Drew Wilson - 3/32 - 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.

Madeira Beach Town Center subject of two new lawsuits

A pair of Pinellas County attorneys filed lawsuits in the 6th Judicial Circuit last week seeking to overturn the Madeira Beach city ordinance authorizing the development of the proposed Madeira Beach town center.

Treasure Island attorney Ken Weiss filed against the city on behalf of Linda Hein and Sam Baker on March 16.

The suit alleges the rezoning of the land on Madeira Way goes against the city’s comprehensive plan and also claims the city failed to comply with its PD zoning procedure by not requiring a complete application and not reviewing plans, documents or schematics before approving the development.

A second lawsuit filed by St. Petersburg attorney Tim Weber pits William Gay against the city and is aims to quash the town center ordinance.

The Gay lawsuit claims the Madeira Beach City Commission broke the law by not requiring a complete site plan and says the Feb. 14 decision was “not supported by competent, substantial evidence to meet the requirements of a site plan or the design criteria required to be reviewed by the Board of (city) Commissioners.”

The suit claims drainage, land alteration, buffer wall, lighting, sign and tree survey plans were not included in the proposal.

Both lawsuits are seeking court costs in addition to overturning the ordinance.

Bill would require city officials to file state financial disclosures

A bill that would require elected city officials to file detailed financial disclosures got thumbs up Wednesday morning from the Florida House Government Accountability Committee.

House Bill 7021, introduced by Republican state Rep. Larry Metz of Groveland, would require mayors, city council members and other municipal elected officials in perhaps half of Florida’s cities to file full and public disclosure of their public interests on the same forms now used by state and county elected officials.

The bill, which the committee approved unanimously, also creates a statewide registry for local lobbyists.

The municipal financial disclosure provisions, which Metz has sought for several years in similar bills that never quite reached the governor’s desk, would apply only to cities that have annual revenues of at least $10 million. One witness estimated that would eliminate about half of the 412 cities in Florida from the requirements, leading some committee members wondering why. The bill also only applies to elected officials, not candidates.

Metz responded that the disclosure provisions should be brought in incrementally, starting with those cities where more is at stake.

“We should not let pursuit of a perfect ethics reform bill be the enemy of a good ethics reform bill, which this is,” Metz said.

Democratic state Reps. Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach, Joseph Abruzzo of Belle Glade, and Kristin Diane Jacobs of Coconut Creek pushed in vein for broader requirements.

“As past audit chairman, we had numerous cases, and the majority of them were small cities where public corruption was taking place,” Abruzzo said.

House committee approves $1.8M claims bill for dead FSU player

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would give $1.8 million to the family of Devaughn Darling, who died in a Florida State University football practice in 2001.

Darling’s family has been seeking legislative approval for the money since 2005, when they won a judgment of $2 million in a wrongful death suit.

State law limits the amount that can be paid out in such suits to $200,000, leaving Darling’s family to seek the remaining balance through the Legislature.

The bill, sponsored by West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, cleared the committee with a unanimous vote and has one stop left before the House floor.

The Senate companion bill has two stops left before it is ready for a vote from the full chamber.

Jamie Grant picks up challenger in HD 64

A Hillsborough County school teacher announced this week that she will challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Jamie Grant for the District 64 seat in the Florida House.

Jessica Harrington originally planned to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in 2018, but said she decided to change course after a trip to Tallahassee.

“I realized that no one really knows me… nationally, but a lot of people know me locally,” she said.

Harrington believes public schools are underfunded and overcrowded, which she blames on funding cuts early in Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure.

“If you fund (schools) properly, they’ll be amazing,” Harrington said. “I’m the one working a second job… spending money out of my small paycheck to fund my classroom.”

The teacher also supports Medicaid expansion in Florida and believes transgender students should have the right to use the bathroom of their choosing, regardless of birth gender.


St. Petersburg International Baseball starts Friday with Team Canada vs. Rays

The seventh season of St. Petersburg International Baseball is set to kick off Friday with a game between Team Canada and the Tampa Bay Rays prospect squad.

After the opening game against the Rays prospect squad, Team Canada will take on MLB prospect teams for the Tigers on March 27, Braves on March 28, Phillies on March 29, and Blue Jays on March 30.

