Drew Wilson - 5/32 - 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.

Democrats file bills that would allow citizens to directly propose legislation

Democratic lawmakers have filed bills in the House and Senate that would make it possible for Floridians to directly propose legislation through a process similar to the state’s ballot initiative procedure.

HJR 349, sponsored by Aventura Rep. Joseph Geller, and SJR 1332, sponsored by Orlando Sen. Vic Torres, would allow bills to be put on the next general election ballot if they get petition signatures equal to 4 percent of the turnout in the last presidential election from half of the state’s congressional districts.

“In the chaos of the current legislative climate, the voice of the people is often not heard,” Geller said. “By giving the power to propose legislation to the people, we are abiding by the principles of direct democracy and ensuring that they can come together for a common good to make sure their issues are being addressed.”

Like ballot initiatives, bills would require a 75-word summary to appear on the ballot and would also have to spell out the economic impact. Unlike ballot initiatives, it would only take a simple majority, rather than 60 percent approval, for a bill to pass.

Under the bill, the governor would not have the power to veto legislation approved on the ballot, though the Florida Legislature could override ballot bills with a four-fifths vote. If lawmakers wait a year or more to overturn such legislation, it would only take a three-fifths vote.

Bills approved through the ballot would take effect July 1 of the following year.

HJR 349 first stop will be in the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, though it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. SJR 1332 has not yet received committee assignments.

Veterans group releases priorities ahead of 2017 Legislative Session

Veterans advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America announced its priorities for the 2017 Legislative Session, including support for bills that would help veterans by giving them tax breaks and helping them hold down jobs after leaving the military.

“Florida should welcome veterans and military families, instead of pushing them away with burdensome taxes and regulations that put special interests first,” CVA Director Diego Echeverri said in a statement. “When veterans or service members hang up their uniforms, our state government should make their transition into civilian life as easy as possible.”

“This year, Concerned Veterans for America will work tirelessly to support measures that would ease burdens and expand opportunities for the military community here in the Sunshine State,” he continued. “We look forward to working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle to get these important pro-veteran measures across the finish line in 2017.”

CVA said it was backing a proposal by Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Jeff Brandes that would make it easier for service members and their spouses to hold down jobs after they relocate by waiving certain licensing requirements some occupations. Neither the House version, SB 615, or the Senate version, SB 1272, has been heard in committee.

The group also favors Renner’s HB 487, which would give veterans and their families a break certain business and property taxes. The bill hasn’t been heard in committee, nor has its Senate companion, SB 330 by Sen. Greg Steube.

CVA also said it was on board with the plan to eliminate Enterprise Florida, which it says “hands out taxpayer funds to a few, large benefiting companies at the expense of many hardworking Floridians.”

Dismantling Enterprise Florida is a top priority for AFP-FL

The Florida branch of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity announced its 2017 legislative priorities Friday; dismantling Enterprise Florida is on the top of the list.

“In 2015 the Governor boldly stated that ‘taxpayers are better investors than government.’ We completely agree. That’s why we’re calling on both chambers to put politics aside and work towards dismantling the failed quasi-state agency, Enterprise Florida,” said AFP-FL Director Chris Hudson.Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers. Let’s level the playing field and eliminate programs that rig the system against established Florida businesses.”

The group also said it was looking for lawmakers to pass some “common sense health care reforms” while waiting to on Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act and advocated pulling back certificate of need laws, expanding telemedicine and further broadening the scope of practice.

AFP-FL said it was also looking for the Legislature to “aggressively” expand school choice by “expanding opportunities for responsible charter schools to operate in the state.”

AFP-FL maintains a “billboard” of all the bills it supports or opposes on its website. The group said it plans to keep lawmakers in the loop about whether they are still for or against bills after any changes are made in the committee process.

How individual lawmakers vote on the bills tracked by AFP-FL will be tallied for the group’s 2017 Legislative Scorecard, a grading system for how well lawmakers align with the organization’s values.

Jeff Brandes amendment would give felons gun rights

A restoration of civil rights bill got an amendment from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes that would give convicts the right to own guns after completing their sentence.

SB 934, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, would automatically restore all other civil rights, such as the right to vote, when a felon completes their sentence, but specifically carves out the right to own firearms.

