Drew Wilson - 2/32 - SaintPetersBlog

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

Rick Scott, Titus O’Neil to join area students at construction job fair

Gov. Rick Scott and WWE wrestler Titus O’Neil will be the top-billed guests at the second annual Build Tampa Bay Tradeshow and Job Fair at the Port of Tampa Thursday.

In addition to Scott and O’Neil, organizers expect other state leaders and 900 students from across the Tampa Bay region to come to the event promoting careers in the area’s construction industry. The job fair is scheduled to go from 9 am to 1 pm at the port’s cruise terminal.

“Build Tampa Bay is proud to host the second annual event to educate area county students about the many professional opportunities available in the construction industry,” said Associated Builders and Contractors CEO Steve Cona. “As the Tampa Bay area is primed for tremendous growth with many development projects taking place across the region, students have a unique opportunity to put their stamp on this community by pursuing an enriching career in the building sector.”

The Gulf Coast chapter of ABC teamed up with Hillsborough County Public Schools, Pasco County Schools and the School District of Manatee County to put on the event, which will give students the chance to network with more than 50 employers in the Tampa Bay region.

The first Build Tampa Bay brought in about 700 students and had 40 employers on-site, alongside Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik and Mayor Bob Buckhorn who encouraged students to pursue trade careers.

ABC said it’s putting on the event to help curb the deficit in trade workers. The group said four out of five of its member companies are not bringing in enough skilled workers despite an annual investment of $1.1 billion in apprenticeships and workforce training.

Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show the skilled worker shortage in the construction industry is expected to grow to 1.6 million workers by 2022.

James Buchanan hauls $138K in first month of HD 71 campaign

House District 71 candidate James Buchanan brought in a monstrous $138,000 haul in his first month in the race to replace termed-out Republican Rep. Jim Boyd.

Buchanan’s campaign says more than four-fifths of that money came from inside the district, which covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“One month into our campaign and the amount of support from every corner of our community has not only been encouraging, but overwhelming and humbling,” Buchanan said in a press release.

“I will work each and every day to take our conservative message to every voter in our district and share our vision for how we improve our state for each and every Floridian,” the Republican candidate said. “We will build on the momentum from this historic fundraising month and continue to grow support for our campaign.”

Buchanan, whose father is U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, is going up against Bradenton attorney Will Robinson in the Republican Primary for the right-leaning seat. Robinson loaned his campaign $100,000 in February and has not yet reported March numbers.

Bill backed by supervisors of elections clears its first Senate panel

A bill that would make a long list of election law changes made it through its first Senate panel Tuesday with a unanimous vote.

SB 1160, sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, has the approval of many supervisors of elections in the state.

Among the changes it would make are requiring candidates pay qualifying fees by cashier’s check, banning elected officials from serving as poll watchers, and giving supervisors of elections the option to publish sample ballots in a newspaper or mail them to registered voters.

The bill would also allow touch screen voting machines so long as they produce a paper trail for recounts.

The only part of the bill that turned heads was a provision that only allows courts to extend poll hours if there is a “specific showing or finding of fact that extraordinary circumstances exist to justify the extension.”

Bradley mentioned a few extensions in the 2016 election that he thought were unwarranted, and further insinuated that Democrats have used lawsuits to keep polls open in their turf.

“It’s usually done for strategic reasons,” he said.

The bill cleared the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee with a 5-0 vote and now moves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There is no identical version of the bill in the House, though HB 1325 by Republican Rep. Paul Renner makes many of the same changes found in Bradley’s bill.

That bill cleared its first panel last week.

FPL to add another 1,500 megawatts of solar over the next seven years

Florida Power & Light announced Monday that it will build another 1,500 megawatts of solar power plants over the next 7 years.

The new power plants are in addition to the eight new solar facilities expected to come online by early 2018 and FPL said the new plants could save customers more than $500 million.

The roadmap for the new facilities was filed with the Public Service Commission Monday as part of the company’s 2017-2026 Ten Year Site Plan, which included the first-ever projection that solar power will outpace coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by 2020.

Details on where the newly announced plants will be located haven’t been finalized, though the company said a Miami-Dade plant looks promising for 2019.

“We’re currently building some of the lowest-cost solar ever seen in America, and our investments in more efficient natural gas technology are delivering enormous savings and environmental benefits for our customers and our state,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “Our strategy of making smart, long-term investments in clean energy infrastructure is working, and we’re looking forward to keeping the momentum going with the major advancements announced today – which, combined, are expected to save customers more than half a billion dollars.”

