Mitch Perry - 5/305 - SaintPetersBlog

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

St. Pete City Council considers resolution on St. Pete being a welcoming city to all

A day after a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order blocking President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from parts of the Muslim world, the St. Petersburg City Council made its own expression about the divisiveness in the country.

Council members Thursday unanimously approving a resolution to bring to committee a declaration that the City of St. Petersburg is inclusive and welcoming for all its residents.

The full language of resolution, proposed by Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, reads: A resolution declaring the City of St. Petersburg as an inclusive and welcoming city for all of its residents, regardless of immigration status, religion, country of origin, race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or disability; declaring that the City will work with law enforcement to ensure that the City is prepared to respond to hate crimes or other requests for services from immigrant communities.

Although the resolution passed unanimously on a 6-0 vote (Karl Nurse and Jim Kennedy were absent), only Wheeler-Bowman and Steve Kornell spoke publicly about the measure.

“When Donald Trump stood up there and mocked that reporter’s disability, that was despicable and it was unforgettable,” Kornell said, who went on to say that it benefitted the President in his business life to hire undocumented people, “and when it benefitted him to demonize people, he did that,” prompting a cheer from the audience.

Kornell asked the city’s legal department if they could obtain information on how many people arrested by the SPPD were then deported.

The Council heard from a handful of citizens, all of whom strongly backed the proposal, and referred to the increased deportations of the undocumented led by President’s Trump Department of Homeland Security.

“There’s a fear every morning when I wake up that my parents may not be here in this country,” said Eckerd College student Alberto Sosa, referring to his undocumented parents and brother, both of whom live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I’m very proud of my home city, but St. Petersburg is my home now and I want to be proud of it.”

“I am fearful that our citizens will be afraid to report crimes, that will affect everyone,” said St. Petersburg businesswoman Amy Losoya. “From a business aspect, the economic impact I think we can have if we continue to not say anything about this because of the hateful rhetoric that’s coming from the administration. If we continue to remain silent, then people may not see St Petersburg as the welcoming and progressive city that it is.”

Last month, Mayor Rick Kriseman declared in a blog post that he had “no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” a comment that received some pushback from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who called it a misleading statement, since the mayor didn’t have the authority to legally declare it so.

Tampa City Council relaxes rules on serving food to homeless

The Tampa City Council is altering regulations on public feedings in city parks, two months after the arrest of seven Food Not Bombs members, which created national headlines.

The new ordinance allows groups to offer food without having to get a permit or insurance for feedings that attract fewer than 50 people.

Councilman Frank Reddick voted with his colleagues to support the proposal but said he worried that the ordinance could create a situation where Tampa Police officers will be spending time counting how many people are at such events.

“I will assure you that there are going to be more than 50 people going through that distribution line, and there’s going to be more than 50 people gathering in a designated area wherever they choose to be,” he said. “Because the word’s going to spread. I don’t want law enforcement to have to wear a camera, or some kind of meter, to say there’s 25, 26, 27 … there’s going to be a problem.”

City Attorney Rebecca Kert told the council that the ordinance is based on a similar law in St. Petersburg that appears to be working, though she said she was amenable to any changes.

“Is 50 the right number?” she said. “It’s certainly the right starting point.”

On January 7, seven volunteers with “Food Not Bombs” were arrested in Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa for handing out food to the homeless after being warned by the city in advance that they would need a permit. It occurred two days before the national college football playoff championship was held a few miles away at Raymond James Stadium.

Ten days later, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren dropped the charges against everyone arrested, saying, “prosecuting people for charitable work does not further that mission and is an inefficient use of government resources.”

Dezeray Lyn was one of those Food Not Bombs members arrested in January. She called on the council to adopt “Housing First” policies that would work on addressing issues of the homeless in Tampa.

“There’s hunger, poverty and houselessness in Tampa,” Lyn said. “Please let’s address those issues now.”

“Our goal is to feed the homeless without fear of legal problems,” said Councilman Luis Viera. “We’re meeting people in the middle, and we have faith that we’ll be met in the middle as well.”

The Council will revisit the ordinance in six months.

House Democrats demand Rick Scott speak up on CBO’s scoring of GOP health care plan

Since the Congressional Budget Office said the Republican health care plan would raise the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott has been silent.

Florida House Democrats are now calling him out for his sudden reluctance to weigh in on a subject he’s never been shy about talking about before.

The governor has been a major critic of the Affordable Care Act and traveled to Washington last week to meet with President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the American Health Care Act.

Scott told reporters later he was “encouraged” about the Act, adding that it was still a “work in progress.”

But after the CBO came out with their score card earlier this week that said that the GOP plan would raise the number of uninsured to 24 million over a decade and could have a huge impact on Florida’s Medicaid program, the governor has been silent.

Florida House Democrats now say it’s time for him to speak up.

“Rather than acting as a leader, the Governor took the path of a typical politician and ducked the question entirely,” says House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “If Governor Scott isn’t prepared to defend ‘Trumpcare,’ he at least owes Floridians an explanation about what exactly he’s been discussing with Republican leadership during his taxpayer funded trips to Washington DC.”

“Trumpcare would rip the rug out from under the millions of Floridians who have gained access to quality, affordable health care under the ACA,” says Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez. “This would be incredibly harmful to the overall health and well-being of all Floridians, and they deserve to know where Governor Scott stands on this issue.”

Democrats note that Florida leads the nation in those finding coverage through the insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, with over 1.6 million Floridians signing up during this year’s open enrollment period. They also not that the plan will be financed in part by cutting $880 billion to Medicaid, which could have a huge impact on states like Florida, which opted not to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

“Florida’s Medicaid system is already lacking the resources necessary to provide the level of care our citizens deserve, and these proposed cuts would be devastating for our state’s working families,” said Miami Rep. Nick Duran. “I would encourage the Governor to consider carefully how many Floridians stand to lose from the proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicaid program.”

A former health care executive before entering the political stage, Scott savaged the ACA even before it was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2010, and his criticisms have never stopped.

“Other than President Obama and a few stragglers, everyone now realizes that Obamacare was a terrible notion,” Scott wrote in an op-ed in USA Today last fall. “It was sold on a lie. It was invented by liberal academic theorists who have no interaction with real families and businesses and therefore it doesn’t work.”

“This is no time for Republicans to go wobbly or get weak in the knees about repealing Obamacare,” the governor wrote in another column for CNN.com in January. “If we refuse to roll back the welfare state, what real purpose do we serve?”

However, a number of congressional Republicans, including Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are expressing serious doubts about the House proposal in the wake of the CBO report.

Michael LaForgia leaving Tampa Bay Times to join New York Times investigative reporting team

Another award-winning Tampa Bay Times reporter and editor is moving on.

On Thursday, the paper announced Michael LaForgia is heading to The New York Times to become part of its investigative reporting team.

The 33-year-old LaForgia has been the investigative editor for the Tampa Bay Times since August, and with the paper overall since 2012. He has been twice part of a team that won a Pulitzer for Local Reporting.

The first Pulitzer was in 2014, when LaForgia and Will Hobson won for exposing problems in a Hillsborough County homeless program. In 2016, he was part of the team that won for “Failure Factories,” the much-heralded series on Pinellas County’s neglect of five schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. LaForgia shared that award with colleagues Lisa Garner and Cara Fitzpatrick (who is married to LaForgia). The three reporters on Failure Factories also shared a George Polk Award, IRE Medal and the Worth Bingham Prize.

LaForgia is a South Carolina native who graduated from the University of South Carolina. He started at The Florida Times-Union and worked at The Palm Beach Post before joining the Times.

“I’m excited about the opportunity but sorry to leave the Tampa Bay Times. I was ready to spend the next several years here, but this opportunity found me — and it was too good to pass up,” LaForgia told SPB Thursday night. “I’m not at all worried about what my leaving might mean for the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a place that regularly takes good reporters and molds them into great reporters, and that process will continue no matter who comes or goes. I’m just grateful I got to work with the journalists here for as long as I did.”

