Mitch Perry - 6/305 - 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.

Bill permitting Florida PSC to allow natural gas investments passes Senate committee

A Florida Senate committee unanimously passed a proposal Tuesday giving electric utilities the opportunity to invest in natural-gas reserves and recoup money from customers.

The legislation would allow any Florida power company using natural gas for 65 percent or more of its electricity generation to explore out-of-state for natural gas using residential ratepayer’s money.

The bill from Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean bill (SB 1238) is a response to the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection last May to Florida Power & Light’s program of investing ratepayers money into a controversial Oklahoma natural-gas project.

In 2014, FPL received the go-ahead by the Florida Public Service Commission, which approved a request to invest in the drilling and production of natural gas in an area known as the Woodford Gas Reserves Project in Oklahoma.

But the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last year that the PSC did not have the authority to grant that option. The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

The Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities’ vote Tuesday essentially overrode that decision.

Bean told the committee that the PSC would have authority to allow energy companies to go forward if each investment expects to generate savings for the customer over the life of the investment. He added that each investment must have at least 50 percent of the wells classified as proven reserves by the Securities and Exchange Commission; and the total volume of gas approved would be limited to 7.5 percent in 2018, 10 percent in 2019, 12.5 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2021.

There were several members of the public who spoke out against the bill.

“If they think it’s a great idea, why would we have a speculative risk on backs of ratepayers as opposed to the shareholders?” asked Susan Glickman, the Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “This is about socializing the risk and privatizing the profits.”

Attorney Jon Moyle, representing the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said that the effect of power companies mitigating their risks by hiding fuel costs has cost ratepayers big time over the past 15 years.

Moyle cited statistics that show consumers had lost more than $6.5 billion in hedging, and FPL lost more than $4 billion since 2002.

“If FPL wants to use shareholder money and form an unregulated company … we don’t have any objection,” Moyle said. “If they want to get into the oil and gas wildcatting business wherever, as long as their not doing it with ratepayers money, then that’s something that probably would not draw the opposition that it has.”

Several of the speakers also compared the proposal to the extremely controversial nuclear cost recovery plan in Florida, which allowed public utilities to collect money from shareholders for nuclear power plants that may ultimately never be built.

“Locking in ratepayer responsibility for a lengthy period of time, would be unreasonable in our opinion, considering the volatility of the prices for a pinnacle form of fuel, the development of alternative forms of energy,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP. “And also considering the development of ever-changing technological advancements which increase the efficiency of energy usage.”

Sam Forrest, vice president of FPL’s Energy Marketing & Trading division, came before the committee to refute several of the claims made by the bill’s critics, claiming “these are the same folks who have opposed us along the way as we have made long-term investments in affordable, clean energy infrastructure since 2001.”

He denied that there was any speculating going on with the bill, saying that FPL would start drilling in a well that was known for certain to have natural gas in it, and then move on to a well immediately next to it. “You’re drilling consistently in very proven technologies,” he maintained.

Regarding the billions lost in hedging since 2002, he said the PSC has always been “very supportive of hedging and continues to be supportive of hedging.”

Forrest also disputed the claims by opponents that no other company has ever done what FPL had been doing until stopped by the high court last spring, saying that the Florida Municipal Power Agency has invested in gas reserves, as have a “number” of others around the nation. He also stated that all the money that FPL spends on energy is to out-of-state sources.

“There’s no natural gas production; there’s no oil production; there’s no coal production that exists in the state of Florida.”

Forest also denied that this was another version of early cost recovery, saying customer would be paying for the energy “as it’s being used.”

The bill passed the committee unanimously, 8-0.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur is sponsoring a companion bill in the House (HB 1043).

Joe Gruters calls Republicans to ‘pack seats’ at Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota town-hall meeting Saturday

Sarasota-area Democrats have waited several weeks to engage GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan; they’ll finally get their chance at a town-hall meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

But will there be a counter presence of Republicans packing the seats?

