Jeff Brandes – Page 4 – Florida Politics

USFSP students ‘apprehensive and confused’ over consolidation

“Concerned, apprehensive, and confused.”

That’s the mood on the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus over the proposed consolidation of the USF System, USF St. Pete student government leaders say.

In a letter to GOP lawmakers who are pushing consolidation legislation, student body officials set out their concerns over the proposal to phase out the separate accreditation for the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses, which had been under the radar till last month.

“We represent a Student Body that is concerned, apprehensive, and confused as to what the accreditation consolidation of the USF System means for the future of this campus,” wrote Student Body President David D. Thompson, Senate President Emilie Morris and Chief Justice Richard Marini.

That was in a letter to state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican.

The initiative, which has roiled the business and political establishment in St. Petersburg in the past two weeks, will spread the benefits of the Tampa campus’ rising reputation and funding to St. Pete and Sarasota, Sprowls has said.

Further, USF System President Judy Genshaft says the consolidation could help students graduate faster and with less debt by providing a wider variety of course options and majors, including those in health care and engineering.

As the legislation moves through committees on both sides of the Legislature, the USFSP student body leaders want the Campus Board to be retained and expanded to include a student representative with voting rights; that there be student representation from USFSP in a transition task force that will make recommendations for the future of the USF System, and that leadership on the St. Pete campus “must be empowered to honor and continue to make commitments to sustainability,” among other things.

“We believe that all current parties are working in what they believe is the best interest of the students at USFSP,” Thompson, Morris and Martini write.

“Moving forward, it should be clear that if there is any suggestion or inclination that this consolidation will be used to hamper the progress of USFSP or hinder student success, we will not only vocalize our opposition but use the powers vested in us by the State of Florida to actively oppose this legislation.”

GOP lawmaker wants Lorde’s Florida concerts canceled because of involvement with BDS movement

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lorde is scheduled to perform in Tampa and Miami this April, but one Republican lawmaker says her shows should be canceled due to her involvement in the BDS movement.

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israel government for its treatment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The 21-year-old’s involvement in the movement became known in December, when she cancelled a concert scheduled to take place in Israel this spring.

Palm Bay Republican Randy Fine says that under Florida law, no state or local government can conduct business exceeding $1 million with any organization engaged in a boycott of Israel.

“Florida has no tolerance for anti-Semitism and boycotts intended to destroy the State of Israel,” said Fine. “That’s why Florida passed groundbreaking anti-BDS legislation several years ago and why, along with Senator Jeff Brandes, I have proposed strengthening that legislation this year. Current statutes are clear – local governments cannot do business with companies that participate in anti-Semitic boycotts of Israel. When Lorde joined the boycott in December, she and her companies became subject to that statute.

Fine insists that, “the taxpayers of Miami and Tampa should not have to facilitate bigotry and anti-Semitism, and I look forward to the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Tampa Sports Authority complying with the law and cancelling these concerts.”

Lorde is scheduled to perform at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Wednesday, April 11 and at the American Airlines Theater in Miami on Thursday, April 12.

Calls to the Tampa Sports Authority and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority were not returned for comment.

The BDS movement originated on college campuses in the U.S. in the early aughts. It is extremely controversial, with pro-Israel organizations accusing the movement of being fueled by anti-Semitism.

Lorde’s decision to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv made her the latest artist to cancel an Israel concert following pressure from the BDS movement, joining Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Thurston Moore, Lauryn Hill and more. Not all popular artists agree obviously. Both Radiohead and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds went ahead with planned shows in Israel last year, despite fierce criticism from the BDS-aligned artists.

Both Fine and Brandes were in session in the Legislature on Thursday afternoon and were also not available to comment.

With hundreds dying from the flu, lawmakers choose inaction

Facing of one of the deadliest flu epidemics in the history of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a Senate committee temporarily postponed a measure which would give Floridians greater access to antiviral medication, critical in the treatment of the flu and strep.

SB 524, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would allow a pharmacist to test for and treat influenza — in collaboration with a physician, through a rigorously written protocol approved by the doctor.

While these services are well within the education and expertise of pharmacists, the bill required additional training approved by the state Board of Medicine. In addition to the strict medical protocols, SB 524 also mandates pharmacists to carry $200,000 in professional liability insurance, to test and treat for influenza virus and streptococcal infections.

“It’s all about access,” Brandes told members of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

However, physicians oppose the bill, arguing pharmacists were not adequately trained to treat or diagnose the illness.

Among those speaking to the committee included a doctor of internal medicine, adding a level of confusion to what should have been a very straightforward proposal. This physician claimed SD 524 would allow pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe.

Unfortunately, this is untrue. There would be no diagnosis by a pharmacist under the proposal.

Used in the process are simple (and accurate) devices which detect whether the disease is present, employing a procedure that takes as little as three minutes. There would be no prescribing by a pharmacist. Strict guidelines are laid out by a physician — in meticulous detail — describing what a pharmacist is allowed to do in the case of a positive or negative test.

The doctor also told senators that flu tests are only “60 percent sensitive,” an interesting statistic, considering Food and Drug Administration requires flu tests be at least 90 percent sensitive for influenza A to even be used in the United States.

There are currently 10 FDA approved rapid diagnostic tests to screen for influenza and that the tests can give results within about 15 minutes. These devices are the same ones now used in doctor’s offices.

If such devices are not good enough for pharmacists, why would they be used in doctor’s offices and hospitals?

What’s more, the doctor acknowledged he does not even see flu patients face-to-face — admitting he only talks to them on the phone and writing a prescription based on the conversation.

In another contradiction, this doctor said the best treatment for flu is hand-washing and rest — yet still prescribes antivirals over the phone. Antivirals only decrease the longevity of the disease by about 24 hours, he said, but antivirals also decrease the severity of symptoms, which can lead to life-threatening complications like pneumonia.

In the end, the real reason all of the doctors and associations were standing in opposition to the bill: they are trying to protect their profession.

Allowing pharmacists to perform these services is eroding primary care, he said, and that pharmacists are trying to “replace” primary care physicians.

Over 30 percent of people in Florida currently do not have primary care physicians. Without such access, patients will go either without care or end up in the hospital.

Early antiviral treatment shortens the duration of fever and flu symptoms, reducing the risk of complications. Reports show, in some cases, early treatment can even prevent death.

The best clinical benefit for the flu is through early administration of antiviral treatment, especially within 48 hours of onset of symptoms. Quick access to care is imperative to saving lives and controlling the spread of disease.

Hospitals are more crowded than in the 2014-2015 flu season — the previous record of 710,000 Americans needing medical care to beat the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctor’s offices are all full — a situation further aggravated by the state’s doctor shortage.

In Florida, access to care is getting increasingly worse. But with 86 percent of the population living within 5 miles of a pharmacy and many 24-hour options, pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals for a majority of Floridians.

Allowing pharmacists to test and treat influenza will save lives and decrease the spread of the disease — keeping people out of crowded hospitals and reducing the duration of the disease.

Why is the Senate refusing to act, especially when it saves lives?

Pre-arrest diversion program bill clears House panel with lingering concerns

Pinellas County lawmakers are hoping to implement a pre-arrest diversion program in their county across the state, but on Tuesday some lawmakers in the House opposed the measure because they fear violent offenders may slip through the cracks.

“If there’s an Achilles’ heel with the bill it could be the notion that violent offenders could be caught in the citation process,” Republican state Rep. Jay Fant said.

The Attorney General hopeful said a “friendly no vote” on the bill will hopefully  “underscore the fact that this is a serious” concern of his as it moves forward in the process. The measure cleared the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in the end, with Fant and Rep. Joe Gruters voting against it.

Other lawmakers viewed the proposal by Rep. Larry Ahern of Pinellas County as a step toward improving the state’s criminal justice system.

Under the bill, two separate pre-arrest diversion programs would be created in each judicial circuit in the state. One for adults and one for juveniles. The goal would be to give some misdemeanor offenders community service before they are pushed through the criminal justice system.

“It is important that we begin the framework for helping our bills be bills that uphold parts of the law and also provide provisions that can help the criminal justice process be a better process,” state Rep. Sharon Pritchett said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would need to adopt rules under the bill that would expunge the non-judicial arrest record of a juvenile who completes the diversion program.

Adults and juveniles who do not successfully complete the program would be referred back to the arresting law enforcement agency which would determine if they should face prosecution for the crime committed.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican from Pinellas County, said there are “unintended consequences” that could come with the bill if there is no consistency with the mandates.

Under the bill, local agencies can continue to operate their independent diversion program if it was operating before the bill was implemented, and if it is determined that the state attorney of that circuit will have a similar program developed to comply with state law.

