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Chris Sprowls looks back on successful legislative session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the history books (for the most part), Florida lawmakers are beginning to take stock. And Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is no different.

Sprowls offers his own post-Session review, in an email to supporters highlighting some of his major legislative actions in the House over the past year.

At the top of the list is HB 221, the landmark ride-sharing legislation co-sponsored by Sprowls and recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure creates a statewide standard for companies like Uber and Lyft, which Sprowls says “ensures safety, convenience, and consistency.”

“I am proud of this bill because it guarantees that anyone in Florida has access to this convenient transportation option should they choose it, in addition to providing an extra source of income for many Floridians looking to make ends meet.

Inspiring Sprowls to bring the bill were conversations with Floridians “who love driving for rideshare companies,” particularly for its flexibility in work times — perfect for people such as single parents, veterans, college students and others.

HB 221 opens the market for ride-sharing jobs, as well as offering a “convenient mode of transportation for Floridians and vacationers alike.”

Most notably, this bill can be a template for ride-sharing bills across the country, Sprowls says.

Another legislative success were reforms to Florida’s death penalty statute, ensuring the state has a “working death penalty law.”

In October 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional — throwing the process into legal ambiguity, putting capital cases in a state of limbo.

Sprowls, a former state attorney, saw this legal instability as a disservice to all involved. HB 527 fixed the state death penalty statute, bringing the law in-line with Constitutional requirements.

Sprowls also introduced legislation to honor Officer Charles Kondek, killed December 2014 in the line of duty.

“Officer Kondek had a decades-long career serving our community,” Sprowls writes, “and it is only fitting that we rename a portion of Alternate 19 so that we always remember his service, sacrifice and legacy.”

The “Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway” is at U.S. 19A/S.R 595 between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line in Pinellas County.

Sprowls was also among the lawmakers sponsoring a formal apology to the Groveland Four from the 1940s, as well as to the Dozier Boys who suffered torture and abuse at the Dozier School for Boys.

“It was an honor to have the families of the Groveland Four, and the remaining survivors of the Dozier School in Tallahassee a few weeks ago to hear their stories and witness the closure they have so long awaited,” Sprowls writes.

Other victories for Sprowls in the 2017 Session were in ethics and government spending reforms, including passage of sweeping ethics changes and a lobbying ban that is the strictest in the country.

Similarly, Sprowls takes sides in the fight over incentive program funding, touting his support for a state budget which puts an end to “state-funded corporate welfare.”

“Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” he writes, “and Enterprise Florida was using your tax dollars to subsidize the operations of large businesses.”

Sprowls, who is in line to be House Speaker in 2020-22, notes that Enterprise Florida has seen a $1.2 million increase in payroll without showing similar gains in job creation.

While Enterprise Florida was intended to be a public-private partnership, Sprowls says that it is indeed funded 90 percent by taxpayers.

“We as a Legislature are tasked with ensuring your hard-earned money is spent wisely and efficiently,” he writes. “Enterprise Florida’s use of your tax dollars was neither.”

#11 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Darryl Rouson

St. Petersburg-based Democrat Darryl Rouson barely advanced from the House to the Senate last year, defeating former state Rep. Ed Narain in the Hillsborough County-centric Senate District 19 race by just 75 votes.

Rouson proposed 31 bills before the session began, and as someone who has been known to work well with Republicans (sometimes too well, for some Democrats’ tastes) was listed as a co-sponsor on 20 other bills, many introduced by GOP members.

A pioneer of sorts, Rouson became the first African-American prosecutor in Pinellas County where he was also awarded the Florida Prosecutor Association Award in 1981. And in March, he was one of just a very few number of Democrats named by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to the Constitution Revision Commission.

A former Republican, Rouson has been known to tick off his Democratic colleagues on occasion with his voting record. This year he supported a broader homestead exemption bill that will go before the voters in 2018, despite the exhortations of local leaders that the proposal will compel Pinellas and St. Petersburg to have to cut back needed services and lay off workers.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“He represents a weirdly drawn Senate district that includes both Temple Terrace in north Hillsborough and Gulfport in south Pinellas. I like the fact that he cooperates with Republicans even though he is a Democrat rather than standing as a rigid ideologue. A lot of people in his party don’t share that opinion, but I think that cooperation is why he was one of a handful of Democrats named to the state constitutional review group. To have any sort of influence, you have to be in the room where things happen.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#12 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Dana Young

South Tampa resident Dana Young survived a brutal 2016 election against Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner to get elected to the state Senate after six years in the House.

“Dana Young is one of the most productive members of the Florida Legislature,” says lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser Justin Day. “She has never shied away from taking on an important or difficult issue to her constituents. Those of us who are lucky enough to call her our Senator, should rest easy knowing that she will do everything in her power to make our community better.”

The Chair of the Health Policy Committee and Vice-Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K -12 Education, Young promised voters that she would introduce a bill banning the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing in the 2017 legislative session, with the backing of the same environmental groups that claimed she opposed doing so in 2016.

But it hasn’t been an easy path as House Republicans have resisted a flat-out ban, prompting GOP political consultant April Schiff to surmise that it’s been “more challenging” for Young.

Young placed No. 11 on last year’s list.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“She is smart, tough, ambitious and available. She isn’t afraid to take on difficult assignments and she made good on her promise to introduce a bill in the state Senate to ban fracking. That’s the good news. The bad news is that while it unanimously passed the Senate, a companion bill didn’t make it out of committee in the House. Her ranking on this list seems about right for now, but I expect it to be much higher next year.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

In Tampa, Jay Fant says House ‘out of whack’ for zeroing out funding for Enterprise Florida

Jay Fant was back in Tampa Tuesday night, where he once again registered his disagreement with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the House vote to zero out funding for Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Republican state representative, speaking to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee as he starts his campaign for attorney general, said he gets along very well with Corcoran, agreeing with him 90 percent of the time.

But Fant disagrees with the House’s “method of how they handled this budget in relation to the governor’s Enterprise Florida program.”

Enterprise Florida is the public-private state agency handling the state’s business recruitment efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida before Session began earlier this year, but the budget passed by the House provides zero funding for the program.

The amount of money is less than 1/10th of one percent of the entire budget, Fant said, expressing amazement that the impasse could ultimately result in Scott vetoing the entire budget.

“If I sound critical of the House’s approach in this method, then I am,” Fant admitted. “We have education, health, transportation, many good programs that occur in our budget, and if we jeopardize it over a food fight over a meaningful smaller, legitimately debatable item, then I think we’re out of whack, and I think we need to come back and find a compromise, not jeopardize our funding from the state.”

Scott has not indicated if he will veto parts of the budget — or the entire thing. State lawmakers could override the governor’s vetoes in a special session. Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Fant launched his candidacy for attorney general last week, and Tuesday’s appearance before the Hillsborough GOP group was his second visit in Tampa in the past week.

Also on Tuesday, Fant announced that he had asked retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero to serve on his campaign as national security co-chair.

#13 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist, the 60-year-old former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, returned to public office earlier this year, after defeating incumbent David Jolly in a bitter contest for Congress in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

In serving in Washington for the first time after a lifetime in Florida politics, the St. Petersburg native had a rocky transition to working in Washington.

Crist missed one of his first votes, condemning the United Nations for a resolution perceived to be anti-Israel. A few weeks later his head of outreach, Vito Sheeley, left Crist to work somewhat bizarrely for Jolly.

Then came news that he was divorcing his wife Carole, after an eight-year run.

Coincidentally or not, Crist seemed immediately afterward to have gotten his act together and started turning his press coverage around, most notably earning plaudits for hosting a four-hour town hall meeting on the USFSP campus in February.

“The million-dollar question is can be content in Congress, or will the siren of the campaign trail prove to be enticing and see him run statewide once again,” asks strategist and analyst Barry Edwards.