Anticipation around the meeting is so strong that Buchanan’s staff announced last week they would move the event from the New College Sudakoff Center to Van Wezel, which has a capacity of over 1,730 seats.

If it’s anything like most other town halls held around the nation in 2017, it could be dominated by rowdy Democrats demanding to know why Buchanan is ready to jettison the Affordable Care Act for the American Health Care Act, which received mixed reviews from many congressional Republicans as well as a dismal score Monday from the Congressional Budget Office.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said upon the unveiling of the bill. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

Although Buchanan has famously said he has conducted more than 70 such town halls since being elected in 2006, this will be his first one this year. During the congressional weeklong break last month, Buchanan was in the Middle East, prompting some Democrats to say he was blowing them off.

That’s hardly the case, but it could be a different element than what is the traditional mood at a Buchanan town hall.

In an effort to have adequate support, Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Chair Joe Gruters sent a notice to his fellow Republicans, calling on them to attend Saturday.

Although the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m., Gruters’ email message asks Republicans to come early.

“Doors open at 9 and we need Republicans packing the first rows,” the state House District 73 representative said to his GOP brethren. “We are expecting a full house!!”

American Action Network targets Carlos Curbelo in new ad

The American Action Network has begun a new $1.5 million issue advocacy campaign to persuade a group of GOP lawmakers to fight for passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

The ad highlights key elements of the plan and encourages lawmakers to deliver on their health care promise.

Over the next two weeks, the ads will air nationally on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and in 15 congressional districts nationwide, including in Miami, featuring CD 26 Representative Carlos Curbelo, who voted for the AHCA last week in a House Committee.

The ads are also airing in the congressional districts of House Speaker Paul Ryan, California legislators Darrell Issa, David Valadao, Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy. Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Nebraska’s Don Bacon, Iowa’s Rod Blum and David Young, Oregon’s Greg Walden, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, Texas’ Kevin Brady and Will Hurd and Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, many (if not all) are in 2018 competitive districts.

Tampa Bay area GOP Representatives weigh in on American Health Care Act

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted Monday that changes occurring with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the American Health Care Act would result in 14 million people losing coverage in just the first year.

The CBO continued by saying that it expects premiums to come back down afterward, but the number of people without coverage would continue to rise ― eventually reaching 52 million in 2026, or 24 million more than what the CBO expects if the Affordable Care Act remains in place.

Gus Bilirakis press folks directed us to his speech on the House floor last week:

“In recent weeks, I held three town hall meetings and a roundtable discussion about health care in my district. Hundreds of constituents attended, and altogether I spent more than ten hours listening to folks. The best ideas come from the people, and I feel it is my duty as a representative to hear my constituents’ input.

“The American Health Care Act reflects what I’ve heard from patients, families, doctors, and many others over the past eight years. Our bill will lower costs, increase choices, and give patients greater control of their health care. It strengthens Medicaid, and helps middle-income Americans gain access to affordable coverage.

“It also protects those with pre-existing conditions, and allows young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26.

“Most importantly, this legislation is moving through Congress in an open and transparent manner.

“I invite the people of Florida’s 12th District to read and share the American Health Care Act at ‘ReadTheBill.GOP.'”

Dennis Ross issued out this statement Tuesday:

“Obamacare is in a death spiral with skyrocketing premiums, insurers dropping out left and right, burdensome tax increases, and failed subsidies. It has left Americans with less choice and less control over their own health care. Premiums in Florida alone will increase 19 percent this year. This is absurd and unacceptable. We must provide relief for the millions of Americans who were kicked off their health care plans and are suffering from astronomical health care costs due to the failure of Obamacare.
“The American Health Care Act will not only put patients and doctors back in charge of their health care decisions, but it will also allow for a stable transition so no one has the rug pulled from under them. This legislation will provide affordable coverage and choice for all, eliminate crushing taxes, regulations and individual and employer mandate penalties, allow children up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ plans, and ensure individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage.
“This is a beginning, not an end. Congress and the Trump Administration are open to suggestions and working with others, something President Obama and Democrats were unwilling to do when they rammed Obamacare through Congress. This legislation is only Phase One of three to further lower costs and increase choice for families. By repealing and replacing Obamacare, we are keeping our promise to the American people. We are putting patients first.”

