Dana Young Archives - Page 5 of 30 - Florida Politics

Dana Young to unveil anti-fracking legislation next week

Tampa Republican state Senator Dana Young will announce her legislation to ban fracking next week, her office said on Friday.

During her successful campaign to win the Senate District 18 seat last fall, Young promised that she would introduce such a ban, after she was accused of actually supporting the controversial practice of extracting natural gas and oil during the 2016 legislative session.

Democrat Bob Buesing, independent candidate Joe Redner and other environmental groups all said her support of a bill sponsored by Naples Republican Garett Richter was an endorsement of fracking, but Young denied that, saying that she supported the the bill because it the best way to halt the practice, though it did not include an outright ban.

Young will not be the first member of the Senate to offer such a bill. Fort Lauderdale Democrat Gary Farmer introduced similar legislation in December.

Young intends to announce the details of her bill Tuesday morning in Tallahassee.

Amendment 2 implementation bill filed in Florida Senate

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate, if passed, would expand the medical marijuana system in the Sunshine State, complying with 2016’s Amendment 2.

However, some critics — inside the Senate and outside as well — have raised concerns, suggesting the bill will not have the smoothest glide path.

Senate Bill 406, filed by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley, would codify Amendment 2, establishing parameters for prescribing physicians, the treatment of minors, mandated yearly examinations for medical marijuana patients, and a requirement of a caregiver registry.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a press release Thursday.

“Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly,” Bradley added.

Sen. Dana Young, chair of the Senate Health Policy committee, is a co-introducer of the legislation. She also worked closely with Bradley on the bill.

“This bill faithfully honors our solemn obligation to the people of Florida to implement Amendment Two,” Young said. “Suffering Floridians will have now real options with no unreasonable delays.” The Health Policy Committee heard testimony from numerous Floridians at a recent committee meeting in Tallahassee.

The bill would amend language in Section 381.986 of Florida statute, changing the title to “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis and marijuana.”

A definition of “medical cannabis” is stricken from the bill, replaced instead with a statement that “marijuana” means what it says in the Florida Constitution.”

“Medical use” of marijuana, in the language of the bill, does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana that was not purchased or acquired from an MMTC registered with the Department of Health.”

Qualifying doctors are allowed to prescribe medical cannabis and “a delivery device,” if they ascertain that a patient has a qualifying condition, and that the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the risks.

To qualify, they will have to take a four hour course from the Florida Medical Association, or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Patients will be allowed a 90 day supply of marijuana, up from 45 in the previous statutory language.

Prescribing cannabis to non-qualified patients will be a misdemeanor of the first degree for prescribing doctors. That same penalty would be imposed on anyone who “fraudulently” claims the kind of debilitating condition that qualifies.

As well, qualified patients who smoke in public, on school grounds, in school buses or other vehicles also will be found guilty of that first degree misdemeanor.

The bill also has provisions for caregivers, who may help administer the cannabis to patients. Caregivers must be over 21 years of age, and must pass a level 2 screening unless related to the caregiver.

Additionally, a patient may have one caregiver at a time, outside of a hospice or nursing home setting.

The department, meanwhile, will register caregivers, physicians, and patients, and have rules set up by July 3, and a system up and running by Oct. 3. By that date, patient and caregiver identification cards will have been issued.

The bill also has provisions for expanding the industry.

Six months after the threshold of 250,000 patients is hit, five more Medical Marijuan Treatment Centers will be brought on line. The same will happen after 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients, and for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

Rules for processing and dispensing cannabis are also established in this bill.

Among them, that dosage info should be labeled with the recommended dose, and that no recreational-style delivery devices, such as bongs and rolling papers and the like, will be made available by the dispensing organization.

All transactions are to be cataloged and recorded, and MMTCs will have 24 hour video recording with archives kept for 45 days in controlled areas, ranging from grow and storage rooms to point of sale locations.

While the Bradley/Young nexus will be formidable, Sen. Jeff Brandes — an advocate of opening up the MMTC market to more providers — doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“I am encouraged that Senator Bradley’s proposal expands access to medical marijuana for more patients, and I am further encouraged that his proposal begins to chip away at the unnecessary regulatory hurdles burdening Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. However, I believe the voters of Florida voiced their overwhelming support for a new approach to the regulation of medical marijuana in this state, not a revision to the existing framework,” Brandes said in a statement Thursday.

“I am continuing to work on what I believe is the most free-market option to address the implementation of Amendment 2. I look forward to releasing my proposal in the coming weeks and working with Senator Bradley as well as my fellow colleagues to implement the will of the Florida voters,” Brandes added.

Ben Pollara of United for Care also had some thoughts on the legislation.

“Senator Bradley’s bill is an encouraging start to the legislative process of implementing the medical marijuana amendment. His approach certainly stands in stark contrast to the proposed rule issued earlier this week by DOH by respecting the basic elements and language of the constitution,” Pollara noted.

“The two most important elements of implementation are respecting the sanctity and primacy of the doctor-patient relationship under the law,” Pollara added, “and diversifying and expanding the marketplace to best serve patient access.”

The caveats were inevitable, of course.

“Bradley’s bill does a mostly excellent job respecting the doctor-patient relationship. However, the bill doesn’t sufficiently expand the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers to serve the estimated patient population, nor does the proposed expansion occur quickly enough to keep up with a patient population that will quickly boom across the state. It also leaves in place the current requirement of vertical integration that stifles innovation, diversity and ultimately patient access,” Pollara added.

Long story short? The future of medical marijuana in Florida is going to be robustly contested at least through this session.

Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

 

Jeff Brandes’ legislation would reform why state suspends driver’s licenses

Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes is once again filing a bill that would prevent Floridians from having their driver’s licenses suspended for a reason unrelated to a driving violation.

The legislation would reduce the number of offenses for which license suspension is prescribed and prohibit suspensions for those who show in court an inability to pay fines and fees. St. Petersburg Democrat Daryl Rouson is co-sponsoring.

“Florida suspends hundreds of thousands of licenses each year, often because a person is saddled with debt for fines that may have nothing to do with driving,” Brandes said in a statement.

“With compounding fees and collections costs, the prospect of reinstating a license may seem insurmountable to some of the poorest in our communities,” he added. “This bill provides people with an opportunity to regain mobility, find employment, and get their lives back on track.”

Brandes introduced a similar bill during last year’s session that didn’t make its way out of the the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he did so after reading reports showing that more than 1.2 million driver’s license suspensions occur annually in Florida.

A study conducted in 2014 said that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suspended 1.3 million driver’s licenses in fiscal year 2012-13, and 167,000 were for non-driving reasons, such as failure to pay fines or court fees or child support.

An August, 2015 report in the Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees.

A similar bill was proposed in the House last year by Rouson and was co-sponsored by Republicans Dana Young from Tampa and Sarasota’s Greg Steube. All three of those members have moved on to the Senate this year, presupposing there could be support for the bill there.

The bill will likely have a negative impact on local tax collectors and clerks of court who retain a portion of revenues from certain driver’s license sanctions when issuing reinstatements, in addition to other fees retained by them associated with license suspensions and revocations. That was an issue with the bill last year.

Christian Ziegler contends the race for Florida GOP chair will be a close contest

Christian Ziegler says the idea of challenging Blaise Ingoglia for leadership of the Republican Party of Florida first came to his mind last May. He was presiding over a gathering of the state’s Republican committeemen and committeewomen at the party’s quarterly meeting in Tampa.

That’s when he said a slight case of pandemonium erupted when he began distributing approximately 150 “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump caps to the 134-member caucus. With a number of those officials previously rooted in camps backing Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (among others), he admits he wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. But he said that the level of excitement that ensued was absent from the rest of the two-day meeting.

“I had so many members after come up to me, and say, ‘Look, the energy that you had, that’s the kind of energy we should have had throughout the quarterly meeting,'” he says, recollecting the moment. He said he heard from Republicans that “we need leaders who are going to accept who our nominee is going to be, and accept who are candidates are and are going to waive the flag as high as you can, and we really need to lead with the energy you generated in that room.”

From there he says that “a ton of members” then began lobbying him directly to challenge Ingoglia, claiming that leadership was lacking at the top of the RPOF (As RPOF Chair, Ingoglia was dedicated to staying neutral until the party had a nominee. After the March 15 primary, Ingoglia met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach County).

But nobody is questioning the success that Ingoglia has had since defeating Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott’s hand-picked choice for chair of the RPOF in 2015. Florida Republicans had a huge night at the polls last November, with the most significant factor being the election of Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points.

Because Scott and the Republicans in the Florida Senate have chosen not to raise money directly for the party’s coffers, however, Ziegler says fundraising remains a major problem going into the 2018 midterm election.

“In 2016 we were fortunate to have the help of the Republican National Committee,” he says. “We had Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, we had the local Donald Trump efforts,  and we had our local campaign parties, and early in that dynamic I think that they all came together to help us win.”

Ziegler contends that staff has been cut significantly with the Republican Party of Florida and fundraising is lower than it’s been in a decade, events that he says are realities that REC members have to consider when choosing who they want to lead the party.

“You can’t argue with success,” counters Ingoglia. “We were able to accomplish historic wins and a level of success that quite frankly has been unprecedented.”

Ingoglia says the state party currently has $3.6 million cash on hand, and $1.1 million of that has already been committed to the 2016-2018 election year. That’s money will go towards field staff, infrastructure, overhead and political operations, historically more money than is traditionally been banked immediately after an election. “I came through on my promises and did what I said I was going to do about running the RPOF like a business, and making sure resources were used in the most efficient way possible to win elections,” he says.

In addition to chairing the state party, Ingoglia has served in the House of Representatives since 2014, representing parts of Hernando County. And he runs two different businesses, prompting Ziegler to say that he’s spread too thin.

“Blaise is a friend,” Ziegler says, ” But I think the party deserves a full-time chairman that’s focused on the party full-time, because we are the most important political state in the entire country.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia says the “proof is in the pudding” when it comes to how successful he’s been as party chair. “Anybody who knows me and follows me on social media knows that I travel all over the state and I devote almost every day and every night to my district, my state and to make this party better,” he says, adding that it would be a “mischaracterization” to say he doesn’t work full-time as RPOF chair.

When it comes to high-end endorsements, Ingoglia has it all over his challenger. Last week, the Spring Hill Republican announced the support of 10 state senators, including Majority Leader Bill Galvano and former House Majority Leader and newly elected Sen. Dana Young.

But Ziegler says that Ingoglia’s list of endorsers is somewhat suspect. He claims some of those backing the incumbent did so before there were any challengers in the race. He also says that some people have publicly said they will endorse Ingoglia but secretly have told Ziegler that they will vote for him.

“When you look at those endorsement lists, I’ve met with the majority of people on that endorsement list over the past month and a half, and I’m making my case privately,” he says.

But two different Republican officials involved in statewide politics who asked not to be quoted have told Florida Politics that they question the numbers that Ziegler is talking about. One Central Florida REC official says he believes the votes for Ziegler “simply aren’t there.”

Ingoglia defeated Dougher 132-90 in January of 2015. This Central Florida official believes the vote won’t be as close next time. Naturally, Ziegler disagrees.

“I think this race is going to be very close and it’s going to come down to a couple of votes either way,” he maintains.

Another North Florida Republican local party official says that Ingoglia has delivered as promised on his campaign pledges from two years ago, and there isn’t any grassroots energy to try to reverse that.

Ziegler is considered to be Scott’s choice for the position, but it’s questionable how influential his word is with Republican state executive committee members, since he has assiduously eschewed helping the party financially for the past two years, instead directing his fundraising efforts into his own Let’s Get to Work political action committee.

Ziegler also announced on Monday that he will be holding a statewide conference call on Thursday evening for state committee executive members to ask him questions about his candidacy.

The election for RPOF chair takes place on January 14 in Orlando.

Blaise Ingoglia touts support from state senators in Florida GOP chair re-election bid

Nearly a dozen state senators are throwing their support behind Blaise Ingoglia’s bid to keep his job as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The Spring Hill Republican announced Wednesday the support of 10 state senators, including former Majority Leader Bill Galvano and former House Majority Leader and newly elected Sen. Dana Young.

“Over this past election cycle, there has been a lot of rhetoric from the Florida Democrat Party, the media and those who wanted the grassroots to fail, by trying to give the appearance that the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Senate have not been unified in our shared goals,” said Ingoglia, the current chairman of the Florida GOP and a state representative “Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that I, as well as the RPOF, have a great working relationship with our Florida Senators and their leadership. Florida Senators have attended all our major events, donated and helped raise money to help us succeed.”

In an email to state executive committee members, Ingoglia said he was committed to working “collaboratively with the Florida Senate, the Florida House, our Congressional delegation, the Governor and the cabinet to advance our shared goals of making Florida the best state in the nation.”

Aside from Galvano and Young, Ingoglia was endorsed by:

— Sen. Kelli Stargel

— Sen. Rob Bradley

— Sen. Frank Artiles

— Sen. Dennis Baxley

— Sen. Travis Hutson

— Sen. Debbie Mayfield

— Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, and

— Sen. Greg Steube.

Ingoglia was elected chairman in 2015, after Republican activists rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman. He previously served as the vice chairman on the state party.

Ingoglia will face Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota Republican committeeman, in the race to serve as the RPOF chair.

Ziegler, 33, announced his candidacy in November.

 

Ben Pollara: Expansion of medical marijuana business is necessary and prudent

At last week’s Senate Health Policy Committee workshop on medical marijuana, much of the conversation centered on the question of whether the passage of Amendment 2 necessitated an expansion of the number of licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana in Florida.

I participated in the workshop at the invitation of Chair Dana Young, and addressed this issue in my opening remarks, arguing that voters approved medical marijuana by a historic, 71 percent margin with the knowledge and expectation that passage of the amendment would mean just such an expansion of the marketplace.

Adjudication of voter intent is tricky business, but consider the context in which this amendment was approved.

Florida passed a limited medical marijuana law in 2014, and expanded it slightly in 2016. That law authorized five marijuana growers across the state (a court later granted a sixth).

Voters were not only aware of the existence of this limited market, but were repeatedly told by the opposition campaign — in 30-second TV ads, direct mail, online ads, emails, OpEd pieces, and news conferences — that a vote for Amendment 2 would mean, “a pot shop on every corner,” or, “more pot shops than Walgreens and CVS’s combined,” among other similarly dire predictions by the opposition.

Voters approved Amendment 2 with the clear expectation that it would result in an expansion of the medical marijuana industry in Florida. But even putting aside the notion of voter intent, the legislature should significantly expand the medical marijuana business in Florida for a variety of reasons practical and philosophical.

The primary reason to do so is at the core of the amendment just approved: to serve the estimated half million or more patients in the state through a competitive free market. The expansion also serves to exert regulatory oversight on the industry and obviate diversion to the black market, and because good public policy and government procurement practices dictate transparency and fairness.

During the workshop, the CEO of Trulieve (one of the five companies licensed under current statute) said they could presently serve over 70,000 medical marijuana patients and, with planned expansion of their operations, nearly 10 times that number. This assertion went unchallenged despite there being only roughly 1,000 total patients under the current law. Are we to believe that the company is currently sitting on 70 times more inventory than the entire consumer base statewide?

Also unchallenged was the consumer data Trulieve cited to offer those numbers.

They based their assertions on a daily dosage per patient of 20 milligrams of cannabis oil and extrapolated from there. This makes Trulieve’s claims more difficult to verify, since marijuana is a plant, not an oil, and we don’t know how much of that plant must be grown to achieve the numbers claimed. Colorado’s Department of Revenue, for example, measures consumption based on the weight of dried plant matter; others on a mean number of plants, harvested and growing, per patient.

So, while we can’t easily determine the veracity of Trulieve’s capacity claims, we are also not living in a vacuum.

We know Florida is large and diverse and that on its face, having six companies serve any sort of statewide market is bad for consumers from a perspective of access, quality, choice, and cost. The only industry that operates in such an oligopolistic manner is power companies, which as utilities must do so, and thus are subject to oversight by the PSC on rate increases, and all aspects of their operations.

If these six businesses can operate in the absence of competition, who ensures patients aren’t being gouged? Will the legislature authorize the Office of Compassionate Use to set prices, establish production quotas and quality controls? Does anyone want or believe that medical marijuana should be administered in Florida in a such a way?

There are no right answers to these questions.

And though the logic behind such a small number of growers may have been an abundance of caution in introducing a legal marijuana market to our state, we must consider the unintended potentiality that the result will be a significant expansion of the already large black market for marijuana. This may seem initially counterintuitive, until you consider the following:

First, the sheer size of these operations (particularly one of the capacity described by Trulieve) makes a diversion of marijuana to the black market easier and more likely.

A pound of marijuana finding its way into the hands of drug dealers is far simpler and less risky if an operation is harvesting hundreds, or thousands, of pounds at a time, versus one harvesting tens of pounds.

The smaller the haystack, the more likely you are to find the needle gone astray.

Second, let us assume that the above scenario doesn’t come to pass, and every ounce of marijuana grown by these six companies is accounted for from seed to sale. Patients are guaranteed to face the burdens of an uncompetitive market: high prices, a dearth of choices, and for some, lack of physical access to retail. If one or all those results come to pass, consumers will flock to the black market.

The economic imperatives of supply and demand clearly dictate this unwanted consequence.

Other states have experienced this predictable phenomenon, with black markets surging as nascent markets grow to accommodate new consumer demands; and then shrink as markets expand and legal products’ pricing falls in closer line with a black market not subject to regulatory compliance and oversight.

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for medical and adult use, for example, has been shown to have dramatically decreased the seizure of marijuana imported by El Chapo‘s Sinaloa cartel, as well as other Mexican cartel trafficking.

Finally, there is a philosophical argument to be made for the administration of good public policy and fair procurement practices.

While technically a “licensing” by the state, these six companies were granted authorization to grow and sell marijuana through a competitive process that, for all intents and purposes, was conducted like a government procurement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran regularly inveighs against the government participating in the business of “picking winners and losers,” but that would be the precise result of the maintenance of the current system.

The five licenses awarded (and the sixth won through litigation, with a seventh and possibly more seemingly likely by courts) were done so by an application and selection process designed to choose well-qualified, capitalized and experienced applicants to serve a law, and a market, of an entirely different, and much smaller, size and scope than that anticipated under Amendment 2.

An apt analogy is if a company bid on and won a contract to supply a county government with widgets, and then the State of Florida decided to “piggyback” that county contract to allow the company to sell them much larger state government those same widgets.

Government contracts should be awarded transparently and based on the needs of the procuring agency, not merely expedience and fealty to a previous process that bears little resemblance to the present realities of the agency.

I am glad this discussion has begun already in Young’s Health Policy Committee, and I look forward to making these points to the legislature, the Department of Health, and the people of Florida.

The implementation of a medical marijuana law is a balancing act — and a delicate one.

Serving the intended beneficiaries of the law — sick and suffering patients — is paramount, but must also be weighed against the establishment of an industry and market with which to serve them. There must be a robust system of laws and regulations that take both into account, as well as considerations of public safety, local control, and competitive, free market principles.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of decision points that must be determined in crafting the medical marijuana system authorized under Amendment 2. Most of them are not binary, but the decision to leave as is, or to expand the marketplace.

If six companies, authorized under a three-year-old statute, are to be the sole suppliers of the statewide market for medical marijuana in Florida, we will all suffer the consequences.

Supply will not be able to meet demand, patients will face a choice of high prices versus buying untested, unregulated product from street dealers, and our government will have violated some of the most basic tenets of transparent procurement in the sunshine — and the will of the people will have been thwarted in the process.

___

Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Pollara honestly has no earthly idea whether John Morgan will run for governor, so please stop asking.

Dana Young, Chris Sprowls named to GOPAC advisory board

State Sen. Dana Young of Tampa and state Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor have been named to GOPAC‘s 2017 Legislative Leaders Advisory Board.

“With Republican dominance at the federal and state levels of government, we must deliver solutions to Americans’ top concerns for economic and personal security,” GOPAC Chairman David Avella said in a statement Monday.

Sprowls

“Our Legislative Leaders Advisory Board members are integral to accomplishing this by sharing their ideas and trading best practices with elected leaders throughout the country,” he said. “Further, our Advisory Board is instrumental in our success at building a healthy roster of prepared leaders ready to lead in their state legislatures and/or run for higher office.”

Young, elected to the Senate this year, was most recently House Republican Leader. She chairs the Senate’s Health Policy committee. Sprowls, in the House since 2014, now chairs its Judiciary committee. Young and Sprowls, both lawyers, will serve a one-year term.

The full list of members, as provided, is below:

State Senate Members
Republican Nominee for Lt. Governor & Speaker Randy McNally (TN)
President Jack Whitver (IA)
President Pro Tempore David Shafer (GA)
President Pro Tempore Bob Peterson (OH)
Majority Leader Greg Reed (AL)
Majority Leader Kimberly Yee (AZ)
Majority Leader Brandt Hershman (IN)
Majority Leader Damon Thayer (KY)
Majority Leader Garrett Mason (ME)
Majority Leader Shane Massey (SC)
Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (WV)
Assistant Majority Leader Jeremy Miller (MN)
Assistant Majority Leader Leah Vukmir (WI)
Minority Whip Steve Hershey (MD)
Finance Committee Chair Catharine Young (NY)
Appropriations Committee Chair Kim David (OK)
Health Care Policy Committee Chair Dana Young (FL)
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Charles Schwertner (TX)
Rules Committee Chair Deidre Henderson (UT)
Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee Chair Bryce Reeves (VA)

State House / Assembly Members
Speaker Tom Leonard (MI)
Speaker Philip Gunn (MS)
Speaker Tim Moore (NC)
Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (OH)
Speaker Charles McCall (OK)
Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August (WI)
Majority Leader Mathew Pitsch (AR)
Majority Whip Jackson Miller (VA)
Assistant Republican Leader Melissa Melendez (CA)
Assistant Majority Whip Wendy McNamara (IN)
Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Sprowls (FL)
Representative Bruce Bannister (SC)

Hillsborough County PTC may be on way out after local delegation approves bill to kill it

The troubled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission received a terminal diagnosis Friday after members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017.

After that, the County Commission would pick up its regulatory duties.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation vote in support of his bill.

The proposal was similar to a previous bill Grant brought to the local delegation in 2013 that sought to put a stake through the heart of the agency, but with a significant difference.

The local bill approved on Friday gives the county and the PTC a full year to contend with the transition.

“It’s not about moving fast. We want to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences,” Grant said. That was in notable contrast to the 2013 version, which would have killed the agency immediately, making it a bridge too far for other legislators to support, even with noted PTC critics like Dana Young

“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” asked Brandon Senator Tom Lee, eliciting the largest round of laughter of the morning.

Although meant for humorous effect, there’s no question that the addition of Uber and Lyft into the county ultimately was the beginning of the end for the PTC, which was already burdened with a toxic reputation well before the emergence of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

At Friday’s meeting, County Commission Chairman Stacy White said, “the county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework.”

“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” White said. “We do stand prepared to create a lean, regulatory framework.”

The PTC has been funded by fees paid by the taxicab and limousine companies, not directly by taxpayers. Plant City Republican Representative Dan Raulerson asked White if the county would continue to fund their regulatory efforts in the same fashion.

“We certainly do have the ability to charge various permitting fees to offset the costs of the regulatory process,” White said.

“It seems like a good move in broadening out transportation options,” added recently elected Commissioner Pat Kemp.  

“I support it, and I realize that there are 66 other counties in the state of Florida that have figured out how to do this,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert. “Let’s get it done.”

Report says 24,000 citizens in Florida have suspended drivers license because of drug offenses

Federal law requires drivers license suspensions for non-payment of child support and drug offenses. However, according to a new report, the majority of states have used a provision in that law that allows them to “opt-out” of these automatic license suspensions while still keeping their highway funding.

Twelve states – including Florida – have not.

A report released this week by the Prison Policy Initiative finds more than 190,000 drivers’ licenses are suspended nationally, including more than 24,000 in Florida alone, because of non-driving drug offenses.

The report finds that low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of these suspension laws, with many of those impacted living in areas with poor public transit. The report specifically mentions Palm Bay, where it claims that 93 percent of jobs are not reasonably accessible via public transit for people living in low-income areas.

In the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, only 16 percent of low-income people can “reasonably access” a job with the area’s public transit, the report says, and only 18 percent of middle-income can.

In order to get back on the road, there are reinstatement costs layered on top of other court fines and fees. In Florida, that amounts to $45.

In the past year, Florida legislators have worked to help out those who have lost their license for a variety of transgressions – but not related to drug offenses.

In the 2016 Legislative Session in Tallahassee, St. Petersburg Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes filed legislation (SB 706) that would remove the suspension of drivers licenses for a series of crimes unrelated to driving – such as graffiti by a minor, truancy and failure to pay court fees. However, it died in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the last day of the session.

In January, Tampa Bay area lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Dana Young hosted a “Driver’s License Reinstatement Day,” where applicants who had were guilty of the following violations could be eligible to get their license reinstated: for not driving with a valid driver’s license, collections, failure to appear and outstanding civil traffic citations.

In neither of those cases could a motorist who had his license suspended because of a drug offense get it reinstated.

In fiscal year 2013, there were 1.3 million driver’s license suspensions in Florida. Just over 1 million were for non-payment of fines or process violations related to driving, according to a report by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Governmental Accountability.

Earlier this year, both Ohio and Massachusetts passed bipartisan legislation repealing their laws. In Ohio, license suspensions for drug offenses are now discretionary rather than mandatory. And in Massachusetts, the Legislature eliminated automatic driver’s license suspensions for all drug offenses with the exception of the trafficking of specified substances. They also repealed the $500 reinstatement fee. Judges now have discretion when adjudicating driving-related drug offenses.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons