Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 7 of 33 - Florida Politics

Florida to study the possibility of cutting Personal Injury Protection auto insurance requirement

Florida officials are calling for a $125,000 study to consider dropping state’s system of no-fault Personal Injury Protection auto insurance.

The Department of Financial Services is looking for a vendor to produce the report by June, LobbyTools reports. A draft report would be due Aug. 26, with a final report by Sept. 2.

In March 2012, legislation was introduced to eliminate as much as $1 billion in fraud, as well as cut no-fault car insurance bills. However, Florida’s top insurers have pushed through premium hikes up to 40 percent since early 2015.

The goals of the report would be to study a “potential impact to Floridians if the personal injury protection coverage requirements were repealed and replaced with varying levels of bodily injury coverage, or if the current requirements to purchase auto insurance were completely repealed.”

Findings of the study could give lawmakers enough information to consider replacing PIP with bodily injury liability insurance, something done in most other states.

LobbyTools notes that more than 90 percent of Florida drivers already have that coverage.

Delray Beach Republican Rep. Bill Hager says he plans to reintroduce legislation repealing PIP in 2017.

Taking into account “the cycle of change of this magnitude,” Hager believes it may take “a year or two” to get passed.

Sen. Jeff Brandes also sponsored legislation to repeal PIP by 2019, but it gained little traction last Session. The St. Petersburg Republican says conversation has begun and needs to continue over the summer.

Bridges of America settles, but still helps inmates

I believe in second chances. It’s what I do.

Everyone, including my late father, makes mistakes. Some of those mistakes, like my father’s mistakes, mean prison time. That’s why every year the Florida Department of Corrections releases about 30,000 men and women from prison. But for the vast majority of them, it doesn’t include a real second chance.

All but a few hundred of these inmates leave prison with a bus ticket, $50 and the clothes on their backs.

But not the men and women I work with at Bridges of America.

During our more than 30 years working with the department, we’ve been rehabilitating, educating and preparing men and women to return to society. And it’s not just for their benefit.

Inmate re-entry programs help make communities safer and save taxpayers money. When we stop the cycle of repeat prison time we save money, we keep families together, and we prevent crime.

This is exactly why lawmakers all across Florida, including Florida House Majority Leader Dana Young, Florida Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers and basically the entire Broward legislative delegation came to our defense when the Florida Department of Corrections and Secretary Julie Jones abruptly told us we needed to stop what we are doing at our Broward Bridge Program.

First, they told us they wanted to continue and we applied, then they said there wasn’t enough competition, then they told us erroneously that there was re-zoning, then they told us Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was the problem and causing a public safety issue, and this went on and on.

In the meantime, our contracts with the department were expiring.

And I got desperate. Not because we lacked support, not because we were tired of fighting and not because we lacked the will to expose what was really happening behind closed doors — but because of faces.

I saw the faces of our inmates, the faces of our staff and the faces of family members.

I knew we could continue our path of fighting the department tooth and nail, and we would have probably done a lot of long-term good, but at a massive cost — hundreds of second chances.

I couldn’t look our inmates, families and staff in the face and tell them they needed to sacrifice their second chance because of what the department was doing. I needed to save as many second chances as possible.

So that’s what I did — we settled.

In doing so, we saved hundreds of second chances in both Broward and Manatee counties.

It cost us hundreds more future opportunities, eventually up to seven figures in costs, litigation and upgrade fees, and it cost us one of our valuable programs at our Turning Point Facility.

But I had to do it. I had to save as many of these second chances as possible.

Luckily, I know that this issue is now front, center and exposed so incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and influential senators like Jeff Brandes can help fix it when they come back to Tallahassee for the 2017 Florida Legislative Session.

Thank you to everyone who wrote, called or met with Scott, Jones and local lawmakers — and the Sun Sentinel editorial board. We would have lost even more without you.

Thank you for believing in us, and believing in second chances.

Lori Costantino-Brown is president and CEO of Bridges of America.

Panel talks all about the future of driverless cars and how they’ll adapt to it

Are Tampa and the state of Florida on the cutting edge of transportation that is about to transform the world in the next decade? Though Tampa leaders frustrated with the Florida Department of Transportation might think otherwise, that’s the viewpoint espoused Tuesday by Ray LaHood, the former secretary of transportation in Barack Obama’s first term in office.

