Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa for 15 years. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Appeals court strikes down Miami Beach minimum wage increase

Minimum wage workers in Miami Beach — and the political ambitions of Mayor Philip Levine — took a hit Wednesday when an appeals court affirmed a Miami-Dade circuit court decision from earlier this year to reject the city’s proposed minimum wage law.

Levine introduced his proposal to great fanfare in June 2016, which mandated the city set a minimum wage at $10.31 as of Jan. 1, 2018, then increase it by a dollar a year until 2021.

City officials understood the proposal flew in the face of a state law that pre-empted cities and counties from setting their own minimum wage ordinances.

Levine told Florida Politics last year: “I’m sure it will end up going to court at some point, we feel that we have very significant legal grounds to stand on.”

His legal department argued that the state’s pre-emption was unconstitutional because of an amendment to Florida’s constitution passed by 71 percent of voters in 2004 that set a state minimum wage higher than the federal rate, seeming to leave the door open for local governments to create individual wage laws.

That’s not how judges with Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeals saw it.

As they wrote in their opinion: “Because section 218.077(2) of the Florida Statutes prevents a municipality from adopting its own minimum wage, and the 2004 amendment to the Florida Constitution does not nullify or limit this statute, we affirm the trial court’s summary judgment invalidating City’s 2016 minimum wage ordinance.”

The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in December 2016 challenging the ordinance. They claimed it was a direct violation of a 2013 law signed by the governor that forbid municipalities from assigning their own minimum wage.

The State of Florida joined the suit in February.

Representatives from those business groups were all smiles Wednesday after the verdict came down.

“This victory today in the district court of appeals is also a victory for businesses,” said R. Scott Shalley, Florida Retail Federation president and CEO. “This ruling sets a precedent for all municipalities discouraging them from passing local ordinances which are in direct violation of state law while also negatively impacting their local businesses. FRF and our coalition partners will continue to protect all Florida businesses against any rules or regulations that may impact their ability to be successful.”

“We applaud the court for siding with job creation and against additional government mandates, and for siding with Floridians looking for jobs and small businesses who are creating them. If communities are serious about creating opportunities for higher wages, they should invest in removing barriers to empower entrepreneurs to grow the economic base — produce more and pay more — based on markets and consumer needs,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“We applaud the court’s decision, which should send a message to local governments around the state that, however well intended, each level of government has its limitations on their authority,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The decision is also a blow to Levine’s gubernatorial ambitions, as the proposed minimum wage increase was seen as a strong talking point to progressive Florida Democratic voters, who are frustrated by the Legislature’s reluctance to increase the state’s minimum wage, which currently resides at $8.10.

The centrist-leaning Democrat flirted with running as an independent earlier this year, needing to prove to some Democrats that he’ll be a worthy representative of the Party as they combat the Republicans in 2018.

“While I am deeply disappointed in this decision, the fight to do what’s right for Floridians goes on,” Levine said late Wednesday afternoon. “No one — in my community and around the state of Florida — can afford to live on $8.10 an hour, let alone support a family.

“When I was Mayor of Miami Beach, I promised to see this fight through to the very end, all the way up to the Florida Supreme Court if need be — and we will.

“As Governor of our state, I will continue to fight, by all means necessary, to ensure that all of our families are finally afforded a living wage because it’s the right thing to do.”

Curiously, Levine is the only one of the four Democrats running for governor who has not endorsed the concept of a $15 minimum wage.

Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez criticized Levine for his campaign to raise the minimum wage, telling the Sunshine State News earlier this year that,”I’m for raising the minimum wage, too, but this is about our mayor putting on a show to aid his campaign at the expense of every taxpayer in this city. We just can’t have it.”

Gus Bilirakis wants GOP tax plan to cover teachers buying school supplies

GOP House and Senate leaders announced Wednesday afternoon they had reached a tentative agreement on a tax reform bill for a vote next week.

Shortly before the announcement, Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Pasco County called on conferees to include the Senate version of the bill on a provision regarding a deduction for teachers and principals who purchase school supplies for their students out of pocket. The Senate version expands the current deduction from $250 to $500.