The first five games of the seven-game season will be held at the Walter Fuller Baseball Complex on 30th Avenue North, while the last two games will be held at the Huggins-Stengel Sports Complex on 5th Street North. Each game is set to begin at 1:05 pm.

Tickets for the Walter Fuller games are $10 each, while the Huggins-Stengel games are free and open to the public.

The Huggins-Stengel games will feature Puerto Rico at bat with players from the World All-Stars.

The season will also serve as the second official season of an international spring training league, featuring players from 12 countries, including Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

For the full schedule and information on group tickets and local sponsor packages, visit StPeteInternationalBaseball.com.

Florida Supreme Court declines to hear Tampa General malpractice case

The Florida Supreme Court decided not to weigh in on a case between Tampa General Hospital and the estate of Annie Godwin, who died while undergoing surgery performed by University of South Florida physicians in 2009.

Godwin died of blood loss during an operation to remove a cancerous tumor after a large vein was torn during surgery. After her death, Godwin’s estate sued Tampa General, USF and the physicians performing the procedure.

The malpractice lawsuit centers around whether Tampa General can be held liable for Godwin’s death even though the physicians were USF employees, not hospital employees.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals found Tampa General was not liable for Godwin’s death when it took up the case last year.

In the ruling, the court noted that Godwin had signed a form acknowledging the physicians were not hospital employees.

“No disputed material facts undermine the trial court’s conclusion that the physicians were not TGH employees or agents,” said the decision, written by Judge Edward LaRose last year. “”In addition to the affiliation agreement and the three forms signed by Mrs. Godwin, we are mindful that USF controlled its physicians.”

“The physicians were employees of USF, paid by USF, and assigned by USF,” the decision continued. “USF, not TGH, controlled their activities.”

Godwin’s estate pushed the case to the Florida Supreme Court after that decision, and the courts decision not to take up the case effectively leaves to stand the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ ruling.

Retail Federation expects record-breaking St. Patrick’s Day spending in 2017

St. Patrick’s Day revelers won’t be the only one’s seeing green this year according to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.

The retail trade group estimates those celebrating the Irish holiday will spend $37.92 a piece this year, with total spending expected to top $5.3 billion — a significant jump from last year’s $4.4 billion and good enough for a record.

“We continue to see spending on holidays and celebrations reaching or exceeding record highs, which reinforces the strength of our economy and the confidence that consumers feel,” said Florida Retail Federation President & CEO Scott Shalley. “Even though St. Patrick’s Day isn’t one of the bigger spending holidays, we still expect Florida retailers to see a nice bump in sales, particularly those who offer additional discounts and sales to attract customers.”

The survey, conducted by Proper Insights & Analytics, predicts more than 139 million Americans will celebrate the holiday this year and that most spending will head toward food, followed by beverages, apparel, decorations and candy.

While the holiday is most popular among the green-beer-drinking 18- to 24-year-old crowd, 25- to 34-year-olds will be the biggest spenders, with the average person in that age range expected to drop $46.55.

Though St. Patrick is revered for driving all the snakes out of Ireland, his holiday is better known for bringing lots of people to bars. According to NRF, 27 percent of those polled will head to watering hole or restaurant, while 15 percent will head to a private party.

The most popular way to celebrate the occasion, however, is wearing green. More than four-fifths of those polled said they plan to dress accordingly, while 31 percent said they would make a special dinner, such as corned beef and cabbage.

The survey also found 15 percent of people plan to attend a parade, with that number buoyed by Northeasterners, 21 percent of whom said they would head to a parade.

The NRF survey contacted 7,609 consumers between Feb. 1 and Feb. 8. It has a margin of error of 1.1 percentage points.

House bill advances to give University of Florida $2.5M for medical marijuana study

The University of Florida would get about $2.5 million to study the effectiveness of medical marijuana under a bill that cleared the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

HB 3159 by Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle is aimed at the compassionate use bill lawmakers approved in 2014, which legalized low-THC, high-cannabidiol marijuana for the treatment of some diseases, such as epilepsy in children.

A similar, $1 million UF study was approved by the legislature back in 2015, with that money heading to a pediatric neurology lab.

Eagle’s budget request form for the bill lists UF Pharmacy professor Almut Winterstein as the requester. According to the document, about $1.2 million of the money will go to salaries and $654,000 for contracted services with most of the rest going toward data storage and travel expenses.

Since the 2014 law, the Legislature has approved full-THC marijuana for terminally ill patients and Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for many other non-terminal medical conditions.

Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell said Eagle’s bill was a “key component” of the legislation lawmakers need to pass in order to put that constitutional amendment into action.

HB 3159 now moves on to the full Appropriations Committee, its final stop before it’s ready for a floor vote in the House.

Coalition says anti-discrimination bill would boost state economy by $5B

Bills to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would boost Florida’s economic output by more than $5 billion over the next 10 years according to a study touted by Florida Competes.

The anti-discrimination advocacy group pointed to the study as part of their push for bills banning discrimination against LGBT individuals.

According to the Thinkspot study, such legislation could boost the state’s standing among skilled workers, which could create about 36,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

The jump in employment would increase state GDP by $3.46 billion over the decade, while Florida’s total economic output would jump by $5.46 billion over the same stretch.

Thinkspot based the numbers on an 0.75 percent increase in Florida’s “attractiveness” to high-value workers if such legislation were passed, noting that American workers “vote with their feet.”

Florida Competes Executive Vice President John Tonnison said Florida “is graduating some of the most talented students in the country, and needs to do what it can to keep that talent in state.

“Competition is fierce for these future leaders, who look for both an inclusive work environment and a high quality of life,” he said in a press release. “Florida needs to follow the lead of Fortune 500 companies and add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-discrimination law.”

Tonnison said business leaders aligned with Florida Competes would be talking to lawmakers this week about the economic benefits of anti-discrimination laws.

Florida Competes’ coalition includes AT&T, CSX, Darden Restaurants, Marriott, NextEra Energy, Office Depot, Raymond James, Tech Data, Walt Disney World Resort, Wells Fargo, as well as more than 450 local businesses.

This session, the Senate anti-discrimination bill, SB 666, is sponsored by Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens. It would prohibit discrimination against members of the LGBT community when it comes to public lodging, public restaurants, the sale or rental of housing, and brokerage services, among other things.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond and Titusville Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia are sponsoring the House version, HB 623.

Neither version of the bill has been heard in committee.

St. Petersburg church starting legal battle to pursue ownership of Lincoln Cemetery

Greater Mount Zion AME Church is planning to launch a legal battle to take over the historically black Lincoln Cemetery in Gulfport, reports Waveney Ann Moore of the Tampa Bay Times.

The cemetery, situated at 608 58th St. S, is the final resting place for generations of black families, but its ownership over the past decade is isn’t quite clear.

The church, headed up by Rev. Clarence Williams, is challenging Vanessa Gray, a white woman who took over ownership of the property through a quit-claim deed. Gray has worked to clean up the property and has organized groups of volunteers to do the same.

“We do not believe that this particular piece of property should be in private hands…. We are striving for community ownership,” Williams said Saturday.

“We are going to be establishing an account where we can raise money to take care of this legal battle.”

The property was sold by now deceased Susan Alford to Sarlie McKinnon III of Georgia back in 2009, though according to the legal team representing the Alfords, McKinnon failed to follow through on claiming the cemetery property.

That led Richard Alford, the son of Susan, to sign over the property to Gray through a quit-claim deed.

“The quit-claim deed was requested to assist in clearing the title, but it doesn’t necessarily resolve the question of what would happen if Mr. McKinnon returned and asserted his ownership of the corporation, Lincoln Cemetery Inc.,” said lawyer Peter Rudy Wallace, the last Democrat to serve as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, in 1994-96.

According to the church’s lawyer, Tamara Felton-Howard, McKinnon has stepped in and signed “a document” on behalf of the congregation, though she would not specify whether it was a quit-claim deed. According to her, only McKinnon “has the authority to transfer this property.”

No matter who prevails, the owner will be on the hook for $32,000 in liens levied by the city of Gulfport.

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