Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 6 of 43 - Florida Politics

Bill regulating ride-sharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger.

While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Criminal justice reform task force and other reform bills advance in Florida Senate

A raft of bills that would reform Florida’s criminal justice system sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes were approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.

That included legislation that would create a criminal justice task force (SB 458) consisting of 27 members that would take a “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute. The task force would deliver a report on the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

“The goal is to bring the parties together in the interim between session and try to find using data based solutions, a pathway forward for comprehensive reform,” said Brandes.

The 27 member force would come from those representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.

In talking about the need for such reform, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley invoked the memory of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate who died at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 after he was thrown into a steaming shower.

“I don’t know what it takes to wake everybody up to know that we’ve got a problem, but we have a problem, and to fix the problem, you’ve gotta recognize that there’s a problem,” Bradley told his colleagues, asking if conservative states like Texas can enact such criminal justice reform, Florida surely can as well.

Three other Brandes backed bills addressing criminal justice were also passed by the committee.

Including among them was SB 448,  which would give the discretion to law enforcement agencies to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain offenders.

A critic of the bill named Ralph Wilson  said that the language of that legislation was derived from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial organization that creates model conservative legislation that is adopted by state legislators around the country. Wilson claimed that when compared with  ALEC’s “model legislation” on pre-arrest diversion.  He claimed that three of the five sections of the  bill was more than 97% identical to the ALEC bill.

Brandes rejected the claim, as did Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who said that his organization actually shopped it over to ALEC.

Ocala Senator Dennis Baxley said that he previously had opposed the bill, but was coming around on it, and said he was impressed that ALEC was supporting it as well.

The committee also passed  SB 450 involving public records. The bill would require that a civil citation, documentation of a rearrest diversion program and any other reports or documents held by a law enforcement agency are exempt from public records requirements.

And they passed SB 790 which is related to probation and community control.

 

 

Jeff Brandes amends ridesharing bill in Florida Senate

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has amended his ridesharing bill (SB 340) that has been moving its way through the Florida Senate.

Among those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ridesharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties on Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant. The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The DFS would have authorization “to shut down bad actors” and prohibit specific drivers from operating on platforms if they are noncompliant.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

This fundraising invitation from Ed Hooper has me worried

Late last month, former state Sen. John Legg announced that he would not attempt to return to the Legislature in 2018. Had he run, Legg’s best path to victory was thought to be through north Pinellas’ Senate District 16, where incumbent Jack Latvala is term-limited from running again.

The person who benefits the most from Legg not running is former state Rep. Ed Hooper who, even if Legg was in the race, is the early front-runner to replace Latvala.

Hooper was in Tallahassee last Monday for a fundraiser hosted by Latvala, the next two Senate Presidents — Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson — as well as almost all of Republicans who comprise Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.

In other words, with Legg out and the establishment behind him, Hooper should cruise in 2018, or at least through the Republican primary.

But something, admittedly trivial, has me just a tad bit worried. It’s this dang invitation (pictured below) for a fundraiser on March 29.

To look at, the invitation is hideous. And whoever filled up the invite with those throwaway puns should have their keyboard taken away.

Seriously, this invitation looks like a dog’s breakfast.

Maybe it was designed by an earnest volunteer. And maybe a campaign intern was in charge of the writing.

But you know what this invite reminds me of?

Jim Frishe.

It’s a big serving of Jim Frishe Velveeta cheese.

Frishe, of course, is the former state Representative who wanted a seat in the Florida Senate but was defeated by Jeff Brandes in a 2012 primary. The tech-savvy Brandes campaign exposed the well-meaning Frishe as a career politician and out-of-date. The final result was not even close.

Ed Hooper’s situation is not the same as Jim Frishe’s. There isn’t a Senate leadership fight shaping the primary in Senate District 16 (at least not yet). Hooper’s not on the opposite side of the Brandes-Nick Hansen wing of the Pinellas GOP which, in 2016, beat Frishe a second time in the Pinellas Property Appraiser contest.

Hooper should not have to endure a primary.

But cheesy stuff like this coming out of the Hooper camp might give some self-financing, unknown conservative — basically a Jeff Brandes of Palm Harbor — the idea that Hooper is, like Frishe was shown to be, a career pol and out-of-date.

And remember, Hooper’s coming off a loss to Democrat Pat Gerard for a County Commission seat. Many observers say that was Hooper’s race to win, but his campaign failed to execute a winning plan.

Sending out invitations designed like the one below may indicate Hooper did not learn from that loss.

Hooper can and should do better than this.

 

Joe Henderson: After Enterprise Florida fight, Rick Scott has little political capital left

Rick Scott went to Tallahassee in 2011 as an outsider. He often has operated like one as well, and not always in a good way.

In a private company, stubborn employees can get fired for standing up to the boss. In politics, though, defiance can be considered a virtue. Eventually, people who vow to run government like a business learn you can’t just issue orders and expect things to get done.

Real democracy can be a free-for-all.

That brings us to the current state of affairs in the capitol city, a time that has the seen the governor behaving less like a CEO and more like a politician trying to win friends and influence people.

To save his most-favored Enterprise Florida agency, the governor put a public campaign that included visits, robo-calls, videos and a public mocking of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

It didn’t work, at least not yet.

The House dealt the governor a stinging rebuke last week with by passing HB 7005 – or what Scott calls “job-killing legislation” – by an overwhelming 87-28 vote.

Scott responded with a statement reading in part, “Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism. But, I want to be very clear – a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”

Everyone waits now to see what happens in the Senate, where Jeff Brandes has a bill that would keep Enterprise Florida but with much greater state oversight. Scott, meanwhile, is keeping up the pressure.

His office sent out eight news releases Monday within 19 minutes touting job gains in cities around the state. He made sure to credit the embattled jobs agency.

It was easy for Scott to get his way when he arrived in Tallahassee on a populist wave, promising to produce jobs and get Florida out of the Great Recession. He certainly wasn’t the only political leader in the land who favored subsidies to jump-start the economy.

Now that those jobs have been created – Scott claims more than 1.3 million overall so far – the mood in Tallahassee has shifted away from what Corcoran calls “corporate welfare.”

That has forced the governor into a defensive posture that he clearly isn’t used to and hasn’t shown evidence yet of mastering.

Meanwhile, the Commerce and Tourism Committee is set to consider a bill from Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa to repeal a program designed to make it easier for pro sports franchises to get state money for stadium projects.

Scott signed that bill in 2014, although an aide was quick to correct me recently when I called it a “pet project” of the governor’s. But, the governor obviously supported the measure and in a statement at the time said, “This sports development program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families.”

Times have changed, though, so I doubt the governor will spend any political capital now to save that pot of state money for professional sports franchises.

With all his chips in the middle of the table for Enterprise Florida, he likely won’t have much of an appetite to fight for sports teams. Judging from the way things are going, lawmakers probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

In Tampa, potential CFO candidate Jeremy Ring tells his story

Broward Democrat Jeremy Ring isn’t officially a candidate for Chief Financial Officer, but he talked the part during a stop in Tampa on Friday.

Speaking at the Oxford Exchange as part of the Cafe Con Tampa weekly event, the former Yahoo executive introduced himself to the audience by humble-bragging about his private sector background, describing himself as the first salesman for the internet search engine company when he started there as a 24-year-old (he’s 46 now).

As proud as he was of his private sector career, Ring was self-deprecating when it came to his knowledge about politics when he decided to first run for the state Senate in 2006.

“I had never been to Tallahassee,” he says. “I barely knew that Jeb Bush was Governor of Florida. When I lived in Silicon Valley, Nancy Pelosi was my Congresswoman – I never heard of her (actually, Pelosi represents San Francisco, an hour north of Silicon Valley, which is located in Santa Clara County). All true. I was the least experienced candidate in the history of the state of Florida.”

The meat of his message is on making Florida an innovative economy, a theme he campaigned on during his first run for office a decade ago. And he’s produced results.

In 2008, he helped create theFlorida Growth Fund, which invests in state and local pension funds involving technology and high-growth businesses with a significant presence in the state, and the Florida Opportunity Fund, a multimillion-dollar program that directs investments to high-performing funds committed to seed early stage businesses.

Ring says that Florida has one of the most complete innovation “ecosystems” in the country, not that it’s something that many lawmakers know or understand.

“Most elected officials in Tallahassee will inspire you instead of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, they’ll inspire you to be the next homebuilder or land use attorneys,” he said. “The biggest thing that we’re lacking in this state to build an innovation economy is not the pieces. The pieces exist. It’s the culture. We don’t have the culture.”

Ring’s legislative record shows that he is definitely unorthodox compared to his Tallahassee colleagues. Last year he sponsored a bill that would make computer coding a foreign language option, an idea he received from his 14-year-old son. The bill failed, though St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring it again this year (Brandes and Tampa Republican Representative Jamie Grant were singled out by Ring as understanding innovation).

Ring is adamant that the worst thing the state could do was to “starve our universities,” and he was critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s new offensive scrutinizing state university foundations. And he said that Florida cannot afford to freeze college tuition.

He tends to think that lawmakers (and the press) are in a bubble in regards to the general public’s attention span. In describing the uproar over former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli pulling the House out of Session days before it was scheduled to end (only to have to come back in a special session), he says ,”Not a single person called my office caring about that. It just wasn’t relevant to their lives.”

Acknowledging that it’s like a cliche, but Ring describes himself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And he is coldly realistic about his chances of success in capturing the CFO seat next year.

It would require raising an “incredible amount of money,” having a solid campaign team and essentially ignoring the Florida Democratic Party. The bigger challenge, he said, is that most Floridians don’t give a hoot about the CFO race, and that part of the campaign will be out of his control.

“What’s the Governor’s race going to look like?” he asked. “Is Donald Trump at one percent or 99 percent?”

Though he said he’s confident of raising substantial money both inside and outside of Florida and having a strong campaign team, “If Adam Putnam is leading the Governor’s race by 10 points, then no, but if John Morgan is leading the Governor’s race by 10 points, then a Democrat’s probably going to win.”

Could anti-Donald Trump quotes hurt Pat Neal’s chances of becoming CFO?

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump hasn’t been too keen on hiring those associated with the “Never Trump” movement of conservative policy who surfaced in last year’s presidential campaign.

The most glaring example of this is the case of former State Department official Elliott Abrams. A meeting between the two last month reportedly went well, according to CNN. Ultimately, though, Trump opted not to hire Abrams for the Deputy Secretary of State position once he learned that Abrams criticized him during his White House run.

With the in mind, might strong criticism of the President during the campaign turn off Rick Scott, a close ally of Trump’s, specifically when it comes to naming a new Chief Financial Officer?

While there have been a host of names floated as possible contenders (including state Senators Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes, Tom Lee and Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. Jim Boyd, former interim head of Citizens Property Insurance Tom Grady, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera), Pat Neal, the Manatee County real estate developer and former state lawmaker, is being looked at by many as the top choice to succeed Jeff Atwater.

Atwater announced last month that he would step down as CFO to serve as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University at the end of the Florida Legislature’s regular session in May.

Neal announced last June that he would not be a candidate for the CFO position in 2018, telling the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he was “dispirited with what I see every morning having to do with the Trump campaign.”

He went on to tell reporter Zac Anderson that he viewed Trump as an incredibly “vulgar” candidate  who “is leading our party off a cliff.”

Neal later told the Times’ Adam Smith: “I, Pat Neal, have never had a bankruptcy, never had a bank default. When you sign a note of bonds, or sell stock with investors the right thing to do is pay them back. Not only did he lose money for people he borrowed from, but for a period there he lost money for his investors, particularly in the casino deals. That isn’t the way you do it, and I would not say he is a credit to the real estate industry.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for Scott simply sent the same statement that Scott said when Atwater announced he would be leaving the CFO spot last month.  It was filled with effusive praise for the Palm Beach County Republican, with Scott adding, “The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families.”

It should be noted that not everyone who has had critical words for Trump has been banned from working with him in his new administration.

Take Rick Perry, Bush’s Secretary of Energy.

On the campaign trail, the former Texas Governor called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” before ultimately endorsing Trump for president calling the the New York City real estate magnate “one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen.”

House committee passes military Occupational Opportunity Act

A House subcommittee unanimously passed a bill to help service members and spouses find and keep jobs when they relocate to Florida.

HB 615, known as Occupational Opportunity Act, sailed through the Florida Careers & Competition Subcommittee Tuesday with a bipartisan vote. Next stop for the bill is the full Commerce Committee.

Palm Beach Republican Paul Renner filed HB 615, with Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg introducing the Senate version.

The Occupational Opportunity Act seeks to expand opportunities for the military community in Florida by lengthening the time an occupational license stays valid after a service member retires or a spouse moves into the state.

If passed, HB 615 would waive licensing fees for new in-state applicants among those in the military community.

Concerned Veterans for America Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri calls the bill a “huge step in ensuring Florida veterans and service members have a fair transition back into their civilian life after returning home from protecting American freedoms abroad.”

Echeverri says HB 615 paves the way “for greater economic opportunity” for millions in the state’s military community.

