The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 6 of 546 - SaintPetersBlog

David Jolly presents flag at Ray Neri’s memorial service

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly on Wednesday presented an American flag to Laura Neri, the widow of community activist Ray Neri, who died Jan. 3.

The flag was one that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis had had flown over the Capitol especially for Mrs. Neri.

“Ray Neri was a special person,” Jolly said. “Ray touched peoples’ lives.”

Jolly was only one of many of Pinellas’ political leaders who came to Neri’s memorial service. Others included Pinellas County commissioners  Pat Gerard, Karen Seel, Ken Welch, Dave Eggers and Charlie Justice. Former state Rep. Jim Frishe also attended. Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former county Commissioner Neil Brickfield spoke during the ceremony.

“There will never be another Ray Neri, but we can continue what he started,” Gualtieri said.

Although most had helped Neri with projects to benefit the unincorporated Lealman area, Jolly had helped him in another way.

Neri was diagnosed with a heart ailment that the Veterans Administration could not treat. Neri appealed to Jolly, who pushed the VA into giving him permission to go elsewhere for help. A Tampa surgeon was successful in saving Neri.

Neri died Jan. 3 at Northside Hospital where he was taken after falling at home.

Neri had served on boards of the Lealman Community Association, which he headed for several years; the Juvenile Welfare Board; the Sheriff’s Police Athletic League; Keep Pinellas Beautiful; the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club; and the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council.

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Dan Raulerson

Case dismissed: Dan Raulerson to remain in House

A Tallahassee judge has tossed out a lawsuit over the use of “Wite Out” on state Rep. Dan Raulerson‘s re-election filing paperwork.

In an order issued Wednesday, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson dropped the case brought by Jose N. Vazquez Figueroa, the Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Raulerson last year for the House District 58 seat.

Dodson ruled he did not have jurisdiction to decide the matter and threw out the suit “with prejudice,” meaning Vazquez can’t refile it.

Raulerson’s lawyer, Emmett Mitchell, had argued in a Tuesday court hearing that the judge couldn’t decide the case because the House of Representatives is the sole judge of its membership under the state constitution.

Dodson dismissed the case against Raulerson, a Plant City Republican, as well as the other defendants: Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer; Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer; and Kristi Reid Bronson, records bureau chief for the Division of Elections.

Vazquez had faulted them for allowing Raulerson to run in the first place. He said Raulerson never should have qualified because his notary had incorrectly used “correction fluid” on his filing paperwork.

The state’s notary manual says no correction fluid of any kind is allowed on notarized documents.

Vazquez had argued the notary “improperly completed” Raulerson’s paperwork by whiting out the date on her notarization of his financial disclosure, changing it from an April to a June date.

In a brief phone interview Wednesday night, Vazquez – who had represented himself – said he will appeal the decision and is considering filing a separate election fraud case against the notary.

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Rick Kriseman, Karl Nurse urge presidential pardons to keep immigrant families together

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council member Karl Nurse on Wednesday joined a national letter from local elected officials to President Barack Obama calling on him to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrant families by issuing a pardon for lawfully present immigrants with years-old or low-level criminal offenses.

The letter is signed by 60 local elected officials. It kicks off a week in which the president’s legacy on immigration will be at stake, with confirmation hearings and a national day of action that will highlight his record of both deportation and protection, and potentially show just how much could be dismantled by the incoming administration.

The White House has rejected previous calls for pardons for undocumented immigrants, asserting that a pardon cannot be used to grant people lawful immigration status. However, for legally present immigrants who already have status, but who face the risk of deportation based on minor and old convictions, a presidential pardon could provide durable protection against deportation that could not be undone by any future president.