“We’re in a revolution in the automobile industry,” LaHood said, speaking to an audience at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Tampa. “We’re in a revolution in terms of technology and in terms of connectivity, and in terms of where we go in the future. And you all in Florida are right on the cusp of that, and if your state and communities aren’t, then you’re going to be left behind.”

LaHood is a member of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan national group advocating for more infrastructure spending in the U.S. Along with the Tampa/Hillsborough Expressway Authority and local engineering consultant HTNB, they sponsored the panel discussion, entitled, “All Roads Lead to Tampa: How Tampa is driving the Future of Transportation.”

When it comes to self-driving cars and trucks, the revolution may already be here. Google, Apple, Daimler and now other automobile companies have been working for years on such technology, and it’s only accelerating.

LaHood said that to embrace driverless cars means to embrace putting the technology into the infrastructure. But he says that America as a nation has not done that, referring to the fact that the federal gasoline tax that has paid for transportation projects over the years hasn’t been raised since 1993. “That’s why America is one big pothole,” he lamented, saying that there are now over 58,000 structurally deficient bridges in the country.

The motivating factor why companies are working with driverless cars is safety, said Kaushik Raghu, a senior staff engineer with Audi, referring to how there are 30,000 lives lost to traffic accidents every year.

“We can do better,” acknowledged Greg Krueger with HNTB, referring to not only the number of deaths on the road every year, but also more than three billion gallons of fuel he says Americans waste every year stuck in traffic congestion.

Nobody in public policy has been a bigger advocate for driverless technology than Jeff Brandes. The St. Petersburg state Senator said he took a test drive with an autonomous car at the Sonoma Raceway track in Northern California at 120 mph, and said the first time he rode in such a car he was “terrified.” He said that it was “interesting” the next two times, and then “you’re bored the rest of your life,” saying it was like flying a plane on autopilot. “The technology works. It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s hard to explain how transformational it’s going to be in our lives.”

Last September, The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) received $2.4 million in federal funding to turn the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway into a “test bed” to test the safety, mobility, environmental and efficiency advantage of driverless vehicles.

“Technology goes well beyond the car,” said Joe Waggoner, executive director with THEA, explaining how impactful driverless technology in on transportation overall. “It involves pedestrians, it involves bicyclists, motorcycles and the automobile. That opportunity for safety goes to all of those, and it’s not just about giving heads-up warnings to drivers in their vehicles … it’s about the infrastructure in alerting pedestrians, alerting the bicyclists to approaching cars or to approaching signal systems, so that’s our application.”

Mike Suarez, Tampa City Council chair and chairman of the board with HART, said that it’s incumbent on local policymakers to successfully incorporate the aspects of this new transportation technology into city planning. And he name-checked Winston Churchill to boot, saying that the region was the “end of the beginning” in contending with this brave new world.

Introducing LaHood as the keynote speaker at the event was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who effusively praised the former Transportation Secretary for approving a $10.9 million TIGER grant in 2012 that helped finish the Riverwalk.

The mayor also referred to the recent rejection of a proposed half-cent sales tax, saying “in spite of some of the recent debate, most realize we need mobility options. It is not free. It is not cheap. But if our future is going to be what I think we are capable of being, we need to have this debate, and we need to look at every option that is available to us.”

FDOT’s Paul Steinman reminded the audience at the conclusion of the event that the Florida Automated Vehicle summit will take place in Tampa Nov. 29-30.

Mitch Perry Report for 5.12.16 — The proposed tax that will not go away

So, Go Hillsborough is somehow still alive?

Though they haven’t set a date yet, apparently there will be another public hearing on putting a sales tax referendum on the ballot this November. On Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to support a half-cent sales tax for 15 years, and not the 30-year plan shot down two weeks ago.

As the Tampa Bay Times reports this morning, the BOCC methodically went through a series of votes on potential revenue sources to pay for transportation improvements, and rejected each one of them, including raising the gas tax. They also refused to cut into the constitutional office budgets.

Talk about a Hail Mary.

There was controversy when, seemingly overnight last year, the Go Hillsborough proposal was reduced from a one-cent sales tax to a half-cent. Proponents behind the measure said that was because public opinion polling showed a full-cent tax could not pass.

That cut revenues the tax would have generated in half overnight. But like so much else with the plan, one could argue it made sense if you believed that its whole raison d’être was to get something — anything — passed and begin the process of putting serious improvements in transportation; not just the for county, but the region.

It’s been nearly six long years since the Moving Hillsborough Forward one-cent transit tax bit the dust. It took four years to bring back a similar initiative across the bay with Greenlight Pinellas, which also bit it at the ballot box badly.