The House version seeks to remove the current $250 deduction.

“American teachers go above and beyond the call of duty for their students every single day and the personal expenses they incur for classroom supplies are just one of this,” Bilirakis wrote to Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, who leads the House-Senate conference committee.

“The tax code should reward their dedication and help them recoup at least some of their cost.”

Teachers spend on average $600 of their own money every year on school supplies, according to a survey in the 2015-16 school year of 1,800 public and private teachers by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org. Purchases range from basics — pens, paper and notebooks — to more costly items such as musical instruments, electronic notebooks, and robotics tools for science, technology, engineering and math classes.

These expenditures add up to more than $1.5 billion a year out of teachers’ pockets.

The $250 deduction has been in place since 2002 in a measure sponsored by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Summer-Star Robertson, Bilirakis’ Deputy Chief of Staff, said late this afternoon that after consulting with GOP leaders Wednesday afternoon, the Congressman was informed that “they were leaning toward adopting the Senate position on the teacher supply deduction,” though that was not official.

Andrew Warren announces plan to ‘aggressively’ disarm domestic abusers

Every day of the year, Americans are shot to death by either current or former domestic partners. From 2012 to 2017, Hillsborough County experienced 61 domestic violence homicides, with over 200 such deaths in Florida last year alone.

Citing those statistics, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren vowed Wednesday to take action, saying he refused to stand by while “our mothers and daughters and sisters and have been assaulted, threatened and killed by domestic abusers.”

Warren’s office will “aggressively” seek relinquishment of firearms from domestic violence defendants who are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, as well as those who have been charged with an act of domestic violence based upon a probable cause determination.

Upon responding to a domestic violence incident, the office would then work with law enforcement for an initial risk assessment and inquiry related to the offender’s access to a firearm.

Warren says prosecutors will utilize that information and conduct a background check to determine whether the perpetrator is legally prohibited from possessing a gun. At a defendant’s first appearance or bond hearing, the State Attorney’s office will seek relinquishment of any firearms as a condition of pretrial release.

The office will also seek the surrender of any firearms and prohibit the possession of firearms, as part of plea agreements, entry into diversion programs, and probation in domestic violence cases.

A perpetrator’s possession of a firearm — in violation of the pretrial release conditions or probation terms — can serve as the basis for additional criminal charges.

State and federal laws prohibit the possession of a firearm by anyone convicted of domestic violence, but Warren says “inconsistent enforcement” of those laws has allowed abusers access to firearms. He pledges that his office will “aggressively” enforce existing gun laws to protect victims of domestic abuse.

Speaking to a group of reporters outside his office at the downtown Tampa county courthouse annex, Warren was surrounded local officials affiliated with agencies that protect women suffering from domestic violence. Also at the event were representatives of two gun-control groups, the Florida Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence.

These actions can only be performed through cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, and Warren has consulted closely with Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, Temple Terrace Chief Kenneth Albano and Plant City Chief Ed Duncan on the initiative.

“By taking and keeping guns away from abusers, we will reduce domestic violence,” Warren said. “We will help victims overcome the overwhelming, paralyzing fear that comes from having an armed, abusive partner, and we will hopefully save lives.”

“We think that the disarming domestic abusers initiative … is going to result in a safer community, safer for the victims and survivors, safer for their children and families, but safer for all of us,” said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring, a Tampa-based group that advocates for victims of domestic abuse, referring to the link between domestic violence abusers and mass shootings.

Using FBI data and other publicly available information, gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed mass shootings in the United States from 2009 to 2016, defining a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter.

Of 156 shootings fitting that category, the analysis found 54 percent were “related to domestic or family violence.”

Shortly after Warren wrapped up his news conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will submit a proposal next year that all individuals convicted in domestic violence cases (including misdemeanors) will be required to forfeit any guns in their possession.

Women’s March national co-chair backs Ahmad Saadaldin for HD 58

Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, has endorsed Ahmad Saadaldin in the House District 58 race in Hillsborough County taking place Dec. 19.

“Temple Terrace Seffner Plant City Thonotosassa LISTEN UP. VOTE for Hussam Ahmad for State House,” Sarsour wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday.

“There are only 5 days left of voting. If he wins, he will be the first independent candidate elected to Florida House of Representatives in history. He would also be the first Muslim. It’s a special election. He only needs 4,509 votes to win. He is bold, committed and has the most energetic campaign with 160 volunteers. Do what you can!”‘

 

Saaldaldin is one of four candidates in the race, and as Sarsour notes, an independent one at that. Officially he is non-party-affiliated, though he is very much in sync with the Green Party, who endorsed him in October and has contributed $200 to his campaign.

Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez and Libertarian Bryan Zemina are the other three candidates on the ballot.

Sarsour is a prominent advocate for Muslim Americans, criminal justice reform and civil rights, and is the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Her public profile became greater after her participation in last January’s march.

She’s also raised the hackles of conservatives who have accused her of supporting terrorists and promoting anti-Semitism, largely due to her support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and her criticism of Israel. BDS is an international economic movement designed to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories.

The 27-year-old Saaldaldin served as president for Students for Justice in Palestine and led the on-campus BDS campaign in 2014.

In an interview with Florida Politics earlier this year, Saaldaldin said he has been called a terrorist and anti-Semitic because of his involvement with the BDS movement, and strongly denied those allegations.

“It’s just the nature of the field of work that I’m in, and there are people who are passionate about the state of Israel, and I understand that,” he said. “I’m very critical of the state of Israel, and  I believe the Palestinian people are really suffering under the occupation.”

Florida is one of 23 states that has enacted legislation barring contracts with companies that participate in the BDS movement. Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine and St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes have filed bills in the Legislature that would bar cities from doing business with companies supporting the BDS movement.

Saaldaldin is the most progressive candidate in the race, supporting a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and affordable housing policies.

Saaldaldin has raised $11,659 in the race, the second most in the four-man field, but is nowhere near the $147,985 that McClure has taken through Nov. 6.

Zemina raised $7,322, and Vazquez just $1,907.

Pinellas moves forward with commitment to keep Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to commit the City of Dunedin and the Toronto Blue Jays to a 25-year contract, which would keep spring training in town.

But the vote came with sharp criticism from some board members.

The county will commit $41.7 million toward the $81 million renovation project, a revision to the $46 million originally committed. The Jays will commit approximately $20 million, one-fourth of the project’s total cost.

The funds will be for a new clubhouse with state-of-the-art equipment, offices for the team’s staff and showers and locker rooms for the team’s 200-plus major- and minor-league players at the team’s current training facility site at the Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue.

It will also pay for “significant renovations to improve the fan experience” and increase capacity by 3,000 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium at 373 Douglas Ave.

Other than a few opponents from Americans for Prosperity Florida — who complained about the public funding for a private company’s stadium — the board heard no significant opposition.

“We definitely oppose public funding for any spring training stadium,” said Carlos Velez with the Libre Initiative. “High paying long term jobs created by sports teams are usually few in number and are held by out of state individuals.”

“These are bed tax dollars, they are not dollars we can sue for law enforcement or public safety or housing or sewers,” alerted Commissioner Ken Welch to skeptics in the audience. “Folks need to understand that we couldn’t spend that for other needs.”

The funds come from Tourist Development Council (TDC) bed tax dollars, raised through a 6 percent tax allocated to marketing and capital projects.

Welch admitted he would have felt better if the county’s commitment wasn’t so costly. But he added that because Dunedin is smaller than Clearwater, the county’s contribution has to be larger than what other Pinellas municipalities have chipped in on other spring training facilities. Dunedin is committed to spending $5.6 million.

Commissioner David Eggers is a former mayor of Dunedin who ran the city several years ago when the team began making noises about moving to a new location if they didn’t get public funds to upgrade their facilities.

Eggers said getting the Jays to now allocate 25 percent funding was an impressive bit of negotiating by County Administrator Mark Woodard. “It used to be fifty percent,” he bemoaned about what the team would previously commit on a joint public-private project.

“I want to make it clear that if this were an increase in the state sales tax, or a local county tax, I would be against it,” said Commissioner John Morroni, emphasizing that only people staying in local hotels and motels are paying for the stadium upgrades.

Commission Chair Janet Long voted to move the resolution along with the rest of her colleagues, but said her vote isn’t guaranteed when the issue comes back to the BOCC next month for a final time.

“While it’s a great deal for the club and it’s a great deal for Dunedin, I think the deal for Pinellas County could be better,” Long said, saying that she wished the entire cost of the redevelopment would be reduced or the Jays would chip in more of their own funds.

Long added that it was a real question for her that, while the Tourist Development dollars are funding the entire project, nearly half the funds are going toward a clubhouse the public won’t be able to use at all.

Commissioner Karen Seel agreed: “I think the training facility is more privately used, and … to me, funding the stadium that is open to the public and open to the tourists is a more relevant expenditure for the bed taxes vs. the training facility.”

Nevertheless, Seel went along with her colleagues in supporting the deal.

“It is a money thing,” agreed Woodard, “make no mistake about it. But they (the Jays) really love this community.”

The Blue Jays have played spring training games since their franchise was created in 1977, and their Class A team plays in Dunedin all season long.

A more detailed formal agreement will come before the Pinellas Commission in late January.

Proposal to expand grandparents visitation rights temporarily postponed

Placing a constitutional amendment up for a vote can be problematic when the proposal itself might be unconstitutional.

That’s what Lisa Carlton, the chair of the Constitutional Revision Commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee, concluded on Tuesday, when she said she could not support expanding the rights of grandparents to visit their grandchildren.

“I think that the basic flaw of the proposal is that it is changing the constitution,” said Carlton, a former state legislator.

The measure was proposed by St. Petersburg state Sen. Darryl Rouson, one of three Democrats on the 37-member CRC panel. It would have changed the Constitution to specify that the right of privacy may not be construed to limit a grandparent’s right to seek visitation of his or her grandchildren under certain circumstances, but was temporarily postponed when it didn’t appear to have support from the committee.

Florida rulings have consistently upheld that parents have the right to control who has access to their children.

But the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in 2015 that allowed grandparents to tell family courts that they should be able to see their grandkids if both parents were dead, missing or in a persistent vegetative state. It also applied if one parent met any of the previous requirements and the other parent has been convicted of a felony.

In retrospect, however, Rouson said the bill was too narrow in scope, and still prohibited the majority of grandparents for having their visiting legal petitions considered in court.

“It’s narrowness has almost been limited to a nullity that it doesn’t even apply to a situation where it was the impetus for us to begin to work to pass it,” Rouson told the committee, before deciding that it didn’t have the votes to move forward.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also traditionally and continuously upheld the principle that parents have the fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. CRC board member John Stemberger said that knowing he couldn’t support the proposal.

“The problem with the proposal in my view is that the state puts itself the gatekeeper for parental decisions in determining what is in the best interests of the child versus not,” said Stemberger.

There were three members of the public who passionately called for the proposal to be accepted.

“We want the right to visit them” said Amanda Simon, the founder of Alienated Grandparents Anonymous International. “We want to be proactive. We don’t want just to be the victims.”

“Eight hundred thousand families of children are led by grandparents in this state. We give them nothing. No standing. No ability. That’s not what the federal right of privacy is all about,” said Marco Island-based attorney James Karl.

Karl called it “tragic” that the state stands alone when it comes to the rights of grandparents’ visitation rights.

“We give them nothing. No standing. No ability. That’s not what the federal right of privacy is all about,” Karl claimed.

Orlando grandmother Yvonne Stewart told the committee about how her daughter disappeared years ago and remains missing, while her daughter’s fiancé – the only suspect named by police in the case – has refused to let Steward see the couple’s twin children since the incident five years ago.

“How can a primary and only suspect for murder who takes the Fifth get the upper hand?” she asked the committee. “I need your help so that we don’t run in the stop sign, the Constitution as it’s written now.”