Many of those who would be affected by the pardon were convicted of minor offenses, such as jumping a turnstile. In many cases, the offenses occurred decades ago. The letter joins Local Progress members with over 100 immigrant rights groups who made the same request to the president late last month. Forgiving all immigration consequences of convictions would guarantee that individuals can stay with their families and in their communities. Local Progress is a network of progressive local elected officials from around the country united by our shared commitment to equal justice under law, shared prosperity, sustainable and livable cities, and good government that serves the public interest. Local Progress is staffed by the Center for Popular Democracy.

As local elected officials, the signers of the letter see the impacts of a broken immigration system up close and in their communities, every day. Indeed, localities are often forced to deal with the consequences of deportation, be it in a family, business, child or broader neighborhood.

“As an immigrant who legally came to this country as a child, I have a brother and a sister who could be deported if they had committed a misdemeanor anytime in the last 58 years.  So this is personal,” Nurse said.

Kriseman added: “I applaud Councilman Karl Nurse for joining this effort and offer my enthusiastic support. I trust President Obama will do the right thing for our immigrant families in his remaining days in office.”

There is a significant historical precedent for this type of presidential pardon.

Categorical pardons have been used to grant clemency to broad classes of people in the past by presidents ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Jimmy Carter, the latter of whom issued a pardon to approximately half a million men who had broken draft laws to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.

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Gus Bilirakis named to key house health-care panel

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has been appointed to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, a key congressional panel with jurisdiction over the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as well as oversight of medical research and public health issues.

“I’m honored to have been selected to serve on this important subcommittee, where I will be working with my colleagues to solve the biggest problems facing our nation’s health care system,” said Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican. “I look forward to gathering input from constituents and stakeholders from Florida’s 12th District every step of the way. After all, we need to focus on empowering patients, not Washington, D.C.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “Gus’s dedication to conservative health care solutions will help put Florida and the nation on the right path toward affordable, patient-centered care. As a member of Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee, Gus will play a critical role in making our plan to repeal and replace Obamacare a reality—I’m glad he’ll be at the front lines.”

In a speech on the House floor, Bilirakis said, “Families across Florida are feeling the burden of Obamacare. Premiums have skyrocketed an average of 19 percent in our state, and insurers are fleeing the market left and right.

“In fact, 73 percent of counties in Florida only have one insurance provider, leaving people with higher costs and less choice when it comes to their health care. House Republicans are offering solid solutions to make our nation’s health care system work for everyone, without pulling the rug out from anybody’s feet. We’re focused on a more affordable, more personalized health care plan that empowers patients, not Washington.”

In the 114th Congress, Bilirakis helped author major legislation on the Health Subcommittee, such as the 21st Century Cures Act, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, and bills to boost research for patients with rare disease, neurological, and congenital heart defects. The panel additionally has jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid reform, and Food and Drug Administration policy.

Bilirakis was also appointed to the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.

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Legislation covering Uber, Lyft filed for 2017

Online car services such as Uber and Lyft got a preliminary win in Florida after favorable legislation was filed Wednesday in the Legislature.

The bills (SB 340 and HB 221), which would apply to ridebooking companies like Uber and Lyft, combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

Still, “transportation network companies,” or TNCs, pretty much got what they wanted, including a provision for driver background checks that don’t require fingerprints, which are more expensive for the companies.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, however, says the checks provided for in the bills are still rigorous and comprehensive. He and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Pinellas County Republican who filed the House bill, spoke with reporters Wednesday.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who advocates for ridebooking and other “disruptive technologies,” mentioned running potential drivers through a national sex offender database and searching their driving history records.

Importantly, the bills also prohibit local governments from trying to regulate TNCs, another bugaboo of the companies.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison called the bills “fair and comprehensive.”

The legislation “establishes common-sense guidelines throughout the state, and allows people in Florida to continue benefitting from Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides,” said Harrison, Lyft’s senior policy communications manager.

“More than two-thirds of states across the country have embraced modern transportation options like Lyft and we are hopeful Florida will soon join them in creating a framework that benefits drivers and passengers,” she added.

Such legislation has been opposed by taxicab and limo interests, and the head of the Florida Taxicab Association called this year’s bills “another attempt by Uber to have legislation written to codify their exact business practice.”

“The goal for policymakers should be what is in the best interest of the public, including drivers, passengers and third parties,” said Roger Chapin, also the executive vice president of Mears Transportation, Central Florida’s largest taxi and hired-car provider.

“A good start,” he added, “would be an appropriate level of insurance for any and all ‘for hire’ drivers that covers the additional risk associated with the more intensive use of the vehicle,” such as “24/7 commercial insurance.”

But the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came out in support of the bills.

“Many drivers believe their personal auto insurance policy will cover them; this is almost never the case, as the majority of personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when a vehicle is being used for hire,” association spokeswoman Logan McFaddin said.

“This legislative solution helps to ensure there are safe transportation options that protect drivers, passengers and the public.”

Among other things, the bills require the companies to insure drivers for at least $1 million when they’re giving a ride.

While drivers are on duty but waiting for a ride, they must insure them for death and bodily injury of $50,000 per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 for property damage.

Chris Hudson, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Florida, a free market advocacy group, also came out in favor of the bills. He said TNCs “offer economic benefits to the economy by stirring market activity through new good paying jobs consistent with the American Dream.”

Lawmakers “need to strip away the red tape that is crushing innovation and opportunity for Floridians to thrive,” he added. “We will hold elected officials accountable that stand against common sense reforms to expand available services to entrepreneurs and consumers.”

Colin Tooze, an Uber representative, called the legislation “sound and consistent with the emerging national consensus” on regulating ridebooking.

“The bills have very robust safety, insurance, and consumer protection standards,” said Tooze, Uber’s public affairs director. “That’s what our drivers and riders are looking for.”

He also said the pre-emption language, reserving TNC regulation to the state, also was important to save drivers and riders from a “patchwork of regulations that’s very confusing.”

“We think people ought to have certainty and uniformity so that wherever in Florida you are, you can count on a good experience,” Tooze said.

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Cross-Bay Ferry sells more than 5,400 tickets in December

More than 5,400 tickets were sold for the Cross-Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg in December, organizers said on Wednesday. That’s up from the 4,700 tickets sold in its inaugural month of November.

The six-month pilot project is a collaboration between four local governments: the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, along with Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. All four contributed $350,000 to pay for the cost of the pilot, which was spearheaded by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, and later by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“We are learning the lessons that only a real-life test can provide, which is why we wanted to run this six-month pilot project,”  said Kriseman in a statement. “So far, people are voting with their feet to ride it. That’s a great sign for developing a better future around our Tampa Bay waterfront.”

Officials say that weekday ticket sales (Monday – Thursday) started out slow in December, but ticket sales doubled in the third week of the month and tripled during the fourth week, with more than 1,700 weekday tickets sold.  Weekend ticket sales totaled 3,734.

“Those results show strong community interest in the ferry, especially given the ferry did not run during two holiday ‘blackout’ days, and during several days when weather closed Port Tampa Bay to all commercial vessel traffic, including cruise ships,” officials said on Wednesday.

The local governments are working with Seattle-based HMS Ferries on the Cross-Bay Ferry service. The company reported $64,213 in net revenue in November, with tickets sales recovering 46 percent of operating costs. “That is the highest recovery of operating costs of any transit operation on the west coast of Florida,” said Turanchik, who is working as a consultant to HMS. “This single vessel with limited operation is recovering two or four time more of its operating costs than our existing bus systems and lines in the Tampa Bay region.”

Turanchik and HMS Ferries first began working together several years ago on a project that would connect from the south shore area near Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base.  That project is on hold before environmental impact studies are completed.

Once the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project ends in April, local officials will analyze the numbers and discuss whether they want to continue the project.

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Kathy Castor says Rick Scott is spreading misleading and inaccurate information about the ACA

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor says that a letter that Governor Rick Scott recently sent to House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy regarding the Affordable Care Act contains “misleading and inaccurate information.”

The two Florida politicians have always been on opposing sides regarding President Obama’s signature domestic achievement. As a former health care executive, Scott was criticizing what is often called “ObamaCare” before he ever ran for governor, while Castor has been a champion of the law since it was signed into law in 2010.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked,” Scott wrote to McCarthy. “The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better.”

Scott also called for giving Florida the “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the states managed care model,” and that be given the ability to enact reforms such as charging Medicaid beneficiaries a fee for using the emergency room in “non-emergency room situations.” And he advocated for realigning the methodology for calculating Medicare Part B premium cost of living adjustments. The current methodology, he says, is resulting in a disproportionate on state Medicaid programs, including Florida, where he says it has an estimated $82 million inpact over the past two years.

On Tuesday, Castor rebutted Scott, writing her own letter to McCarthy.

In the letter, she says that Scott neglected to mention that 1.7 million Floridians now have health care coverage due to the ACA. She also says that the ACA’s consumer protections (such as banning insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime caps on coverage and allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents plans) have benefited the nearly 9 million Floridians who have employer backed insurance.

Castor writes that Scott has also overlooked the fact that the rate of growth of private insurance plans “has been held in check” in recent years.

“Governor Scott failed to mention significant cost savings to Floridians in his letter,” writes Castor. “Florida families with employer coverage saw their premiums grow by only 1.3 percent per year from 2010 to 2015, compared with 8.2 percent over the previous decade. If premiums grow in line with the national average in 2016, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that premiums in Florida will be $7,600 lower today than if grown matched the increase pre-ACA.”

Castor also says that plans to offer Medicaid block grants to the states “is a ruse to institute draconian cuts.”

The governor was in Tampa on Tuesday making an announcement about his proposals for higher education. When asked about his letter to McCarthy, he said, “I know it’s really important that everybody has access to high quality health care, but if you can’t afford it it doesn’t matter how good the quality is. That’s not something that we want for our society. What’s important to me is that we have a national plan that works, that controls costs….you have to focus on costs, you have to focus on quality,  you have to focus on service, and the ACA didn’t do those things.”

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Larry Ahern files bill requiring civil citations for some juvenile offenders

Larry Ahern

State Rep. Larry Ahern filed a bill Tuesday that would require the creation of civil citations or similar diversion programs for juveniles.

“We cannot continue to arrest more than 10,000 nonviolent juvenile offenders who do not have a full understanding of the consequences of their actions,” the Seminole Republican said. “We should look at this as a teachable moment and allow them the opportunity to correct their behavior.”

The bill is a companion to a Senate bill filed by Republican Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami. Flores’ bill has been referred to the criminal justice; appropriations subcommittee on criminal and civil justice; appropriations.

Ahern’s proposal is directed at juveniles who commit “nonserious delinquent acts.” Among other things, the bill would require all counties to create a civil citation program for juveniles who commit minor offenses.

The bill lists 11 misdemeanor offenses that would qualify a youth offender to be cited or sent to a similar diversion program. Among them: possession of alcoholic beverages, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief.

If a police officer decides to arrest a first-time offender who has committed one of those acts, he must provide a written reason for not issuing the citation. The bill also offers law enforcement officers the authority to decide whether to issue a civil citation for repeat offenders.

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Airbnb guests made $900,000 economic impact on St. Pete/Clearwater during college football championship

Airbnb announced today that the Airbnb community generated over $900,000 in economic activity for St. Petersburg and Clearwater during the days leading up to Clemson’s victory over Alabama.

In the three days preceding the game (Jan. 7-9), St. Petersburg welcomed over 760 guest arrivals through the Airbnb home sharing platform.

St. Petersburg’s Airbnb host community earned approximately $291,000 in supplemental income over this stretch. Based on the daily rate at which Airbnb visitors to St. Petersburg typically spend their disposable income with neighborhood merchants and restaurants, Airbnb projects that guests contributed an additional $218,000 to the St. Petersburg economy (not taking into account potential extra spending in connection with the game). Combined, that results in $509,000 in economic activity through Airbnb guests in St. Petersburg.

In the three days preceding the game (Jan. 7-9), Clearwater welcomed over 650 guest arrivals through the Airbnb home sharing platform. Clearwater’s Airbnb host community earned approximately $204,000 in supplemental income over this stretch. Based on the daily rate at which Airbnb visitors to Clearwater typically spend their disposable income with neighborhood merchants and restaurants, Airbnb projects that guests contributed an additional $195,000 to the Tampa economy (again not taking into account potential extra spending in connection with the game). Combined, that results in $399,000 in economic activity through Airbnb guests in St. Petersburg.

The City of Tampa experienced a $1 million economic impact from Airbnb guests in the run-up to the game. However, the massive surge of 100,000 travelers to the region still spurred significant spillover to neighboring markets like St. Petersburg and Clearwater, where hotel rooms were also at a premium. The Pinellas County home sharing community similarly expanded lodging capacity, allowing the cities to welcome as many travelers as possible and take advantage of the economic opportunity presented by the game.

Despite the surge in travelers, pricing for Airbnb listings remained very affordable. The typical daily price of a Tampa Airbnb listing in the days preceding the game was just $100, while typical St. Petersburg listings went for $75 and typical Clearwater listings went for $105.

“Home sharing continues to drive significant economic development throughout Pinellas and HIllsborough,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida Policy Director. “Our host community allowed thousands of additional people to authentically experience St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa due prior to the game, often in neighborhoods that lack hotels and do not typically get access to tourist revenue.”

Airbnb and Pinellas County collaborated in December 2015 on a deal that allows Airbnb to automatically collect and remit the local bed tax on behalf of its Pinellas host community. This resulted in $900,000 of revenue for the County in 2016. In December 2016, Airbnb worked with Hillsborough County on a similar partnership that will allow the company to collect and remit bed taxes on behalf of its Hillsborough host community beginning on February 1.

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Hillsborough County PTC seeks law firm to investigate former executive director

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation has issued a request for proposal to hire a law firm to conduct an investigation into former executive director Kyle Cockream’s performance as the head of the agency.

The board originally voted to do so last October, following a series of media reports that showed he had used off-duty taxicab drivers in PTC ridesharing stings and made unauthorized trips to speak to the Palm Beach County Commission with officials of the cab and limo industry, among other revelations. The move was led by then PTC chairman Victor Crist, who said that the agency’s integrity had been compromised from the top down.

“The public have lost trust in our agency.” he said at the time, adding that the best way to move forward would be an independent investigation the 12,000 emails that were recently released and have been the source for multiple news agencies (including SaintPetersBlog) depicting Cockream in a negative light. He said it was “imperative that these allegations be addressed on an urgent basis.”

Cockream is no longer affiliated with the organization. His last day on the job was on December 31.

At that October meeting, Cockream vehemently disputed Crist’s comments and called the request for an investigation a “witch hunt” and a “circus.”

Chief Assistant County Attorney Jennie Tarr came before the PTC at that meeting and recommended five different law firms that could investigate the charges, offering different rates the respective firms or individuals attorneys would charge.  But resistance from PTC members Frank Reddick and Dave Pogolorich precluded the agency from going ahead at the time to investigate Cockream.

Meanwhile, there is the likelihood that this will be the last year that the PTC remains in existence. Last month, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017. “The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation voted in support of his bill.

Not only is Cockream no longer part of the seemingly endless drama that the PTC has produced over the years. Crist has also stepped down from his duties,  after nearly six years on the job, and has been succeeded by County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

The PTC was scheduled to meet for the first time this year on Wednesday. That meeting has now been canceled.

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