Drew Wilson - SaintPetersBlog

Drew Wilson

Andrew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. Wilson cut his teeth as an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator before moving to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

Red-light camera ban clears green-lighted by House committee

A House bill to ban red-light cameras cleared its final committee Tuesday and is ready for a floor vote when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month.

The House Government Accountability Committee approved HB 6007 with a 13-3 vote; the only no votes came from Democratic Reps. Joe Abruzzo, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Clovis Watson.

Last month, the bill had made it through the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the House Appropriations Committee with similarly lopsided votes.

The bill would not take effect until July 1, 2020, though it would cause a substantial dip in revenue on the state and local levels. According to the Government Accountability Committee’s staff analysis, banning red-light cameras would cause the state to lose out on about $63 million in general revenue a year, while local governments would lose nearly $73 million.

Earlier this month, a Senate bill that would put an end to the cameras failed to make it through the Senate Transportation Committee, though Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell filed an identical bill Feb. 1.

Lawmakers backing a total ban on red-light cameras have pointed to a study from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that showed crashes were up more than 10 percent at intersections with cameras.

While the data shows an increase in rear-end collisions and crashes involving injuries, it did show a 3 percent decline in crashes involving running red lights and a 20 percent reduction in accidents involving pedestrians or other non-motorists.

Detractors say that study is flawed, however, because it includes crashes up to 250 feet away from intersections.

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Adam Putnam’s committee adds another $500K in February

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised more than $500,000 for his political committee in the first half of February according to a newly updated financial report.

The committee, Florida Grown, brought in about $200,000 of its $538,000 haul from the Associated Industries of Florida and one of its related political committees. Another $100,000 came from Vero Beach businessman Robert Stork, and Disney chipped in another $50,000 on February 1.

February’s running total has already eclipsed January’s numbers, which saw the Polk County Republican add just over $400,000 to its coffers.

Those numbers were boosted by a $250,000 check from Florida Power and Light and $100,000 from Disney.

Most expenditures this month have been for payroll and office services, though the committee did shell out $82,000 to Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting on the first of the month.

Florida Grown finished January with about $4.7 million on hand, and through the first two weeks of February, that total looks to have breached the $5 million mark.

Putnam, a former congressman, is currently serving his second and final term as Agriculture Commissioner, though he is thought to be eyeing a run for governor in 2018.

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Gus Bilirakis holding third health care town hall in Wesley Chapel

Tampa Bay Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will host another public listening session on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday in Wesley Chapel.

During the two-hour event, Bilirakis said he would take feedback and ideas from constituents about the direction of the U.S. health care system, including the repeal and replacement of the ACA.

The six-term congressman has held similar sessions in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey this month, both of which packed with supporters of the health care law angered at Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the law without a replacement.

Following those events, Bilirakis signed on to a bill that would keep the ACA provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions after its repeal.

“I heard a clear message from my constituents at recent town halls: people with pre-existing conditions need the peace of mind of knowing that they can get — and keep — health care,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “At events in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey, I listened to folks share personal stories about themselves and loved ones who were denied access to coverage because of a chronic illness. I made a promise to gather input from the people of Florida’s 12th District about the future of our nation’s health care, and I am keeping that promise with this legislation. We will protect those with pre-existing conditions and put in place a health care system that works for everybody.”

The Wesley Chapel will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wesley Chapel High School Performing Arts Center on Wells Road. The event is open to the public.

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Marco Rubio files bills cracking down on Iran, Russia

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio announced Friday that he is sponsoring a pair of bills to crack down on Iran and Russia.

Rubio, along with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue, filed a bill to crack down on Iran’s use of commercial aircraft in support of terrorism.

The Iran Terror-Free Skies Act would require the executive branch to regularly report to Congress on whether Iran has used civilian planes for military purposes, such as transporting weapons or military personnel, to terrorist groups within its borders or abroad.

“As the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, Iran continues to systematically use its commercial airlines to supply the murderous Assad regime in Syria as well as to Hezbollah and other foreign terrorist organizations,” Rubio said. “If America turns a blind eye to the Iranian terror regime’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East and endanger the lives of innocents worldwide, we risk being complicit.”

The Miami Republican also joined up with Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on a bill to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF missile treaty.

“Russia’s mounting violations of the INF Treaty, including testing and now brazenly deploying ground-launched cruise missiles with intermediate range, pose grave threats to the United States and our European allies,” Rubio said. “This legislation makes clear that Russia will face real consequences if it continues its dangerous and destabilizing behavior.”

The bill includes provisions to build up missile defense and place intermediate range missile systems within allied countries, among other things.

Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe and Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rodgers are sponsoring the bill’s House companion.

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City to hold public meeting on Tangerine Plaza

The city of St. Petersburg will host a meeting Feb. 23 to talk with the public about the Tangerine Plaza development.

The “Tangerine Plaza Community Conversation” will start at 6 pm and be held in the community room of the St. Petersburg College Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center at 1300 22nd Street South.

Topics addressed in the meeting include what the greatest need is for the community surrounding Tangerine Plaza, the history of the plaza’s development and how the property can serve the community’s needs in the future.

The midtown shopping center has been in dire straits for years, and anchor store Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market announced last month it would shutter its doors in March, leaving area residents without a grocery store.

The meeting will have city staff in attendance and is open to all interested parties. For more information on the meeting, contact St. Petersburg Director of Education and Community Engagement Leah McRae at (727) 893-7174 or Leah.McRae@stpete.org.

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Bill to fix vote-by-mail rules clears first committee

A bill that would allow Florida voters to fix signatures on vote-by-mail ballots cleared its first House committee Thursday.

HB 105, sponsored by Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz, would change the process for when signatures on ballots don’t match up to the signature on file with local supervisors of elections.

Current law gives voters the opportunity to correct their ballot if they forget to sign it, but the same courtesy isn’t extended to mismatched signatures.

Bill cosponsor and Dania Beach Democrat Evan Jenne said ailments such as Parkinson’s disease or vision loss can cause signatures to change rapidly, and HB 109 would protect the rights of increasing number of voters who mail in ballots.

The bill would give supervisors of elections leeway to decide how they want to contact voters, whether it be through mail or email, door knocking or phone calls.

HB 105 cleared the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee with a unanimous vote and now heads to the House Government Accountability Committee. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 544 by Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon, has yet to be heard in committee.

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Service industry helps Florida boost 14.4K new jobs in Nov.

Florida added 14,400 new private-sector jobs in November according to employment data released by payroll company ADP.

According to the ADP Regional Employment Report, the bulk of Florida’s new jobs were in the service industry, which added 12,200 jobs, while goods-producing industries added 2,200.

Professional and business services saw the biggest gain at 4,100 jobs, followed by mining and construction at 1,900, manufacturing at 300 and trade, transportation and utilities at 100.

The November numbers show a 1,400-job dip compared to October, when the state added 15,800 jobs, and are far below the 20,500 jobs added in the Sunshine State in November 2015.

Still, Florida posted the third-highest job gain among the states tracked by ADP. California, which added 29,000 jobs, and Texas, which added 26,300, took the two top spots.

Regionally, the 17 states making up the South added the most jobs at 89,000. Western states added 60,000 jobs, followed by the Midwest with 35,000 and the Northeast with 32,000.

The ADP Regional Employment Report is produced using data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as the payroll company’s in-house data. The next report, covering December, will be released Jan. 11.

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House approves Kathy Castor bill promoting concrete masonry, manufacturing jobs

The U.S. House passed a bill sponsored by Democratic Florida Rep. Kathy Castor Wednesday that would boost construction jobs and help develop better building materials.

“Local manufacturers and many across Florida worked diligently with me to boost jobs in the concrete masonry industry through this legislation. If signed into law, businesses will have the ability to pool resources for research and to develop safer, more durable, and more efficient products which would be a boon for building construction,” Castor said. “This bill supports an industry made up of primarily small, local businesses that create local jobs in the competitive construction market.”

The House voted 355-38 in favor of Castor’s bill, which she called a “win for jobs and our local manufacturers. The bill would put a one penny assessment on all concrete blocks sold, to fund research, education, and promotional programs for concrete manufacturers.

“Buildings made of structurally strong materials, such as concrete block, are vital to reduce the impacts of property insurance losses as the climate changes and Florida experiences more extreme weather events,” the CD 14 Democrat said. “Producers also will be able to develop durable, energy-efficient and affordable products that are better able to withstand volatile weather conditions in their particular regions, such as seismic events in the West or extreme weather in the Southeast.”

The bill now moves on to the U.S. Senate.

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Bill Galvano committee brings in over $360K in five days

Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano’s political committee pulled in more than $360,000 between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, giving the future Senate president plenty of ammo to help his fellow Republican senators win re-election.

“Innovate Florida” kicked off the three-day fundraising spree with a $100,000 check from Cuban-American billionaire Miguel Fernandez Oct. 31, followed by a $12,500 haul Nov. 1 and $160,500 Nov. 2.

The Nov. 2 report shows $25,000 apiece coming in from the Associated Industries of Florida’s political committees The Voice of Florida Business, Floridians’ United for Our Children, and Floridians for a Stronger Democracy.

Galvano’s PAC also collected a $50,000 check from the Florida Prosperity Fund, a committee run by AIF VP of Political Operations Ryan Tyson.

According to the report, Innovate Florida had more than $1.2 million on hand heading into the final stretch of the election season.

With Galvano having already secured re-election for himself in Senate District 21, most of the new funds will likely be used to help out in some of the more hotly contested Senate races this cycle.

Among the top targets for both parties are the SD 8 contest between Republican Rep. Keith Perry and former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith, the SD 18 race between Republican Rep. Dana Young and Democratic attorney Bob Buesing, the battle between Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez in SD 37, and Republican Rep. Frank Artiles run against Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard in SD 40.

Despite the fundraising flurry, Innovate Florida did not report any spending over the three-day stretch, though the PAC has dumped $425,000 into the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee since the start of the 2016 election cycle.

That committee, which has only reported its financials through Aug. 25, has raised $16.6 million this cycle and had nearly $10 million of that money on hand.

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Charlie Crist nets another $7K from lobbyists, Morgan & Morgan employees

Former Gov. Charlie Crist reported another $7,000 in contributions in a new FEC filing Tuesday, including checks from a pair of Morgan & Morgan employees.

The donor roll included attorneys Adam Brum and Keith Carter of Morgan & Morgan, who gave $1,500 and $1,000, respectively. Crist took a job at Morgan & Morgan after his lone term as Florida governor ended in 2011.

Also in the filing were Tallahassee lobbyist Jeff Sharkey and Nicholas Herbach of Index Management Services, who each gave $1,000, as well as the American Federation of Government Employees PAC, which gave $2,500.

Crist is running in Florida’s 13th Congressional District against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who also filed a notice with the FEC Tuesday to report a $1,000 contribution from a PAC tied to Florida East Coast Industries.

Through Oct. 19 Jolly had brought in about $1.9 million and had about $160,000 of that money on hand, while Crist had raised about $1.5 million through Oct. 19 and had about $170,000 in his campaign account.

Since those reports, the candidates have been neck-and-neck, with each of them turning in new notices to the FEC on a daily basis.

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