“When we did this in our county, we had all different cities doing different citations and people don’t know the boundaries of the other cities,” Peters said. “Having no consistency is problematic.”

Ahern said the goal of his bill, HB 1197, is to create “uniformity” by implementing diversion programs statewide that give local law enforcement agencies “guidelines” rather than mandates on how to operate their programs. His bill now heads to its last committee stop.

A companion bill (SB 1392) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has two more committees before it can hit the full floor.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Bill to expand the number of retroactive death penalty cases advances

A proposal to expand the number of prisoners on death row who could have their sentences reviewed by a jury was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.

The issue dates back to early 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s death penalty was unconstitutional, as it allowed judges to make the final decision on sending a prison to death row. The Supreme Court had ruled similarly in an Arizona case in 2002.

That ruling compelled the Legislature to rewrite its sentencing laws, with the current law now requiring a unanimous jury verdict for the state to impose a death sentence.

The question following the high court’s decision was how many of the several hundred people on death row in Florida would be able to appeal their sentences. The Florida Supreme Court answered that question in December 2016, when it ruled 6-1 that death sentences finalized before that June 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Arizona case would remain in effect.

Former Justice James Perry was the lone dissenter, writing that all death row inmates should have their sentences changed to life in prison. Justice Barbara Pariente agreed with Perry that the ruling should apply retroactively to all death row inmates, but said they should be entitled only to a rehearing, not guaranteed a lesser sentence, the Miami Herald reported.

 The proposal from Ocoee Democrat Randolph Bracy (SB 870) would do just that.

“It’s just a matter of justice,” Bracy told Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean when asked why the need for a law after the Supreme Court had weighed in already.

Bracy, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, added that the June 24, 2002, cutoff date for death sentence reviews was arbitrary. “I think they should have the right to get a sentence reviewed again, just as the ones after that date are able to,” he told Bean.

Adding his voice in support of the bill was St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who said it the right and fair thing to do.

While the bill now advances in the Senate, it has yet to get a sponsor in the House.

Expanded use of bed tax revenues gets heat from hotel industry

Hotel advocates are adamantly opposed to a legislative initiative this year that seeks to include public facilities projects in the list of expenditures that can be funded by the tourism development tax, also known as the bed tax.

Despite industry woes, the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously cleared the proposal on Monday.

But the battle over the bill (SB 658) has drawn the ire of some very influential interests, such as the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, and is far from over.

The bed tax is levied at different rates by different municipalities across the state. It is tacked onto the price of any short-term stay at places like a hotel, timeshare or resort.

Bed tax revenues currently can be spent on local budget items that would promote tourism, public zoos, auditoriums and other entertainment venues. Revenues can also be spent on beach improvements. 

St. Petersburg Republican and SB 658 sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill would allow bed tax revenues to be spent on projects for public facilities that are needed to increase tourism. Ahead of the vote on Monday, Brandes explained an amendment that was presumably designed to make his bill less of an industry adversary.

“The goal here is to offer flexibility,” Brandes said regarding the amendment in an interview after the committee meeting. 

The amendment permitted spending bed tax revenues on estuary and lagoon nourishment. It also added language that would make SB 658 apply only to districts that collect more than $20 million in tourist-tax revenue. It also would require two-thirds approval from the county governing board to reallocate dollars towards public facilities projects.

Additionally, the amendment, adopted on Monday, would cap bed tax revenue spending on public facilities at 70 percent of the project’s total cost and require an independent analysis showing the reallocation will have a positive impact on tourism in the district.

But even with the amendment adopted, the industry ultimately was still opposed.

Kevin Craig, public policy director for the CFHLA, said his organization, which represents nearly 121,000 hotel rooms in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, is opposed to the expanded use of tourist-tax revenues.

“Our association continues to assert that the tourist-development tax dollars continue to be utilized for developing tourists,” Craig said.

“While sewers, transportation, public facilities and others are important community needs, visitors to Central Florida and Florida as a whole are already supporting these general fund expenditures through sales tax revenue,” Craig said. He said tourists generate 20 percent of sales tax revenue.

Richard Turner, general counsel and vice president of government affairs for FRLA, echoed similar concerns but was appreciative of the amendment adopted by the committee.

“There are some portions of the amendment offered by the sponsor which are great steps,” Turner said. He cited the two-thirds vote and independent study provisions as examples of “safeguards.”

