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Keith Miller: Florida’s small businesses need protections in state law

Keith Miller

Two Orlando residents are out $8 million after a large, out-of-state corporation forced their local businesses to shut down.

The local entrepreneurs were originally enticed by the corporation to open 10 Mexican-themed fast food restaurants in the Orlando area. The California-based corporation used unrealistic sales projections and profit margins to convince the group to sign on to the deal.

However, after only three years in business, they were forced to walk away and left with no state legal protections to recover their $8 million in investments and their businesses were sold for just 35 percent of their original purchase amount. Additionally, the investors secured loans from the Small Business Association (SBA), a federal program that uses taxpayer dollars to assist and support small business growth.

Since it was a California-based corporation and Florida does not currently have laws on the books to protect our own small-business owners and their investments, these Floridians were bound by California law which favored the corporation.

Florida cannot continue to lose our small businesses, their investments, or risk taxpayer dollars due to unfair corporate franchisor practices.

It is an all-too-common story where local business owners are at the mercy of the more powerful corporations and are taken advantage of. In this instance, the California-based corporation was issuing directives to the Florida owners based on California demographics and sales patterns which simply did not fit the Florida locations. When these locations were unable to comply with the unreasonable demands, and sales goals, they were left with no choice but to walk away from their businesses, leaving behind millions of dollars in property, equipment and supplies.

Owning and operating a successful business is challenging enough without the constant stress and fear that everything you’ve worked for can be taken away in the blink of an eye. 23 other states have already enacted laws to provide greater protection for small business franchise owners and Florida should do the same.

Similarly situated businesses in Florida, such as automobile dealers, agricultural equipment dealers and beer distributors are protected under Florida law.

In Florida, there are more than 40,000 small businesses owned and operated by franchisees who provide over 404,000 jobs and generate $35 billion in economic activity annually.

State Sen. Jack Latvala and State Rep. Jason Brodeur have introduced “The Protect Florida Small Business Act,” legislation that will provide protections to Florida’s small-business owners. Florida citizens can log on to www.ProtectFLBusiness.com to support passage of this important legislation.

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Keith Miller is the Chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations (CFA), an organization founded in 2007 to provide a forum for franchisees to share best practices, knowledge, resources and training. Mr. Miller and the CFA are supporting this legislation and giving a voice to the individual franchisee owners who are at risk of speaking out themselves.

 

Poll shows Floridians undecided on 2018 gubernatorial options

If the results of a new poll are any indication, Floridians just aren’t that interested the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found 36 percent of Democratic voters and 63 percent of Republicans said they were uncertain who they would vote for in their respective primaries. The survey also showed many voters were still “uncertain” in several hypothetical head-to-head general election showdowns.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cell phone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

The poll found 24 percent of Democrats said they would pick former Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary; while 23 percent said they would choose Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Orlando attorney John Morgan received 9 percent support, followed by former Rep. Gwen Graham with 8 percent support, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine with 1 percent.

On the Republican side, 21 percent of GOP voters said they would pick Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, while 5 percent support went to former Rep. David Jolly and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Sen. Jack Latvala received 4 percent, followed by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker with 2 percent.

In a head-to-head match-up between Putnam and Gillum, Putnam would receive 32 percent of the vote to Gillum’s 31 percent. The poll found 37 percent were uncertain.

Morgan would best Putnam, 34 percent to 33 percent; however, 32 percent of voters said they were uncertain. Graham would defeat Putnam 34 percent to 32 percent; but in that instance, 35 percent said they were uncertain.

Gillum has a clear lead over Corcoran, 33 percent to 26 percent. But again, the poll found a significant number of voters — in this case 42 percent — said they were uncertain who they would vote for.

In a match-up between Morgan and Corcoran, Morgan would receive 39 percent of the vote to the Land O’Lakes Republican’s 27 percent. The poll found 34 percent were undecided. Graham, the poll found, would best Corcoran 34 percent to 29 percent; but 38 percent were undecided.

 

INFLUENCE Magazine talks with Jack Latvala on life, political success and ‘what he’s learned’

Recounting an impressive list of achievements spanning four decades, veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala seems to have done it all: an effective Florida senator and political consultant, a self-described “environmentally-conscious” Republican and the proud father to state Rep. Chris Latvala.

