Dana Young Archives - Florida Politics

Pirates got me thinking: The Gasparilla parade and Florida politics

There’s one event for which this proud St. Petersburg native will always cross the bridge.

It’s Robert and Nancy Watkins‘ party, held in conjunction with the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza, an alcohol-free event celebrating the pirates’ return to Tampa Bay.

Gasparilla is an annual celebration that began in 1904. Held each year in late January or early February, it celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida. There is the main parade one weekend and a night parade held the following week. But to kick it all off, there is the family-friendly children’s parade.

To those who may not know them — and very few people operating in Florida politics DON’T know them — Robert and Nancy may be two of the most essential players in the state’s political universe.

Through their South Tampa accounting firm moves tens (if not hundreds) of millions in political contributions and expenditures. Additionally, Nancy serves as treasurer for dozens of candidates and committees. Among her too-many-to-name Florida clients are several A-list members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

As we have the past five years, my wife, daughter, and I gladly accepted an invitation to view the parade from the Watkins’ beautiful home. And while my daughter was there for the beads and the floats, I attended for the politics, as the party draws many of Tampa Bay’s leading politicos.

With Bloody Mary in hand most of the day, my conversations with those participating were not for attribution. Nevertheless, I was able to glean several insights into state and local politics.

But first, a quick note about two of the children at the parade.

The first is about Lizzy Brandes, the amazing seven-year-old recently adopted by Natalie and Jeff Brandes. I say “amazing” because that’s precisely what she is. She is so much more acclimated to American life than what you could believe can happen in such a short period.

And think about, Lizzy knows nothing about our traditions, like a parade idolizing a mythical pirate. Think about how that must look through her eyes. Yet there she was, catching beads with the best of them.

The second note is about Maverick Griffin, the surprise addition to Melanie and Mike Griffin‘s lives. He’s just as cool in person as his name would suggest and it’s just incredible to see Melanie and Mike, perhaps the city’s best known young professional couple, embrace parenthood with as much enthusiasm as they have the other aspects of their lives.

Now, on to politics.

First and foremost, the attitude of the decidedly Republican crowd was less celebratory than it was in 2017. Last year, the party took place at about the same time as Donald Trump‘s inauguration and so there were plenty of folks sporting red “Make American Great Again” hats. This year, however, with the parade taking place just hours after the federal government officially shut down, there were very few, if any, outspoken supporters of the president.

Speaking of which, it’s astonishing to think of the transition one guest has made since I last blogged about the Watkins’ Gasparilla party.

I’m referring, of course, to former U.S. Rep. David Jolly.

Two years ago, Jolly held a sizable lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Today, he is among the most prominent critics of Trump. In fact, he may be THE most prominent Florida-based Trump critic.

It remains to be seen what Jolly will do in 2018 and beyond. I doubt he runs for office. And I know Jolly would like to book a full-time gig with a cable network. But can he make that happen?

Jolly also had an impressive set of comments about the #NeverTrump movement. He spoke about what will happen AFTER the fever breaks. And about how those Republicans who did not stand up to Trump may be judged. I agree with the former congressman that reckoning will come for the Paul Ryans of the world who not only did not stand up to Trump, but enabled him.

He’s not exactly a #NeverTrump’er, but he’s close enough: Will Weatherford was missing from the Watkins’ party, although his lovely wife, Courtney, stopped by.

I guess Will’s just too busy making money in the private sector to stop what he’s doing for a parade.

State Sens. Jeff Brandes and Dana Young both made appearances Saturday.

While Brandes has yet to draw a Democratic opponent, Young learned last week that Bob Buesing would run against her again in 2018.

In a way, Brandes and Young’s fates are intertwined. It’s like that Florida Democrats do not have the resources to fund a candidate against both Brandes and Young, so now that Buesing is in against Young, Brandes may be closer to being off-the-hook.

Yet the upside for Young is higher than it is for Brandes: if she can get past Buesing, she has a better-than-even-money chance to be the first female Senate president in decades. There’s no doubt Young faces a stiff challenge from Buesing, but I think the book on him is still the same as it was in 2016, no matter how much the political environment has changed. He’s a smart man and, by all accounts, a solid lawyer and valuable member of the community.

