Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 7 of 37 - Florida Politics

Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

HD 60 GOP candidate Jackie Toledo slams PTC’s ridesharing regulations

Like the many Tampa Bay area GOP state lawmakers she wants to join in Tallahassee this November, Jackie Toledo said Wednesday she is disgusted by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s approval of new regulations that could ultimately lead ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the region.

“The rules passed by the PTC are clear examples of abuse of power and bureaucratic overreach, plain and simple,” the House District 60 Republican candidate said in a statement issued shortly after the vote came down. “They are designed to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County in favor of a corrupted special interest group with deep pockets.”

On Tuesday, Dana Young, current occupant of the HD 60 seat in South Tampa and western Hillsborough County, penned a letter to the PTC co-signed by virtually the entire Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, with the exception of Tampa Democrats Ed Narain and Arthenia Joyner (Narain informs us that he was never asked to sign on to the letter). The missive called the PTC’s proposed new rules — which included a Level II background check for ridesharing drivers that includes fingerprinting — “plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” Young added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young, along with Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant, supported Uber’s entrance into the Hillsborough market in the spring of 2014 with enthusiasm, and have been persistent critics of the PTC. However, they’ve not been able to persuade their colleagues to date in Tallahassee to pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies, leaving it to local governments like the PTC to work it out. Uber and Lyft continue to face similar issues of not being in compliance in Orange and Duval counties, though they were able to clear up their issues over the past year in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

In her statement, Toledo is now calling for the PTC to be “disbanded.”

“For too long, the PTC has stood in the way of innovation and the free market,” she said. “The rules passed today are a clear indication that the PTC is more interested in doing what is best interest of special interest groups than what is in the best interest of those who live, work, and visit the Tampa Bay area. It is a glaring example of why we need leaders in Tallahassee who can stand up for pro-consumer policies and push back against efforts by unelected bureaucrats to thwart the will of the people.”

Toledo is running against Democrat David Singer in the HD 60 race. Late this afternoon he, too, said that he did not approve of the PTC’s actions.

“Innovative technologies like Uber and Lyft provide a much-needed boost to our set of transportation options,” he said.

“We are a large and growing metro area, and we should do everything that we can to encourage inventive, market-driven solutions that help our community,” Singer continued. “We need to position Tampa and Hillsborough County as ahead of the curve on new technology so that we can effectively compete with other growing markets. I’m not in favor of regulations passed by the PTC today that stifle innovation and may cause Uber and Lyft to leave our market.”

Southern Strategy Group snags Uber’s local lobbying contract

In a significant “get” for the state’s largest government affairs firm, Southern Strategy Group (SSG) will rep global ride-hailing service Uber for its local-level needs.

The deal comes as ridesharing services heat up the news again.

Most recently, in Tampa Bay, House Republican Leader Dana Young demanded in a letter that local regulators scuttle proposed rules that Uber and others say will force them out of the local market.

Young’s letter was cosigned by 12 members of the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Ballard Partners will continue to handle lobbying for the company at the legislative and state agency level.

SSG will help Uber at the city level, especially in places like Orlando, where lobbyist Kelly Cohen is close to Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat.

SSG also is no longer repping Mears Transportation, a Central Florida taxi and hired-car provider. It controls most of the taxi business in Orlando, as well as much of the charter bus service.

Mears, and its adjunct, the Florida Taxicab Association, have been going head-to-head with Uber as the San Francisco-based company fights to break into — and stay in — local markets across Florida.

It will be interesting to see who picks up Mears next session, as we wait for an epic battle between Uber aficionados like state Sen. Jeff Brandes and soon-to-be House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and state Sen. Jack Latvala, the new Senate budget chief, on the other side.

Stay tuned…

Dana Young urges Hillsborough PTC to reject new rules for Uber, Lyft

Writing that “Hillsborough County is better than this,” Dana Young is the latest Tampa Bay area lawmaker calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to reject proposed new rules that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say would force them out of the local market.

In a letter Tuesday to PTC Chair Victor Crist, Young says the current proposal set for a vote by the PTC “is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ride-sharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” she added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young’s letter was co-signed by 12 members of the local Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Last week, a PTC subcommittee approved new regulations representatives from Uber and Lyft have said are unacceptable. They include a seven-minute wait time for a passenger to get a for a vehicle for hire in the county, a $7 minimum fare, and Level II backgrounds checks that require fingerprinting their drivers. That last demand actually compelled Uber to leave the Austin, Texas market this past spring, so both companies appear serious about not bending on that issue.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn headlined a news conference featuring members of Hillsborough County’s entrepreneur, tourism, and business sectors. They also called on the PTC to reject the proposed rules.

Although the state Legislature failed to come up with statewide regulations of ride-sharing companies, Young’s letter vows the issue will finally be addressed in the next regular Legislative Session, which begins March. Young says the PTC board should hold off on any action regarding ridesharing in Hillsborough until the 2017 legislative session ends next spring.

Joining her in co-signing the letter are two local Republicans well-known for their enthusiasm for ridesharing and loathing of the PTC — Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant. Republican legislators Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, Richard Corcoran, Bill Galvano, Jake Raburn, Shawn Harrison, Wilton Simpson, Ross Spano, Dan Raulson, and Democrat Darryl Rouson also signed onto the letter.

Some Hillsborough Democrats have been much less vocal in criticizing the PTC and speaking up for the ridesharing companies than their Republican brethren since Uber and Lyft began operating in Hillsborough in the spring of 2014.

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Bob Buckhorn, others call Hillsborough PTC to reject rules that Uber, Lyft say could drive them out

Two days before the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission looks to approve new regulations that representatives from ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say could compel them to leave town, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others in Hillsborough County’s business community had a simple message for them on Monday: Don’t do it.

Specifically, they warned the agency not to approve new regulations approved by a subcommittee of the PTC last week that include a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute wait time for passengers — and absolutely do not approve Level II background checks which include having Uber and Lyft drivers fingerprinted.

“We are not going to a city that’s going to be held down hostage by any cabal of any industry,” Buckhorn said, a nod to the fact that the taxicab industry in Hillsborough — as has been the case all over the world — objects to the Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) operating under different rules of the road.

Since they began operating in Tampa in April 2014, the PTC has been unable to bring the two companies into compliance with their regulations, many of which the companies believe are onerous and out of date. It’s not unique to this community — the ridesharing companies also remain at odds with regulators in Orlando and Jacksonville, for example, while the companies have come into compliance in the past year with local governments in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

But Uber and Lyft did pull completely out of Austin, Texas, earlier this year over a similar impasse regarding those Level II background checks.

Buckhorn also used the opportunity at the press conference to once again call for the outright abolition of the PTC, the controversial agency created by the Legislature in the 1970s to craft regulations for vehicles-for-hire in Hillsborough County. It’s the only such agency in the state.

The PTC’s heavy-handed tactics in previous years have led to the belief by some that it is a handmaiden of the taxicab industry. It’s a perception that only gained more currency when former PTC Chair Kevin White was convicted of charges of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI after he was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and a luxury SUV exchange for helping three prospective wrecker company operators win certificates from the PTC.

“I continue to believe it is a dinosaur,” Buckhorn said about the PTC, a belief shared by Tampa Bay area legislators like Jeff Brandes, Dana Young, and Jamie Grant. “Dinosaurs are extinct. The PTC should be extinct.”

“We are not trying to keep anybody out of the marketplace,” insists Kyle Cockream, the executive director of the PTC. “Instead, the focus is on consensus on regulations that ensure rider safety,” he said in a statement. “We want a solid framework that welcomes TNC’s while making the safety of our riding public a priority.”

Buckhorn was surrounded by more than a dozen people at the news conference, held at the Attic, a downtown coffee shop/bar. Many were representatives of the business community and entrepreneurs who don’t want Uber and Lyft to leave, saying such a loss will hurt with the recruitment of businesses and the retaining and/or luring millennials to stay in the Tampa Bay.

“The whole country took note when Austin passed its draconian legislation,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “We ask that the PTC suspend consideration of this extreme rule, and work with the new business and responsible partners that are hoping to bring transportation solutions for Tampa and Florida’s future.”

Tony DiBenedetto is the chair and CEO of a tech company called Tribridge. He said he doesn’t even own a car these days, and instead takes Uber to wherever he has to go.

“I think it’s sending the wrong message to everybody,” he said about the proposed regulations, which could prompt the companies to leave the region. “I think this is a devastating decision on their part. I think it would hurt us from a recruiting perspective; it’s already hard to recruit to Tampa.”

Although the Level II background checks have garnered the most attention, Uber and Lyft have serious issues with other proposed rules going before the PTC board on Wednesday, such as a seven-minute wait time for anyone to hail a vehicle-for-hire car in Hillsborough County.

“You request a ride, said Blayn Shamble, a Tampa Bay area Lyft driver.”It takes two minutes to get there, and now I have to lock my doors and roll my window down and say, ‘I’m sorry, you cannot legally get into my car until five minutes passes.’

“In my opinion, that is just picking your winners and losers in a free market,” Shamble added.

The PTC has said the new rules were promulgated by members of the cab industry and would-be TNC DriveSociety, who are pushing the PTC hard to pass the new rules.

“Are you a believer in public safety?,” shouted out DriveSociety proprietor Marcus Carter after Buckhorn explained how he believed competition was good for business. “You’re not a member of the media,” barked Buckhorn, who later said that he “welcomed” DriveSociety to the industry.

The Tampa mayor also said the cab industry needed to “up their game” to stay competitive with the new technology.

Louis Menardi, the chair of the Florida Taxicab Association and president of Yellow Cab of Tampa, issued a statement shortly before the press conference took place.

“Uber and Lyft’s approach to this issue is not unique to Hillsborough County or Florida,” he said. “All across the U.S., many local communities, including Portland, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, and Orlando are raising significant concerns about fundamental public safety issues and background checks, whether TNC drivers have any or adequate insurance, and whether the local communities should require better service from them for passengers in wheelchairs.

“In response, TNCs flout the law, ignore local regulations and resort to threatening local cities and counties with leaving and/or state and federal forced deregulation when they are questioned about their business practices as they relate to public safety and well-being.”

The PTC board meeting on the new rules will take place Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy, Tampa, 2nd floor.

Jeff Brandes turns attention to criminal justice reform

It’s been overlooked for years, but criminal justice reform could be coming down the pike.

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he hopes to make reforming the system a top priority, but told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists it could take years before reforms are achieved.

Calls for reform aren’t new, but they are growing louder. In March, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Judge Simone Marstiller penned an op-ed to outline the need for reforms. Calls for change have come from Florida TaxWatch and the ACLU of Florida. And several other states across the nation are already taking steps to transform the system.

But the process is slow going. The Florida Legislature shot down an attempt to give the Department of Corrections an additional 734 jobs, which the agency said would make Florida’s prisons more secure. The additional positions would have allowed corrections workers to work eight-hour shifts, instead of 12-hour shifts.

“Our prisons are run at a skeleton crew. Guards are on 12 hour shifts, (they’re) tired, they’re angry … and what you don’t want is a (guard to be) tired, angry and watching 140 prisoners,” said Brandes. “I think we have a crisis in our prisons.”

Brandes said while his constituents aren’t clamoring for criminal justice reform, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. He plans to do that over the next few years, spending this year gathering data so lawmakers can better understand the issues at hand. He also plans to introduce a bill to create a task force to study the issue.

In 2018, Brandes said he hopes to run multiple bills to address the state’s prison system.

“I think we can get our arms around it,” said Brandes. “We can’t do it in committee, we’ve seen what happens in the committee process. This is a multi-year process.”

Jack Latvala says his GOP colleagues have their ‘heads in the sand when it comes to transportation’

Incoming Florida Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said Friday a lack of mass transit in the Tampa Bay area has become a bigger problem than ever, and he blasted his fellow Republicans in Tallahassee for failing to lead on the issue.

“We’ve got a lot of folks in my party that just bury their head in the sand when it comes to transportation,” the always outspoken Clearwater Republican said, addressing dozens of people who gathered at 8 a.m. to hear him speak at the weekly “Cafe con Tampa” breakfast in Tampa’s Hyde Park.

Latvala said unless something changes soon, the lack of a capable transit system in the region will ultimately force the Tampa Bay Rays to leave the market.

“It’s not going to be a question of whether the Tampa Bay Rays are in St. Petersburg or in Tampa, it’ll be a question of whether they’re in Hartford (Connecticut), or Montreal. We WILL lose our baseball team,” he said with obvious disdain. “What a blow to the image of our area. All because of people who keep their head in the sand.”

Latvala said the lack of transit options was exposed nationally when the Republican National Convention was held in Tampa exactly four years ago. “Trust me, we will NEVER have another one because of the transportation embarrassments of the delegates getting back at to their hotel at three o’clock in the morning because of our lack of a transit and transportation system in the Tampa Bay area,” which happened on one notorious night of the 2012 RNC.

As has been widely reported, two transit referendums have gone down to defeat in the Tampa Bay area over the past six years. Resistance amongst the current Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners and elements on the left and right in Tampa ended any plans to put another type of sales tax on the ballot this fall. Several Democrats running for state office on the campaign trail this summer have talked about pushing for the Legislature allow large cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg to have the ability to place their own referendums on the ballot.

“I never had a problem allowing people to vote on whether they wanted to tax themselves,” Latvala said when asked about that proposal. “If people are tired of sitting still on the interstate and they want to do something, then why as government leaders should we tell them they don’t have the option of voting for that? Because we’ve got our head in the sand.”

He later added he didn’t think the measure had any chance of passing in the Legislature, though he did praise Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman for continuing to push that and other transit measures forward.

Four years ago, Latvala said it was time to examine consolidating HART and PSTA, the transit agencies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, respectively. Two separate studies were taken on looking at a merger. The first showed a savings of $2.4 million, but a second KPMG study in 2014 showed those savings to be more modest at $330,000.

When anti-tax activist Tom Rask mentioned to Latvala that HART was opposed to the measure, Latvala simmered. “Of course both agencies are opposed to it, because people are going to lose their jobs!” He said both agencies had CEOs who made six-figure salaries, had lobbyists who came close to costing nearly $100,000, as well as various administrative staffs that could be reduced. “I cannot imagine you would not support something to reduce bureaucracy!,” he barked at Rask.

Rebecca Smith, a Republican running on Tuesday in the House District 60 race, challenged Latvala about his emphasis on mass transit, instead waxing rhapsodically on a future of autonomous vehicles. Latvala was unmoved, saying, it sounded like she was from the “Jeff Brandes school of mass transit” (the St. Petersburg Republican is an enthusiastic champion of such technology).

“You’re still talking about a vehicle on the road,” he countered. “The only difference is that they don’t have a driver.”

Latvala said he’s taken it relatively easy regarding contemplating state issues this summer, but now will begin digging in as he becomes Senate Appropriations Chair after the November elections. He said transit and the Rays’ fate will two of his biggest priorities moving forward.

Advocates extoll the virtues of Amendment 4 in roundtable discussion at USFSP campus

Supporters of expanding the use of solar power in Florida held a roundtable discussion on the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus on Tuesday to discuss how the passage of Amendment 4 next week could crack open resistance to alternative energy sources in the Sunshine State.

Amendment 4 exempts solar devices and equipment from being subject to the personal tangible property tax. A business that currently has solar panels is currently being taxed on the panels or devices in addition to their building. The new amendment — if passed — would exempt businesses with solar panels from paying higher taxes.

“The cost of solar has come down so exponentially, 60 percent to 80 percent in the last decade, and the efficiency is better, and so we’re really in a different conversation and we have the opportunity to do something,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the organization that backed a rival amendment that failed to get on the November ballot.

The other solar measure that did get on the ballot this year is Amendment 1, which will appear on the November ballot. That initiative is not supported by the environmental community, and Amendment 4 advocates made sure not to muddy the waters by talking about that proposal today.

Unlike many proposed constitutional amendments Floridians vote on in November, Amendment 4 made it on the August ballot with a vote by the Legislature, not a citizen-initiated petition drive. The proposed constitutional amendment is being sponsored by St. Petersburg Republicans Jeff Brandes in the Senate; and Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues and Boynton Beach Democrat Lori Berman in the House.

Tory Perfetti, with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs, praised the fact that Amendment 4 has support from people of all different types of ideological stripes. “Some people are coming at Amendment 4 as one more shot at helping forward climate change, and then you have people on my side who … look at climate change data more skeptically. I think the overriding part of this is that though an open energy policy, (it) can lead to benefits for each individual and group in the state as large and diverse as ours.”

“I think this is a great way to give tax breaks to businesses that want to install solar panels, added Darden Rice, vice chair of the St. Petersburg City Council and chair of the council’s Energy, Natural Resources & Sustainability Committee. “It’s one more feather in our cap to help attract and recruit businesses to this area.”

Rice called out two local companies who have installed solar power in their establishments and the savings they will soon enjoy, starting with Great Bay Distributors in St. Petersburg, which last year erected a new warehouse that has the largest commercial rooftop solar array in all of Florida with 4,590 panels. “It’s reduced their electricity costs by 40 percent. It cost them a little more than $2 million to install it, but their payback is gonna be in a little more than six years.”

Mesh Architecture in Lealman is another local business going solar. The firm installed a 100-kilowatt installation with an integrated roof earlier this year. “It really makes sense not to tax the sunshine,” Rice said. “Let’s not tax the solar devices. Let’s not punish businesses for the increased value that they’re going to attain by putting solar panels … let’s use that as a incentive to help businesses do the right thing and save money.”

The solar industry is growing jobs faster than any other sector of the economy, says Wayne Wallace, the proprietor of Solar Source, a solar company that’s been doing business out of Largo since 1984. He said the passage of Amendment 4 would reduce some of the barriers that currently inhibit the growth and development of the solar industry in Florida.

“If Mr. Joe Business owner wants to lower his costs, save money, help homegrown local jobs, and invest in a solar system for his business, he shouldn’t have to pay taxes for it,” Wallace said, summing up why the decision to support the measure was obvious. “Who doesn’t want to save money? And who doesn’t want to help generate jobs in the local economy, and as a fringe, who doesn’t want cleaner air?”

Although Wallace called a cleaner environment as “just a fringe,” it’s a dominant thought amongst the environmental crowd that has been hungering for the Sunshine State to do more with solar than it has to date. Criticism over the years has been generated at the reluctance of public utilities to embrace alternative energy, but with prices continuing to drop precipitously in the past few years, even the utilities are beginning to come around.

“As the cost of solar energy continues to decrease and the efficiency of panels grows, we’re increasing our investments in solar,” said Alex Glenn, president of Duke Energy-Florida last month after Duke opened the Osceola Solar Facility in Osceola County.

“Climate change is real and we have to do something about it,” insisted James Scott, Student Senate president at USFSP. But he said he’s learned that key influential officials on the campus are more interested in the financing and the economics behind clean energy, rather that on the clean energy front. He said that Amendment 4 was a no-brainer, but it would be harder to get the rest of the population to be thinking of a greener, more alternative energy focused state moving into the future.

Sixty percent of votes are need to pass the amendment into law in Florida.

The Florida Legislature does not start its next session until 2017. The amendment would go into effect on Jan. 1,  2018, and would extend for 20 years until Dec. 31, 2037.

 

Jeff Brandes: The future of transportation is ‘right around the corner’

The future of transportation is autonomous. It’s electric. It’s shared and on demand.

And it will be here sooner than you think.

“The message today is it’s right around the corner,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The St. Petersburg Republican laid out his prediction for the future of transportation during the 2016 Building Florida’s Future symposium in Tampa. The event, hosted by Associated Industries of Florida and Port Tampa Bay, was a chance for industry experts and policy makers to talk about issues impacting transportation, infrastructure and economic development.

Brandes has led the effort to make sure Florida’s transportation efforts are ready for self-driving vehicles. He’s been an outspoken supporter of the technology, pushing legislation in 2012 to encourage testing and study of automated vehicles in Florida.

He also backed legislation approved earlier this year as part of an omnibus transportation bill. That legislation, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in April, paves the way for autonomous vehicles to begin operating on Florida’s roads.

Brandes said he believes self-driving vehicles will be on the roadways soon, in part because of the safety factor. Ninety percent of accidents are caused by human errors, and Brandes said that’s why there is such a push to get these vehicles on the roadways.

“Lives are going to be saved,” he said.

But the future of transportation won’t just be self-driving vehicles, but electric vehicles, ride-sharing, and on-demand services. And while the shift to this technology may seem gradual, one day providers will show up in a community and turn on their services.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time,” he said. “We’re talking about a massive change that is going to occur.”

Florida has been trying to address the new technology, and in recent years has attempted to regulate ride-hailing services, like Uber. Those attempts, however, haven’t been successful in recent years. And as autonomous vehicles start hitting the roadways, questions of who, or what, to license will surely emerge.

Another question lawmakers have to tackle, is how to adjust funding models to account for growth in the electric vehicle industry. More electric vehicles on the roadway could translate to less money from the gas sales tax, which helps fund transportation initiatives across the state.

 

Mitch Perry Report for 8.18.16 — The Affordable Care Act is getting less affordable

There’s more news about the Affordable Care Act this week, and it ain’t that good.

Aetna announced Tuesday it would be pulling out of Florida and 10 other states next year, giving those on the government plan less options for choice here in the Sunshine State.

There have always been problems with the ACA, and they’re starting to exacerbate.

But the answer isn’t just to repeal it, like most congressional Republicans have invoked like a mantra for the past three years.

However, Democrats have got to raise their game and not just robotically defend it.

This is a test for all of our federal candidates on the ballot this fall — for David Jolly, Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio and, probably, Patrick Murphy — what do you plan to do?

Hillary Clinton is calling for a “public option” for states, which would expand health insurance coverage beyond the current provisions in Obamacare. Clinton also is calling for allowing people 55 years and older to be able to enroll in Medicare. Currently, the typical age for enrollment is 65. She pledged to expand funding by $40 billion for primary care services at federally qualified health care centers.

Will that get congressional approval, especially if Republicans still control the House? I have no idea, but having Washington remain at loggerheads on our health care coverage is simply not acceptable, not with costs going up everywhere (not just with the ACA) and the citizenry only getting older, this is as big a problem we have in this country.

According to today’s New York Times, “The administration is also hunting for consumers who can deliver ‘testimonials’ advertising the benefits of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “Interested consumers could appear in television, radio, print and/or digital ads and on social media,” the administration said in an appeal sent last week to health care advocates and insurance counselors.

The paper reports that in Tennessee, Cigna last week requested rate increases averaging 46 percent, double the request it made in June, and Humana is seeking an average increase of 44 percent, up from 29 percent in June. The other major carrier in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said it was standing by its original request for increases averaging 62 percent in 2017.

The Affordable Care Act is becoming less affordable by the day, it seems. Time for an intervention.

In other news…

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC is backing Patrick Murphy in the U.S. Senate race, and Pam Keith doesn’t like it one bit.

Victor Crist wants Jeff Brandes to know he’s not down with proposed rules that could compel Uber and Lyft to leave Hillsborough County.

Speaking of Brandes, the St. Petersburg state senator and co-sponsor of Amendment 4 on this month’s ballot takes exception to criticism of the proposal made by one Al Sharpton.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is crushing Tim Canova in their CD 23 race in South Florida, according to a new poll published on Wednesday.

And more endorsements: Frank Peterman is supporting Wengay Newton for the job he once held — representing House District 70 in Tallahassee (It was District 55 when he was in office, for what it’s worth).

And the Florida Education Association is backing Ben Diamond in the House District 68 contest.

The Department of Children and Families says New Beginnings of Tampa did no wrong back in 2008, the second government investigation that has cleared the group after a series of damning articles were published by the Tampa Bay Times in late 2014.

Hillsborough County makes a move to preempt any civil unrest if things go sour between law enforcement and the community.

 

 

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