Still, Turner, on behalf of FRLA, fundamentally disagrees with Brandes’ bill.

“The purpose of the tourist-development tax is to promote and advertise tourism, not to build roads or sewers,” Turner said. “Our concern is whether continual, additional exceptions — regardless of how they’re intentioned — will ultimately dilute the very purpose of the tourist-development tax.”

Brandes later said there may be more changes to the bill that would ultimately bring the opposed parties on board.

“I think you’re starting to see us coalesce around a group of ideas,” Brandes said.

SB 658 will now head to Senate Appropriations. Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine is sponsoring a comparable bill (HB 585) in the House. Brandes is confident that the two bills will begin to align.

Bill giving judges discretion over drug trafficking sentences moves forward

A proposal that would give judges discretion over drug trafficking mandatory minimum sentences advanced Tuesday after receiving strong pushback from a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist.

“I don’t ever want to help a trafficker, no sir, and I don’t want to give a judge not one iota of an opportunity to go less on a trafficking sentence,” said Barney Bishop III, a lobbyist with the Smart Justice Alliance, a conservative criminal justice reform group.

“A drug abuser? Every day of the week. A drug trafficker? Absolutely not,” Bishop added.

The proposal cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-3 vote, with some in the panel criticizing Bishop for “fear mongering” and painting all drug traffickers as violent offenders.

“A lot of these are nonviolent officer and to jump from someone facing a mandatory minimum to them being released from prison and killing someone is a huge assumption,” said Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat.

The measure (SB 694) proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, would give a court power to depart from current state mandatory minimum prison terms. The judge would be able to look at evidence and part from them mandatory minimum if the offender was not part of a criminal organization, used violence or a weapon during the offense. Mandatory fines would still apply.

“One pill can make all the difference on how long you serve, whether it is three years or seven years,” Brandes said.

The minimum sentence may be lower or higher than the one set forth by state law under the court’s discretion, according to the bill’s staff analysis.

Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield was one of the three senators that voted against the measure, saying she did not agree with including fentanyl cases.

“We have been trying to fight fentanyl for the last couple years,” Mayfield said.

Brandes’ proposal would impact those criminally charged under the drug trafficking statute, whether it be sale, delivery, importation, manufacturing or possession of large quantities of a controlled substance. That would include cocaine, marijuana and opioids such as fentanyl.

“Our point here is largely low level people who are addicts and get involved with heroin and they may purchase heroin that is mixed with fentanyl,” Brandes said.

Current law requires those convicted of a drug trafficking offense to serve a mandatory minimum sentence. Those terms depend on the drug trafficked. When it comes to cocaine, a person caught with at least 28 grams, but less than 200 grams must serve at least 3 years in prison and pay a fine of $50,000. For an amount of at least 400 grams, a traffickers must be sentenced to at least 15 years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine.

Bishop was skeptical about the proposal and said the drug amounts that are being discussed go way beyond personal use, adding that he has done drugs before and has never been in possession of large quantities that would qualify under the state’s drug trafficking laws.

“You are helping people that have so much drugs that they can’t use it themselves,” he said. “If I smoke over a gram of pot every year it would take me 1.1 years to smoke a pound.”

“Imagine what it would take me to smoke 25 pound.”

Backed by Pam Bondi, Lauren Book’s sexual harassment bill clears Senate panel

On Tuesday, the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved a landmark bill on “Creating the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct.”

SB 1628, sponsored by Plantation Democrat Lauren Book, mandates that the task force meets every four years. It bars legislators, candidates, agency employees, and lobbyists from sexually harassing anyone, and keeps the identity of accusers confidential and exempt from public records requests.

Additionally, an amendment bars sexual favors between legislators and lobbyists or “closers.”

Violations of guidelines could spawn criminal or civil penalties, including impeachment or removal from office for public officials, a one-third salary cut for up to a year, or a $10,000 civil penalty.

These changes are driven by sex scandals that have dogged the Legislature in recent months, led by the resignation of former budget chief Jack Latvala after two special reports found probable cause for serial sexual harassment.

Book referred to what unchecked lust and abuse of power have wrought, noting that she is “one of what should be 40 Senators, but we stand as only a body of 38.”

“For far too long, bad actions have been able to hide in the shadows of this process,” Book said, abetted by a “good ol’ boys club” that threatened victims who complained of harassment, intimidation, or manipulation.