But is he a good politician?

Young, meanwhile, has beat back everything opponents have ever thrown at her. And if she could beat the late Stacey Frank in 2010, I wager she’ll be able to get by Buesing this year.

Hard at work on the campaign trail is political consultant Anthony Pedicini, who is always one of the first to arrive at the Watkins party. He also brings much of his extended, parade-loving family to the event. And they’re great.

Of course, Pedicini spent much of the day on the phone, working on the special election in House District 72. Pedicini and his partner, Tom Piccolo, are on a tear, winning one special election after another in 2017-2018. But there’s something afoot in HD 72, despite advantages Republicans hold in that seat.

For several reasons, Democrats are excited about Margaret Good‘s chances in this seat. They’re raising serious money, although Republican James Buchanan is too. For some time, the fur has been flying in this race (no doubt part of what Pedicini was working Saturday), so keep this contest on your radar.

Finally, if there is one takeaway I want to impart about Saturday, it’s about how, um, interested Bob Buckhorn might be … could be … in the running for, um, Florida Governor … in 2018.

Hizzoner always comes to the Watkins party after working the parade route and, even more so than in years past; he was a man in full. Buckhorn knows what kind of job he’s done in Tampa and really, really would like to do the same for Florida.

I joked with him about how great it would be if he could give a speech years from now and say “Florida has its swagger back” just the way he was able to say the same thing about Tampa.

Lobbyist Ana Cruz and I spent thirty minutes practically begging Buckhorn to reconsider not running in 2018, primarily since John Morgan — who would’ve clogged the same lane Buckhorn would run in — has taken himself out of the running.

Buckhorn’s problem is that while he would almost certainly do well in a general election, he would struggle to escape the identity-based politics of the Democratic nomination. It probably won’t be the year for another middle-aged white guy — no matter how great his story — and Buckhorn’s story in Tampa is great. That is a damn shame. Because, in Buckhorn, you can literally see the same appeal Joe Biden has at the national level.

There is at least one upshot to Buckhorn not running in 2018. We’ll be able to see him swagger down Bayshore Boulevard one last time in 2019.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn greets a boy along the parade route of the 2018 Children’s Gasparilla Experience.

Democrat Bob Buesing wants rematch against Dana Young for state Senate seat

Tampa attorney Bob Buesing will again challenge Republican Dana Young in Senate District 18

The 64-year-old Buesing lost to the 53-year-old Young by seven points in 2016, but that was not a one-on-one matchup.

Adult club entrepreneur and progressive activist Joe Redner ran an aggressive campaign (mostly against Young) as well, and finished a distant third with nearly ten percent of the vote.

Although Buesing and other Hillsborough Democrats denied that Redner’s presence would be a drag on his candidacy, Buesing admitted in a brief interview with Florida Politics last week that in fact he had been.

Redner has already announced his support for Buesing in 2018.

Whether Buesing can beat Young in a straight-up matchup remains to be seen, but Buesing says he is confident that with a surge of intensity amongst Democrats, he can be successful.

Young has a substantial head start in fundraising. She now has $160,418 in her campaign for Senate account, and an additional $690,595 in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million in 2016, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

The race between the three candidates was intense in 2016, and Buesing seems ready for that same level of intensity  this year. Although he was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, he told Florida Politics last summer that “it is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign.” B

District 18 covers much of Tampa and western unincorporated Hillsborough County.

 

Greyhound steroids ban moves in Senate

A bill to ban all uses of steroids in racing dogs has cleared a key Senate panel.

The Regulated Industries Committee, which generally gets first crack at gambling-related bills, OK’d the measure (SB 674) 7-2 on Wednesday.

State regulations now allow use only of a “low-dose, non-performance enhancing” form of testosterone in greyhounds, and only as birth control, according to Florida Greyhound Association (FGA) lawyer-lobbyist Jeff Kottkamp, a former Florida lieutenant governor.

Bill sponsor Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, took a jab at the association in her closing remarks. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 12 tracks. Young calls steroid use in dogs “doping.”