Tallahassee family attorney Shannon Novey provided expert testimony to the committee on previous legal rulings on the issue. She said there was a serious problem with giving standing to grandparents, but not other “third-parties” with established relationships with children, which she said was involution with the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The amendment says that solely that grandparents have this carve out and not other relatives or third-parties,” Novey said, adding that other relatives, as well as non-biological parents would be excluded under the same rationale.

Carlton said the way to change the law was through the Legislature, not the Constitution. “You are talking about enshrining something in the Constitution that is very, very dangerous to do in this situation.”

Ultimately, the proposal was temporarily postponed, with Rouson vowing to fight for it on a later day.

Tampa panel talks criminal justice reform ahead of Session

While red-leaning states like Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana have made significant criminal justice reforms over the past decade, Florida’s GOP-led Legislature has stood still.

Thirty-three states have implemented such reforms since 2007, while Florida’s prison population continues to grow, with the state now spending more than $2.4 billion a year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 people — the third-largest prison population in the U.S.

Hoping to reverse that trend by pushing for various measures addressing juvenile justice, adult citation programs and mandatory minimums is the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of nonpartisan groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, which is intent on seeing some changes made in 2018. Members of the coalition met before approximately 50 citizens at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Complex in Tampa Monday night.

“We’re trying to really bring Florida in line with the rest of the country, and all the reforms you’re going to hear me talk about tonight we believe will reduce the racial disparity, reduce the incarcerated population, and ultimately make our community safer,” said Raymer Maguire, the ACLU of Florida’s criminal justice manager.

Maguire said the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform’s plan is focused on encouraging rehabilitation over punishment, and preparing incarcerated individuals for a life post-release that allows them to have housing, jobs and to ultimately become productive members of society.

Florida sends more children to adult court prison than any other state. From 2005-20015, the national average prison population increase was 3 percent. In Florida it’s 18 percent, the highest in the country.

“The system is broken, and it’s been broken for a long time,” said St. Petersburg Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Among the bills he’s sponsoring in the upcoming session include reducing raising the monetary value for felony theft offenses from the current $300 threshold to $1,000. The $300 figure has not been adjusted since 1986. The national average is $1,100, and in southern states, it’s over $1,400.

The Florida Retail Federation is opposing the proposal.

Rouson has also proposed bills to reduce driver’s license suspensions for nondriving offenses (a proposal that didn’t get passed in the 2017 Session) and allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum prison sentences under certain circumstances.

Bethany McNeil is the founder of XO Factor, which provides ex-offender services. She said housing and employment are enormous barriers for ex-felons to reintegrate themselves into their communities successfully. “Criminal justice is not a one size fits all type deal,” she said. “Once you’ve served your sentence, you should be allowed to move on.”

Crime has decreased in America for quite some time, with some notable exceptions (like Chicago).

The daily population in Hillsborough County jails peaked with an average of 4,626 people a day back in 2006, according to David Parrish, retired colonel of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Now it averages around 3,000 a day.

Similarly, there was approximately 75,000 booked in Hillsborough jails in 2006, while last year there was less than half of that amount — 38,000.

“This is a phenomenon that’s taken place in most major urban population centers,” said Parrish. “In the jail system, the average length of stay of all those people who are booked every day is 22 days.”

The issue of privatization of prisons in Florida was debated. There are seven currently in Florida.

Rouson recently visited the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach, which is operated by the GEO Group under contract with the Florida Department of Corrections.

“It’s a very well run system,” he said. “If they can save the state money and provide the same level of protective custody, then I think it’s OK.”

Parrish said many years ago he was offered an extremely well-paying job with Corrections Corporation of America, perhaps the most notorious private prison company in the country. He declined.

“I don’t believe in privatizing the operations of jails and prisons,” he said, attributing their cheaper costs to the fact that they don’t pay “decent retirement” and have a much higher level of turnover of staff so they’re always paying entry-level people.

There were great expectations that there would be a number of criminal justice reforms passed in the 2017 Session. It didn’t happen then, but Rouson says he remains “very optimistic about certain criminal justice reforms this year.”

“It could be as shallow as the fact that ’18 is an election year, and sometimes appropriations get through in an election year get though in an election year that wouldn’t get through in a regular year,” he said. “Sometimes bills pass because legislators are human, and they want to be able to go back home and brag that they got something through the Legislature.”

Rouson noted that conservative groups like the James Madison Institute and Right on Crime have joined the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center to get some of these reforms passed this year, “and I think these portend good for our Session coming up.”

Kathy Castor offers a list of objections to GOP tax bill

As one of only five Democrats on the joint Senate-House Tax Conference committee charged with reconciling the two GOP-passed bills, Kathy Castor is the only representative from Florida.

And like most members of her party, Castor has serious objections about the legislation, as detailed in a new letter to Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the conference committee chair.

“The tax bill fails to ensure fairness and economic growth for America in the long term,” Castor wrote.

While realizing she is one of a handful of Democrats in the room who has the potential to reframe the proposals, Castor offered in her letter to Brady a series of suggested improvements, starting with education spending, specifically on keeping the graduate tuition waiver, student-loan interest deduction, teacher deductions and lifetime learning credit.

The House tax plan would increase taxes for graduate students by roughly 400 percent and repeal the student loan interest deduction, which allows people with student debt to save up to $625 a year.

The Senate tax bill would also cause a significant loss for recent college graduates.

An average recent college graduate makes $39,000 a year. According to the CBO’s analysis of the Senate tax plan, individuals in every tax bracket below $75,000 will experience a year in which they record a net loss — meaning they’ll pay more in taxes, experience diminished services, or both — by 2027.

“If Republicans intend to make college more expensive for students and families, the approach in the tax framework is how you do it,” the congresswoman snarked sarcastically.

Castor also said the final bill needs to expand clean energy tax credits and maintain the medical expense deduction and the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

She also noted that the bill should not eliminate the private activity bonds that help local communities invest in infrastructure projects. Tampa International Airport officials said that say that if those bonds were eliminated, previous plans to bond a $683 million project would cost an additional $263 million.

And she opposes the elimination of historic preservation tax credits.

“The West River project might go back on the shelf if we don’t have those tax credits,” Castor told Florida Politics Monday. “The YMCA, Metropolitan Ministries and others have relied a lot on these bond programs and tax credits. They’ve gotta be restored or else what the GOP would be doing would be kind of ripping the rug out from under a lot of our redevelopment efforts.”

Republicans claimed Monday they made progress on the bill over the weekend, but the biggest questions regarding the negotiations haven’t been worked out yet.

Though GOP leaders repeatedly affirm that the tax cuts will pay for themselves through economic growth, the Joint Committee on Taxation has said that both versions would add about $1 trillion to the deficit, even after accounting for expected growth.

A Treasury report Monday sought to assure lawmakers that the cost of the package would be more than paid for by future economic growth. It said that the Trump administration’s overall economic agenda would generate about $1.8 trillion in additional revenue over 10 years, more than offsetting the roughly $1.5 trillion cost of the tax cuts.

Nevertheless, the one-page report was widely criticized because it relied heavily on separate and as-of-yet unannounced future initiatives for infrastructure development and welfare reform.

Although proud to serve on the committee, as a Democrat, Castor acknowledged her suggestions aren’t likely to get much of a hearing from the GOP-led board.

“I haven’t seen the GOP’s willingness to work together on it,” Castor said. “It’s unfortunate, and I think folks will remember in November.”

American Bridge takes aim at Adam Putnam

A Democrat-aligned super PAC is taking aim at Adam Putnam with a new website called ProblemPutnam.com.

American Bridge, launched by David Brock in 2010, says it intends on informing Floridians over the next year about what it contends has been Putnam’s priorities in public office since first being elected more than 20 years ago:

“Sweet deals for big business and his own bank accounts, while squarely ignoring the needs and concerns of Florida families.”

Putnam is considered a leading contender to become the next Republican nominee for Governor in 2018. In addition to his prodigious fundraising totals (he has over $15 million cash-on-hand), the only other establishment Republican considered to have any shot at him – Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala – has had his campaign upended by allegations of sexual harassment that could lead to his expulsion from the Legislature.