Sarasota Rep. Vern Buchanan will be hosting a town hall meeting this Saturday, where undoubtedly the American Health Care Act will be the subject of intense discussion.

“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”

A spokesperson for Buchanan says that he believes that the legislation will protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, allow children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 and eliminate lifetime caps on coverage.

And what about CD 11 Rep. Daniel Webster, who now represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties? A spokesperson directed us to a newsletter Webster issued Monday.

“One thing is certain, the Affordable Care Act has been everything but affordable and is collapsing across the country, raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go.”

“This week, House leadership released their proposal for repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

This proposal, the “American Health Care Act,” is the first of three phases to provide 21st- century health care reform. The other stages include administrative/regulatory changes from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, as well as additional legislative reforms passed as separate bills, including selling insurance across state lines.

More information about the American Healthcare Act is available at www.readthebill.gop.

Additionally, Rep. Mark Sanford (SC) and Sen. Rand Paul (KY) have introduced their own proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.  You can read more about their proposal here.

“While I am strongly committed to repealing the failed Affordable Care Act and adopting real health care reform,” Webster said. “I have concerns with both proposals. For one, I am very concerned about the impact proposals will have on the demand for Medicaid beds in Florida nursing homes. This is critical to the access some of our senior population has to our hospitals and nursing homes. I also believe the final plan must provide the care we need, at a price we can afford, from the doctor we choose.

“These bills will continue to be the subject of much discussion and debate. I anticipate changes will be made before a bill comes up for a final vote in the House. It is my desire that the final proposal will, restore Medicaid to the original intent of the program — providing health care services to low income children, their caretaker relatives, the blind, and individuals with disabilities. Additionally, the following protections should be included in any final proposal.

“Additionally, the following protections should be included in any final proposal:

— Protect patients with pre-existing conditions: Ensures you will never be denied health care coverage regardless of their health status.

— Protect coverage for young people: Allows dependents up to age 26 stay on their parents’ plan

— Prohibits insurers from turning away patients when you renew your plan simply because you may be sick.”

 

Bill regulating ridesharing in Florida advances in Senate Committee

Legislation to provide statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNC’s) advanced in its latest committee stop in the Florida Senate Tuesday.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 340) received only two votes in opposition in clearing the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, though there were substantial concerns expressed about funding for paratransit that animated the debate.

Noting that there is a hole in disability transportation, Parkland Democrat Gary Farmer offered an amendment that would assess ride-sharing companies one-half of one percent of TNC gross revenues go to the state and then be redistributed to the counties that would pay for disability transportation.

Farmer said that in 14 states, ride-sharing companies had been assessed fees “for one thing or another,” and thus it wasn’t outside the mainstream to do so in Florida.

Miami Republican Rene Garcia called Farmer’s amendment “well-intentioned,” but said the real answer was to address the needs of the state’s Transportation Disadvantaged program.

Garcia said he intended to present a bill or add as an amendment during the session that would allow for operators in the program to cross county lines.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have that system that’s fully integrated that crosses county lines and so forth,” Garcia said, adding that work has been going on behind the scenes to put that into legislation into place. He also said some local boards aren’t administrating federal and state paratransit funds in the most efficient way.

Farmer’s amendment ultimately went down to defeat.

Along with Farmer, the only other dissenting vote for the entire legislation in the committee came from Panama City Republican George Gainer, who said he didn’t understand why ride-sharing companies needed to be regulated by the state when that wasn’t the case with taxicabs.

“The goal here is to establish the statewide standard in both insurance and background checks, so that both business travelers, residents and tourists, understand that they have seamless transportation options as it relates to this technology,” Brandes told Gainer.

The Florida League of Cities also continues to oppose the legislation, specifying criticizing the background check policy that will require TNC drivers to get background checks only every three years, “which could result in drivers who committed criminal acts still driving for these companies within that window,” said Megan Sirjane-Samples.

The committee did approve two amendments that Brandes added to the legislation, including authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from ports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ride-sharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant.

The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger.

While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“The bipartisan vote in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee is another step toward ensuring Florida doesn’t fall behind the transportation innovation curve,” said Stephanie Smith, senior manager of public policy with Uber.

“We are grateful for Sen. Brandes’ advocacy on this important issue and applaud the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for approving this legislation,” said Lyft’s Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is a significant step toward a uniform, statewide framework for modern options like Lyft and we look forward to continuing to advocate for expanded consumer choice that keeps public safety first.”

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Marco Rubio: ‘Snoop shouldn’t have done it’ on video featuring fake Trump assassination

Noted hip-hop aficionado Marco Rubio is weighing in on rapper Snoop Dogg‘s controversial new music video “Lavender,” that features the rapper firing a toy gun at a clown dressed as Donald Trump.

“Snoop shouldn’t have done that,” the Florida senator told TMZ Monday. “You know we’ve had presidents assassinated before in this country, so anything like that is really something people should really careful about.”

“I think people can disagree on policy, but we’ve got to be really careful about that kind of thing, because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea, and you can have a real problem, so you know, I’m not sure what Snoop is thinking.

“He should think about that a little bit.”

The song is a remix of the electro-psych tune by BadBadNotGood and Kaytranada.

Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Broadus) elaborated on the video concept in an interview with Billboard

The rapper criticized police brutality and Trump’s policies, saying:

“The ban that this motherfucker tried to put up; him winning the presidency; police being able to kill motherfuckers and get away with it; people being in jail for weed for 20, 30 years and motherfuckers that’s not black on the streets making money off of it — but if you got color or ethnicity connected to your name, you’ve been wrongfully accused or locked up for it, and then you watching people not of color position themselves to get millions and billions off of it.”

 

Jeff Brandes amends ridesharing bill in Florida Senate

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has amended his ridesharing bill (SB 340) that has been moving its way through the Florida Senate.

Among those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

In the original bill, only airports were allowed to charge pickup fees.

The amendment also requires ridesharing companies to contract with the state’s Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review their insurance and background check process. Specifically, the DFS can impose civil penalties Uber or Lyft if they are noncompliant. The first violation would result in a $250 penalty for each incidence of noncompliance within a review, and $500 per any repeated noncompliance issues within a report.

The DFS would have authorization “to shut down bad actors” and prohibit specific drivers from operating on platforms if they are noncompliant.

The legislation requires Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While driving a rider, they’re required to have $1 million worth of coverage. The bill also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Overall crime rate in Tampa is down 9% from a year ago, police say

Nearly every year since 2003, Tampa Police have championed a drop in the crime rate from the previous year, commensurate with a nationwide reduction in crime.

That trend continued Monday, with the Tampa Police Department reporting that violent crime was down 16.5 percent in Tampa in 2016 compared to 2015.

Property crime was also down 6.8 percent over the same time period.

“It’s a team effort,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn at a news conference at TPD’s downtown headquarters. “It’s not just the men and women of the Tampa Police Dept. It’s not just how we deploy, it’s not just how we use data to analyze crime, it’s not we track it, it’s not necessarily how we equip our officers … this police department is as progressive and as data driven as any department in the country.”

Buckhorn singled out the city’s ‘Stay & Play’ program, launched in 2015 after a series of shooting deaths in poor neighborhoods as a stabilizing factor in reducing crime.

Stay & Play is a summer program at recreation centers and city pools around Tampa.

“Over 100,000 kids have taken advantage of Stay & Play,” he said. “That means that they are now in a safe environment when they used to be in the streets. They are now under the guidance of our Parks and Recreation employees and coaches and mentors, and they are not out there being seduced by the gangs, with potentially being either victims or perpetrators.”

Chief Eric Ward chose to site the reduction crime to 2011, the year that Buckhorn was first elected mayor. From 2011-2016, crime has gone down 24 percent in Tampa.

“That doesn’t happen overnight,” Ward said. “It takes a lot of work, and contributing factors are all the men and women from TPD and our community coming together to work to solve this issue.”

Property crime was up 6 percent in the city’s SoHo District, a statistic that officials say is about the number of people who park in the entertainment district and leave their doors unlocked, allowing for easier access for criminals to steal.

Property crime was up by 1 percent in the Sulphur Springs area.

In Ybor City, violent crime was down 14.6 percent, and property crime an astounding 44 percent. There were 62 fewer property crimes in Ybor in 2016 from 2016.

“We know we have the attention of the police force, and we’re willing to form partnerships as well,” said Courtney Orr, manager of the Ybor City Development Corporation. That includes the “Coffee with a Cop” program the TPD introduced last year in Ybor City.

Femi Kennedy, the property manager of the Jackson Heights apartment complex, praised the relationship he has with members of the TPD, saying that he has “probably 15 or 16 officers phone numbers in my cellphone that I can pick up at any time and call them and a get a response.”

“We’ve gone from a crime infested, violent fueled community to one where kids are outside playing … and people feel they can sleep better at night,” said Kennedy. “Simple things like that go a very, very long way.”

 

Police union endorses Rick Kriseman’s re-election

The Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association and their members announced Monday they are endorsing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for re-election.

“We are proud to support Mayor Kriseman, who has been a champion for the St. Petersburg police department,” said George Lofton, president of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association. “Mayor Kriseman has shown steady leadership, and he’ll continue to fight for the resources the St. Petersburg Police Department needs to keep our officers and communities safe. Everything from the performance of Police Chief Holloway to the construction of a modern police station have made this an easy decision for the Sun Coast PBA.”

Since his election in 2013, crime has decreased by 6 percent, and violent crime dropped by 26 percent under Kriseman, who selected Anthony Holloway to lead the SPPD in 2014.

“I’m honored to accept the endorsement of our men and women in uniform,” Kriseman said in a statement from his campaign. “I thank them for their work with our neighborhood leaders to create safer streets and stronger communities. Together we will continue the progress our city has made, and I’m grateful to have them on our team.”

Opposing Kriseman (so far) in his bid for re-election by Anthony Cates III, Paul Congemi and Jesse Nevel.

All eyes, however, remain on whether or not former Mayor Rick Baker will enter the contest. Recent polls suggest he is the only potential candidate floated about who could present a serious challenge to Kriseman’s goal of being elected for four more years.

Amy Foster endorses Brandi Gabbard for St. Pete City Council

St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Amy Foster is backing Brandi Gabbard in her campaign for the Council’s District 2 seat.

“I am impressed with Brandi Gabbard’s drive and authentic brand of leadership,” Foster said in a statement. “I’m confident she will serve both St. Petersburg families and businesses well. Given her record of leadership in her profession, I’m confident she will get things done.”

The endorsement by Foster is an early big get for Gabbard. A realtor in Pinellas County for the past 12 years, Gabbard is running against banker Barclay Harless for the open seat being vacated by a term-limited Jim Kennedy.

“Foster’s experience working on affordable housing, supporting small businesses, and bringing a fiscally responsible voice to Council on budget issues mirrors many of the same issues I am passionate about,” Gabbard said. “I am deeply grateful for Councilwoman Foster’s support and look forward to working with her and the entire City Council.”

The only other current member of Council to weigh in the race, District 7’s Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, is backing Harless in the contest.

Foster will be on the ballot in St. Petersburg later this year, as she runs for re-election for her District 8 seat. At the moment, she is running unopposed.

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