Even with all its attendant problems, the board refused to put this new measure up two weeks ago, when deciding voter Victor Crist said he was going to go with his “intuition” to kill the opportunity for the residents of Hillsborough to decide on their own if the plan was worthy of consideration.

Now this.

One thing supporters of a shorter-duration tax have never convincingly been able to articulate is what evidence they have that reluctant Hillsborough County taxpayers will support a tax. Just because it’s shorter? If there is any evidence of that, it’d be great to see.

Sure, a 15-year-tax gives some commissioners — like Al Higginbotham — “a lot less heartburn.” So congratulations to those who believe a shorter tax could get buy-in from the board.

But again, where’s the proof that this will be any more palatable to a reluctant public?

And what about Bob? Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s spokesperson told us yesterday that the mayor was still digesting the news and curious about how this now even further diluted revenue source could help the city out with its transit needs.

In case you forget, there are a lot of people in Tampa who think Go Hillsborough was crafted in a way to take the votes of people in Tampa for granted, who showed back even in 2010 that they could accept paying more in taxes for improvements in transportation — and specifically transit.

Stay tuned …

In other news …

Well, that much-hyped “deal” between ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft and the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission didn’t actually happen, as we thought might be the case.

Tim Canova has raised over a million dollars in his upstart campaign to oust Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her Congressional District 23 seat in South Florida.

Speaking of DWS, she insists that the Dems will come together in the City of Brotherly Love this July, but noises out of the Bernie Sanders camp sure don’t sound that way.

Dan Fiorini in the House District 70 seat (Pinellas and parts of Manatee, Hillsborough and Sarasota) is feeling good these days, once again usurping better known Wengay Newton in fundraising in their contest.

Consumers for Smart Solar raised over $8.5 million last month for their controversial ballot initiative, with over $7 million of that coming from the public utilities. 

The advocacy group Florida Strong continues their campaign against St. Petersburg-based GOP state Senator Jeff Brandes, this time for his support of for-profit charter schools in the wake of some negative news about a company that works with four such charter schools in Pinellas.

And a new poll from Quinnipiac says Floridians are down on Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Barack Obama, but keen on Sen. Bill Nelson.

Florida Strong goes after Jeff Brandes again, this time over for profit charter schools

Last week, a grand jury indicted a for-profit school management company runs four Pinellas County charter schools, and the advocacy group Florida Strong is demanding that state Senator Jeff Brandes answer for it.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Newpoint Education Partners had been indicted on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white crime. The company has, according to the Times, run into major problems at four of the five schools it manages in Pinellas, and all four are currently under pressure to tell the Florida Department of Education how they plan to address their financial situation, reported to be “deteriorating.”

The GOP-led Florida Legislature has been incredibly supportive of funding charter schools in recent years, and Brandes has been among those Republicans who strongly support such efforts. Those privately run schools have limited oversight from school districts.

“Despite the troubling charges of grand theft and money laundering that face the company in question, Senator Brandes is mum on this critical issue that impacts families throughout his district,” claims Florida Strong in an e-mail. The advocacy group has been targeting several legislative Republicans this year who are for reelection this fall.

The group says that Brandes voting record in the Legislature “says enough,” regarding for-profit charters, citing his vote to ease regulation on for-profit charter companies, backing a bill that allows students to attend a school in surrounding counties if there’s space available and supports lifting barriers for for-profit charters to expand reach across the state.

Brandes has been a champion of school choice, going back to his first term as a state representative in Tallahassee back in 2011.

“Adding insult to injury, Brandes has gladly accepted campaign cash from the for-profit industry, further demonstrating the ‘disproportionate clout’ for-profit charter schools have in the Florida Legislature,” The Florida Strong email says.

It is not the first time the advocacy group has gone after the Senate District 24 Republican. In March, the group paid for a radio ad that ran in the Tampa Bay area market questioning his ethics. They’ve run similar attack ads against Dana Young, Frank Artiles, Anitere Flores and Richard Corcoran.

A request for comment sent to Brandes Senate office was not responded to by the time of this story’s posting. The St. Petersburg-based lawmaker remains unopposed in his run for re-election to his Senate seat this fall.

Here’s where sh*t stands — the ‘Democrats can’t keep it together’ edition

For an entire eight days — EIGHT DAYS — local Democrats had their sh*t together.