“It’s especially shameful here, undermining public trust,” Book added. “We know and have clearly seen that where there is power, there is potential for abuse.”

Candidates and lobbyists will have to disclose that they have read and understood the standards, Book said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi lauded Book for carrying the bill, specifically the provisions for confidentiality and victim advocates.

There was no debate on the amendment or the bill; there didn’t need to be. The consensus was that these changes are necessary.

“This is the first step,” Book said through tears,

This was the first committee stop for Book’s bill; the bill moves onto Governmental Oversight and Accountability, then Rules.

As well, there is a House companion, and it is strongly supported by Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“There is no place in our capital city, our state, or the workplace for unacceptable and unwanted behavior. We believe these new rules are the toughest in the nation and they will apply to all state employees, legislators, and visitors. Never again should one’s job title or position of power shield them from accountability for their disgusting behavior. I am proud to lead this House of Reformers and believe these new rules will be a model for the nation,” Corcoran said Tuesday.

Legislative leaders seek reassurance as USF consolidation plan moves ahead

Two Pinellas County Republicans want reassurance that students at the University of South Florida’s two smaller sister campuses will receive “significant benefits” under a proposed plan to consolidate the three-campus system into a single university.

Citing “years of distrust between campuses” in a letter to USF Board of Trustees Chair Brian Lamb, state Rep. Chris Sprowls and Sen. Jeff Brandes asked if there would be a commitment to invest in specific programs at USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee if the “barrier to opportunity is eliminated.”

“It is simply not enough for us to state the benefits of the proposal in a legislative hearing and speak in the weeds on higher education policy, and how that interacts with the student experience,” they wrote.

Under the state’s preeminence program which rewards top-performing universities, USF Tampa will soon receive more funding. But that is currently not the case for the two smaller campuses.

The proposal would bring the USF campuses in St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee back under the purview of the main campus in Tampa. Sprowls and Brandes say the proposal supports the notion that “one USF secures a bright future for our students, faculty and communities by ensuring equitable investments at each institution.”

The lawmakers said some members in the community still need some reassurance that what is being said is accurate.

“While the relationship of preeminence and regional classification act as barriers to these opportunities on campus currently, would that still be the case if USF was accredited as a single institution?” they write.

USF St. Petersburg officials first raised objections last week when a provision was added to the large House higher education bill (HB 423).

On Thursday, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce said it wants a formal study on the effects of the proposal before the plan moves forward.

The Chamber cited concerns over the “the pace of taking this from an idea to a policy without any public process or due diligence.”

In the late 1990s, after complaints that USFSP wasn’t reaching its potential under the control of Tampa administrators, state lawmakers began the process of formally separating St. Pete from the main Tampa campus. When that effort failed, a new movement to separately accredit USFSP moved forward in 2006.

If the proposal is approved, the USF board of trustees would have one year to plan for consolidation, and another year to execute.

Read the letter below:

Mr. Brian Lamb

Chairman, USF Board of Trustees University of South Florida

4202 Fowler Avenue

Tampa, Florida 33620

January 25, 2017

Dear Chairman Lamb:

Through the collaborative efforts and hard work of students, faculty, and staff from throughout the University of South Florida, the university is poised to join the ranks of Florida’s best public universities by achieving a pre-eminent designation. This distinction recognizes USF’s success as a Research I University, its continually improving graduation rates, the hundreds of patents its received, and the many degree programs offered by the campus, including doctoral programs.

As we celebrate this achievement as a region, we write to you today on an issue that directly impacts the future of the USF System.

As you know, language was added to PCS/HB 423 directing the USF board of trustees to consolidate the accreditations of the three USF institutions: USF, USF Sarasota/Manatee, and USF St. Petersburg. The proposal gives the Trustees one year to plan for consolidation, and one year to execute.

The impetus for this proposed change is rooted in a firm belief and commitment from this legislature, and past legislatures, that performance funding, and pre-eminence provide the structure that motivates our State Universities to strive for excellence. We saw significant results from this structure last year when the University of Florida was ranked among the nation’s Top 5 public universities and USF, in their pursuit of pre-eminence, achieve great feats in research and patent acquisition.

However, while USF Tampa and its students will benefit from pre-eminence and all it affords to that institution, that success will not be shared with the entire USF Community — namely USFSP and USFSM.

As members of the Tampa Bay Delegation and residents of Pinellas County, it is our sincerest desire to create a level playing field of opportunity throughout the USF System — every student at USFSP or USFSM should share in the success of the USF System.

The consolidation proposal initiated in the House came after thoughtful consideration of the limitations on USFSP and USFSM by their regional mission and Carnegie classification.

As you know, the institutions regional classification does not permit them to share in the status, or the benefits of pre-eminence. In addition to neither institution being allowed to offer doctoral programs, there are also other limits on additional opportunities for students.

The proposal asserts the idea that a consolidated USF provides the residents of Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas access to a pre-eminent university with all the resources that prestigious distinction affords. The proposal supports the notion that one USF secures a bright future for our students, faculty and communities by ensuring equitable investments at each institution including: support for research, doctoral programs, additional degrees, and unlimited opportunity for students preparing to enter a competitive job market. It also suggests that just as a rising tide lifts all boats, one USF will allow the university to grow together in success and stature.

As you know it has been stated that the proposal will further unify the institutions by motivating USF Tampa to invest in programs and resources at the regional institutions as the performance of each will, for the first time, impact the performance-based metrics and funding for the University. These investments have short and long-term consequences to USF and all of its cities. In the short-term, funds from Tampa will be redirected to fund students, faculty, and facilities at the regional institutions which support the pre-eminent mission. In the longer view, the performance-based metrics at each of the campuses will increase thus ensuring additional dollars earned from the state through performance-based funding as well as continuing pre-eminence funding. Tampa Bay as a region will benefit mightily when top researchers are embedded in a variety of our communities and contributing their knowledge to help solve important problems in the private and public sectors.

While the list of reasons that the proposal will have a significantly positive impact on the lives and educational experience of students, as highlighted today by the unanimous support of the proposal by the State University Board of Governors, there have been some who have raised concerns. Especially, the USFSP community. It is fair to say that much of the concern of the proposal harkens back to years of distrust between the campuses, and while your leadership and that of many others have made significant strides, those wounds run deep. That is why we are writing to you today.

It is simply not enough for us to state the benefits of the proposal in a legislative hearing and speak in the weeds on higher education policy, and how that interacts with the student experience. Some members of the community need some assurances that what is being said is accurate, and that USFSP students will be receiving significant benefits from a consolidation plan.

That is why we are asking you to respond to several things that have been discussed specifically related to the USFSP campus. In speaking to members of the USFSP community, it is clear that engineering degrees, health care related degrees, research support, and doctoral programs in marine science are unmet needs at the campus.

As you are aware, St. Petersburg is the starting point to Florida’s High Tech Corridor and the location of a thriving innovation district. The innovation district includes John Hopkins All Children’s, Bayfront Hospital, SRI, NOAA, Florida Institute of Oceanography, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, USFSP, and the College of Marine Sciences.

With a thriving innovation district, that unites tech industry, health care, and the underwater world of Marine Science, this seems to be an early starting point for opportunity at USFSP. While the relationship of pre-eminence and regional classification act as barriers to these opportunities on campus currently, would that still be the case if USF was accredited as a single institution?

Can the USF board of trustees commit to the USFSP community that they will invest in these specific programs at USFSP if that barrier to opportunity is eliminated?

In addition to the programs the market is calling for in St. Petersburg, USF- Sarasota Manatee is poised to grow their programs in areas of strategic emphasis, nursing, STEM related fields, and for the first time, the opportunity to have doctoral students on campus.

Can the USF board of trustees commit to the USFSM community that they will invest in these specific programs at the Sarasota/Manatee campus if the barrier to opportunity is eliminated?

While the opportunities above are by no means the only lingering questions or concerns for the USFSP and USFSM communities, we believe it will provide clarity on the proposal if you can be clear on your intentions to bring those opportunities to students in short order if separate accreditation is no longer a barrier.

If the board of trustees is in a position to commit to the opportunities referenced above, can you provide a timeline of the necessary steps to increase academic programs at USF Sarasota/Manatee and USF St. Petersburg to us prior to the end of the 2018 legislative session?

I would also invite you and the board of trustees to offer any other insights you may have on the impact of this proposal and the potential benefits to the students of USFSP & USFSM.

It would be helpful if the board of trustees could respond to these inquires by next week, Tuesday, January 30th.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues on behalf of the USF System and the Tampa Bay region as a whole. We appreciate your work to push USF to strive for excellence, and to create pathways to prosperity for USF students systemwide.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons