Jeff Brandes Archives - Florida Politics

Jason Fischer, Jeff Brandes introduce self-driving cars bill

Self-driving cars would be able to legally cruise Sunshine State highways under a bill filed by Jacksonville House Republican Jason Fischer.

His legislation (HB 353) would allow for the safe and legal operation of “autonomous vehicles.” The bill also calls for updating sections of Florida’s motor vehicle laws that “require or presume” there’s a human behind the wheel.

In a statement, Fischer stressed the safety that autonomous vehicles will bring to Florida.

“Every year in the United States, tens of thousands of people are killed in motor vehicle-related crashes, and more than 90 percent of those crashes are caused by human error,” he said. “Because autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce or even eliminate this error, I plan to do everything in my power to bring these life-saving technologies to the Sunshine State.”

The bill is being sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, who has been a champion for AV technology.

“Transportation technology is poised to radically reshape our lives,” Brandes said. “Florida has been a leader in exploring this technology, and with this bill, we continue our commitment to providing Floridians the best options to increase safety, spur redevelopment in our cities and lower costs.”

The American Council of the Blind is supporting the bill.

“At the American Council of the Blind, the foundation of our work is our belief that it is the right of every blind person in this country to be included in society and it is the responsibility of government at all levels to provide the infrastructure of services and equipment that will allow us to fully participate in our communities,” said Anthony Stephens, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs with the American Council of the Blind.

The U.S. House of Representatives has begin moving legislation that could accelerate the rollout of self-driving technology.

The Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, or “SELF DRIVE” Act, quickly cleared the House with unanimous support, and now moves to the Senate. If it passes there, it could become the first national law for self-driving cars in the United States.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has expressed concern about the SELF DRIVE Act, writing a letter to congressional leaders asking for clarification between the federal government and the states when it comes to regulating vehicle safety and operations standards.

Fireworks bill clears first Senate panel

The latest attempt to end a decades-old prohibition on fireworks sales in Florida received its first hearing in the state Senate Wednesday, and it was a bit bumpy.

The bill cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on a 8-2 vote, but bill sponsor Greg Steube admits it still needs some work.

For more than half a century, Florida law on fireworks has been banned, but there is a loophole that allows fireworks to be used “solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

What that means is that Floridians who purchase fireworks from roadside stands are usually asked to sign a form acknowledging that they fall under one of the exemptions, which gives legal cover for fireworks vendors that buyers will actually use them for the purposes that they describe in the form.

Like scaring birds.

Lawmakers in recent sessions, including former state Rep. and now U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, have tried to change the law to no avail. This time around, it’s Steube, a Sarasota Republican. He filed a bill (SB 198) to legalize consumer fireworks.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes asked Steube how many people he thought committed fraud when they filed the forms. Steube replied that he thought it was around 99.9 percent.

“We’ve created this unique situation where we all allow people to commit fraud every day and the government turns a blind eye to it,” said Brandes, who said perhaps the simpler rule would be to change the form instead of jettisoning it.

Lobbyist Ron Book, representing American Promotional Events, said his client strongly objected to eliminating the forms, saying it indemnifies the seller. “The industry is happy the way things are here,” he said.

He did add that the form could be enhanced to include “general use” in addition to the provision on agriculture, as is now the case.

In addition to removing the ban, Steube’s bill also will prohibit those under the age of 18 from purchasing fireworks.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II said if the bill encourages people in his district to shoot off fireworks—and not guns—on the 4th of July and on New Year’s Eve, he’s good with it.

With two more stops before the bill would go to the Senate floor, Steube said he’d be happy to work with any senator in improving the measure.

Berny Jacques fundraising slows as Nick DiCeglie enters race

Nick DiCeglie has been in the race for House District 66 for a month and his first campaign finance report, released Tuesday, signals a momentum shift in the GOP primary between him and Berny Jacques.

Jacques filed March 3 and was the first-in candidate for the Pinellas County-based seat. Since showing $30,000 raised in his initial report, his contributions have slowed.

April brought him about $11,000 in campaign cash, and after the dog days of summer, he posted another five-figure report in August. His September report, though, brought about a new low: just $1,875 in new money came in, while about $5,500 went out the door.

His lone $1,000 check for the month came in from Sarasota attorney Patrick McCardle, while the remainder came from a smattering of small-dollar donors most of whom gave $50 or less.