The New York Times announced the hire Thursday. He will start with them April 3.

LaForgia becomes the second major member of the Times investigative unit to announce his departure in the past two weeks. Reporter-editor Alex Zayas announced last week she will be departing for New York in June to work with ProPublica.

 

Online poll finds majority of Floridians want ACA expansion, oppose GOP proposal

A majority of Floridians would like to expand the Affordable Care Act, or keep the law as is.

Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in a new statewide poll released Thursday are concerned that people would lose health insurance if the law is repealed, according to the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative.

FAU asked 500 Floridians over the course of four days in the past week, including Monday, when the Congressional Budget Office reported that under the proposed “American Health Care Act,” the ranks of the uninsured could increase by 14 million people next year and over 24 million over the next decade.

When asked about the Affordable Care Act, 46 percent of respondents said they approve of the health care law, while 39 percent said they disapprove. Similarly, 39 percent of Floridians stated that they would like to expand Obamacare and 14 percent want to keep it as is; 18 percent want to repeal the law, and 29 percent reported that they would like to replace the law.

Overall, 73 percent were concerned that people would lose their health insurance if Obamacare were repealed. When asked if the government should be responsible for ensuring all Americans have healthcare coverage, 64 percent said “yes” while 19 percent disagreed.

Respondents also were asked about six specific health care proposals put forth by Republican lawmakers. Only one of the proposals, lifting the $2,600 cap on flexible spending accounts to allow workers to set aside more pretax money to pay out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, had net positive support with 43 percent approving and 29 percent opposing.

As for the repeal of the 3.8 percent tax on investment income, which helps fund Obamacare and affects households making more than $250,000, it garnered 31 percent support compared with 40 percent opposition. Likewise, a proposal to replace health care subsidies with a refund tax credit of $2,000-$4,000 depending on an individual’s age and income had 26 percent support and 38 percent opposition.

A proposal to reduce federal funding to the Medicaid program was opposed by 74 percent and supported by only 16 percent. Only 15 percent of respondents support a plan to increase premiums by 30 percent for a year for those who let their insurance lapse for at least 63 days, while 60 percent oppose.

Most respondents are not in favor of allowing insurers to increase what they charge older consumers. That was least popular, with 76 percent opposing and only 8 percent supporting.

“It is evident that Floridians oppose the new health care proposals,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “These proposals are perceived to be hurting low-income and older people, while benefiting those with incomes higher than $250,000.”

The online survey of Florida residents was conducted March 10-13, and administered by Survey Sampling International. The results have a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points. Additional information and full cross-tabulations are available at www.business.fau.edu/bepi.

Joe Gruters says he’s a long shot for CFO position, but appreciates the consideration

Sarasota GOP Chair and state Rep. Joe Gruters said he is a “long-shot” to be Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice to succeed Jeff Atwater as Chief Financial Officer once Atwater leaves the office in May.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gruters appeared on Tampa Bay area radio station News Talk 820 WWBA with guest host David Jolly, who formerly represented Florida’s 13th Congressional District.Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President

Jolly said Gruters had shown loyalty to Scott and President Donald Trump when he backed both candidates when they were considered outliers within the GOP, and Scott would reward such loyalty by picking Gruters to succeed Atwater later this year, Jolly said.

“Well, Congressman, that’s so nice of you to say,” Gruters responded, as Jolly laughed.

“Even to be mentioned with some of these other names that are being popped up is an incredible honor,” Gruters continued. “I don’t know who it’s going to be. My guess is that I’m a long shot candidate, there’s other great candidates like (Jacksonville Mayor) Lenny Curry, Pat Neal, who’s a great friend of mine in Manatee County who would be a strong 2018 contender.

“But here’s the deal: you never know. Listen, I’m going to continue to fight for jobs and economic development no matter what the position I’m in, whether it’s state House or anything else.”

“Joe, you’re a winner in Florida politics,” replied Jolly, who was guest-hosting for Dan Maduri. “It wouldn’t surprise me if either now or in the future, we’re talking about Joe Gruters in a Cabinet position.”

Atwater announced he will leave the CFO position after the regular Legislative Session ends in May. Scott has given no indication about who he will select to replace him.

Kathy Castor one of six Democrats calling on EPA IG to probe potential conflicts of interest with Scott Pruitt

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor is one of six Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who reached out to the EPA inspector general earlier this week, calling on him to investigate the agency’s conflict of interest policies and procedures in the wake of reports of a close relationship between industry groups and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The letter to Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins, Jr comes in response to Pruitt’s rejection of scientific evidence that human activity is a significant contributor to global warming, as well as reports that he coordinated closely with the oil and gas industry while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, and the fact that he has sued the government because of environmental rules in the past.

“It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies maintain effective conflict of interest policies and ethics requirements in order to ensure government operates in an honest and transparent manner,” the letter said. “Your investigation will help us better understand the role your office will play in ensuring strict adherence to such rules and guidelines, and how EPA and its new management will address these concerns.”

In addition to Castor, the letter was signed by New Jersey’s Frank Pallone, the ranking member of House Energy and Commerce Committee; Illinois’ Bobby Rush, the energy subcommittee ranking member; New York’s Paul Tonko, the environment subcommittee ranking member; Oversight and Investigations Ranking Member Diana DeGette of Colorado and Maryland Representative John Sarbanes. 

As part of the investigation, the Democrats say that they want the answers to these questions:

What conflict of interest policies, procedures, and laws exist to ensure Pruitt and all other current political appointees do not have conflicts of interest with their positions at EPA or with EPA enforcement actions?

Do these policies specifically consider whether Pruitt or other political appointees or their spouses maintain any financial holdings (including but not limited to stock holdings or mutual fund holdings) in the oil and gas industry or electric utility industry

What agency ethics trainings and certifications are Pruitt and all other current political appointees required to complete in order to join the agency

How do agency conflict of interest policies, procedures, and any relevant laws restrict Pruitt’s ability to coordinate, fundraise, or otherwise support organizations in which Pruitt previously served in a leadership capacity?

You can read a copy of the letter here.

Dana Young to Bob Buckhorn: You should support next generation utility legislation

Bob Buckhorn and Dana Young are waging a war of words over newly filed legislation allowing wireless equipment in public rights of way.

Tampa’s Democratic mayor argues the measure removes local control of public spaces.

No, says the South Tampa Republican senator, Buckhorn is completely off-base with his concerns on what the bill will actually do.

In a recent op-ed for the Tampa Bay Times, Buckhorn made his case: “Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look.”

“This idea tramples on the authority of the very local officials you entrusted to make decisions about how your community, and all others in Florida, look and feel,” he wrote.

The bill, called the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” is being sponsored in the Senate by Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee.

The Act would prohibit the Department of Transportation and individual local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for placing small wireless facilities in rights of way. It also says that local governments can’t require applicants to perform services unrelated to the approval that’s being sought, like reserving fiber or pole space for the governmental agency. It also says that local governments can’t ask the applicant to “provide more information to obtain a permit than is required of electric service providers and other communications service providers that are not wireless providers.

“When public officials consider where structures may be located, they evaluate many factors, including a community’s character, the safe installation of such facilities, and the cost to the taxpayers,” Buckhorn writes in the column. “The proposed legislation directly negates this by allowing telecom companies to construct equipment with no concern about how they affect our neighborhoods, public safety, or local budgets.”

Buckhorn adds that the legislation also “diminishes communities,” and would “interfere with a community’s ability to maintain its unique character, and would hand the telecom companies license to create permanent eyesores.”

But Young says that the legislation only addressing wireless equipment that would be installed in “existing right-of-ways where utility infrastructure exists today.”

“The bill does nothing to change a local government’s ability to preserve historic areas like our own Ybor City, nor does it affect the power of cities and counties to regulate siting of new infrastructure and equipment as they do now,” Young tells FloridaPolitics.com.

“This bill originated because once providers began to upgrade to 5G infrastructure some local governments put in place a moratorium to actually block innovation. If the mayors of our cities and towns want to stay on the edge of innovation and for their constituents to have access to the highest speed wireless services they will support this bill,” Young says in a statement. “This bill will bring our state into the next generation of wireless technology with many applications. To do this we must be flexible so Tampa can stay on the cutting edge of technology.”

