Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 3 of 44 - Florida Politics

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.

Tampa International Airport

House considers contentious Tampa International Airport audit

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

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

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

The Senate rejected the amendment.

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

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

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

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

 

Top line tourism, economic development money closed out, chair says

Don’t expect any movement in the budgets for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA at the conference committee level.

“I’m authorized to negotiate quite a few things in this budget and there’s a few things I’m not, and those would be among the things I’m not,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee.

The panel met again at 8 a.m. Saturday. Earlier this week, legislative leadership agreed on roughly $83 billion in allocations, the main pots of money for major spending areas.

A deal already announced deal gave $25 million to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency and $16 million in operating money only to EFI, Florida’s economic development arm. The money for EFI, however, would be recurring, or repeated year after year. Both entities are public-private agencies but funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $85 million for EFI’s business incentives to lure businesses to the state, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran derides as “corporate welfare.”

The governor also wants $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, saying the tourism industry and its jobs depend on it.  The current proposal cuts its funding from nearly $80 million.

“Obviously, this is all a negotiation between the Speaker and the President—and ultimately the Governor—as to where the topline issues end up,” Brandes added. “If they choose to reopen (them), that’s up to the Appropriations chairs and President and Speaker’s Office.”

The committee could meet once or twice more today before a noon deadline, when unresolved issues “bump up” to Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo.

After noon on Sunday, disagreements on spending go directly to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. On Friday, Corcoran told House members there would be no floor session on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican and vice-chair of the committee, said without money for incentives, Enterprise Florida would be limited to “business marketing,” similar to what VISIT FLORIDA does to encourage tourists to visit the state. And EFI’s budget would only have around $2.5 million for that purpose.

Ingram also said he expected the House’s oversight requirements on VISIT FLORIDA to be part of the final budget deal. The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The oversight measures include requiring contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

The House plan limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000. It also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

When asked if there could be any “extraordinary circumstances” that could cause the top line agreement to change, Brandes smiled.

“I would say extraordinary circumstances happen in this process all the time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

 

 

Tampa Bay officials OK with TBARTA bill, now before full Senate

Officials had high hopes for a bill to reconfigure Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

Those same officials are now expressing some contentment following an amendment from the bill’s original sponsor, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

The legislation would change TBARTA’s name from the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and reduce the number of counties involved in addressing the region’s traffic issues.

It has been a top priority of the Tampa Bay area business establishment, specifically the Tampa Bay Partnership.

But there were major concerns expressed by the bill’s supporters last week after the measure significantly weakened by an amendment filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. That amendment required that any proposed rail project coming out of the newly formed transit agency would need approval by each county’s Metropolitan Planning Agency as well as the Legislature itself.

Latvala produced a new version of the bill Thursday, with the MPO’s and the Legislature’s approval only required for state funding of rail projects.

“I think the intention of the previous changes were not to insert any new processes or roadblocks to any kind of transit but was really a statement by Brandes and Lee to reinforce the steps that were necessary to consider light rail in Tampa Bay,” says Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“And so what I think that Sen. Latvala has done with his amendment is to reinforce that the intent is to underline these important steps, but not to create new steps in the process, things like feasibility studies, approval by the MPO, an act by the Legislature,” Homans adds.

“All of these steps if state funding is involved in a rail project, are important steps to take, and this bill as it delineates and outlines that rigorous process that the community has to go thru if it’s going to seek state funds for rail in Tampa Bay.”

The bill originally included only Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in the new TBARTA, but later Manatee was counted in the bill. Last week’s amendment inserted Hernando County into the bill, making it almost as large as TBARTA’s initial seven-county focus. Hernando is still on the bill.

Homans spins that as a win, saying this brings in some influential Tampa Bay-area Senators into the mix.

“On the political front, this is a project for the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation, and this brings Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano into the process,” he says, “and they have a stake in the success of the future of our regional transportation system … I think that it’s important that were all working on this together.

“Having Manatee and Hernando at the table shows how this is a region that’s connected and we all have a stake in building this transit system,” he says.

The Partnership has been a driving force behind the legislation. They paid for a study conducted by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation on a regional structure for transportation planning, operations, and decision-making is that was presented to the entire Bay Area Legislative Delegation in February.

Homans credits his team of lobbyists, including Ryan Patmintra, Ron Pierce and Seth McKeel with discussions over the past week with Senators Latvala, Lee and Brandes as helping to come together on the bill.

“What’s going forward (today) is a win for Tampa Bay,” he says. “And it’s a team effort on the part of the legislative delegation.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the TBARTA bill Friday, where it will then go to the House, where the companion bill is sponsored by Plant City’s Dan Raulerson.

Business leaders lobby Tampa Bay-area lawmakers on regional transit

As for discussion over a proposed Senate regional transit bill for the Tampa Bay region, it’s all about timing.

A group of a dozen local business executives arrived for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee just one day after a contentious Senate committee meeting where three Tampa Bay lawmakers clashed over a bill seeking to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). The nonprofit Tampa Bay partnership arranged the trip.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in a heated meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala watched in frustration as Republican colleagues Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa amended the bill.

The bill, originally approved April 17, was changed to require legislative approval for any local spending proposal that would include a light rail system and also prohibit TBARTA from financing a voter referendum on light rail.

Many saw the amendments as a significant blow to the TBARTA’s independence.

“The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” Tampa Bay partnership president Rick Homans told the Times.

Among those in the business delegation were Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik; University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft; Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes; Ron Wanek, founder of Ashley Furniture; Tampa attorney Rhea Law, as well as Tampa executives of TECO Energy, BlueGrace Logistics, the BayCare Health System, PNC Bank, Vology and Florida Blue.

While the group’s agenda included supporting Latvala’s transit bill, ride-sharing legislation, and a creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Times noted that TBARTA received special emphasis.

“It’s not dead,” Homans said. “It’s very much alive.”

The amended bill now includes a feasibility study ahead of any forward movement of a light rail system, and would require approval by a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of the county or counties where the investment would be made. If a rail project is planned for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, for example, each of the affected counties would need to approve the project.

Also, any rail project must get preapproval from the Legislature – since Tallahassee would be fronting much of the money anyway.

“They were not poison pills,” Brandes explained. “They were logical, reasonable steps that would largely have to be followed.”

Senate votes to allow beer ads in theme parks, ‘merlot to go’

Florida senators passed a bill Wednesday that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks.

The measure (SB 388), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, received only one ‘no’ vote from Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained. However, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night, but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It extends the “merlot to go” legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

The bill now heads to the House. Its version (HB 423) still has not been heard by the Commerce Committee, its last panel of reference.

After four years of debate, bill regulating ride-sharing companies will go to Rick Scott’s desk

After years of intense debate, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to create statewide regulations for transportation network companies.

The measure (HB 221) cleared the upper chamber on a 36-1 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.

“Today we sent a strong message that Florida embraces transportation innovation. The future of transportation options includes a focus on shared mobility, and as we move closer to autonomous vehicles on our roadways, the future of ride-sharing is very bright,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (SB 340). “With this legislation, Florida will have a uniform set of standards for the services our businesses demand, our tourists have come to expect, and our residents deserve.”

The bill, 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.

The bill requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies.

The proposal received the backing from Uber and Lyft.

“We’re grateful to Sen. Brandes, Rep. Chris Sprowls, and Rep. Jamie Grant for their commitment to carrying ridesharing legislation over the finish line, and for the consistent leadership shown by Gov. Scott, President Negron, and Speaker Corcoran,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber.”

The vote came after years of debate and discussions on the issue. While proposals have cleared the House in the past, they have gotten hung up in the Senate in recent years. This year, the proposal sailed through all of its committee stops in the Senate, and passed with no debate Wednesday.

“We applaud the Florida Senate, and especially Sen. Brandes, for passing a statewide framework for ridesharing. This legislation will provide certainty for the many Floridians who use the convenient and affordable transportation services offered by Lyft, and we encourage the Governor to sign this bill into law,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We want to thank the Lyft community throughout Florida for standing up in support of ridesharing. We look forward to continuing to provide Florida’s residents and visitors with innovative transportation options that boost economic growth in communities across the Sunshine State.”

The House voted 115-0 on April 5 to approve the measure.

“The overwhelmingly bi-partisan passage of ridesharing legislation in both the House and Senate shows a strong desire for this innovative and free-market service. It not only provides convenient travel options for anyone in our state, it will allow many Floridians an extra source of income to help make ends meet,” said Rep. Sprowls, who sponsored the bill in the House, in statement Wednesday. “I appreciate the hard work that Senator Brandes put into passing this bill in the Senate and look forward to Floridians having this travel option should they choose it.”

 

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