The company said its expanded solar investment will come along with the closing of the coal-fired St. Johns River Power Park at the end of this year, which it says will save customers $165 million as well as eliminate more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The old Lauderdale plant and building is also set to be phased out and replaced by a new Dania Beach Clean Energy Center, which the company said will reduce their natural gas use by 5 billion cubic feet a year.

FPL said it would roll out an average of nearly 300 megawatts of new solar annually from 2017 through at least 2023, for a total of nearly 2,100 megawatts of new solar capacity.

Brian Ballard named regional vice-chair of RNC’s finance leadership team

Florida mega lobbyist Brian Ballard was added to the Republican National Committee’s finance leadership team, the party announced Monday.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel and RNC Finance Chair Steve Wynn announced the pick along with a handful of other additions in a Monday press release.

“I am delighted to announce the addition of these longtime friends of the Party and supporters of this administration to our Finance leadership team,” McDaniel said in the announcement.

Wynn added that the new team members will help get more Republican congress members and senators into office, allowing “all Americans will enjoy the benefits of a better future.”

“The challenge of guiding a swollen and overreaching government to a position that serves its citizens in a truly efficient manner will be best served by the leadership our team hopes to achieve,” he said.

Ballard will serve as a regional vice-chair man of the finance leadership team, and the press release noted his role as the chair of Trump Victory in Florida and as a member of the finance committee for the presidential transition.

In that role, Ballard brought in millions of dollars for President Donald Trump’s campaign and his inaugural committee.

The release also pointed to Ballard’s “vast experience in campaigns at both the state and national levels—serving the presidential campaigns of both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.”

“Working with Steve Wynn has been a true pleasure,” Ballard said of the appointment.

Ballard Partners announced earlier this year that it would expand to Washington and made a slew of new hires, including Reagan-era Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich.

Rick Kriseman says Cross-Bay Ferry is a success

Five months into a six-month pilot program, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the cross-bay ferry program is a success.

St. Petersburg, Tampa and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties foot the bill for the pilot program, which began sending ferries across the bay back in November. The pilot program’s goal was to test the waters for whether the area could sustainably support such a service.

“The numbers have been more robust than expected,” Kriseman told Pinellas County commissioners. “I think this pilot has been far better than expected. … There is a demand for ferry service in Tampa Bay.”

Close to 23,000 passengers have used the ferry, with February taking the top spot with 6,070 paid riders. November’s tally came in at more than 7,500 passengers, but that includes free rides.

Kriseman said the ferry service has already provided a $920,000 boost the local economy. Nearly 60 percent of riders said they spent between $15 and $40 after their ferry trip, while another 30 percent said they spent $100.

More than three-quarters of riders went out to eat after taking the ferry, while 25 percent said they went to a museum, 24 percent shopped and 11 percent went to a sporting event. About one in eight passengers said they took the ferry just for the ride.

City and county governments have spent $350,000 on the ferry service so far, but Kriseman said February’s ridership paid back about $54,000 of that sum.

Immigration reform group launches Florida chapter

An immigration reform group founded by tech billionaires is launching in Florida to push for common sense economic reform and a pathway to citizenship for people in the United States illegally.

FWD.us, founded by Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates among others, is gathering a coalition of business, community and faith leaders to push for immigration reform.

The group favors equipping law enforcement with the tools necessary to stem further illegal immigrants from coming into the US so they can focus on more dangerous criminals and security threats.

The group also wants an overhaul for the legal immigration system so top-flight talent can come to the states and make the country more competitive in the global market.

FWD.us is also looking for lawmakers to create a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country without a criminal history. Their plan would give immigrants who pass a criminal background check, pay fines and go through a probationary period the opportunity to apply for full citizenship years down the line.

About 3.7 million Floridians were born outside the U.S. and the population of foreign-born Floridians shot up nearly 39 percent between 2000 and 2010. FWD.us said immigrant business owners in Florida generated 24% of all net business income and that legal status for immigrant workers could boost the state’s tax rolls by $1.13 billion and add 97,000 new jobs.

Among the announced members of the Florida coalition are Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida, Julio Fuentes, president & CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Wes Lathrop, Executive Director of Faith in Florida.

“As someone who works in higher education, I have the privilege of working firsthand with some of the brightest minds in our state, but, unfortunately, our immigration system is holding back some of the best and brightest from fully contributing to our economy,” said Moore. “Modernizing our high-skilled visa program alone would create an estimated 18,100 new jobs in Florida by 2020, add almost $9 billion in Gross State Product, and could increase personal income by $8.7 million.”

Fuentes added that the current immigration system “has proven to harm rather than help the state of Florida. We need to establish a balance between economic prosperity and border security, which is why it is of utmost importance to pass commonsense immigration reform while maintain our country’s security.”

David Rivera files to run for HD 105

Former Republican state representative and congressman David Rivera has filed to run for House District 105 in 2018, which is set to be vacated by Miami Republican Carlos Trujillo due to term limits.

Rivera served in the Florida House for four terms before heading to the U.S. House where he served 2 years before losing his re-election bid to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

Garcia himself only held the seat for two years before he was knocked out by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2014.

The Miami Republican dipped his toe back into politics in the HD 118 seat last year, but lost a tight contest to freshman Democratic Rep. Robert Ascensio for the Miami-Dade seat.

Rivera filed his paperwork to run for HD 105, which covers pasts of Broward, Collier and Miami-Dade counties, on Wednesday and is the second candidate in the race alongside fellow Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez of Doral.

The district has a Republican lean despite voter registrations coming out almost even between the two parties. According to 2016 data, the HD 105 has 25,983 registered Democrats, 25,404 registered Republicans and another 27,393 voters not affiliated with either major party.

Last year, Trujillo cruised into his final term with 52.4 percent of the vote compared to 47.6 percent for Democrat Patricio Moreno.

Survey finds Pinellas County residents trust their local government

Pinellas County residents are far more likely to have trust and confidence in their local government than the average American according to a new poll put out by the county.

The 2017 Citizen Values Survey asked residents whether they trust their local government and a combined 93 percent said they trusted Pinellas County either a
“great deal” or “fair amount,” compared to just 7 percent who said “not very much” or “not at all.”

The numbers rack up favorably to a national poll from Gallup that found 71 percent of Americans had positive feelings about local government, compared to 29 percent who were distrustful.

The poll also asked residents they would recommend Pinellas County “as a place to live, work, raise children and retire,” and more than nine out of 10 respondents in each category said they would recommend Pinellas County to others.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said they would recommend the county as a place to live, followed by 95 percent who would recommend it as a retirement destination, and 92 percent a piece for working and raising a family.

Quality of life also earned high marks in the poll, with 71 percent saying the county is better now than it was 5 years ago and 85 percent saying they think things will continue to improve over the next 5 years.

Additionally, 88 percent of respondents said the Pinellas County government met their expectations, which represents a 3-point bump from 2016 and a 5-point bump from 2 years ago.

“We are delivering services that increasingly meet our customers’ expectations,” the county said in a release on the poll results. “This is a reflection of our commitment to providing superior public service and courteous public contact, as well as maximizing public engagement.”

Parks, public spaces, sense of community and cleanliness of public spaces were the top contributors to the increase, while the county found it could further improve by focusing on traffic flow, pedestrian travel and support services for the homeless.

Consumer Protection Coalition launches ad on Assignment of Benefits claims

The Consumer Protection Coalition launched a radio and television ad campaign Monday to warn homeowners of how Assignment of Benefits abuse could cause insurance rates to skyrocket in Florida.

Assignment of Benefits, or AOB, is a system where homeowners can sign over their insurance policy to a contractor or lawyer in exchange for a quick repair. Often, AOB claims are costlier and many end up in court in order to get insurers to pay up.

The coalition includes several insurance providers, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Builders and Contractors, among other groups, and is pushing for the Florida Legislature to pass SB 1038, which includes provisions to disallow courts from awarding attorney fees in AOB lawsuits, and give homeowners time to back out of such agreements without penalty.

“Today, Florida homeowners are being targeted by dishonest home repair vendors, roofers and water mitigation companies who team up with shady trial lawyers to take advantage of them,” said Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association, a coalition member. “Because of this rampant AOB abuse in Florida, our coalition is warning Florida consumers about the negative impacts this unscrupulous activity can have on them.”

The animated video ad features a couple signing their insurance policy over to fix a leaky roof and says the practice will cause insurance rates to go up across the state. The ad then tells viewers to call their lawmaker and ask them to vote on SB 1038 and not to “be a victim of fraud and abuse.”

“As you will see in the video, the goal of these bad actors is to convince Floridians to sign AOB contracts, where they can make unnecessary repairs and collect on an inflated bill from the insurer,” said Cam Fentriss of the Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association, another coalition member. “But be aware, because inflated bills for repairs can affect what your insurers charge for coverage when renewing a homeowners’ policy.  Further, if the insurer questions the unnecessary repairs, they get slapped with a lawsuit, all leading to potentially higher rates for Floridians.”

The coalition also cited a report from state-backed insurer Citizens Property Insurance Corp. that found insurance rates in South Florida could double by 2022 if no action is taken on AOB, and another report by the Office of Insurance Regulation that showed 10 percent increases yearly for insurance policies in other parts of the state.

SB 1038, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill, was filed in mid-February and has been referred to the Senate Banking and Insurance, Judiciary and Rules committees, though it has not yet been brought up in its first committee.

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