Sponsoring the bill in the House is Lake Wales Republican Mike LaRosa; it was heard Wednesday in the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee Wednesday.

The measure also has the backing of telecommunications giant AT&T, among other pro-business groups.

In a statement, the Associated Industries of Florida calls it “good public policy,” saying it “will spur increased investments in the state, attracting innovative and technologically advanced companies to Florida.”

Glen Gilzean backing Berny Jacques in HD 66 race in 2018

A week after the Pinellas County Young Republicans endorsed his candidacy for the House District 66 in 2018, Berny Jacques announced Wednesday that he has received the endorsement of former Pinellas County School Board Member Glen Gilzean. 

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Berny both on a personal level and as a grassroots conservative leader,” said Gizean on Wednesday. “As a former Pinellas County School Board member, I am confident that Berny will pursue policies that strengthen our public schools while also empowering parents with choices in their child’s education.”

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of Glen Gilzean,” said Jacques. “Glen has a strong track record when it comes to fighting for all kids to have access to a quality education. His support inspires me to make education reform a priority in our campaign.”

Gilzean serves as the President and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League, and was recently appointed by Governor Rick Scott to serve on the Ninth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission. He served ten months on the Pinellas School Board in 2012 after being named by Scott to fill the seat left empty by the death of former school board member Lew Williams, but was defeated that November by Rene Flowers.

Jacques is an attorney based in St. Petersburg, but previously served as an Assistant State Attorney in Pinellas County. He is the first candidate to officially announce that he is running for the House District 66 seat currently occupied by Larry Ahern, who is term-limited next year.

Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie has also said he is running, but has not officially filed the paperwork yet.

House District 66 encompasses Clearwater, Largo, Seminole and Belleair.

Sean Shaw, Darryl Rouson file bill to end Florida’s ban on ex-felon voting rights

Under current Florida law, those who are convicted of any felony lose the right to vote, the right to sit on a jury, the right to hold public office, and the right to possess a firearm, unless they are granted the restoration of their civil rights by the state Office of Executive Clemency.

Legislation sponsored by Tampa Bay-area Democrats Darryl Rouson and Sean Shaw would end the automatic suspension of civil rights for those convicted of a nonviolent felony.

“Even if the sentence has been served, a felony conviction in the State of Florida is a lifelong punishment,” said Shaw, who represents House District 59in a statement released Wednesday by Florida House Democrats. “It is unreasonable to expect someone to fully reintegrate back into society when they are being treated as a second-class citizen. If we are serious about sustaining a fair system of justice, we must send a message that if a person is convicted of a nonviolent crime, their rights won’t be permanently taken away.”

St. Petersburg’s Sen. Rouson is sponsoring an identical bill (SB 848) in the Senate.

The bills are part of a whole series of criminal justice reforms that are being debated this session in the Florida Legislature, but whether they can get GOP buy-in is another story.

Florida is one of just a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights once a felon has paid his or her debts to society, a fact of life in the Sunshine State for decades. There are 1.6 million Floridians currently disenfranchised — the highest state total in the nation — and over 10,000 are waiting for a hearing on their restoration applications.

A class-action lawsuit filed earlier this week aims to automatically restore former felons’ voting rights and eliminate Florida’s rights restoration process.

The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven former felons. It targets Gov. Rick Scott, all three members of his Cabinet, and six other state officials, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Department of Corrections head Julie Jones.

As of March 1, the backlog of applicants for voting rights restoration stood at 10,513, but the suit alleges that the Clemency Board only hears an average of 52 cases per quarter. “At this rate, if no new applications were submitted, it would take the Clemency Board almost 51 years to hear the entire backlog of applicants,” the plaintiffs write.

The suit also says that the number of applications granted has dropped significantly since Scott took office in 2011, with only 2,488 applications having been granted.

There is also an effort to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot 2018 by the group Floridians for a Fair Democracy that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons.

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