“I find it interesting that the (association) seems to think that they have any credibility on drug issues when they had an incident in Jacksonville where 12 racing greyhounds were … found with cocaine in their bloodstream,” she said, after no senator opted to debate the measure.

That incident resulted in a challenge in which an administrative law judge struck down the state’s greyhound drug testing program, leading to regulators having to enact an temporary rule to continue testing.

Jack Cory, spokesman and lobbyist for the association, countered after the meeting that the Association of Racing Commissioners International, or ARCI, as recently as last month approved of orally-taken anabolic steroids for birth control. (Owners usually don’t neuter racing dogs so they can continue breeding them.)

Moreover, Kottkamp has said the association—which advocates for the state’s race-dog owners and breeders—has “a zero tolerance policy for anyone that would give a racing greyhound any illegal substance.”

But Rep. Carlos G. Smith, an Orlando Democrat carrying the House version of the bill (HB 463), soon tweeted that “FGA has ZERO credibility. Their new motto should be, ‘LET THEM HAVE COCAINE’!”

The Senate bill next heads to the Agriculture Committee.

Senate President aspirants Travis Hutson, Dana Young continue to raise money at rapid clip

The frontrunners for the 2022 Florida Senate Presidency have spent the last few months adding funds to their political committees and, more importantly, using that money to help out a handful of potential backers when it comes time to vote in a couple years.

Sens. Travis Hutson and Dana Young are still the top contenders for the job and each has been successful on the fundraising trail since October.

Young has raised nearly $200,000 to Friends of Dana Young since October, including $68,500 in December, which put her with $690,585 cash on hand at the start of the year. The Tampa Republican also spent about $63,000 in committee cash during that span.

Much of that money went toward various consulting contracts and fundraising expenses – she is up for re-election this year, after all – though she still extended a helping hand to a pair of possible supporters.

Back in October she chipped in $10,000 to a committee supporting Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper’s campaign to replace former Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. She followed that up in December with a $1,000 check to Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s re-election campaign for Senate District 25, which isn’t up until 2020.

During the same stretch Hutson pulled in $114,000 for his Sunshine State Conservatives committee, though he capped off the year with $0 in contributions last month. He also spent about $25,000, leaving him with nearly $160,000 to play with as of New Year’s Day.

The St. Augustine lawmaker hit Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield with $1,000 checks in December.

A handful of sources told Florida Politics in October that Perry had already thrown his support behind Hutson in the Senate President race, joining Mayfield as one of his key supporters.

While nothing’s been made public in the interim, Perry’s district has a Democratic lean and his chief opponent is close to the $150,000 mark in fundraising, so getting some support from Hutson’s committee puts a little weight behind the rumors he’s in Hutson’s column.

Hutson had already given Perry $1,000 in August, and last cycle he stepped in with a pair of $1,000 checks during Perry’s bruising 2016 race against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith.

Other current or aspiring senators getting support from Hutson earlier in 2017 include Aaron Bean, Dorothy Hukill and Hooper.

Since Election Day 2016, Young has helped out the campaign account of Sen. George Gainer, as well as Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 this year, and Reps. Jason Brodeur and Jeanette Nuñez, who are running for senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

With emotion, legislators and relatives of late firefighters push PTSD bill

“Recovering a toddler’s body from the river, pulling bodies from a car that ended up in a canal and carrying a decapitated teen’s body across the sand who was the victim of a shark attack would certainly take a toll on anyone,” Leslie Dangerfield said behind teary eyes.

She was describing the atrocities her husband, Indian River Battalion Chief David Dangerfield, had witnessed before he ultimately took his life. Leading up to her husband’s suicide, Leslie Dangerfield said his behavior had changed. He had succumbed to the “beast of PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Leslie Dangerfield told her story during a press conference Wednesday aiming to alert the public on bills in the Legislature this year that would provide workers’ compensation for first responders suffering from PTSD.

Currently, workers’ compensation laws do not provide for benefits in cases of first responders suffering from mental health-related injuries, unless they are accompanied by physical injury.

The issue has permeated the judiciary branch. 

Compensation Judge Neal Pitts denied workers’ compensation for former Orlando Police officer Gerry Realin last week. Realin responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting, which left 49 massacred and 58 others injured in June 2016.

Realin is one of the many who would benefit from a series of workers’ compensation reform bills this Session.

SB 376, filed by Sen. Lauren Book, and HB 227, filed by Reps. Rene Plasencia and Matt Willhite — who also is a firefighter — would include in the Worker’s Compensation Law benefits for first responders who sustain mental or nervous injuries.

Book said the issue was brought to her attention when her neighbor confided in her the horrors she experiences through PTSD, a mental health issue that Book also copes with.

“She had gone out on a series of very, very bad calls, dealing with several child deaths,” recalled Book. “This is what our first responder families see every day.”

“The numbers don’t lie,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state marshal said. He cited research from 2015 that showed 15 percent of firefighters had made at least one attempt at suicide during their career, while 46 percent of firefighters had thought about taking their lives.

“In this Session, we are fighting to change those numbers,” added Patronis.

Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, explained the issue was personal for her. One of Young’s constituents, Megan Vila, lost her brother, Tampa firefighter/paramedic Stevie LaDue, to suicide.

Vila visited Young and told her about the lack of workers’ compensation for firefighters suffering from PTSD, she then shared her brother’s story. Young said she was heartbroken, but then turned angry at how the system had failed LaDue. Young co-introduced Book’s SB 376.

The initiative appears to enjoy healthy support, both between parties and branches of government. Democrats and Republicans are supporting a bulk of the legislation, including Sen. Victor TorresSB 126, which lowers the burden of proof for mental injuries. The accompanying legislation for SB 126, Reps. Amy Mercado‘s and Robert Ascencio’s HB 629, is the only first-responder workers’ compensation bill without bipartisan sponsorship. In the executive branch, Cabinet member Patronis has promised to throw the “full weight” of his office behind the measures.

Book’s bill will be heard by the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism Tuesday afternoon.

Here’s where Tampa Bay legislative races stand heading into the 2018 Legislative Session

The Tampa Bay area will have three Senate seats and 14 House seats on the 2018 ballot; while most of the Pinellas and Hillsborough delegations will be the same when the 2019 Legislative Session rolls around, a few races are starting to heat up.

First, the sure things.

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is still running solo for re-election to SD 18 and looks primed to win it with $160,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $690,000 stashed away in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

While that money could be put to use against a worthy challenger in the Hillsborough seat, Young has planned some other uses for it behind the scenes, perhaps helping some allies win in tougher battlegrounds.

In Pinellas-based SD 16, go ahead and pencil in former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper as the odds-on favorite to take over for Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned the seat ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session after a pair of damning reports detailing alleged sexual harassment was released.

Hooper has more than three decades of public service under his belt — eight years as a lawmaker and 24 as a firefighter — and primed for a return to the Legislature. Through the end of the year, the Clearwater Republican had amassed $245,000 in campaign cash and another $85,500 through his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

His Dem challenger, Bernie Fensterwald, is limping along with less than $5,000 on hand.

On the House side, most incumbents can expect a smooth pathway to re-election. Republican Reps. Shawn Harrison, Chris Latvala, Jake Raburn and Chris Sprowls are running unopposed, and all but Harrison hold safe GOP seats. He’s nearly hit $100,000 in total fundraising, however, so he should be well-equipped to stave off a Democratic challenger.

Republican Joe Wicker is also unopposed and posting decent numbers in HD 59, which is opening up due to current Rep. Ross Spano running for Attorney General. Wicker’s also snagged Spano’s endorsement.

HD 60 Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo and HD 58 Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure are facing challengers, but each holds a substantial advantage — McClure’s district, which he recently won in a special election, has been held by a Republican since its inception despite Democrats holding a 3,300-person edge in voter registrations. Ditto for Toledo, who took over for Young in 2016.

Toledo had $77,000 banked at the end of 2017, and challenger Debra Bellanti has yet to post a report as she filed for the seat on Jan. 3. McClure hasn’t published a report for his 2018 bid, but he had $36,635 left over when he cruised through the special last month, while NPA challenger Shawn Mathis Gilliam hasn’t shown a dime since filing in April.

For Democrats, HD 68 Rep. Ben Diamond can be counted as a surefire win. He’s got $83,000 stashed away in his campaign account and his only opponent is Republican Neelam Taneja-Uppal, who has raised $0 through four months in the race.

The St. Pete-based district looks competitive on paper, but if Bill Young II couldn’t get within 5 points in an off-cycle election, Taneja-Uppal can’t have much hope to fare better.

There’s a slim possibility a couple incumbents could be knocked out in primary races.

Rep. Jamie Grant will need to get through Terry Power in the Republican Primary for HD 64, and while the longtime lawmaker likely has a handle on things, Power didn’t try to spare any feelings when he filed.

Grant has about $31,000 in his campaign account compared to about $4,000 for Power. Grant is likely to keep the money edge through the primary season, and if he wins, the district’s GOP majority will kick in and send him back to Tallahassee for another two years.

The same situation is unfolding in heavily Democratic HD 70, where first-term Rep. Wengay Newton is facing two primary challengers.

Through December, Newton had about $15,000 on hand, while challenger Vito Sheeley had about $1,000 banked. St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would enter the race soon, but hasn’t done so yet.

Sheeley has picked up some major endorsements, including one from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, whom Newton snubbed in favor of former Mayor Rick Baker in the contentious mayoral election last year.

With the 2018 Legislative Session pausing fundraising efforts for sitting lawmakers, Sheeley and Bell will have some time to catch up to Newton and make it a race.

Now to the unknowns.

Tampa Bay will have new blood in at least four House Seats and another new representative and senator could make the 2018 class depending on how things shake out for Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw and Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee.

Lee is currently running for re-election to SD 20, but don’t expect him to be on the ballot come Election Day unless it’s for Chief Financial Officer.

That leaves Republican John Houman as the de facto front-runner for the GOP leaning seat.

Yes, that John Houman, the candidate who goes by “Mr. Manners” and bravely attempted to explain that the only reason he has a felony DUI while most politicians got through life without one is that the politicians had “a good lawyer.”

Also running is Democrat Kathy Lynn Lewis, who filed on Jan. 3, and but in reality, it’s likely Lee’s successor hasn’t filed yet.

Shaw is running for re-election to HD 61 and had $41,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2017, but he’s currently deciding whether he’ll make a go for Attorney General. If he does, Democrat Byron Henry is waiting in the wings to take over his seat in the House.

New blood is also for sure coming to House Districts 62, 66 and 69, due to the exits of Reps. Janet Cruz, Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters, respectively.

Democrats filed for Cruz’ seat are Michael Alvarez and Carlos Frontela. 

John Rodriguez had filed for the HD 62 race but has since dropped out. He is expected to become the legislative affairs point person for the city of St. Petersburg, replacing the retiring Sally Everett.

Only Alvarez has made progress in the money race, with about $19,000 raised and $11,400 on hand through December. By the same date, Frontela had approximately $1,000 in his campaign account; Rodriguez had $631.

HD 66 is turning into a tough primary battle between Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and St. Pete attorney Berny Jacques.

Jacques currently leads the money race with $106,302 cash on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Protect Pinellas, but DiCeglie has outpaced him since he filed for the seat in September. The sum of his four campaign finance reports shows him with $59,427 on hand at the start of the year.

In HD 69, it’s Jeremy Bailie against Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican Primary, and Blacklidge leads with $58,000 in his campaign account and $19,000 in his political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge. Bailie has a little over $25,000 for in his campaign account.

Democrat Jennifer Webb has also refiled for the race after losing to Peters in 2016; she’s off to a good start with more than $33,000 on hand, including more than $13,000 raised in December.

HD 69 has kept voting for Republicans, but without an incumbent in the race, it has the potential to be a swing district. The electorate is broken into equal thirds of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Republican Todd Marks takes aim at Hillsborough Commission District 1 seat

Republican Todd Marks has to run for the District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.

The attorney and small-business owner joins Aakash Patel in the race for the GOP nomination. Florida House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, who is term-limited from running again, is the lone Democrat in the race.

Marks runs Westchase Law, a Tampa-based law firm specializing in family and business law.

“For my entire life, I’ve been a consistent and common-sense conservative,” Marks said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “As a local small business owner and attorney, I know the importance of creating good jobs and, conversely, the hardships that government can place on business. Common sense, experience-oriented leadership is vital to protect our quality of life.”

District 1 encompasses South Tampa, much of Town ‘n’ Country and West Tampa, and much of the South Shore area. Voters there tend to elect political moderates. It’s been held by Republican Sandy Murman since 2010. Murman was just elected to a four-year term in November 2016 but announced last year that she would pursue the opportunity to serve even longer on the board by running for the countywide District 7 seat.

Before Murman, the seat was held by Rose Ferlita, and before her, Kathy Castor.

Marks is a graduate of the George Mason School of Law and began his legal career in Washington D.C. and McLean, Virginia.

He’s been an active presence in Republican politics for years, and ran previously for office in 2010, when he lost to Dana Young for the GOP nomination for House District 57 (now District 60).

Marks has a formidable opponent in the GOP race in Patel, who has raised a startling $327,000 in campaign contributions and donations to his political committee, Elevate Tampa.

Dana Young files bill to protect seniors from stem-cell clinics

New legislation from state Sen. Dana Young aims to “crack down on for-profit stem-cell clinics that are preying on Florida seniors and other vulnerable Floridians,” her office said Friday.

The Tampa Republican’s measure (SB 1508) relates to “use of stem cells in a clinic setting.” It would require stem-cell clinics to:

— Register with the Department of Health (DOH).

— Mandate each clinic have a designated physician on staff responsible for complying with all requirements related to registration and operation of the clinic.

— Direct DOH to inspect registered clinics annually.

— Dictate the Board of Medicine to adopt rules governing advertising by stem-cell clinics and informed consent guidelines.

— Allow DOH to impose an administrative fine up to $5,000 per violation.

“I have learned about the many Floridians who have been badly affected by unregulated, and often questionable, alternative forms of stem-cell treatment offered in Florida stem-cell clinics,” Young said in a statement.

“One instance was so severe the patient was blinded,” she added. ‘”It is clear something has to be done. These for-profit stem-cell clinics have cropped up all over the country, particularly here in Florida.”

Her bill “will provide much-needed protection for Floridians, as well as those who travel to Florida to seek stem-cell treatment, by putting guidelines and safety standards in place to guarantee these alternative stem-cell treatments are properly and safely administered and these for-profit stem-cell clinics are inspected and held to a higher standard.”

A companion bill will be filed in the House by Rep. Jason Brodeur, the release added.

Bill seeks to prevent driver’s license suspensions in non-driving offenses

No one should lose their driver’s license over an infraction that isn’t related to driving.

That’s the premise of a bill (SB 1270) filed Friday by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

“It is time to address the growing problem of non-driving related license suspensions,” Brandes said in a press release announcing the bill. “Stop the madness and quit taking away people’s driver’s licenses for unrelated offenses, especially failing to pay fines and fees.”

The bill would prohibit suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving – except for failing to pay child support.

The legislation also helps solidify the right of a defendant in financial hardship to instead use community service as a form of payment for fees and fines. Individuals who have their licenses suspended due to financial reasons would instead be issued a “hardship license.”

Currently, someone who has been caught driving on a suspended license three or more times is given a felony. Brandes’ bill would prevent such action in instances when the driver had their license suspended for financial hardship.

“A relatively minor offense puts someone into the system where they may spiral downward and lose their job or end up serving prison time because they have to choose between driving to work and driving with a suspended license,” Brandes said.

The 2018 Session, which starts Jan. 9, marks the third time Brandes has tried to limit non-driving related license suspensions. Brandes’ bill last year died in Senate Appropriations.

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, also of St. Petersburg, co-sponsored the legislation last year. Brandes notes that Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube and Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young have also been supportive of previous measures.

Mike Suarez talks Tampa—but not own political future

Like most of his colleagues, Mike Suarez will soon be heading into his final year on the Tampa City Council—he’s term-limited in 2019.