On April 25, state Rep. Dwight Dudley announces he will not seek re-election. Hours later, the well-liked Ben Diamond announces his candidacy for Dudley’s seat along with the endorsements of almost all of Pinellas’ Democratic elected officials. The seamless transition was almost Republican in its efficiency.

Then, on May 3, Eric Lynn, heretofore a candidate for the 13th Congressional District, announces that he is dropping out of that race to run against Diamond in a Democratic primary.

Eight days. That’s how long the Dems kept it together. Instead of an automatic berth for one of their rising stars — Diamond — there’s now the prospect of an expensive, messy primary.

The honest truth is Lynn is the odd man out this election cycle, which sucks because he’s obviously an intelligent, capable candidate.

What strikes me about Lynn is a feeling I have about a lot of people making moves in downtown and northeast St. Petersburg: He is certainly FROM St. Petersburg, but he’s not OF St. Petersburg. Rick Baker, Jeff Brandes, Charlie Justice, Darden Rice … all of these pols are OF St. Petersburg.

Lynn is this cycle’s Jessica Ehrlich.

Maybe Lynn can transfer enough of the money he raised for his congressional campaign into a committee he can use to push his legislative bid, but it just feels like Diamond has more support from state and local Democrats.

And for eight whole days, that meant something.

Speaking of the money Lynn raised for his congressional campaign, we hear Lynn wants to keep a big chunk of it — as much as $400,000 — in reserve for when (his thinking, not mine) Charlie Crist tires of serving in the U.S. House.

It says something that Tom Alte and Meagan Salisbury, the local Democratic consultants du jour who were working for both Diamond and Lynn, decided to go with Diamond in HD 68.

Another thing about Lynn that irks me, although it’s not about Lynn per se, is the thinking that Lynn should have challenged Brandes for his state Senate seat. Right, because going up against the Brandes machine — probably the best-oiled operation in Tampa Bay politics — would have been easier than running against Diamond, a first-time candidate. It does not matter what the partisan or voting performance breakdown of the district shows, Brandes would have chewed up Lynn.

SPOTTED not long after he announced he was not running again for the state House: Dwight Dudley: eating ice cream outside of Locale Market in Sundial. Dudley is now the most relaxed Democrat in Pinellas County.

It’s remarkable to think about the number of events that have had to occur to put Charlie Crist on the verge of returning to elected office.

As one of the people who stood by Crist late into election night in 2014, I could not have imagined then that he would ever again have the opportunity to serve.

But then Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young died.

And then David Jolly pulled off a remarkable upset to keep Sink from winning CD 13 (if Sink had won in 2015, she’d have blocked Crist from running in 2016 because she would not have given up the seat no matter how it was redrawn).

And then Jolly decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

And then Rick Baker decided not to run for Congress.

And then Lynn decided to drop out of the race.

All of these events, concurrent with the landmark redistricting decision by the Florida Supreme Court, came together to give Crist one last bite at the apple.

Hopefully, Crist realizes what a gift he’s been given and that he doesn’t throw it away in two years to run for governor.

Watching U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor introduce Crist last week at a “Women for Charlie” fundraiser in downtown St. Pete, I could not help but wonder why the Tampa Democrat does not run for governor in 2018. She’s just as capable and charismatic as U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, only she has been serving for longer and is, therefore, a more polished candidate. She does not have the same famous last name as Graham, but hers isn’t too shabby, either. Of course, she won’t easily give up her safe Democratic seat, but she could, at least, test the waters.

One Tampanian, who is playing three-dimensional chess about 2016 and 2018, is political consultant Adam Goodman. The award-winning political ad maker (soon to be living in downtown St. Pete, just as soon as construction on the Bliss building finishes) has done a masterful job getting his clients, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, earned media: Bondi as a possible running mate to Donald Trump and Levine as a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Didn’t William March of the Tampa Bay Times write that Tom Lee would likely announce last Monday his decision about whether he has decided to run for re-election? One Lee confidant told Florida Politics he’s not exactly sure where March got his information because the only thing Lee has made his mind up about is that he has yet to make up his mind.

As much as I don’t understand why Lee would want to return to Tallahassee for two more years during which he’ll be the odd man out (no high-profile committee chairmanship, no path to the Senate presidency), I predict he’ll file for re-election (and then run for CFO in 2018).

The race to replace Tampa’s Dana Young in the Florida House is already shaping up to be an expensive bruiser.

While Rebecca Smith and Jackie Toledo are squaring off on the Republican side, David Singer is carrying the Democratic banner.

Singer is a Tampa-based land-use attorney who was involved in the Go Hillsborough transit tax campaign back in 2010. Like Smith, this is his first run for office. Toledo came up short in her bid for a Tampa City Council seat in 2015.

One month into his campaign, Singer is already turning heads.

Singer announced Thursday he had raised over $47,000 since declaring his candidacy for House District 60.

Of course, he’ll need all the cash he can muster. Smith raised over $81,000 in her first month as a candidate in March, while Toledo has raised more than $50,000 since starting to fundraise in January.

As much as it is a shame that Angela Rouson won’t attempt to succeed her husband in the Florida House, it will be interesting to watch Wengay Newton throw bombs from the back of the chamber.

Now that the Tampa Bay Times has killed off its rival, the Tampa Tribune, will any Republican state legislative candidate running in a competitive seat ever again receive the editorial board’s endorsement?

Three dozen lawmakers get A+ on AFP-FL’s 2016 Economic Freedom Scorecard

The report cards are out, and three dozen state lawmakers got top marks from one of Florida’s leading advocates for economic freedom.

On Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL) released its annual Economic Freedom Scorecard. To tabulate the grades, the organization recorded more than 4,300 individual votes on 59 legislative proposals.

“A big part of our mission is to help Florida taxpayers hold their elected officials accountable,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL in a statement.

Hudson said the organization produces the scorecard so taxpayers can “clearly identify which members of the Senate and House are focused on voting and sponsoring legislation that will actually improve the quality of life and long-term prosperity for all Floridians.”

The organization awards one point for each vote cast in support of a “pro-economic freedom issue,” such as eliminating the manufacturing business tax and expanding school choice, or against an “anti-economic freedom issue,” such as a resolution to ban fracking in Florida and expanding Medicaid. The organization awards one point for the prime sponsorship of a priority bill; and deducts a point for sponsoring bills AFP-FL opposes.

Of the 59 issues included in the scorecard, 24 were never brought to a vote. According to the report, these bills are “still included in the scorecard via positive or negative sponsorship points.”

So who got top marks during the 2016 legislative session? According to the Economic Freedom Scorecard, 36 state lawmakers received an A-plus grade in 2016.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, received the highest score with 114.3 percent; followed by Rep. Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, with 112.2 percent. Other A-plus lawmakers included Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican; Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican; House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran; and House Majority Leader Dana Young.

“It was great to see 36 members earn an A-plus this year,” said Hudson. “I hope that by including some of the new features we added this year that Floridians can better assess how their lawmakers have voted on key issues like corporate welfare spending, health care reforms, and education choice since we first launched this product in 2013.”

The 2016 scorecard includes a few new features, including a historical reference on how lawmakers scored on economic freedom issues every year since 2013. The annual report also includes comments from staff and volunteers about why they got involved.

Not all lawmakers received top marks. Several legislators — including Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat; Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat; Rep. Dwight Dudley, a St. Petersburg Democrat; and Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat — received an F grade.

“Our scorecard lets hardworking citizens of this state connect to what their elected officials are doing when they go to Tallahassee for legislative Session,” said Hudson.


Who’s who of Pinellas politics join Jeff Brandes for campaign kickoff in St. Pete

State Sen. Jeff Brandes is hosting a kickoff reception Wednesday evening for his re-election effort.

More than three dozen current and former local officials are on the host committee for the event, set for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Host committee members include Republican Reps. Larry AhernChris Latvala, Kathleen PetersChris Sprowls and Dana Young, as well as former Rep. Frank Farkas, former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst, and former St. Petersburg Mayors Bill Foster and Rick Baker, among many others.

Brandes is currently unopposed in his re-election campaign, which due to new district maps in 2012 and 2016, will be his third Senate run in four years.

The newly redrawn Senate District 24 has a slim GOP edge, and narrowly voted for Obama four years ago, making it possible Brandes could face a Democratic challenger in the fall. Heading into April, the Pinellas County senator had raised about $184,000 for his re-election campaign and had about $59,000 of that money on hand.

Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. RSVP with Rick Porter at 407-849-1112 or


Florida Strong now going after Dana Young in new mailer

Florida Strong, the independent advocacy organization, is going after South Tampa House Republican Dana Young, alleging that she is more aligned with her campaign contributors than her constituents.

