Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 3 of 38 - SaintPetersBlog

HART board members insist autonomous technology won’t cost bus operators their jobs

A week ago, officials with the Hillsborough County Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) held a news conference unveiling four Tesla Model X electric SUV vehicles that became part of the agency’s HyperLink first-mile, last-mile service in the USF area.

Advocates of autonomous technology say it will ultimately make America’s streets safer. But there is also a human factor involved.

“Ninety percent of accident deaths are caused by human error. If you remove the human element, it can save lives,” St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes has argued in advocating for autonomous technology in Tallahassee.

But HART officials scrambled on Monday to insist that the technology the agency has been employing will never hurt bus operators, after a union official said that the agency’s championing of autonomous vehicles was “harsh for us to hear.”

“Just to work for this company that looks for innovation that’s going to lead us to technology unemployment, that’s harsh for us to hear,” said Daniel Silva, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593, in addressing the agency at the HART board’s monthly meeting in Ybor City.

“What about the employees? Where are we? Are you guys going to leave us on the back burner?” Silva asked.

The backtracking began immediately.

“Drivers are vitally important,” said HART board chairman Les Miller. “I don’t think we’re going to have a system where employees aren’t driving buses. That’s not going to happen,” he insisted.

“At the appropriate time, I hope that HART will consider something like fully expense paid training program for any drivers who may wish to transition into a position that will support autonomous vehicles,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chairman asked Stacy White.

HART CEO Katharine Eagan said that “depending on who you ask,” it will be anywhere between two to thirty years before autonomous vehicle technology will arrive at a point where a driver still needs to be monitoring a steering wheel.

However, she did emphasize that customer services jobs – and not bus operators – were the least likely to be overtaken by robots.

But while the board members were insisting that HART bus operators need not worry at all about their economic future, a report released last month says that as many as four million truck, bus, delivery and taxi driving jobs could be lost if fully autonomous vehicle technology is adopted in a short period of time.

“Driving occupations, including delivery and heavy truck drivers, bus drivers, and taxi and chauffeur drivers, would be heaviest hit, “reads the report from the Center for Global Policy Solutions .

“Autonomous-vehicle technology has the potential to save many lives, limit environmental damage, and increase productivity—and therefore, improve living standards across the country, if the gains are distributed equally,” the report goes on to say. “(B)ut it also has the potential to cause significant economic hardship, at least in the short term.

After the meeting, Silva said he wasn’t buying the board’s confidence that drivers wouldn’t be affected.

“We’ve got a CBA (collective bargaining agreement) that dictates punishment,” Silva said. “We get punished enough.” He questioned whether that was the case for drivers that HART is already using to operate their HyperLink program, as well as Yellow Cab drivers who have been hired as part of paratransit service to make it  more convenient for people with disabilities.

The HyperLink program is being run by TransDev, who hired their own drivers for passenger service in the county.

 

House considers contentious Tampa International Airport audit

Budget language filed in the Florida House Saturday morning would OK a controversial state audit of Tampa International Airport.

As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee unexpectedly filed an amendment last week on the Senate floor, which proposes an audit of TIA’s renovation master plan.

Lee’s amendment raised concern with two other Tampa Bay-area Senate Republicans — appropriations chair Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Dana Young of Tampa.

The Senate rejected the amendment.

Pensacola Republican Rep. Clay Ingram, chair of the House transportation budget, offered the language in the House budget.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Ingram’s counterpart in the Senate transportation committee, should respond sometime Saturday, as part of continuing budget negotiations.

Dixon notes that Brandes did seem to agree with Lee that an audit may be needed.

“We should give great deference to any senator who asks for an audit,” Brandes said earlier.

Top line tourism, economic development money closed out, chair says

Don’t expect any movement in the budgets for Enterprise Florida and VISIT FLORIDA at the conference committee level.

“I’m authorized to negotiate quite a few things in this budget and there’s a few things I’m not, and those would be among the things I’m not,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican chairing the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations conference committee.