But the 54-year-old West Tampa native and District 1 councilman is considered to be set on staying in city government once his term ends. How? By becoming the next mayor, succeeding a similarly term-limited Bob Buckhorn.

If Suarez does decide to run for mayor in 2019, it could be a crowded field, with former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, former Police Chief Jane Castor, philanthropist David Straz and fellow councilman Harry Cohen all possibly being in the mix.

With that election still more than 14 months away, however, there wasn’t any discussion of future ambitions when Suarez addressed a crowd gathered at the Oxford Exchange for Café Con Tampa on Friday morning.

Instead the talk focused primarily on quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods, particularly transportation.

“Most of our lives are spent about three miles in radius to our own homes,” he said. “That sense of community, that sense of place, is something that we need to continue to do.”

But Suarez was dismissive of an announcement Thursday by Republican lawmakers Jamie Grant and Dana Young about a bill that could provide millions of dollars to the area for non-rail related projects.

“In their mind, the only technology that matters is autonomous vehicle, and some other things,” Suarez said. “I think we need to be a more efficient and smarter city, we have to invest in those things that deal with how we get around, where we have to park, and using technology to make it easier for us.”

He said he wants to encourage efforts with city engineers to make Tampa a more walkable city, saying transpiration is ultimately about “the freedom that you have.”

And that’s only possible with more information that city officials can provide, he added: “That’s much less expensive … than try to invest in an argument about which is the best investment.”

Tampa has a sorry reputation when it comes to the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. And Suarez said that reputation is well deserved.

“Almost everywhere you go it’s extremely dangerous to walk. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “And that’s why when we talk about transportation, we talk about large projects … we need to do things like make our sidewalks better, and wider, and easier to walk.”

Suarez said he was OK with reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard from 40 mph to 35, but says there needs to be more enforcement since many motorists go well above the current speed limit everyday.

Suarez was asked by several in the audience about affordable housing. He said he hoped to “convince” developers into building more affordable units, something he said has not been a focus at City Hall, and wished that those developers would consult with Council as much as they do the mayor in bringing their projects to City Hall.

Like so many local officials in Florida, Suarez took his turn at lambasting the Florida Legislature for eviscerating the now quaint concept of “home rule” in the Sunshine State.

“The Legislature keeps taking more and more and more of your rights as a citizen of this city away from you,” he said, arguing that it wasn’t about taking power away from local lawmakers but from the citizenry.

The most recent source of the City Council’s angst towards Tallahassee is legislation passed during the 2017 Session that pre-empts the city’s authority to regulate where new 5G wireless antennas will be placed.

“Any people living along the Bayshore? Watch out. Look at what happens. You’re going to see some of these things pop (up) over the next few years,” referring to the antennas, which can be as big as a kitchen refrigerator.

Recently two members of Council visited Cuba, something that’s become a regular occurrence between parts of the business and political establishment over the past five years or so.

Suarez, a Cuban-American, has been resistant; as recently as last month he challenged Chair Yolie Capin to say whether members on the most recent trip had met with dissidents (they did not).

Admitting he’s been bashed in certain quarters for his Cold War attitude (shared by Mayor Buckhorn), Suarez didn’t seem eager to get too deep into the topic.

“To me, we spend a little too much time on that and not enough time on what our issues are here,” he said, adding,”If they want to talk about Cuba, I think that they should talk to their elected officials.”

In answering a question about funding the arts, Suarez said he didn’t agree with the Buckhorn administration’s decision to cut funding for entities like the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (all nonprofits took a 10 percent “haircut” in the budget).

“I didn’t understand that,” Suarez said, referring to the budget that raises taxes for the first time in 29 years. He said that the majority of that increase was going to personnel in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

When asked about Jeff Vinik’s Water Street Tampa mega-development, Suarez mused—while acknowledging that he had no inside information—that Vinik’s team is having a difficult time luring a major company to relocate their headquarters there.

That’s because of what audience member Cathy James said was “stagnant wages, not enough affordable housing and horrible public transportation.”

He did applaud Vinik for making the project more walkable, and said he hoped Vinik would invest some of his own capital into local transportation projects to make the $3 billion project a success.

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