Autonomous vehicle bill advances in House Committee

In just the past few years, Florida has emerged as a state willing to go all-in on autonomous vehicle technology.

Legislation that removes a requirement that the person operating a vehicle in autonomous mode possess a valid driver’s license — and instead make the autonomous car itself the licensed entity — easily moved Tuesday through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“It clarifies when engaged, the autonomous technology installed on a vehicle, is deemed to be the operator of a vehicle, regardless of whether or not a human is physically present in the vehicle, ” said Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur when explaining the bill (HB 725) to the committee.

Brodeur said the bill was mostly technical in nature, since most of the laws on the books simply never contemplated a society with self-driving vehicles.

Orlando attorney Rich Newsome said the legislation would be an absolute “game changer,” joking that driverless cars will make the roads so much safer that trial lawyers will be put out of business. However, he said he had concerns about the fact that the legislation was moving faster than the car companies producing such technology.

“You’re essentially giving a car who doesn’t know yet how to drive a driver’s license, without passing a test, without really knowing how to drive yet, ” Newsome said. “There is no safety standards or other standards right now for autonomous vehicle technology.” He said a testing program would give the auto companies an incentive to make sure the cars are as safe as possible.

St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton expressed concerns about a driverless car being “hacked,” but Brodeur didn’t seem prepared to address those issues. “If it were to get hacked … that would fall under product liability law, no different than anything you currently operate gets hacked, but there’s liability on the part of the provider there,” Brodeur responded.

“I embrace the technology, but your inability to answer my question about hacking is a little disturbing to me,” Newton added.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristen Jacobs said one of the things that she was excited about is that driverless cars “need”only nine feet of road in 12-feet wide, which she says could more possibilities for sidewalks or bike lanes on streets.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version of the legislation.

 

Parenting plan bill that skip courts, lifts court overload gets unilateral support in Senate committee

A bill heard by a Florida Senate committee Monday seeks to streamline the process of setting up a parenting plan for unmarried parents, according to its sponsor.

The proposal in the Senate’s Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee – SB 590 – was introduced by its lead author, Sen. Jeff Brandes, with members voting in the end to forward the bill.

After that, the bill still must go through several more committees, then heard on the floor of the Statehouse before it becomes law.

The bill looks to authorize the Florida Department of Revenue to establish parenting time plans agreed to by both parents under Title IV-D child support actions of the Social Security Act, as permitted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Title Iv-D is a federal public welfare program that took effect in 1975. It is a conduit for states to enforce child support programs on parent’s delinquent in such responsibilities, etc.)

“The bottom line is that this bill is not just about money, it’s about spending quality time with kids,” Brandes told the committee.

He was asked what costs the bill would incur to the state, responding there would be a one-time, non-recurring cost of $419,000, with annual recurring costs of $20,000.

“It’s a very economical way for kids to see their dads,” Brandes said.

Brandes’ bill also looks to encourage frequent contact between a child and a parent, or parents, for the positive development of children.

The committee peppered the senator with questions, with one came from Sen. Victor Torres, vice-chair of the committee, who wondered whether it affected parents who lived in other states or under nontraditional conditions. He also mentioned he thought it might need a little tweaking before a vote on the floor of the Florida Senate.

Brandes said if a child is under 3-years old, or if one of the parents has committed a crime – like not paying child support or having been convicted of domestic violence – then the custodial parent wouldn’t have to agree to a parenting plan.

In the event the parents can’t agree on a parenting time plan, they would be referred to a circuit court in their district for the establishment of a program. In these instances, parents wouldn’t pay a fee to file a petition to determine a parenting time plan.

The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

It has long been agreed upon by child development experts and those in the psychiatric communities that closer parent-child relationships can often lead to emotional and behavioral stability in adulthood, and overall better mental health, according to the online journal Psychology Today.

The article also noted when parents and children fall out of timing with each other, either of the parties may become mentally distressed.

However, there was a voice of dissent.

Beth Luna, a Jacksonville-based attorney who spoke to the committee about her opposition to the measure, said it SB 590 needs improvements.

“It’s a long-standing policy of this state to do what’s best for a child,” Luna said. “You just can’t implement a plan that’s a one size fits all approach. … Not every child is the same. A child at 16 or 17 is going to be different than a child who is 3 or 4 – the same goes for a special needs child.”

All parenting plans are approved in Family Court in the state of Florida.

Her concerns elicited a host of questions by the committee members, who considered her viewpoint.

But in the end, there was unanimous support for Brandes’ bill.

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