The panel met again at 8 a.m. Saturday. Earlier this week, legislative leadership agreed on roughly $83 billion in allocations, the main pots of money for major spending areas.

A deal already announced deal gave $25 million to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency and $16 million in operating money only to EFI, Florida’s economic development arm. The money for EFI, however, would be recurring, or repeated year after year. Both entities are public-private agencies but funded largely with taxpayers’ money.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $85 million for EFI’s business incentives to lure businesses to the state, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran derides as “corporate welfare.”

The governor also wants $100 million for VISIT FLORIDA, saying the tourism industry and its jobs depend on it.  The current proposal cuts its funding from nearly $80 million.

“Obviously, this is all a negotiation between the Speaker and the President—and ultimately the Governor—as to where the topline issues end up,” Brandes added. “If they choose to reopen (them), that’s up to the Appropriations chairs and President and Speaker’s Office.”

The committee could meet once or twice more today before a noon deadline, when unresolved issues “bump up” to Senate Appropriations chair Jack Latvala and House Appropriations chair Carlos Trujillo.

After noon on Sunday, disagreements on spending go directly to Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. On Friday, Corcoran told House members there would be no floor session on Monday.

State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican and vice-chair of the committee, said without money for incentives, Enterprise Florida would be limited to “business marketing,” similar to what VISIT FLORIDA does to encourage tourists to visit the state. And EFI’s budget would only have around $2.5 million for that purpose.

Ingram also said he expected the House’s oversight requirements on VISIT FLORIDA to be part of the final budget deal. The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.

The oversight measures include requiring contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online.

The House plan limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000. It also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.

When asked if there could be any “extraordinary circumstances” that could cause the top line agreement to change, Brandes smiled.

“I would say extraordinary circumstances happen in this process all the time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Tampa Bay officials OK with TBARTA bill, now before full Senate

Officials had high hopes for a bill to reconfigure Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

Those same officials are now expressing some contentment following an amendment from the bill’s original sponsor, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

The legislation would change TBARTA’s name from the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority, and reduce the number of counties involved in addressing the region’s traffic issues.

It has been a top priority of the Tampa Bay area business establishment, specifically the Tampa Bay Partnership.

But there were major concerns expressed by the bill’s supporters last week after the measure significantly weakened by an amendment filed by Tampa Bay Republicans Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. That amendment required that any proposed rail project coming out of the newly formed transit agency would need approval by each county’s Metropolitan Planning Agency as well as the Legislature itself.

Latvala produced a new version of the bill Thursday, with the MPO’s and the Legislature’s approval only required for state funding of rail projects.

“I think the intention of the previous changes were not to insert any new processes or roadblocks to any kind of transit but was really a statement by Brandes and Lee to reinforce the steps that were necessary to consider light rail in Tampa Bay,” says Rick Homans of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“And so what I think that Sen. Latvala has done with his amendment is to reinforce that the intent is to underline these important steps, but not to create new steps in the process, things like feasibility studies, approval by the MPO, an act by the Legislature,” Homans adds.

“All of these steps if state funding is involved in a rail project, are important steps to take, and this bill as it delineates and outlines that rigorous process that the community has to go thru if it’s going to seek state funds for rail in Tampa Bay.”

The bill originally included only Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties in the new TBARTA, but later Manatee was counted in the bill. Last week’s amendment inserted Hernando County into the bill, making it almost as large as TBARTA’s initial seven-county focus. Hernando is still on the bill.

Homans spins that as a win, saying this brings in some influential Tampa Bay-area Senators into the mix.

“On the political front, this is a project for the Tampa Bay Legislative Delegation, and this brings Wilton Simpson and Bill Galvano into the process,” he says, “and they have a stake in the success of the future of our regional transportation system … I think that it’s important that were all working on this together.

“Having Manatee and Hernando at the table shows how this is a region that’s connected and we all have a stake in building this transit system,” he says.

The Partnership has been a driving force behind the legislation. They paid for a study conducted by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation on a regional structure for transportation planning, operations, and decision-making is that was presented to the entire Bay Area Legislative Delegation in February.

Homans credits his team of lobbyists, including Ryan Patmintra, Ron Pierce and Seth McKeel with discussions over the past week with Senators Latvala, Lee and Brandes as helping to come together on the bill.

“What’s going forward (today) is a win for Tampa Bay,” he says. “And it’s a team effort on the part of the legislative delegation.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the TBARTA bill Friday, where it will then go to the House, where the companion bill is sponsored by Plant City’s Dan Raulerson.

Business leaders lobby Tampa Bay-area lawmakers on regional transit

As for discussion over a proposed Senate regional transit bill for the Tampa Bay region, it’s all about timing.

A group of a dozen local business executives arrived for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee just one day after a contentious Senate committee meeting where three Tampa Bay lawmakers clashed over a bill seeking to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). The nonprofit Tampa Bay partnership arranged the trip.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in a heated meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala watched in frustration as Republican colleagues Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa amended the bill.

The bill, originally approved April 17, was changed to require legislative approval for any local spending proposal that would include a light rail system and also prohibit TBARTA from financing a voter referendum on light rail.

Many saw the amendments as a significant blow to the TBARTA’s independence.

“The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” Tampa Bay partnership president Rick Homans told the Times.

Among those in the business delegation were Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik; University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft; Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes; Ron Wanek, founder of Ashley Furniture; Tampa attorney Rhea Law, as well as Tampa executives of TECO Energy, BlueGrace Logistics, the BayCare Health System, PNC Bank, Vology and Florida Blue.

While the group’s agenda included supporting Latvala’s transit bill, ride-sharing legislation, and a creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Times noted that TBARTA received special emphasis.

“It’s not dead,” Homans said. “It’s very much alive.”

The amended bill now includes a feasibility study ahead of any forward movement of a light rail system, and would require approval by a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of the county or counties where the investment would be made. If a rail project is planned for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, for example, each of the affected counties would need to approve the project.

Also, any rail project must get preapproval from the Legislature – since Tallahassee would be fronting much of the money anyway.

“They were not poison pills,” Brandes explained. “They were logical, reasonable steps that would largely have to be followed.”

Senate votes to allow beer ads in theme parks, ‘merlot to go’

Florida senators passed a bill Wednesday that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks.

The measure (SB 388), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, received only one ‘no’ vote from Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained. However, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night, but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It extends the “merlot to go” legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

The bill now heads to the House. Its version (HB 423) still has not been heard by the Commerce Committee, its last panel of reference.

After four years of debate, bill regulating ride-sharing companies will go to Rick Scott’s desk

After years of intense debate, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to create statewide regulations for transportation network companies.

The measure (HB 221) cleared the upper chamber on a 36-1 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration.

“Today we sent a strong message that Florida embraces transportation innovation. The future of transportation options includes a focus on shared mobility, and as we move closer to autonomous vehicles on our roadways, the future of ride-sharing is very bright,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (SB 340). “With this legislation, Florida will have a uniform set of standards for the services our businesses demand, our tourists have come to expect, and our residents deserve.”

The bill, among other things, requires ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft, to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury of death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app, but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a passenger, drivers would be required to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies.

The proposal received the backing from Uber and Lyft.

“We’re grateful to Sen. Brandes, Rep. Chris Sprowls, and Rep. Jamie Grant for their commitment to carrying ridesharing legislation over the finish line, and for the consistent leadership shown by Gov. Scott, President Negron, and Speaker Corcoran,” said Colin Tooze, Uber’s director of public affairs. “The most exciting opportunities are yet to come, as millions of Florida residents and visitors, from Pensacola to Key West, will have permanent access to Uber.”

The vote came after years of debate and discussions on the issue. While proposals have cleared the House in the past, they have gotten hung up in the Senate in recent years. This year, the proposal sailed through all of its committee stops in the Senate, and passed with no debate Wednesday.

“We applaud the Florida Senate, and especially Sen. Brandes, for passing a statewide framework for ridesharing. This legislation will provide certainty for the many Floridians who use the convenient and affordable transportation services offered by Lyft, and we encourage the Governor to sign this bill into law,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We want to thank the Lyft community throughout Florida for standing up in support of ridesharing. We look forward to continuing to provide Florida’s residents and visitors with innovative transportation options that boost economic growth in communities across the Sunshine State.”

The House voted 115-0 on April 5 to approve the measure.

“The overwhelmingly bi-partisan passage of ridesharing legislation in both the House and Senate shows a strong desire for this innovative and free-market service. It not only provides convenient travel options for anyone in our state, it will allow many Floridians an extra source of income to help make ends meet,” said Rep. Sprowls, who sponsored the bill in the House, in statement Wednesday. “I appreciate the hard work that Senator Brandes put into passing this bill in the Senate and look forward to Floridians having this travel option should they choose it.”

Janet Long doubtful about supporting $14 million CRA request for St. Pete Pier

The St. Petersburg City Council is poised to vote for a final time this week on approving another $14 million for the city’s plan for a new Pier. If approved, the Council will then approach Pinellas County about re-allocating $14 million in tax increment financing, or TIF funds, to the $66 million Pier project, boosting the price tag overall to $80 million.

Commission Chair Janet Long says she’s not likely to support the request.

“The City Council themselves are not united, number one,” she said on WMNF’s MidPoint program Tuesday, referring to the different ideas that Councilmembers made earlier this month when initially approving the request from Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Long also expressed dismay about the price tag of the new Pier continuing to escalate, as well as the fact that the money comes from the city’s Downtown CRA (community redevelopment agency).

“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.”

Shortly after Long’s comments, Brandon state Senator Tom Lee struck out in a Florida Senate committee attempting to make the same point, arguing for legislation that he said would cure a problem with CRA’s that were originally created to address blight in a community but have transmogrified into what he called  occasionally pet projects for CRA board members, or in some cases, “slush funds” for said legislators.

“To me, it’s gorgeous the way it is,” Long said about the St. Petersburg waterfront, sans an operating Pier.

“I’m going to have to hear a lot more solid reasons why we have to allocate another $14 million that has been heretofore designated for a transit hub, and since there are so many transportation issues we have, just getting people from point A to point Z downtown is often difficult, so I’d let to see some deeper discussion about what that money can be used for, and maybe that CRA for that matter needs to go ‘bye-bye,’ and we take our thoughts and put it on the Tropicana Field area, or what’s going on the south side of St. Pete. Those two places seem to continue to get the short shrift.”

Long says she has previously made her feelings known to Mayor Kriseman. It’s uncertain where the rest of the County Commission heads are on approving the $14 million.

Long also weighed in on the legislative vehicle proposed by Jack Latvala and strongly endorsed by the Tampa Bay Partnership that would revamp TBARTA, making it smaller and redirecting its focus. Supporters of the legislation took a blow this week when the bill was seriously amended by Tampa Bay area Lee and Jeff Brandes, requiring that any desire for light rail would have to be approved by lawmakers in Tallahassee.

The bill also calls for a majority vote by the MPOs of each county impacted by any proposed rail projects before the authority can pursue any real related contract. It would also require the authority to conduct a feasibility from an independent third party before pursuing any rail-related project.

“At this point in the session, for it to blowup the way that it did, is a bit small minded in my opinion,” Long said, criticizing state lawmakers for not focusing on the future.

Long is supportive of local Metropolitan Planning Organziations merging, an idea that the Obama federal government encouraged. Beth Alden, the head of the Metropolitan MPO, told SPB earlier this year that she didn’t understand the community’s urgency on the matter, a notion that Long is baffled by.

“Are you kidding me? What is the sense of urgency?” said a flabbergasted Long. “Have you ever tried to leave Tampa International and drive across the Howard Frankland and go to Clearwater Beach?” she asks. “I mean it’s a transportation gridlock. “

“Beth is a planner, while I understand in the great big visionary world you want to have those areas in an MPO,” she continued. “If you talk about Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco that’s where the density is. It’s not in Herando, or Sarasota, or Manatee counties.”

House Democrats wake up on weed

Perhaps they’ve been reading the rash of vitriolic emails and op-eds from Florida for Care, or the equally brutal reporting and editorializing from the Tampa Bay Times this past weekend.

Maybe it was the litany of emotional public comment at Tuesday’s hearing.

Whatever it was, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee – led by the always entertaining, snarky and whip-smart Jared Moskowitz – suddenly woke up on medical marijuana.

It was a huge turnaround from just a few weeks ago.

When HB 1397 – the House’s medical marijuana implementing legislation, filed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues – had the first hearing a few weeks ago in the Health Quality Subcommittee, it sailed through with nary a word from Democrats on the committee.

Only first year Rep. Amy Mercado voted “nay.”

This was somewhat surprising, given medical marijuana’s political history in Florida. The issue has always enjoyed a significant degree of bipartisan support with voters, while divided along sharply partisan lines in Tallahassee.

Florida’s Democratic Party executive committee twice endorsed Amendment 2, in 2014 and 2016; Republicans in the Legislature and the Cabinet were unanimous in opposition to the same in 2014, and while more muted in 2016, only Sen. Jeff Brandes and then-Rep. Dana Young broke party ranks to endorse medical marijuana last fall.

While 118 of 120 House districts gave Amendment 2 north of 60 percent support in the November elections, Democratic districts were much more likely to offer support – in the mid-to-high 70s.

In opening the debate on HB 1397, Moskowitz acknowledged as much, noting that he’d previously not been particularly engaged in the issue, but received nearly 76 percent support in his district.

In the first Senate hearing on implementation in December, Sen. Darryl Rouson, a longtime opponent of medical marijuana, publicly switched his position, citing the close to 80 percent support in his district (the highest of any Senate district statewide).

Moskowitz then began to pick apart the House bill’s overly restrictive nature, while also bringing up certain areas where he felt the bill could use additional tightening – most notably with
proximity to schools, and limiting the number of retail facilities an operator can open.

Per usual, Moskowitz’s shining moment arrived at the nexus of policy debate and humor, when he compared the requirement in HB 1397 that doctors submit justification of marijuana certifications to the Board of Medicine to Sarah Palin‘s famed Obamacare “death panels” comment in 2009.

Moskowitz wasn’t alone on the committee. Buttressing his snark was Rep. Lori Berman, who peppered tough questions throughout, and the stark, passionate, remarks of Rep. Katie Edwards.

Edwards had co-sponsored – along with now-Congressman Matt Gaetz – the original low-THC cannabis law the legislature passed in 2014 but has remained somewhat mute on the issue since. She attributed her relative silence to the emotional toll the issue can take, the burden of responsibility toward suffering patients and families, who pleaded with her to do more for their relief.

Edwards pledged she would apologize no more for legislation that did not go far enough toward bringing that relief and voted down HB 1397.

In voting down HB 1397, Moskowitz, Berman and Edwards were joined by all their fellow Democrats. The decks of the House being stacked as they are, the measure nevertheless moved forward handily.

Given the current disparity between the implementation proposals of the House and Senate, as well as Rodrigues’ acknowledgment of negotiations already occurring between the chambers, Democrats might necessarily have a degree of input on this legislation, as they have carved out for themselves on gaming.

It should then be noticed that the Democrats’ point person on gaming in the House – Moskowitz – was also carrying their banner on medical marijuana.

beer

Booze bill ready for vote in Senate

A bill that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks is ready for a final vote in the Senate.

The measure (SB 388), carried by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, was heard on the floor Tuesday and placed on the third reading calendar.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained, however, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It continues the legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

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