In all, Jacques has raised $67,344 over the past six months and has about $52,000 in the bank.

DiCeglie, who entered the race at the start of last month, raised $30,751 in 30 days. All of that money that came in before his official campaign kickoff event, too. That event is set for Thursday evening in Bellair and features more than 50 names on the host committee that no other first-time candidate could dream of getting in the same room anywhere outside the Governor’s Club.

The abbreviated list: St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes, Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala and his son Rep. Chris Latvala, and Pinellas County Commissioners Dave Eggers, John Morroni and Karen Seel, as well as Commission candidate and current HD 69 Rep. Kathleen Peters.

His pull with local Republican rock stars isn’t a surprise. In addition to owning and operating the lauded waste management company Solar Sanitation, Inc., for over decade, he spent two terms chairing the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce and earned a gubernatorial appointment to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Being the current chair of the Pinellas County Republican Party certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Among his September donors were renowned attorney Brian Aungst Jr., Clearwater City Council Member Doreen Caudell, former Pinellas GOP Chair Jay Beyrouti, and lobbyist Alan Suskey.

Spencer, Chris

Personnel note: Chris Spencer heads to GrayRobinson

Chris Spencer, longtime aide to Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, is leaving the Legislature to become a lobbyist at the Tampa office of GrayRobinson, the law firm announced Monday.

“Spencer has nearly a decade of experience working with Florida’s legislative and executive branches,” a press release said. “Prior to joining GrayRobinson, he managed successful campaigns for multiple legislators, including Brandes and Sen. Dana Young,” a Tampa Republican.

“We are thrilled for Chris to join our Tampa office,” Tampa managing shareholder David L. Smith said. “He will be an asset to our Tampa-area clients in addition to supporting the Firm’s statewide lobbying practice.”

As chief legislative assistant to Brandes, he “directed all legislative priorities and focused on a wide range of policy and appropriations issues, including transportation, economic development, energy, insurance and financial regulation,” the release said.

Spencer, 29, also served as legislative assistant to state Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican.

“Chris comes to us with invaluable relationships inside the Capitol and around the state,” said GrayRobinson executive vice president and statewide chair of government affairs Dean Cannon, a former House Speaker. “His experience working with legislators, staff, campaign offices and grassroots organizations will be a great resource for our clients.”

Spencer will focus his lobbying efforts in policy and appropriations matters throughout the Tampa and Tallahassee markets. He received bachelor’s degrees in economics, political science and international affairs from Florida State University.

Beer, wine from vending machines? Fla. company says ‘yes’

A newly-formed Miami-Dade company is seeking an OK from state regulators to install what it calls “self-checkout micro marts” with beer and wine.

Or, as one regulated industries lobbyist privately put it, “Hey, booze from vending machines? What could go wrong?”

Nothing, the company suggests.

La Galere Markets of Coral Gables, which filed articles of incorporation with the state in August, submitted its request with the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco on Sept. 27, records show.

The company asked the agency for a declaratory statement that the machines would be legal under existing law and regulations.

Pennsylvania, for instance, in 2010 tried but ultimately pulled the plug on self-service “wine kiosks,” which verified age through a driver’s license scan and required customers to blow into a Breathalyzer. They were in some of that state’s supermarkets, where wine isn’t allowed to be sold.

And earlier this year, “American Green, a Phoenix-based medical-cannabis technology company, unveiled a prototype for a vending machine that uses biometric verification to sell controlled and age-restricted items,” USA Today reported.

“Besides (marijuana), it can dispense other items where positive identification is a purchasing prerequisite—pharmaceuticals, casino chips, alcoholic beverages or even guns.”

Here’s La Galere’s “unique business model”:

The company intends to place the micro marts “in residential condominium developments in several Florida locations,” the filing says. They would also sell food, including sandwiches and snacks, but the company does not have a liquor license.

Condo residents would have to go through “checkpoints” to get to the machines, including building security, and use their fingerprints to buy any alcoholic beverage.

Scanned prints would be in a “pre-approved” database. Moreover, the machines would be monitored at all times by surveillance cameras.

All that is to prevent minors’ access, the company says. To compare, the state now allows hotel mini-bars, “which have no employee supervision and generally lack anything other than superficial age verification,” the filing says.