The Clearwater senator, chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, recently sat down with FloridaPolitics.com’s Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster to reflect on his life, successes and years in Tallahassee.

“Most senators are sincere,” the 65-year-old Latvala said. “I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.”

Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1951, Latvala talked about his start in politics, working for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975, a role he continued for five years.

“The last couple of years, I was the ex­ecutive director of the legislative campaign committee,” he said. “After Jack Eckerd ran for gov­ernor, he agreed to stay active in the party, and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County.”

It was there Latvala started Largo-based GCI Printing Services, his government affairs and direct mail business, which the senator said grew into one of the largest GOP direct mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, D.C.

“I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Repub­lican Party in 28 states at our zenith,” Latvala said, including all of George H.W. Bush’s direct mail in the South. After Bush’s election in 1988, Latvala said they split he became one of the three vendors nationwide for direct mail services.

That experience helped Latvala hone his talents for his own political ambition.

In 1993, after local state Rep. Sandra Mortham chose to run for Secretary of State, Latvala made the decision to run for the Florida House.

“I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94,” he said, “the incumbent Republi­can state Senator in my district resigned to run statewide for Lieutenant Governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a lot different (then),” Latvala said “There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida Senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something.”

But with term limits and more House members winning Senate seats, Latvala believes there’s a lot more “follow the leader.”

“It was the worst when I came back in 2011,” Latvala said. “Then after I stood up to them and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that.”

For Latvala, the most difficult years in the Senate were 2011—12, under President Mike Haridopolos. The last two years with Senate Pres­ident Andy Gardiner weren’t that great either, he said.

“The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion,” Latvala said. “Now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So, if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way.”

Latvala’s proudest accomplishments include the Florida Forever bill, which extended the state’s land-buying program, as well as measures creating the state’s chief financial officer office after constitutional amendments. He also played a key role in implementing the net ban law in 1994, taking another three years “to close all the loopholes,” as well as passing series of criminal justice bills that became a crucial part of Florida’s now 45-year low crime rate.

When Latvala returned to the Senate, he said he came back an “environmentally conscious Republican,” something a little bit harder to find than back in the 1990s.

“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist,” he said “I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.

“A lot of Democrats and independents care about that.”

Read Latvala’s entire interview, now available in the spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

 

Lawmakers looking to give boost to Florida’s local franchise business owners

For the Republican-dominated state Legislature, helping the business community is a high priority.

So, it’s not surprising that this Session, new protections for small-business owners are capturing legislators’ attention.

Tomorrow, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries will hear SB 750, known as the Protect Florida Small Business Act. This bill, sponsored by powerful appropriations chair Sen. Jack Latvala, outlines several measures directed toward some of the questionable business practices of out-of-state franchisors in their relationships with Florida’s local franchise business owners.

The critical need of this legislation stems from the many stories that have emerged of abuses in the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Under current law, corporations have the power to terminate franchisees without any justification. This leads to incidents like in 2010, when a Vietnam veteran living in Miami invested $500,000 to open a franchise, only to have his store terminated after only six years. He subsequently opened an independent retail business, but the franchisor corporation moved to enforce an onerous noncompetition clause to prevent him from going out on his own.

Further corporate abuses include preventing the transfer of a business, even in the event of an owner’s death, refusing to renew a franchise agreement, and restricting resale with the intention of a return on investment. Examples of these abuses are found throughout the state. A Tampa couple was forced to shut down their after-school tutoring franchise—and lose $75,000—before they could sell their business to a qualified buyer. An Orlando woman recently had her pre-school franchise terminated without cause after reporting being the victim of domestic violence.

The protections proposed by the Protect Florida Small Business Act seek to provide a stable and fair foundation for local franchise owners to conduct business with corporate franchisors. This would give the franchise owners more security and encourage them to continue to invest in the Florida economy. Interestingly enough, these protections are not new to Florida. Several industries in the state, such as agricultural equipment and automobile dealers, are already offered these protections – this bill would simply extend them to the franchise business industry.

The public has spoken – and Floridians are overwhelmingly in support of taking care of these small-business owners who invest in their communities. A recent poll conducted by Mason-Dixon reported that 71 percent of Floridians think that the state should provide protections to franchise owners. This is an impressive statistic, but also easy to believe when you consider the more than 40,000 franchised businesses in Florida that employ over 400,000 Floridians.

This bill is a product of these stories of young upstarts, family business owners, and veterans losing their livelihoods due to the unchecked power of corporations. With the support of the majority of Floridians, Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur, who are sponsors, hope to extend protections to these local franchise owners and promote their continued growth and investment in the state.

Franchise group tweets tone-deaf opposition to ‘Florida Small Business Act’

A pro tip for anyone seeking to curry favor with the Florida Legislature: get your facts straight — or at least know which state you’re trying to lobby.

A couple of months ago, state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur announced supporting the “Protect Florida Small Business Act” (SB 750), which seeks to “promote fair business relations between franchisees and franchisors and to protect franchisees against unfair treatment by franchisors.”

“I want to be sure that there is a level playing field for all business owners in Florida,” Brodeur said. “Whether they are a small independent shop or a franchisee.”

For some reason, that hasn’t set well with the International Franchise Association, the industry’s leading trade group.

IFA has been a vocal opponent of the act, calling it “unnecessary government overreach and intrusion into private contract negotiations.”

So, like any good trade organization, the IFA took to social media to make its case, seeking to pressure a growing number of state lawmakers — including Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Sens. Greg Steube and Lizbeth Benacquisto and others — into opposing the bill.

But something was not quite right.

A series of tweets on the group’s page (@Franchising411) blasted several lawmakers, calling on them to reject SB 750 and its House companion (HB 1069). The tweets asked followers — nearly 12,000 of them — to tell the legislators to “protect franchising.”

Behind each image of a Florida legislator was a map of California, not Florida.

Oops.

Now, IFA is no bush-league organization; the group claims to represent more than 700,000 franchise establishments, 7.6 million direct jobs, billions in economic output for what they say is nearly 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. That’s not small potatoes.

In addition, IFA boasts members in more than 300 different occupations including marketing, law and business development.

Apparently, that list doesn’t include cartography.

With such a vast reach, it would be reasonable to assume IFA could spring for a staffer with some basic geographic knowledge, or at least hire a person (anyone) who knows the difference between Florida and California.

Say, someone who lives in either of those states. That should narrow it down to only 56 million people.

Ironically, the worst of these misguided tweets is one the few that got it right — with Florida in the background, that is.

Sent March 30, the tweet in question asked supporters to contact Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

Double oops.

You see, even a cursory Google search would show Hukill is not even in Tallahassee this Session. She is contending with a more pressing issue — radiation treatments for cervical cancer.

Mistaking California for Florida is ridiculous enough; going after a cancer patient in active treatment is not only tone deaf, but also insensitive and mind-numbingly stupid.

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Senate issues draft $3.8B environmental budget, millions higher than House

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Environment and Natural Resources issued the first version of its 2017-18 budget, which comes in at $3.8 billion.

The projected Senate budget includes few hundred million dollars more than the preliminary House plan.

Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, who chairs the committee, offered a thumbnail version at a public hearing Wednesday reports LobbyTools.

Among the legislative asks from the Senate is $275 million for Everglades restoration – compared to $165.7 million from the House. Another $50 million for springs restoration, while the House is seeking only $40 million.

There is also $22.6 million for Florida Forever for land acquisition under the Florida Communities Trust program, the same program would get $10 million from the House for local government grants to buy land for parks and wildlife corridors as buffer zones for water resources, reports LobbyTools.

Beach restoration projects would get $100 million — a priority project for Sen. Jack Latvala — as opposed to $30.1 million in the House plan; $64 million would go to water projects versus $20 million from the lower chamber.

Was Jack Latvala against Enterprise Florida before he was for it?

Sen. Jack Latvala has backed Gov. Rick Scott in his defense of Enterprise Florida—but that wasn’t always the case.

The Clearwater Republican, who now chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, had some choice words for the public-private economic development organization back in 2015.

That’s when he was chair of the Senate’s Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations subcommittee.

That’s also when the agency, which the House now is trying to eliminate, was seeking more money for its business development efforts.

“They’re asking for $85 million for ‘tools,’ ” Latvala told reporters. “I helped create Enterprise Florida. My first observation is that at that time Enterprise Florida was supposed to be a public-private partnership and all of these corporations were going to contribute.

“Well, steadily, through the years, the percentage of corporate contributions has declined and state budget allocations have increased,” he said, echoing the current argument of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The speaker has called the group a dispenser of “corporate welfare.”

“Why do they want (more state) money when others could use it, when other communities have very worthwhile projects?” Latvala said at the time. “It’s just irresponsible.”

The entire clip is available on YouTube or watch it below:

Joe Henderson: Proposed new transportation agency a good start toward solving an old problem

Short of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, the surest way to get a headache is to wade deep into Tampa Bay area transportation problems. You encounter a mishmash of competing agencies and agendas that has resulted in legislative and automotive gridlock for frustrated commuters for years.

Given that, I’m encouraged by what is coming out of Tallahassee. A pair of Republican legislators — state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and state Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City — have introduced bills that would create a five-county regional transit agency.

Hernando County is a late addition to a group including Manatee, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the Legislature already try something like that?

Yep.

A decade ago, Tallahassee gave us the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority — known in wonk terms as TBARTA. Its scope was as large as its acronym, an attempt to bring seven counties together under a single transportation tent.

Nice sentiment, but poor execution. Trying to meet the needs of seven counties proved unwieldy.

“What Jack and I are trying to do is tweak this thing,” Raulerson said. “We want to get everybody moving in the same direction so we can put together a plan and get federal money for this. We have been woefully short there.”

The revamped board would have 13 members — seven elected officials, and six from the private sector. The elected officials likely will include the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg along with a commissioner from each county affected.

“That part is a work in progress right now,” Raulerson said. “But it is important to have more elected officials on the board because that provides for transparency and accountability.”

Both bills have sailed through their respective committees and appear to be gaining local acceptance. Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the plan, telling Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com, “ … we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success.”

During committee hearings on the proposed bills, some lawmakers were skeptical that a new regional transportation agency would just be more of the same. Given the history on this issue, I certainly understand that point of view.

But I do like that this new authority would be smaller and focused on the counties of greatest need. Having Latvala and Raulerson behind this doesn’t hurt, either. Not only are they capable of guiding this from proposal to reality, they also represent both sides of Tampa Bay.

How soon can this happen?

“Once this becomes law, we probably need to have a good plan in place to take to the feds within 12 months,” Raulerson said. “The good news on that is that there already are a lot of plans out there, so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. We just need to get moving.”

Tampa Bay Partnership on board with Jack Latvala-Dan Raulerson bill creating regional transit agency

Legislation that would create a regional transit agency connecting four Tampa Bay-area counties breezed through committees in both the House and Senate last week.

The proposed agency would be created in advance of a much anticipated Florida Dept. of Transportation transit study scheduled to be completed next year.

“It’s a real project. It’s not just talk. And so we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success,” says Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the local economic development group. The creation of the agency was the number one “ask” of the Partnership going into the legislative session.

Although some observers have said the bill seems like a rehashed version of TBARTA, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority that was created a decade ago but without any funding to fulfill its goals, the newly proposed agency’s scope has been reduced from seven Bay area counties to four, and was originally just three – Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

Manatee County was added after Senator Bill Galvano advocated for its inclusion, Homans said.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson did hear some concerns from lawmakers when he introduced the bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee last week, mostly about the composition of the 13-member board. As of now, there would be seven members selected from the private sector and six lawmakers.

“The most important thing is we try to create a governance structure that encourages participation by people who think regionally,” says Homans, adding that he’s not so concerned with the exact balance, as “long as they support the mission.”

There has been increasing talk over the last year or so of creating a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Homans says that there will be a meeting on May 12 in St. Petersburg with MPO officials, elected officials and business leaders to kickoff discussions about a potential regional MPO.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday about the relative lack of requests for transportation projects by Tampa Bay area lawmakers this session.

“First, you have to have a plan,” Homans says about why that’s the case. “We don’t have a plan. Then you need an organization to implement it and build it, and then you need an organization to operate it, and we don’t have those things in place. We’re moving towards putting those structures into place to make the ‘big ask.'”

The bill is being pushed in the Senate by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who has a keen interest in seeing the local transit agencies work closer together.

“We’ve got a lot of folks in my party that just bury their head in the sand when it comes to transportation,” the venerable lawmaker said last summer when talking about the handling of the critical Tampa Bay area issue.