One thing that Crist has carried with him is the persona of working collegially with his colleagues. Criticized by some Democrats for not being sufficiently critical of Donald Trump, Crist joined some of the members of his freshman class in co-signing on to a ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Everyone knows how likable Charlie is, and I suppose it’s hard to say a sitting U.S. Congressman shouldn’t be ranked so high. I’ll say it anyway. We all know that he is doing better after a slow start, and I’ll cut him some slack because he was going through a divorce at the time. Even with all that, the news that chief antagonist Rick Baker is running for mayor (instead of Crist’s seat in Congress) means he’ll likely have his job for as long as he wants it. The big question is, how long will that be?”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.


#14 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bob Gualtieri

As the Treasurer of the Florida Sheriffs Association, Bob Gualtieri has become a ubiquitous presence in recent years in Tallahassee during the legislative session, advocating for or against bills involving law enforcement.

First selected as Pinellas County Sheriff in 2011, Gualtieri survived an intense battle for the job against former sheriff Everett Rice in 2012, before easily winning reelection last fall. He’s been frequently in the news this year when it comes to immigration issues.

For years, Gualtieri has push backed on the notion that Pinellas is a “sanctuary county,” even chiding Rick Kriseman when the mayor said that St. Petersburg was a ‘sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws.”

But it was that same Gualtieri who criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement after they insisted that sheriffs detain illegal immigrants in their local jails past the time period legally allowed under their local charges.

Gualtieri said he is sworn to follow the law, even when it’s inconvenient.

“The federal government also must follow the law even when it’s inconvenient, and it is wrong for the federal government to ask sheriffs to ignore the U.S. Constitution and the law that we are sworn to uphold by illegally keeping people in our jails,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times.

Gualtieri ranked No.7 on last year’s list.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Gualtieri has quietly become a force for common sense law enforcement. He doesn’t seek the spotlight in a way that Polk’s Grady Judd does, but when asked a straightforward question he’ll give you a straight answer without a whit’s concern for whose feathers are ruffled. He was ranked No. 7 last year. This is an august group, but I wouldn’t have dropped him so far.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Ag. Commish candidate Denise Grimsley introduces herself to Tampa Republicans

Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Denise Grimsley made the first of what should be many visits to Tampa during the next year-and-a-half, introducing herself to local Republicans and speaking about her credentials as to why she’s the best candidate to succeed Adam Putnam.

Like Putnam, she’s a fifth-generation Floridian, but unlike him, she had an entire career outside of politics before being elected in 2004 to represent Highlands County in the Florida House.

Grimsley spent 17 years in the health care field. She also spent time as a citrus grower and rancher when she took over for her ailing father at the Grimsley Oil Company.

“When I did that, I started seeing how government impacted our day-to-day life,” Grimsley told the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, which gathered at the River at Tampa Bay Church Tuesday night. Before that, she said, she had little interest in the workings of government.

“Up until then, even at my job at the hospital. I didn’t have a lot of involvement with state government or the federal government, but when I started running this company I saw how the Department of Transpiration oversaw our business, I saw how the Department of Agriculture oversaw our business, every single state agency had their  hand in our business in one way or another,” she said.

As chairwoman of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association, Grimsley said that she spent an entire legislative session in Tallahassee and was met mostly with ignorance or indifference. That experience ultimately led to her decision to run for the state House in 2004, where she served until 2012.

She then won in Senate District 26 (representing eight different counties) in 2012, but said she didn’t seriously consider running for Ag. Commissioner until former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced in January that he would not be running for the position.

She says she’s concerned about citrus greening and other diseases that are wreaking havoc with Florida growers. She believes her public and private sector experience make the best candidate for the job.

Before the meeting began, an aide to Grimsley asked members of the audience to sign a petition to get Grimsley on the ballot. She says she would be the first statewide Republican candidate since the 1990s to qualify for the ballot by petition … She needs more than 118,000 signatures by next summer.

Other Republicans running for the position include Paul Paulson and North Fort Myers Representative Matt Caldwell, who has just released his first campaign video.

Joe Henderson: Stench from St. Pete sewage spill last year hangs over Rick Kriseman campaign

If I’m St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the results of a new poll in his re-election bid against Republican Rick Baker might keep me up at night.

I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to early surveys in political races but this one by St. Pete Polls, conducted for, is different. It shows how steep a hill Kriseman has to climb.

It’s not just that the overall poll shows him trailing Baker 46-33, although that’s a significant number. Twenty percent are undecided.

His biggest problem may be that while 73 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Baker (which would be expected), nearly half of Democrats (49 percent) and 57 percent of independents feel the same way.

And if Kriseman thought the smell from last year’s massive sewage spill would go away in time, it’s clear that was wishful thinking; 44 percent say last year’s sewage problem remains a big deal. Kriseman was widely criticized for the way he mishandled it.

He first tried to deflect blame onto some now-former members of his senior staff, and then faced an extended grilling at a City Council meeting.  Chairwoman Darden Rice, a Democrat, pounded Kriseman on the lack of transparency over this problem and even suggested she might call for a special investigation if things didn’t get better.

Although there are about 3 ½ months until the Aug. 29 Election Day, Kriseman clearly has significant obstacles standing in the way of a second term.

Baker consistently has been ahead by double-digits in these polls, even before he officially announced his candidacy earlier this month. In local elections, people tend to already have an opinion locked in on the candidates and it’s hard to change hearts and minds.

What can Kriseman do?

He does have more than $400,000 in the bank, a goodly amount for a local election. He’ll try to chip away by linking Baker to Donald Trump and so on, but that seems like a Hail Mary play to me.

The high favorable percentage Baker enjoys from Democrats shows people remember his performance as St. Pete’s mayor from 2001-2010 and they wouldn’t mind more of the same, so long as sewage doesn’t spill into the streets. I don’t think party affiliation will count for much, except maybe with liberal newcomers to the city who spit on the ground at the mention of President Trump’s name.

As this poll shows, Kriseman will need much more than that.

#15 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Long

Janet Long, the feisty Pinellas County Commissioner, has taken the lead on the commission in trying to get regional transit talks revived in the Tampa Bay area.

Long was re-elected to another four-year term last year, after riding the wave of the anti-fluoride sentiment which brought down Pinellas Republicans Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock (to Charlie Justice) in 2012.

Dubbed ‘the straight talk express’ by consultant Barry Edwards for her frank talk, she told Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this year that she doesn’t support more CRA money for the Pier, saying, “CRA’s, from my understanding, are put in place to try to help take care of blight in a community,” Long said. “Frankly, I don’t see anywhere I go in downtown right now that could be considered blight. Downtown St. Pete is humming. It’s going to be humming whether there’s a new Pier or not.”

Long makes the biggest advancement in the poll this year, going from 24 last year to No.15 in 2017.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Her leap from 24 last year to 15 is much deserved. I might have even had her up a notch or two. I wish all politicians were like her, and not just because she says what exactly is on her minds in words that cannot be misinterpreted. Ask St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman about that. She also is a champion for regional transportation cooperation and not afraid to say it out loud.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.


Now an official candidate, Rick Baker still leads Rick Kriseman by double-digits, new poll shows

The race for St. Petersburg mayor is heating up, with a new poll showing Rick Baker with a double-digit lead over Rick Kriseman.

A new St. Pete Polls survey finds Baker with 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

Baker has held a wide margin over Kriseman for months now. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted Jan. 30 showed Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent. At the time, 16 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

“No matter what the polls say we will run hard to the finish,” said Baker in a statement. “I understand that I need to earn every vote and I intend to do that. My goal is, for all of us together, to build a seamless city.”

Although the mayoral race is non-partisan, Baker received strong support from Republicans, with nearly 73 percent of GOP’ers saying they had a favorable opinion of him. The poll found 49 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independent voters have a favorable opinion of Baker.

The survey found nearly 61 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Kriseman, while nearly 43 percent of independent voters said they had a favorable opinion of him. Republicans don’t think highly of Kriseman, with nearly 57 percent of Republicans saying they had an unfavorable view of the first-term mayor.

More than 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.” About 15 percent of respondents said it won’t be “a factor at all.”

Baker, who announced he was running for mayor earlier this month, led City Hall from 2001 until 2010.

The survey of 1,237 registered voters was conducted on May 16. The poll — conducted for — has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

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