members advanced this year’s bill. It now has two more stops before heading to the full Senate. While Senate President Joe Negron has vowed to make the environment one of his priorities, he has not taken a firm stance on the ban.Joe Negron has vowed to make the environment one of his priorities, he has not taken a firm stance on the ban.

A similar bill moving to prohibit fracking has been introduced in the House. While it has received support from Democrats, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Miller, is the only Republican backing it.

“I would hope that Florida is a leader in this regard, and considering we are a diverse state and a swing state, purple through and through, we hope and expect the country will be looking at us,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

State legislators in Maryland and Nevada are also considering a ban on fracking this year. Vermont and New York are currently the only states with an outright ban on the practice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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