Rob Bradley: ‘The lakes have left us’

Lake Geneva in Keystone Heights isn’t what it used to be.

And neither is Keystone Heights.

Decades back, Lake Geneva was full — kids swam in the water that used to be underneath the raised pavilion. Out on the lake, water skiing contests and other events supported local businesses and brought tourists from miles around to this corner of Old Florida.

The tourists have no reason to come anymore. And an old, beloved Italian restaurant is now a Shell Station, as local Sen. Rob Bradley said Friday.

As a child, Bradley swam in one of those Keystone Lakes: Lake Brooklyn, where the Senator had some of his best childhood memories.

Over the years, however, the lake gets “lower and lower.”

And as Bradley noted, it has been hard to get attention to the issue.

“There aren’t as many people here as Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville. This is a place where not a lot of attention has been given,” Bradley said.

“I’m tired of it.”

“Every time I came out here, it broke my heart,” Bradley said. “The lakes have left us.”

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The Senator is well-positioned to push ambitious environmental projects: this Legislative Session, the Fleming Island Republican chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, and sits as the vice-chair on the Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee.

Bradley, who has noticed the gradual draining of the Keystone Lakes since his youth, tops his priority list this Legislative Session with Senate Bill 234, which is intended to change the appropriations formula of 2014’s Water and Land Constitutional Amendment.

The bill, currently working its way through committees in the Florida Senate (and stalled out in the Florida House, without even a committee hearing yet), has a simple objective: to ensure that the St. Johns River Water Management District gets an annual earmark of $35 million in “Amendment 1” dollars, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries, and the Keystone Lake region.

In front of Lake Geneva in Keystone Heights, Bradley held a press conference Friday, flanked by Rep. Travis Cummings and Rep. Bobby Payne, the House sponsor of the legislation.

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On Friday, the representatives discussed the “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.

If the project can get funding this year, design can start, and it could be complete by 2023.

SB 234, Bradley said, is intended for projects like this — to restore water to these lakes, which would have a direct impact on Keystone Heights, but which “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River Basin.

This position is supported by the St. Johns River Water Management District, the executive director of which used the “aquifer recharge area” phrasing in her remarks.

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As a child, Bradley swam in one of those Keystone Lakes: Lake Brooklyn, where the Senator had some of his best childhood memories.

Over the years, however, the lake gets “lower and lower.”

And as Bradley noted, it has been hard to get attention to the issue.

“There aren’t as many people here as Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville. This is a place where not a lot of attention has been given,” Bradley said.

“I’m tired of it.”

“Every time I came out here, it broke my heart,” Bradley said. “The lakes have left us.”

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Bradley, Cummings, and Payne function as a team: a tight-knit delegation focused on rural issues.

Cummings noted correctly that this project won’t be a “one-year issue.”

Though Keystone Heights is in Payne’s district, Cummings had to be at the event.

“What’s good for Clay County is good for me,” Cummings said.

Payne noted that a question among people in this area is “where’s the lake now? 50 feet past the dock, 75 feet past the dock?”

And the local politicians echoed these comments, describing beach bonfires where the lake used to be.

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The case for the appropriation is obvious to anyone who sees these dried up lakes and remembers what once was.

But for Rep. Payne, the bill has proven to be a heavy lift.

Payne is “working” the committees, he told us. And working with his Clay colleague.

“I’ve been working with Rep. Cummings to [communicate with chairs], and we think we’ll get there,” Payne, a Putnam County Republican, said. “It’s better to go with two people than one when you’re trying to get these things done.”

Bradley echoed that confidence in the Cummings/Payne team.

“Rep. Cummings has serious stroke in the House and this is a priority for him. I’m confident in his ability, working with Rep. Payne, to help us be successful in this effort,” Bradley said.

On the Senate side, the bill is moving through committees.

Appropriations will agenda the Senate version “soon,” Bradley said, and Chairman Jack Latvala and Bradley have “talked extensively about the bill and this issue, and he has indicated support for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

While Senate and House priorities diverge, Bradley said, “each side ends up getting something that is important to them.”

“And this is something that is important to me and to the Senate, and very important to Reps. Cummings and Payne,” Bradley added.

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