Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 3 of 44 - Florida Politics

Hillsborough state legislators clash in Tampa Chamber Session review

As House Minority Leader Janet Cruz notes, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation works “as a united front” when representing their community in Tallahassee.

That’s true on issues like the eleventh-hour move by the Florida Senate to push the University of South Florida out of pre-eminent status under a conformity education budget bill that passed in the waning hours of the legislative session two weeks ago.

Over that matter, members acted in unison, denouncing what they said was a fundamental unfairness, leading to USF being denied up to $16 million.

But that unity is not so apparent on several other issues, like the “Schools of Hope” education bill (SB 7069) and the lack of funding for Florida Forever, the conservation land-buying program that 2014’s Amendment 1 was meant to address.

It was those subjects where Democrats and Republicans differed sharply Friday in a post-session review luncheon sponsored by the Greater Tampa of Chamber of Commerce at Maestro’s restaurant in Tampa.

Sen. Darryl Rouson spoke wistfully about the fact that the education bill would have only taken one more vote in the Senate to have been defeated.

“It’s almost an insult to call it a schools of hope bill because every school is a school of hope,” the St. Petersburg Democrat declared, adding that unlike in the House, the Senate wasn’t willing to give tens of millions of dollars to high-performing out of state charter school before offering those funds to existing public schools.

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa countered that the $140 million slated to go to charter schools is a better purpose of taxpayer funds than giving it to public institutions graded as “F” schools for three consecutive years.

Grant said House Republicans deserved praise because most of these charters aren’t in their home districts.

Republican Sen. Dana Young of Tampa said the “disagreement and negative feelings” expressed on the panel stemmed more from the process — adding the bill to a conforming bill completed in the last few hours of Session — than the policy itself.

Rep. Wengay Newton argued that the idea of cutting funds to struggling public schools is wrong. The St. Petersburg Democrat blasted the fact that Florida is ranked 42nd in the nation for education funding per student and 49th for the number of instructors per 100 students in public schools.

(Apparently, the public favors the Democrats in this argument. The Miami Herald’s Kristen Clark reported that by a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott via email and phone calls that they want him to veto the bill).

Sometimes the arguments transcended party lines, such as the legislation to completely defund VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism agency.

“I’m not willing to put my name behind anything that is adverting to Syrians that could be invested in education or we could be talking about the rising costs of health care,” said Grant, referring to recent reports of wasted taxpayer dollars spent by the state agency.

But he received strong pushback from both Democrats and Republican on the panel.

“There were problems with transparency, there were problems with contracts, those should be addressed on an individual basis,” agreed Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat. “But for a state that depends on tourism as much as Florida, I am very leery of destroying and eviscerating the entity that is responsible for that tourism.”

“Every product needs marketing to get it out there, and we are going to have our lunch eaten by Utah and Michigan and Austin and all of these other places that advertise if we don’t advertise … particularly in Europe, but not Syria,” Young added.

State Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon joined Grant to defend the Legislature over criticism from environmentalists that they failed to adhere to 2014’s Amendment 1 when it comes to allocating money to properly fund Forever Florida, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

“I think it would be deeply disingenuous to say that a constitutional amendment us to purchase land,” Grant said. He insisted the amendment’s language calls for the Legislature to act as “stewards of that land,” which Grant said wasn’t the same thing as purchasing said land.

“I think it would be equally disingenuous to only say we’re going to manage it and not acquire (land),” Shaw responded, quoting the exact language of the amendment.

Lee alienated the Chamber and other parts of the Tampa Bay area establishment with his stance on several issues during the past session. Though he wasn’t asked (and didn’t volunteer) to discuss his controversial request for an audit of Tampa International Airport, he did speak freely about why he and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes inserted an amendment on a bill to reconfigure TBARTA.

Lee said he spoke with many officials involved with efforts to increase transit in the Tampa Bay area, and said what he heard back was by no means monolithic. “The truth is, there really wasn’t us among you all about what to do about TBARTA,” he said.

And Lee compared a new TBARTA with the extremely unpopular Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission, the troubled county agency in that lawmakers voted to kill at the end of the year.

“They become their own runaway train, spending millions of dollars at your expense, and these feasibility studies sometimes end up being twice the cost for capturing the ridership,” Lee said. “Nobody’s scrubbing these things except the people whose real estate projects stand to benefit from them.”

Regarding USF, Young put into perspective the disappointment of the school missing benchmarks to quality for pre-eminent status as well as the millions that would have gone into receiving that designation.

The university received $42 million in new recurring operational funds, Young said, as well as $12 million for the Morsani Medical School to be built in downtown Tampa and $3 million for dormitories.

“The future of USF is bright,” she said.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on marijuana Special Session

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

Governor signs landmark ride-sharing legislation into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday a bill that creates statewide regulations for ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft.

“I’m proud to sign this legislation today to make it easier for ridesharing companies to thrive in Florida and help ensure the safety of our families,” said Scott in a statement. “Florida is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation because of our efforts to reduce burdensome regulations and encourage innovation and job creation across all industries, including transportation.”

The legislation, among other things, requires ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft, to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury of death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app, but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a passenger, drivers would be required to have $1 million in coverage.

“Uber would like to thank Governor Rick Scott for signing House Bill 221 and for his steadfast support of the ridesharing industry. This law now opens the door for more residents and visitors to access innovative transportation options across all of Florida,” said Kasra Moshkani, the South Florida general manager for Uber. “Since Uber first arrived in Florida three years ago, we have worked with local leaders, safety groups and consumer groups to enhance the communities we serve. For Uber Florida, our priority is making safe and reliable rides easy and affordable — whether it’s for a mother needing transportation after a late work shift, or for a senior who needs to get to and from doctor appointments. Today, with Governor Scott’s signature, we see the culmination of hard work and dedication by so many: from Uber driver-partners and riders to our diverse local partners and community leaders.”

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate and Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, it also requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. The law pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies.

“This legislation will ensure the innovative ridesharing network across Florida continues to thrive,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Helping Florida businesses grow is critical to our economy, and this bill will also empower workers across the state to work when and where they want to meet the needs of their families.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

“This landmark legislation would have never happened without the Lyft community across the state who stood up for the benefits ridesharing brings to their families, businesses and cities,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Lyft continue to grow and thrive for years to come in the Sunshine State.”

 

Jeff Brandes celebrates long list of legislative wins in 2017 Session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the rearview mirror, state Sen. Jeff Brandes looks back on some big wins from the past two months.

The St. Petersburg Republican is celebrating his top eight successes, which include a diverse range of issues such as renewable energy tax exemptions, statewide regulation for ridesharing, flood insurance reforms and the development of personal delivery drones.

In 2017, Brandes championed the bill on renewable energy source devices (SB 90), which passed unanimously through both the House and Senate, implementing Amendment 4 from the 2016 election.

SB 90 exempts 80 percent of the value of solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes for 20 years, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

After four years of battling with the taxicab industry, Brandes made major inroads with the landmark SB 340, the uniform statewide regulation for for-hire transportation services provided by transportation network companies. The bill sets up requirements on insurance and background screening, officially legalizing the use of services like Uber and Lyft everywhere in Florida.

Brandes also spearheaded flood insurance alternatives in Florida. SB 420, which passed both chambers unanimously, extends to 2025 the rate flexibility afforded to private insurers who seek to enter the market to offer flood insurance as an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Other of Brandes successes also include SB 460, which defines and authorizes “personal delivery devices” (PDDs) to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks in Florida, and SB 590 which changes the way Florida handles time arrangements for unmarried and divorced parents and their children. The Child Support and Parenting Time Plan creates an optional default time sharing plan, as well as an easier system for parents to agree on parenting time arrangements.

The bill does not affect any child support arrangements, it seeks only to simplify the visitation schedule in order to benefit the child and may have the effect of helping as many as 1 million fathers see their children more often.

Brandes introduced a measure setting up the Task Force on Affordable Housing, part of the implementation bill included in the 2017-2018 General Appropriations Act, which will study and suggest sweeping reforms to Florida’s strategy on affordable housing.

One more winner in the 2017 Session was SB 1012, a priority of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, requiring insurance companies to adopt anti-fraud plans and report fraud related statistics to the Division of Insurance Fraud regularly to assist the state in combating fraud.

The legislation, unanimously adopted by the House and Senate, adopts accountability reforms through reporting requirements of dedicated insurance fraud prosecutors throughout the state to assess the effectiveness of the dedicated fraud prosecutor system.

Another solid success was SB 1272, a boost to businesses in Florida by waiving a number of business and professional licensing fees for members of the military, their spouses, surviving military spouses, and low-income individuals whose income is less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line. The bill also allows reciprocity for many regulated professions for service members (and spouses) who travel to Florida from other states during their service.

Renewable-energy tax break bill headed to Rick Scott

The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that will give a renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties with solar installations.

The measure (SB 90) was sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday after passing the Senate unanimously. If signed into law, businesses that install solar panels to their properties would not have to pay additional property taxes from the increased value of adding such devices.

“The voters of Florida spoke loud and clear in support of an expanded solar market in the sunshine state,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes in a statement. “Reducing property taxes on solar and renewable energy devices will bring more solar energy to Florida. The unanimous support of the legislature shows that we are dedicated to expanding the share of renewables in our energy portfolio, and I am excited to continue to advocate for energy reform.”

The bill , sponsored by Brandes in the Senate and Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues in the House, carries out a decision by voters last year to extend a tax exemption already provided to residential properties. The tax break would be in place for the next 20 years.

“Tourism is Florida’s leading industry. Visitors and residents alike, will benefit from the energy savings resulting from the passage of this legislation,” said Richard Turner, general counsel and vice President of government Relations for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “The hospitality industry is excited to support our lawmakers’ smart policies that promote sustainability and diversify our energy grid.”

The final version of the bill is viewed by those in the solar industry as a more consumer-friendly approach than what had been initially proposed.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

It’s the end of the road for the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

Legislation that would effectively kill the controversial Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission (HB 647) passed in the Florida House on Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Tampa Bay Republican Jamie Grant, was first introduced as a local bill at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting last December.

Although the PTC has reaped a slew of negative news stories over the past three years in its attempts to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft in Hillsborough County, widespread antipathy to the organization goes back years, if not decades.

Attempts to end the agency have been discussed by Hillsborough County Republicans stretching back to 2010, when then-Senator Ronda Storms threatened to do so. Grant first talked about ending the agency’s life in the summer of 2013.

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, who 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.

The most recent full-time PTC executive director, Kyle Cockream, resigned at the end of last year.

In February, the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement confirmed that they were conducting an inquiry into missing texts sent from Cockream’s personal phone and seven other PTC phones, going back to last October. Text messages are considered public records, and deliberately deleting them is a misdemeanor crime under state law.

The PTC was created by the state legislature in 1976 to regulate taxis, limousines, vans and basic life-support ambulances in Hillsborough County. No other such entity exists in the state of Florida.

TBARTA bill passes unanimously — now goes to Rick Scott for signature

By a vote of 117-0, the Florida House passed a bill to revamp the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

With the Senate approving the bill last week, it now goes to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk.

Although Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson sponsored it in the House, that chamber actually substituted his bill with the Senate version, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala (SB 1672).

The legislation would downsize TBARTA from seven counties to five (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Hernando), and it would change TBARTA’s focus to transit (and not merely transportation).

“It is the beginning of a long journey,” Raulerson said, acknowledging that by itself, the bill does not change the lack of transit options in the region. “But hopefully it will be a fruitful journey, and one that will improve the transportation process in Tampa Bay.”

“I look forward to a new and improved transportation system in Tampa Bay,” enthused Tampa Republican Shawn Harrison, who made suggestions to Raulerson for improving the bill.

“We have quite a challenge in Tampa Bay in getting our transportation problems fixed,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond. “I think this bill is an important first step to do that in creating a regional authority.”

Two weeks ago, an amendment filed by Tampa Bay area Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes made it harder for the region to push for light-rail, but Latvala was able to make changes to that amendment last week, which appeared to have satisfied supporters of the bill.

However, the measure still requires that if the TBARTA board opts to pursue state funding for commuter, heavy rail or light rail transit projects, they will first need a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization where such investment would be made, in addition to approval by the Legislature.

Under the new reorganization, the TBARTA board will be made up of 13 members, which includes a county commissioner from each of the five counties making up the new agency. Two members shall be the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg. PSTA and HART will also select a single member. The governor will name the remaining four members.

The bill was a huge priority for the Tampa Bay area business community.

“For years, the members of our legislative delegation have asked the community to provide a unified voice on the issues that matter most to our region,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “This session, our regional business leaders did exactly that, stepping up in a big way to champion this bill, and the result is a huge win for Tampa Bay.

“This legislation will transform TBARTA into a streamlined and effective regional transit authority, which is a critical first step toward the development of a regional transit system in Tampa Bay; one that connects our residents to new job opportunities and our businesses to prospective employees.”

Lawmakers, lobbyists begin to contemplate an extended session

House Speaker Richard Corcoran insisted Tuesday that he still hoped to complete a budget deal in time to adjourn on schedule Friday — but other lawmakers and Tallahassee’s lobbyists have begun clearing their calendars for next week.

“I think it’s 90 percent likely,” Corcoran said of chances the negotiations with the Senate could be wrapped up that day, conceivably allowing a timely adjournment.

Sen. Jeff Brandes wasn’t counting on it.

“Monday — it’s my best guess. That’s my math,” Brandes said.

It takes 36 hours to prepare a compromise Appropriations Act for presentation to House members and senators, he said.

“It’s a complicated process, even once it’s all agreed to,” he said.

That would be in line with lobbyists’ scuttlebutt, according to one health care advocate. He predicted a budget deal would go to the members by Friday, giving them the weekend to review the bill.

Sen. Rob Bradley, who’s participating in negotiations over environmental spending, argued against selling legislative staff short.

“They have magical power to produce these bills quickly. It’s a complicated task, but it’s not impossible,” Bradley said.

A deal Tuesday would leave the House and Senate with the rest of the week to consider conforming bills, Corcoran said.

Asked which bills, apart from the budget, he’d be willing to consider if the Legislature extends, Corcoran said, “You can ask me that if we get there.”

What kind of overtime was he considering?

“We’re not. I told you, we’re hopeful we’ll get done,” Corcoran said.

“Last time I checked, I think every single conforming bill I’ve ever voted for was done on probably Wednesday, Thursday,” he told reporters.

The biggest hold-up was reimbursement levels for hospitals treating indigent patients under Medicaid, Corcoran said.

The Trump administration has promised enough money to, with a state match, provide $1.5 million for Florida’s Low Income Pool program, but House leaders want to see the money before they agree how to spend it.

TBARTA revamp one step closer to Rick Scott’s desk

Legislation to revamp the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) by reducing its footprint passed Tuesday a second reading on the Florida House floor.

One more vote in the House, and the bill goes to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

Sponsored in the House by Plant City Republican Dan RaulersonHB 1243 would downsize TBARTA from seven counties to five (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Hernando), and change the TBARTA’s focus to transit (and not simply transportation).

Two weeks ago, an amendment filed by Tampa Bay area Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes made it much harder for the region to push for light-rail, but Senate sponsor Jack Latvala of Clearwater was able to make changes to that amendment last week, which appeared to have satisfied supporters of the bill.

There was little discussion about the bill Tuesday on the House floor.

St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton asked Raulerson what were the differences between his bill and Latvala’s bill in the Senate? Raulerson said the main difference was that the governor would have four picks to put on the TBARTA board, whereas the House bill limits his power to two choices.

The bill now goes to the full House Wednesday for a third and final reading. The Senate bill passed last week.

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