Two other men considered to be contenders, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, have yet to enter the race.

“Adam Putnam is truly the problem child for Florida Republicans—he’s been cozying up to and making sweet deals on behalf of the lobbyists and donors that keep him in office for decades, all at the expense of Florida families,” American Bridge spokesperson Lizzy Price says.

“Putnam is right in line with Republicans in Congress under the leadership of Donald Trump who give handouts to the rich at the expense of the middle class,” Price adds.

“This will be a long, difficult campaign for Problem Putnam and in the end, Floridians will know that his problems aren’t endearing. They’re dangerous and wrong for Florida.”

The Putnam campaign slammed the site, and American Bridge.

“No surprise to see a super PAC funded by Hollywood liberals George Soros and Michael Moore is terrified to see a strong conservative with a positive vision for our state in the race for Governor,” said Putnam campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis. “This website is a poor-quality, Hollywood production that aims to fool voters into reversing the progress our state has made.”

Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has been a major contributor to American Bridge over the years, including $80,000 earlier this year, according to Open Secrets.

Kathy Castor: If Al Franken must go, so should Blake Farenthold

Last week, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced he would soon resign from office following multiple reports of women accusing him of groping and forcibly kissing them.

Immediately after, some rank and file Democrats said Franken was a sacrificial lamb, so the party could go all-in attacking President Donald Trump and Alabama Sen. candidate Roy Moore for their alleged acts of sexual assault.

Tampa U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor does not agree.

“After the seventh women came forward to talk about Sen. Franken, I think people have the right to expect the highest standards of ethics from their elected officials, and they shouldn’t make a lot of exceptions,” the Congresswoman said Monday following a news conference at St. Joseph’s Hospital to note the upcoming deadline for Affordable Care Act sign-ups.

A group of women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault detailed their accounts of being groped, fondled and forcibly kissed by the businessman-turned-politician at a news conference Monday.

At least 13 women have now accused Trump of a range of offenses, from sexual harassment and misconduct to sexual assault, including unwanted kissing and groping. All the alleged incidents took place before he assumed the presidency.

“Folks need to look at President Trump for his past behavior,” Castor said. “I think he has a lot to answer for his very low standards of conduct on sexual harassment and so much more.”

Another member of Congress that Castor feels needs to go is Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold following reports that he had used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle an allegation of sexual harassment from a former communications director in his office in 2015.

“I think it’s outrageous that he’s still there in the current climate with the other resignations,” she said. “I don’ think the Ethics Committee process functions right now. It’s not fast enough. It doesn’t provide the transparency that we need, so I’m hopeful that maybe the GOP will find some religion here and begin to act in a consistent manner.”

To address that issue, Castor is co-sponsoring legislation (HR 4497) with Nebraska Republican Don Bacon to prohibit the use of public funds to pay settlements and awards for workplace harassment and discrimination claims under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, arising from acts committed by members of Congress.

Farenthold announced Friday that he and his entire congressional staff underwent sensitivity and sexual harassment training last year after two female staffers complained of gender discrimination and “sexualized commentary in his Capitol Hill office, now bringing the total to three women who have complained of either sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or a hostile work environment in his office.

The 51-year-old Castor calls the revelations of sexual harassment that have brought down major figures in show business, the media and politics “remarkable,” and says it needs to spread to other less glamorous industries with similar bad actors.

“We are living through an extraordinary moment of social change in my lifetime,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of trailblazing women around here and in the state of Florida, but it always seems like we’re not able to break through on equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace, and I think this has to do with the millennial generation. That’s a little bit different and a little more focused on equity, and the older generations are catching up.

“I think about my daughters, who are 20 and 18, and what this means for them and other women. I think we’ve got to take great care now to make sure that this movement applies to every sector of the workplace, not just entertainment and politics but folks working on farms, folks working in domestic situations in the retail and hospitality industries. This has to have real meaning; we’ve gotta make sure this movement is as widespread as possible.”

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