La Galere’s president is listed as Rashid Siahpoosh, who couldn’t be reached Friday at his Miami office.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sits on the Senate’s Regulated Industries committee, said he’d “be shocked if that’s legal.” The committee handles, among other things, alcohol-related legislation.

Brandes, informally known as a member of the Legislature’s “disruptive technology caucus,” has long championed shaking up the status quo, including supporting ride-booking services like Lyft and Uber, legalizing delivery drones, and allowing digital versions of state-issued licenses.

“Look, I’m open to considering all kinds of options, but (as a state) I don’t think that’s where we heading,” he said, referring to La Galere’s business idea.

Oscar Braynon II, the Senate Democratic Leader who also sits on the committee, laughed when told of the plan.

“I have never heard of that,” said Braynon, who’s from Miami Gardens. “There’s a smile on my face because I think that’s funny. But I don’t know if it would fly.

Braynon surmised getting ABT’s approval “would be a challenge,” he added. “But it might be a good idea … you know, go in, get your six-pack or whatever.”

But Susan Pitman, founder and executive director of Drug Free Duval, an alcohol and substance abuse prevention group, said “it doesn’t sound like a really good idea.”

“We know that whenever we increase access (to alcohol), we increase use,” she said. “I don’t want (condo residents) walking by the machine, thinking, ‘Some wine would be great right now.’

“I’m not freaking out about it, but as a society, do we have to be just a vending machine away from our booze?”

Jeff Brandes wants Florida to prepare for future wave of electric cars

Soon, a lot more electric vehicles will be on Florida roads. Jeff Brandes wants the state to get ready.

At least seven electric cars are coming to market by 2020, according to Business Insider, with several considered to be relatively affordable. That will make a total of 39 different models of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles and 44 models of EV’s operating in North America.

This week, the state senator from St. Petersburg filed SB 384, which calls on the Florida Transportation Commission to review all sources of revenue for transportation infrastructure and maintenance projects and prepare a report to the Governor and the Legislature when electric vehicles are determined to make up a certain percentage or more of the total number of registered vehicles statewide.

“I think many states are going to wake up and realize that a significant portion of their fleet is has transitioned to electric vehicles,” Brandes said Friday.

The Pinellas County Republican explained the main goal of the bill is twofold: It triggers the FTC to come up with a plan on how to fund roads once two percent of all cars in Florida are electrified. That’s crucial since Florida roads are predominantly funded through gas taxes, which electric vehicle owners would not pay.

“At two percent it’s noticeable but not meaningful,” Brandes said. “But at five to ten percent it becomes a huge challenge to fund road projects.”

The bill also calls on the state’s Department of Emergency Management to think through what a large increase of electric vehicles on the road would mean when an approaching hurricane would require mass evacuations, as was the case last month as Hurricane Irma approached the Sunshine State.

“Imagine Irma when you have 10 percent of vehicles that can’t get gas someplace, but they have to physically plug in and charge,” he envisions. “We need to be thinking through those challenges as well, and the earlier we do it, the better we’re going to plan for the future.”

The legislation would be timely. EVs are on track to beat gasoline cars on price, without incentives or subsidies by 2025, according to “From Gas to Grid: Building Charging Infrastructure to Power Electric Vehicle Demand,” a new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Meanwhile, Brandes announced the latest Florida Autonomous Vehicle summit is going to the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay Hotel next month. Officials from Tesla, Lyft and Uber are scheduled to speak, and the event will feature expanded breakout sessions with guests from all parts of the industry.

That event takes place on November 14-15, and more information is available here.

Ed Hooper nabs Mike Fasano endorsement for SD 16

Ed Hooper, in his bid to return to Tallahassee, picked up a major endorsement Wednesday from Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

Fasano, a former Republican state lawmaker, has been a longtime political force in West Pasco County. Hooper, who served in the House from 2006 to 2014, is running in Senate District 16, covering parts of Pinellas and Pasco counties.

“I know Ed Hooper to be an honest and thoughtful person who cared about how laws effect the people he represents,” Fasano said in a statement. “Hooper has my full support and endorsement for State Senate.”

Hooper seeks to succeed Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala in SD 16. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, is term-limited from the Senate and now running for Florida governor.

Born in North Carolina, Hooper moved to Clearwater in 1972 and studied fire science and emergency medicine at St. Petersburg College. After 24 years with the Clearwater Fire Department, Hooper was elected to the Clearwater City Council and later served eight years in the Florida House, before retiring in 2014 due to term-limits.

Hooper also brings an extensive civic involvement, including stints on Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Pinellas, and the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

In endorsing Hooper, Fasano joins State Sens. Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes and Dana Young, as well as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Calls for blue-ribbon hurricane panels abound in Capitol

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, and with Hurricane Maria now churning the Atlantic, Florida lawmakers are forming or calling for blue-ribbon panels to improve the state’s readiness to deal with monster storms.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Tuesday announced the creation of a “Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness” to “gather information, solicit ideas for improvement, and make recommendations.”

Separately, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, asked Gov. Rick Scott “to form a commission to review the disaster preparedness, response, and recovery of state and local entities involved in Hurricane Irma efforts, as well as critical infrastructure institutions such as public utilities and medical facilities.”

The calls come after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state last week, causing at least $2 billion in damage tallied so far. Evacuees were hampered by gasoline shortages, and eight South Florida nursing home residents died after their air conditioning went out.

Money will be tight this year as the Legislature’s chief economist already warned legislators that next year’s relatively tiny state budget surplus will be erased because of costs from Irma.

Corcoran

In the House, Corcoran wants members to set aside “business as usual,” suggesting that filing local spending projects will be frowned upon, at least officially, during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“We spend a significant portion of money”—more than $630 million this year—”on what are considered ‘pork’ projects,” he said at a Tuesday news conference in the Capitol. “If we took just some of those funds … you’re going to see us make tremendous (progress) toward hurricane hardening throughout our state.

“There is not one single (pork) project … that is worth the health and safety of Floridians,” he added.

But Senate President Joe Negron quickly shot down any self-imposed ban on hometown spending. He told the Tampa Bay Times that senators are “in the best position to know what projects are most important.”

“Let’s keep our constitutional roles straight,” he added. “The Legislature is the appropriating body. The Legislature should always have the prerogative and flexibility to write the budget.”

Among some of the ideas floated by Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican and possible 2018 candidate for governor: Creating a state gasoline reserve, looking at tree management policies, and better coordinating the flow of highway traffic before and after a storm. They would go into a “5- or 10-year plan.”

But when asked whether the panel would look hard at the possibility of human-caused climate change affecting hurricane severity or frequency, Corcoran punted.

“I think that what we should be doing is asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to protect the people of this state in the best way possible?’ ” he said, referring to conflicting government studies on global warming. “… The No. 1 function of government is to protect its citizens.”

Colin Hackley: TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 5/8/17-Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, responds to questions from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, about funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida executives during what is expected to be the final day of the extended 2017 legislative session Monday at the Capitol in Tallahassee.<br />
Brandes

Brandes, in a press release, thanked Gov. Scott, “emergency management officials, and our first responders,” but said “it is important that we have the appropriate oversight in place to stretch every relief dollar to the maximum benefit of Floridians.”

The commission he suggests would “review after-action reports created by state and local emergency operations centers, utilities, state agencies, medical facilities, and other critical service providers in order to evaluate and oversee recovery projects.

“The commission would ensure that state and county needs are met in a manner that best leverages disaster relief dollars. Additionally, it would make certain that the assessments of the recovery actions taken by both public and private entities become best practices to prepare for future events,” referring to similar oversight commissions for 2010’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Later Tuesday, the House released the membership list for the special panel, which will be chaired by Miami-Dade’s Jeanette Nuñez, the House’s Speaker pro tempore. House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero will be vice chair.

In alphabetical order: Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican; Robert Asencio, a Miami Democrat; Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican; Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican; Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican; Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat; Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican; Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican; Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat; Larry Lee Jr., a Port St. Lucie Democrat; Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat; Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican; Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican; Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican; Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat; Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican; Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat; Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican; and Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican.

Will Weatherford endorses Ed Hooper for state Senate

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is backing Ed Hooper for the state senate seat being vacated by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who terms out in 2018.

“Ed Hooper was an important member of my leadership team when I was Speaker of the Florida House, I could always rely on him for good counsel,” Weatherford said, “I also relied on his ability to navigate the land mines of special interests in the Capitol to accomplish our conservative agenda. Ed Hooper will be an outstanding member of the Senate and that is why I endorse him.”

Weatherford joins Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes and Dana Young, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco in endorsing Hooper for the seat.

The Clearwater Republican spent eight years in the House representing District 67, which was taken over by Republican Rep. Chris Latvala in 2014.

Since exiting the Legislature, Hooper has been working as a consultant. Currently he is the only GOP candidate running for Senate District 16, which covers northwestern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties, including the communities of New Port Richey, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Oldsmar and Clearwater.

The only other candidate in the race is Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, who filed back in June. Through the end of July, Hooper had around $90,000 on hand in his campaign account compared to just $2,000 for Fensterwald.

SD 16 is a reliably Republican district. About 38 percent of the electorate are registered Republicans compared to a 35 percent share who are registered Democrats.

In 2016, Latvala was virtually unopposed for re-election and took over 99 percent of the vote against write-in candidate Katherine Perkins.

 

Draft investigation report: Tri-Rail did not follow rules in $511 million, one-bid deal

When the public agency that runs the Tri-Rail commuter trains in South Florida dumped five less-expensive proposals and awarded a ten-year, $511 million, operations and maintenance contract last winter, the agency followed rules spelled out in that particular proposal but they conflicted with the agency’s standing internal procurement rules, a draft state investigation report concludes.

The transportation authority’s action last January boiled into major controversy spilling into the 2017 Florida Legislature Session. Gov. Rick Scott and key lawmakers, notably Sen. Jeff Brandes, expressed outrage that the agency essentially awarded a one-bid, ten-year contract worth a half-billion dollars, while five other train companies were crying foul. Brandes called for the state investigation.

Six months later, Florida Department of Transportation Inspector General Robert Clift concluded, [according to a report that is only in a draft stage but has been shared with other agencies in Florida,] that the transportation authority’s actions may have followed rules set forth for that specific project, but did not follow the agency’s standing procurement rules, which were different from what was outlined in the request for proposals. The agency’s rules would have required all six proposals to be evaluated by a selection committee, and that did not happen, Clift observed.

Clift did not make any recommendations that would affect the Herzog contract, but he did recommend several more state controls, including a call for a new state law requiring all state transportation authorities to adhere more closely to state procedures for bid protests, requiring bidding procedures to be stopped, and for disputes to go to the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings for final orders.

POLITICO Florida first reported on the inspector general’s draft report and Clift’s observations earlier Wednesday.

In his draft report, Clift also observed that the authority’s own rules would have required it to follow a “competitive negotiated procurement process,” but that never happened either.

Clift also cited Gerry O’Reilly, the FDOT District Four secretary who is a member of the SFRTA Board who voted against the contract in January, as saying that the new ten-year contract for Tri-Rail operating and maintenance appeared to be almost $10 million a year more than the transportation authority previously had been paying for the same services. O’Reilly raised concerns with Clift that the authority could not afford to pay that much more without seeking more revenue, though SFRTA officials told Clift they saw efficiency opportunities to make ends meet.

Clift sent a copy of the draft report to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority on Aug. 8, and FloridaPolitics.com obtained a copy as a public record Wednesday. The final report, which would include the SFRTA’s response and other addenda, is not set to be completed until October.

A spokeswoman for the transportation authority said the agency would not comment on the inspector general’s observations and recommendations until the final report is out.

On Jan. 27 the SFRTA Board voted 6-2 to award a contract based on the only bid presented to the board, from Herzog Transit Services. Five other proposals, from Amtrak, Bombardier, First Transit, Inc., SNC-Lavalin, and Transdev Services, Inc., all had been rejected by staff weeks earlier for what staff had said were “qualified” pricing proposals, which the companies later denied. All the other bids reportedly were lower, as low as $396 million, but those proposals were never reviewed. Three of those companies went to court to try to force the board to consider their proposals, but lost in court, based on the requirements spelled out in the request for proposals.

Scott; Brandes, who chairs of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development; state Sen. George Gainer, who chairs of the Senate Transportation Committee; and the Florida Department of Transportation all raised strong criticisms of the deal and threatening to cut Tri-Rail’s $42.1 million in state money if the agency did not rescind the Herzog deal and rebid the contract. However, they backed down in favor of a new law, House Bill 695, which tightened state control over the agency.

 

 

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