“Dana Young has shown she works for her campaign contributors, not the people of Florida,” reads the front page of a mailer being sent residents who live in her House District 60 seat, which includes South Tampa, much of south Hillsborough County, and Town N Country.

The mailers from Florida Strong are part of an ongoing “Got Ethics?” campaign that the group started earlier this year that calls for ethics reform and illuminates lawmakers’ ties to special interests.

In the past, Florida Strong has previously gone after other Republicans like Jeff BrandesRichard Corcoran and Anitere Flores.

Young announced in January that she was stepping down from her HD 60 seat this year and is now running unopposed at the moment for the Senate District 18 seat.

“It is ironic and completely disingenuous that some shady organization that does not disclose its donors is attacking Representative Young for her donors who she reports and are publicly available for everyone to see,” said Sydney Ridley, Young’s campaign manager. “They should be as proud to talk about their funders as Rep. Young is to talk about her record of public service to our community.”

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“Consumers for Smart Solar” launches new phase of ballot initiative campaign

Consumers for Smart Solar kicked-off a new phase of its effort to pass a solar energy amendment to the state constitution at a press conference Tuesday.

The campaign was once seen as merely a foil for a rival amendment, pitched by environmental groups like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. That initiative ran out of gas when it failed to gather enough petitions to appear on the November ballot, leaving Consumers for Smart Solar’s proposed amendment all alone in the contentious debate over how Florida should proceed with its solar energy policy.

A cadre of speakers – including a former utilities regulator on the Public Service Commission and two former Democratic pols – tried to shift the debate away from attacking their erstwhile rival as a “shady” out-of-state effort to create unregulated solar energy monopolies, and towards a more positive message of progressing the state’s energy policy via their alternative.

Appropriating the phrase “Amendment 1” for their initiative, the initiative’s supporters fought against perceptions the bill was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” to quote an opponent’s reaction to the high court’s decision to allow to language on the ballot, and said the amendment would include potent protections against fraud and abuse by solar companies its fallen counterpart would not have.

“Amendment 1 is good for the environment, it is good for consumers and it is good for Florida,” said Dick Batchelor, a former Democratic member of the House. “[I]n looking at ways to increase the amount of our energy that comes from the sun, it is essential that we do so in a way that safeguards consumers – particularly our seniors – with commonsense consumer protection rules that benefit every consumer, and that we have all come to expect.  Amendment 1 is a straightforward plan for the future of solar energy in Florida.”

“It protects consumers’ right to choose solar from any provider, while providing for consumer protection laws that keep solar scam artists out of Florida. That’s the best way toward a bright future for solar energy in our state,” continued Batchelor, driving home the theme of the morning press conference.

The new phase of the initiative to get the language passed – which backers are branding ‘Yes on 1 for the Sun’ – follows a concerted fundraising and electoral effort as well. The group spent nearly $268,000 in March alone on polling, advertising, and strategy costs.

Former Public Service Commissioner Matthew Carter, who spoke on behalf of the amendment’s passage, bolstered other speakers’ arguments saying the language would in fact limit the spread of residential solar panels where it to be adopted by voters.

“Read Amendment 1 – and you will see that it was not written to benefit any one industry.  It is written to benefit consumers.  It establishes a framework in our constitution that cements important rights and protections with regard to solar energy, so that they cannot be weakened or ignored by special interests or policy makers,” said Carter.

“In fact, while Amendment 1 doesn’t preclude any other approach to solar energy in Florida, it merely makes certain that in this ever-changing world of solar, individual citizens will always have the right to generate their own electricity from their own solar equipment.  And, it allows state and local governments to continue their current role of ensuring safe and reliable energy, while ensuring that consumers are dealt with fairly by companies that provide energy services,” Carter continued.

When asked about yet another solar amendment on the ballot in August – proposed by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff brandes – former Florida Democratic Party chair Screven Watson said the group would remain neutral.

Floridians for Solar Choice issued the following statement after their erstwhile rivals’ meeting:

“Nothing new was revealed in today’s press conference hosted by Consumers for Smart Solar, only more deception from high-paid consultants hired by the monopoly utilities,” said Stephen A. Smith, a board member of the group and executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The only people their proposed amendment would protect are utility shareholders. Period. This amendment seeks to limit non-utility solar options in Florida by enshrining the status quo and providing the utilities with leverage to continue to control their customers.”

“Neither Florida’s solar industry nor Floridians for Solar Choice are fooled by their slick marketing campaign,” said Smith.

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