Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 4 of 46 - Florida Politics

House Republican Dan Raulerson wants everyone to own a gun

The attempted assassination Wednesday morning of Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise in suburban Washington D.C. has shaken the nation.

Certainly, lawmakers now realize how vulnerable they are to mentally unstable people with access to firearms who disagree with them politically.

At Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club, five members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation were asked their thoughts on what the shooting means for Floridians, and the nation.

Plant City Republican House member Dan Raulerson said the answer was simple — everyone, especially lawmakers — should be armed.

“I think each one of those congressmen should be carrying a weapon. I think we all should be carrying a weapon,” he said, creating a buzz of dissent in the audience among the liberal-leaning Tiger Bay members at Friday’s meeting at the Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.

“I’m sorry folks, I’m sorry, but here’s the point,” Raulerson said. “The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, but also gives us the responsibility to own and operate a weapon.”

As widely noted, probably the only reason there wasn’t more carnage on that baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia where Congressional Republicans were at practice was that Scalise, as a member of House leadership, had police protection. That’s something that most regular members of Congress don’t have.

“Now we’re discussing should we fund armed security for each of us?” Raulerson asked with disdain. “No, we can’t do that, we can’t afford that. But we do have the right and the ability to protect ourselves, and that’s what the Constitution gives us.”

The other two Republicans on the panel — Tampa House District 63 Rep. Shawn Harrison and Brandon Sen. Tom Lee — wouldn’t go as far as Raulerson in providing a tidy policy prescription based on the Wednesday’s shooting.

“Life is about balance. Law abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns,” said Harrison. “We have to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental instability. Clearly what we had was a crazy person in Virginia who hated a different member of a political party, and took that out on those members of different political parties.”

Federal law enforcement officials identified the alleged shooter as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, who died following a shootout with authorities. He was said to be a Bernie Sanders supporter who loathed President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Harrison said there’s too much hate in the country.

“We need to start realizing that just because you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to your name, you’re not the enemy of the other side,” he said, adding that “we need to work on constructive dialogue to keep crazy people from doing crazy things.”

Lee compared the situation to the drug problem in America, saying whether it’s pill mills or heroine or Fentanyl, “these are a demand-size problem, not supply-side problems.”

The two Democrats on the panel — St. Petersburg-based lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Wengay Newton, chimed in as well.

Rouson talked about the fact that he was pleased that though there was a slew of pro-gun bills on the agenda of some lawmakers (such as Sarasota Senate Republican Greg Steube, who had 10 such bills filed), few of them passed this year.

Newton said it was all about ensuring that the mentally ill didn’t get access to firearms, though he didn’t say how that could be accomplished.

“The laws are only put in for people who abide by the law,” he said. “If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, the law does not mean Jack.”

The Republicans on the panel were also challenged on two consecutive questions from the audience about their refusal to expand Medicaid when it came before them back in 2013 (that was the only year when a serious attempt for a hybrid form of Medicaid expansion was passed in the Senate but lost in the House).

Harrison had the distinction of being one of only three House Republicans to support the Senate bill (which earned him applause when he said that).

“My belief was while the feds are paying 100 percent, why not see if it can work?” he said.

Lee also supported the plan (only St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes opposed it in the Senate). He disputed that it was a clash between the parties, and said, in this case, it was “inner chamber problems.”

When asked how much they are paying for their health insurance, all five lawmakers confessed it was only $180 a month.

“Must be nice,” one audience member muttered.

With law now in place, Tampa Bay region moves closer to regional transit

Although modest in scope, Tampa Bay area lawmakers and business officials are happy that Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation (SB 1672) they believe is the first step toward creating a regional network to push for transit.

The bill changes the actual title of TBARTA. It will now be the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (it used to be “transportation”).

The new agency is slightly smaller in scope in terms of geography, but not smaller than originally envisaged by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, the bill’s Senate sponsor. The new TBARTA will include five counties — originally to include only three: Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco.

Later on, Manatee and Hernando counties were added. Now, only Citrus and Sarasota are the odd counties out.

The TBARTA board will consist of 15 members, including some from the business community to be selected by Scott, in addition to those selected by lawmakers.

An amendment supported by Tampa Bay-area Republican (and anti-light rail) Sens. Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes says that any funding of commuter, heavy or light rail must have approval by the Legislature.

 

Jeff Brandes files amendment to medical marijuana in Senate

Sen. Jeff Brandes is proposing a sweeping change to his chamber’s medical marijuana implementation bill that would, among other things, remove a limit on the number of licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).

The St. Petersburg Republican filed the 63-page strike all amendment late Wednesday.

His “Putting Florida Patients First Act” also removes a requirement that marijuana growers and sellers be “vertically integrated,” or share ownership.

The amendment will be formally offered on the Senate floor Thursday, an assistant said.

It would be the first opportunity for the Senate to vote “for the free market,” he added.

Sen. Rob Bradley‘s underlying bill (SB 8-A) will be taken up by the Health Policy Committee at 8 a.m.

The panel also will consider an accompanying bill (SB 6-A) that creates an exemption under the state’s public records law for personal identifying information of marijuana patient “caregivers.”

Legislation moving in both chambers would add more growing licenses and sets a “soft cap” of 25 retail locations allowed throughout the state. That limit could increase as the number of patients increases in coming years.

Lawmakers are meeting in Special Session this week to consider education, tourism marketing and economic development funding, with implementation of the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters in 2016, officially added to the call Wednesday.

 

Rick Scott signs death warrant for Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

Among the bills Governor Rick Scott signed into law on Tuesday is HB 647, which eliminates of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission by December 31 of this year.

The agency, originally created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1970’s and the only one of its kind in the state, has been shrouded in controversy for years. It’s last executive director,  Kyle Cockreamremains under investigation for his handling of public records.

The PTC had been criticized for years by local lawmakers, but previous attempts to dismantle the agency consistently fell short.

That changed however, after extensive reporting about the agency’s handling of ride sharing services Uber and Lyft ultimately compelled the entire Hillsborough County delegation to agree to a local bill sponsored by Tampa Republican House member Jamie Grant that would dismantle the organization.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” Grant declared in announcing his legislation.

The beginning of the end for the agency started 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.

And then came Uber and Lyft into Hillsborough County in the spring of 2014. As those two companies refused to comply with PTC regulations (as they did in other jurisdictions throughout the country), PTC agents began 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.

Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are scheduled to provide an update to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday on how the transition of the duties of the PTC into other parts of Hillsborough County’s government are going. The county is also expected to sign an interlocal agreement with heath governments of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace on regulating for hire vehicles.

Joe Henderson: Tallahassee gets special session, the public gets the bill

After the budget compromise reached by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the biggest question hanging over the Legislature’s three-day special session this week is whether there is enough time for some lawmakers to grow a backbone.

Only one of two things can happen.

There will either be a full-blown party revolt at how this was handled, followed by points, counterpoints, then fire and pestilence raining down on the state capital as rank-and-file members stand up to their leaders. I’m not betting on that one, by the way.

Or … party leaders will tell members how to vote because this compromise is the greatest thing since craft beer was invented.  After some serious harrumphing in private, those legislators will fall into line, lest their future committee assignments reflect the cost of rebellion.

The latter is the smart wager.

Democrats might as well send their “nay” votes in by Skype because Florida’s one-party system of Republican control has rendered them irrelevant.

In the musical Hamilton, there is a scene that could have doubled for what happened in Tallahassee. Corcoran, Scott and Negron were three key figures in the room where it happened. Decisions were happening, and other leaders need not apply. On Friday, they were kind enough to share news of the deal they reached.

Scott got what he wanted. Corcoran got what he wanted.

What everyone else got was a take-it-or-leave-it deal that smacked of smoke-filled rooms and quid pro quos. Even Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate’s budget panel on tourism and economic development, was left out of the conversation.

That led to this cynical tweet from Republican state Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala: “It’s a shame the House wouldn’t negotiate during the regular session. Now we have to spend $60-70k a day on a special session.”

Write that on the tombstone for this Legislative Session.

Scott salvaged his priorities — more money for tourism promotion and incentives (read: taxpayer cash) for businesses to create jobs here. In the wake of the statewide backlash against the controversial HB 7069, which diverts millions from public schools to charters, Scott got a little more cash for public schools. I sense that will be coming to a U.S. Senate campaign ad next year.

Educators were not impressed.

“The gaping flaws in HB 7069 haven’t changed with this suggested increase in funding,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a written statement.

“It doesn’t even pay for the massive giveaway to charter schools included in the bill. The governor and the legislative leaders who cooked up these changes and called for a special session are not addressing the needs of the parents and students in this state.”

This is probably a good time to recall that Corcoran called the union “downright evil” last because it opposed his plan for charter schools.

He added that the union’s stance was tantamount to “attempting to destroy the lives of almost 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor.”

Corcoran really, really wanted more money for those “Schools of Hope” charters that would otherwise have gone to public schools. Assuming lawmakers go along to get along, Corcoran wins.

Scott wins.

And what do we, the people, receive?

As always, we get the bill.

Welcome to Tallahassee.

Associated Industries releases 2017 Voting Record report

The voting record report is out.

Associated Industries of Florida released its 2017 Voting Record report. Published for more than four decades, the annual report is considered one of the definitive legislative scorecards for the business community. This year, the organization calculated more than 208,966 votes on 1,955 bills with 848 legislators.

“This session, AIF faced a variety of tough issues on behalf of Florida’s business community, including opposing any measure that would have made it more expensive for businesses to operate, such as prejudgment interest and fighting to preserve the insurance premium tax salary credit,” said Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of AIF, in a statement. “Additionally, AIF was a proud advocate for Florida’s business community, actively engaging on measures, such as reducing the business rent tax, addressing the workers’ compensation system, making 5G wireless technology a reality and protecting productive private agricultural land.”

Feeney said while AIF accomplished many of its priorities during the 2017 Legislative Session, “this year’s Voting Records vary from what (AIF has) seen in years’ past.”

The report shows the lowest percentages since 2002 for both the Senate and House, with the Senate voting in favor of the business community 74 percent of the time. The House, according to the report, voted in favor of the business community 79 percent of the time.

“Although Florida’s business community had to fight back initiatives that would have negative impacted our state’s small and large businesses, we did make some headway this session; and, we thank Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature for continuing to give our state the opportunity to have a vibrant, competitive business environment,” said Brewster Bevis, the senior vice president of state and federal affairs at AIF, in a statement.

Criminal justice reform remains a top priority for Jeff Brandes

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he plans to continue his push for criminal justice reform, advancing a multi-year process to take a closer look at the state’s criminal justice system.

Brandes, who has made criminal justice reform a top priority, was in Washington, D.C. last week for the Right on Crime annual summit. The conservative-leaning organization has been working on criminal justice issues in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.

Brandes said the key takeaway from the summit was that “many states are struggling with criminal justice reform at the same time.”

“They’re all realizing that the current trajectory they’re on isn’t working,” said Brandes, who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “I think one of the things is we’re learning from each other’s experiences. Texas started this years ago, and we’re learning from their experience. We know what is palatable and we know what the outcomes are.”

Brandes said Florida can learn from other states, including Texas, about “what works and what doesn’t.”

“We don’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel,” he said. “They’ve been able to have a meaningful impact and still reduce recidivism and overall crime.”

Gov. Rick Scott announced in 2016 the state’s crime rate was at a 45-year low, dropping to 3.1 percent in 2015. However, the state saw an increase in the number of murders, rapes and motor vehicle thefts during that same time period.

But Brandes said while crime is falling, the number of people in prisons remains static. And Brandes said the state needs to look at issues like sentencing, education, life skills and how to deal with addiction and mental health problems.

“What we know is that most people in jail today are going to get out. Are they going to get out as productive members of society or are they going to get out as better criminals,” said Brandes. “What are we doing (to address) education, life skills, addiction. Are we dealing with those appropriately?”

Brandes proposed a bill (SB 458) to create a 28-member task force to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice, courts and correction system. While the bill received unanimous support in early committee meetings, it didn’t get a vote of the full Senate before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The St. Petersburg Republican has said he plans to make criminal justice reform a top priority during his term. He told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists last year that while it wasn’t something his constituents were clamoring for; it was an issue that needs to be addressed.

Brandes didn’t just focus on criminal justice during his trip to D.C. last week. He also met with Rep. Dennis Ross to talk about flood insurance; as well as Uber and Tesla to talk about bills passed during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Pinellas GOP heavyweights raising money for Rick Baker on Wednesday in Clearwater Beach

Former Mayor Rick Baker continues building momentum in his quest to return for a third term as St. Petersburg Mayor.

Coming off a successful campaign kickoff event last week, Baker, who served two terms from 2001-2010, is following with another high-profile reception Wednesday in Clearwater Beach.

Co-chairs of the event – with the tagline “Proven Leadership” – include renowned attorney Brian Aungst Jr., former Pinellas GOP Chair Jay Beyrouti and restaurateur (and one-time “Mr. Clearwater”) Frank Chivas.

According to the invite, the blockbuster bipartisan host committee includes more than four dozen prominent Pinellas County state and municipal leaders such as State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, state Reps. Kathleen Peters, Wengay Newton, Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls, former state Rep. (and Senate candidate) Ed Hooper, Pinellas County Clerk Ken Burke, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters, North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen, Treasure Island Mayor Robert Minning, Oldsmar Vice Mayor Dan Saracki and more.

In last week’s kickoff at the Morean Arts Center, Baker pushed his vision of “A Seamless City,” and the slogan “I’m ready to serve.” Wednesday’s event – attended by much of the Pinellas County political elite – will sure to continue that theme. Baker is facing incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The reception begins 5:30 p.m. at the Island Way Grill, 20 Island Way in Clearwater. Those interested in attending can RSVP with Rick Porter at (407) 849-1112 or rick@politicalcapitalflorida.com.

Andrew Warren and Aramis Ayala blast Jeff Sessions plan for stricter sentencing in criminal cases

In recent years, criminal justice reform, especially in drug sentencing, has taken on more momentum, with governors in some of most conservative parts of the country embracing such efforts.

In Florida, progressive State Attorney candidates like Andrew Warren in Tampa and Aramis Ayala in Orlando won their respective races last year by running on a similar platform.

The two State Attorneys joined a group of current and former prosecutors last week in blasting Attorney General Jeff Sessions recent directive that the Justice Department return to a previous policy of filing the most serious charge available against a defendant under provable facts.

“The Attorney General’s directive marks an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past ‘tough on crime’ practices that we now know simply don’t enhance or promote the safety of our communities,” wrote 31 state and local prosecutors from around the nation in a letter to Sessions.

“There is no empirical evidence to suggest that increases in sentences, particularly for low-level offenses, decrease the crime rate,” the letter continued. “Instead, we know that in many instances contact with the justice system exacerbates the likelihood of future criminal conduct and that the deterrent effect of long-term prison sentences is questionable at best,” the letter continued. “Moreover, it is important to note that national crime rates remain near all-time lows — down over 50% from their peak in 1991, to levels the country has not experienced since 1970.”

In a memo sent out to federal prosecutors on May 10, Sessions announced that he was reversing a Justice Department policy from the Obama administration that led to prosecutors in drug cases often filing charges in a way that avoided triggering mandatory minimum sentences in federal law.

“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Sessions said in his directive. Such a move is expected to increase the chances that suspects will receive mandatory minimum sentences. That’s a significant change from the policies that Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder had advocated. Instead, Holder gave prosecutors more latitude to avoid charges that would trigger mandatory minimums. In the last five years of the Obama administration, the number of defendants charged in federal cases dropped from about 103,000 to about 77,500, the lowest number since 1998.

GOP-controlled state legislatures in Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia have adopted a number of progressive initiatives in this field over the past decade. Many of those states began by establishing task forces to examine the laws that they wanted to change.

However, St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes criminal justice reform bill (SB 458) died in the Senate Rules Committee earlier this month.

After he had defeated 16-year Republican incumbent Mark Ober last November, Warren said he was “grateful for the fact that Hillsborough County shares my vision of criminal justice reform.”

Others signing on to the letter include New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

You can read the contents of that letter to Sessions here:

On May 10, 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced a new charging and sentencing policy for the United States Department of Justice that requires federal prosecutors in all cases (absent high-level approval) to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” — defined as those offenses that “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.” Any prior inconsistent policy of the Department of Justice relating to these matters was rescinded.

The Attorney General’s directive marks an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past “tough on crime” practices that we now know simply don’t enhance or promote the safety of our communities. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that increases in sentences, particularly for low-level offenses, decrease the crime rate. Instead, we know that in many instances contact with the justice system exacerbates the likelihood of future criminal conduct and that the deterrent effect of long-term prison sentences is questionable at best. Moreover, it is important to note that national crime rates remain near all-time lows — down over 50 percent from their peak in 1991, to levels the country has not experienced since 1970.

Although there are no certain benefits to the newly announced policy, there are definitive and significant costs. The increased use of mandatory minimum sentences will necessarily expand the federal prison population and inflate federal spending on incarceration. There is a human cost as well. Instead of providing people who commit low-level drug offenses or who are struggling with mental illness with treatment, support and rehabilitation programs, the policy will subject them to decades of incarceration. In essence, the Attorney General has reinvigorated the failed “war on drugs,” which is why groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Cato Institute to Right on Crime have all criticized the newly announced policy.

As current and former elected state and local prosecutors, we are committed to prioritizing the safety, fair treatment and dignity of all members of our community. This is why we have grave concerns with the tenets embodied in the Attorney General’s directive. And it is why we agree with national law enforcement leaders who have opined that we “need not use arrest, conviction, and prison as the default response for every broken law.”

See A Crime and Justice Agenda for the New Administration, Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime and Incarceration (February 13, 2017), available at http://lawenforcementleaders.org/fighting-crime-strengthening-criminal-justice-agenda-new-administration/.

We will continue in our own jurisdictions to undertake innovative approaches that promote public safety and fairness, and that ensure that law enforcement’s finite resources are directed to the arrest and prosecution of the most serious offenders. It is through these priorities that prosecutors can best advance public safety and fortify trust in the legitimacy of our criminal justice system.

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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.

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