Thurston argues in the bill that automatic restoration helps felons reintegrate into society and takes some weight off the “cumbersome, costly” process of executive clemency.

Brandes’ amendment removes the portion of the bill carving out gun ownership and would automatically restore gun ownership rights so long as the felon was not convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, sexual battery, incest, child sex abuse or human trafficking.

Executive clemency is currently the only way felons can have their civil rights restored. To gain clemency, felons must apply and go before the governor and the Cabinet to plead their case for restoration. If a majority of the four-member panel approves, rights are restored.

Having the right to own firearms restored requires a separate application.

Florida had a more streamlined system for restoring civil rights under former Gov. Charlie Crist, who allowed non-violent offenders to regain their rights without a hearing, resulting in about 150,000 restorations during his term as governor.

Gov. Rick Scott ended that practice when he took office in 2011, and through his first term granted restoration to just 1,550 felons.

SB 934 goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday at 1:30 pm.

Florida Power & Light building eight new solar plants

Florida Power & Light announced Wednesday it would roll out eight new solar power plants across the state over the next year.

“With the support of communities across the state, we are advancing smart, affordable clean energy infrastructure while keeping customer bills low,” said Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO. “On a per-megawatt basis, these eight new plants will be the lowest-cost solar ever built in Florida and some of the lowest-cost solar ever built in America. Our steadfast commitment to delivering solar cost-effectively directly benefits our customers, our environment and the economy.”

FPL expects plants in Alachua, Putnam, Indian River and DeSoto counties to be completed by the end of 2017, with plants in Brevard, Hendry, St. Lucie counties and a second plant in Indian River County scheduled to come online by March 1, 2018.

The company said the new plants will cost $900 million to build and will use 2.5 million solar panels.  Once completed, FPL said the plants will generate enough energy to power about 120,000 homes, saving customers an estimated $39 million over their lifetime.

The plan was lauded by environmental groups The Nature Conservatory and Audubon Florida, and also earned praise from economic development agencies and local politicians from the areas where the plants are being built.

“An additional eight new solar energy centers is a major step toward reducing carbon emissions and saving water, benefitting the earth and all Floridians,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida.

The new plants will generate 596 megawatt hours, more than doubling FPL’s current solar output, and will prevent about 525,000 tons of carbon emissions a year – the equivalent of the emissions from 100,000 cars.

Is Bill Nelson’s re-election race really a “Lean Democrat” in 2018?

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is set for a tough reelection battle next year, but for some reason Sabato’s Crystal Ball decided look past that and peg him as the likely victor in 2018.

The blog post lists Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s seat as leaning toward the Democrats and even goes so far as to give Nelson “the benefit of the doubt” due to him winning statewide several times.

Sure, that’s true, but if you can’t see the Nelson’s weaknesses and the many paths Republicans could use to take him down, you might need to get your eyes checked.

He’s already under attack by a conservative group for his votes on the ACA, and the National Republican Senate Committee is also smelling blood, recently announcing digital ads showing he has voted in lock step with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren 92 percent of the time.

While the attacks are certainly fodder for the Republican base, the comparison has a slugger’s chance of sticking during an off-cycle election in a state carried by President Donald Trump.

Nelson’s response to the attacks is baffling as well. In a Monday article from POLITICO, he said the fundraising prowess of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was “the biggest factor” in how he plans to win a fourth term in the senate.

And that’s in spite of weaknesses he didn’t hesitate to point out with theSsenate Democrat’s social media game.

“I am chewing on Senator Schumer everyday about that,” he said. “We just may surprise everybody. After this election, he might be Majority Leader.”

Yes, the New York Democrat brought in $180 million for Senate Democratic campaigns last cycle, but his results were less than stellar

In Florida alone, the DSCC spent $10 million trying to prop up former Rep. Patrick Murphy in his race, but that barely got him within 8 points of a somewhat damaged Marco Rubio.

Imagine how much money he would have to pump in for a race against expected opponent Gov. Rick Scott who also has won statewide and has had no problem spending his own money on top of the mountains of cash he brings in to his political committee.

But sure, let’s give Nelson the benefit of the doubt. It’s not like Democrats didn’t just get the wakeup call of a lifetime or anything.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons