Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 4 of 33 - SaintPetersBlog

House advances bill for statewide ride-sharing regulations

A Florida House committee advanced a bill Wednesday to implement statewide regulations on ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Sponsored by Republicans Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor and Jamie Grant of Tampa, HB 221 addresses issues that have been vexing state lawmakers for the last three Sessions.

If passed, drivers would need to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers.

Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The issue regarding the level of background checks of ride-sharing drivers has also become a huge matter for various Florida municipalities in the past few years, with representatives for Uber and Lyft adamant that their drivers do not need the same Level II background checks as cabdrivers.

Instead, drivers must have multistate/multijurisdictional criminal background checks, as well as one for the national sex offender database and a complete driving history.

Now that ride-sharing companies have begun working with local transit agencies on paratransit and first mile/last mile rides, the issue of parity remains critical, said Dwight Mattingly, a bus operator from Palm Beach County.

“I’m hoping that it will be recognized that anybody that handles, whether they’re Uber drivers, Lyft drivers or taxi drivers, will be subject to the same training and same knowledge to handle these people that I have,” he said.

The main objections to Uber and Lyft since they began operating in Florida has come from the taxi industry.

“We’re just looking for a level playing field,” said Louie Minardi with the Florida Taxicab Association. His group still has concerns about the bill, both regarding insurance and working with the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Although the bill passed 14-1 in the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee (Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson was the lone dissenter), several members said the bill needed to be strengthened moving forward before getting final approval.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said that because there are now so many Uber and Lyft drivers picking up fares at Fort Lauderdale’s airport and seaport, Broward County has contemplated building staging lots to handle the excess, and seeking reimbursement. Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Those local negotiations “will disappear under the current structure,” she said.

Jacobs also wants ride-sharing companies to place a logo on their cars as an added layer of safety.

After the successful vote, officials with both Uber and Lyft immediately issued news releases hailing the development.

“We applaud Reps. Sprowls and Grant and the subcommittee for moving forward with this important legislation,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This is the first step in implementing a uniform statewide approach to ride-sharing that fosters innovation and stimulates Florida’s economy. We look forward to working with the Legislature as it continues to advance rules that prioritize public safety and expand consumer choice for all Floridians.”

“The bipartisan vote today on HB 221 by the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee is the first step toward ensuring ride-sharing has a permanent place in Florida,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager for Uber Florida. “Uber has become an integral part of local transportation systems, and this legislation will help expand opportunities to better connect communities.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America also applauded Wednesday’s vote.

“Many rideshare drivers operate under their personal auto insurance policy, which will not cover them if they are in an accident while using their vehicle for hire,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s regional manager for State Government Relations. “HB 221 brings much-needed clarity and consistency to insurance coverage requirements for TNC drivers in Florida and strikes the right balance between protecting consumers and supporting innovation.”

The bill now needs only to go through the Government Accountability Committee before heading to the House floor.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340), where similar legislation died in 2016.

At medical marijuana hearing in Tampa, citizens blast proposed rules

Patients, caregivers and activists offered emotional – and often searing – testimony Wednesday in a Tampa workshop held by the state office that regulates medical marijuana.

In a standing-room-only meeting for the Office of Compassionate Use, they discussed proposed rules on medical marijuana that could go into effect later this year.

The agency’s rule-making workshop is making the rounds across the state this week, gathering public comment on the implementation of Amendment 2, overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters in November.

Although the maximum capacity of the Dept. of Health Tampa Branch Laboratory meeting room was set at 142 – far more than that lined two walls and the back of the chamber.

Amendment 2 allows doctors to order medical marijuana as a treatment for patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. It gives doctors the power to order marijuana for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

Proposed rules offered last month brought intense criticism from United for Care, the advocacy group that fought to get the measure on the ballot in 2014 and 2016. Those criticisms were repeated throughout the discussion held near the USF campus in north Tampa.

Among the biggest concerns: Current Florida law allows for only seven dispensaries statewide to provide medical marijuana, and patients must have a 90-day relationship with a doctor who completed specific medical training before they can provide a recommendation for medical cannabis.

“The will of the people is being ignored,” said Renee Petro. “Nobody should have to wait 90 days.”

The market needed to be opened to drive down prices, Petro added.

“We should have the right to medicate our children and loved ones in public,” she said. “The amendment passed and it’s up to Dept. of Health to execute this in timely matter.”

“Monopolies drive up prices and limit access,” added Dr. Matthew Knisley, a psychiatrist with Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Clearwater resident Dani Hall is with the group Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism, and the mother of two autistic sons. She said it was “abhorrent and disgusting that we are even having this conversation,” after more than 71 percent of the public voted in support of Amendment Two, eliciting a huge cheer.

Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter, representing the Florida Police Chiefs Association, expressed serious reservations about the implementation of the amendment. His group is asking for a state photo ID card and access to a 24-hour registry, so police know who can legally consume medical pot.

“We do not need to know the nature of the illness, but just be able to confirm whether or not a person is able to lawfully possess medical marijuana, especially at a traffic stop.”

The Police Chiefs also want those who work at medical marijuana dispensaries to also have a photo ID card and a Level II background check, along with no drug offense misdemeanors in the past decade.

Except for one occasion, Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, sat quietly and listen to each speaker.

A bill from St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes (SB 614) has the potential to open the market beyond the seven dispensing organizations under law.

It was the third public hearing held by the Office of Compassionate Use this week; meetings in Orlando and Tallahassee are set for later this week.

business incentive

Rick Scott’s favorite business incentive is losing money, Senate hears

Gov. Rick Scott’s favored economic incentive program – the Quick Action Closing Fund (QAC) – is now losing money, the Legislature’s chief economist told a Senate panel Wednesday.

The QAC is a pot of cash that Scott can draw up to $2 million from without legislative approval to entice businesses to the state.

But though the state’s “return on investment” from QAC projects was $1.10 per dollar four years ago, it’s now down to 60 cents per dollar, Amy Baker told the Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

In fact, more state incentive programs are losers than winners, according to Baker’s slides. Incentive programs, including the QAC, as well as Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism agency, are slated for elimination under legislation filed in the House.

Only eight incentives – what Baker called the “strongest of the strong” – make money for state coffers, including the Florida Sports Foundation Grant Program ($5.60 per dollar) and the Qualified Target Industry program (QTI), which now makes $6.40 per dollar invested.

The QTI targets businesses that offer high-wage jobs.

The others either don’t “break even,” though the state may recover some of its costs, such as the Spring Training Baseball Franchise Incentive, Baker’s slides said.

Or the “state loses all of its investment, plus incurs additional costs,” such as Enterprise Zones.

That’s when “we’ve made things worse than it was when we started,” she said, giving the example of no longer taxing something that used to be taxed.

Just breaking even, however, “is a lofty challenge,” Baker said. She noted that a incentive dollar has to “cycle through the economy 16.67 times” to make money for the state.

State Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, later asked Baker about the merit of tax breaks for films.

She said they target “the most footloose part” of the film industry, being the shooting of a movie or commercial, “and when they’re done, they’re gone.”

“They’re not building, they’re not ‘nesting’ in local communities,” Baker explained, instead referring to companies that build soundstages here, or focus on “production and editing.”

“They’re less transient,” she said.

Subcommittee chair Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, eventually floated an analogy that instead of just fishing for sharks, lawmakers should focus on keeping “the coral reef” healthy, and that will attract small fish, then bigger fish, then sharks.

Senate panel OKs bill to create chief data officer

A bill creating a “chief data officer” position in the Agency for State Technology easily cleared its first Senate panel.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee OK’d the legislation (SB 362) unanimously on Tuesday. It also establishes a “Geographic Information Office” within the agency.

“GIS activities are fragmented across the state with duplication of data collection and storage,” a staff analysis said. “Standards are followed inconsistently, and information is not immediately accessible when needed by law enforcement, emergency management, and the State Fire Marshal.”

The bill also comes after an audit of the agency laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency, created in 2014.

Among those findings are that “access privileges for some AST users … did not restrict (them) to only those functions appropriate and necessary for assigned job duties or functions,” and that the agency “inappropriately allowed interactive logon, increasing the risk that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of AST data and IT resources may be compromised.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, next moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. There is as yet no House companion.

Amendment 4 implementing bill clears first Senate committee

A Senate panel OK’d a bill Tuesday to implement Amendment 4, which exempts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes in Florida.

The Senate Communications, Energy & Public Utilities Committee voted unanimously to approved the bill (SB 90). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, excepts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes on real and tangible personal property installed on commercial and industrial property.

The amendment, which was on the August ballot, passed with 73 percent support.

“This bill will further encourage growth in clean energy jobs in our state,” said the St. Petersburg Republican. “We will be in a better position to take advantage of increased energy diversity while addressing environmental concerns. Florida should be a leader in solar, and the passage of this bill brings us one step closer to that reality.”

The proposal is meant to encourage expansion of solar production in the Sunshine State. The tax exemption begins in 2018 and extends for 20 years.

“This bill comes at just the right time to grow the market in Florida, as The Solar Foundation announced today that Florida gained 1,700 solar jobs in 2016,” said Scott Thomasson, director of new markets for Vote Solar, an advocacy group focused on solar energy, in a statement. “Florida voters sent a clear mandate with 73 percent of voters agreeing to remove tax penalties on solar, and now it’s up to our state legislators to implement Amendment 4 into law by passing Senate Bill 90.”

Darryl Rouson, Jeff Brandes driver’s license suspension bill advances in Senate

On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously passed legislation to reduce the number of driver’s licenses suspended annually in Florida.

The bipartisan bill (SB 302), sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Democrat Darryl Rouson, would end the suspension of licenses for non-driving-related offenses.

If passed, it could dramatically reduce a large number of suspensions taking place statewide each year.

Right now, one can lose driving privileges in Florida over a number of nondriving offenses: truancy, writing graffiti, theft, vandalism, writing worthless checks and a minor’s possession of tobacco.

“It has a huge impact on public safety,” Rouson told his colleagues on the committee. “It’s costly and we know that three-fourths of the suspended, revoked drivers still drive. So it’s a public safety matter.”

“We don’t want to continue the self-perpetuating cycles of financial hardship that lead to revocations and other things,” he added.

The bill also modifies current law relating to debt collection for unpaid fees or fines, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to use community service as an alternative method of payment. It also eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent offense for driving on a license suspended because of a defendant’s financial hardship.

Brandes sponsored a similar bill in the Senate last year, as did Rouson in the House, along with Tampa’s Dana Young and Sarasota’s Greg Steube.

Like Rouson, Young and Steube each advanced to the Senate after last November’s election.

St. Pete Chamber releases legislative wish list for 2017 Session

As Tallahassee gears up for the annual 60-day Legislative Session, now a month away, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce outlines its agenda for 2017.

Among the leading matters for the Chamber are transportation, the unification of PSTA-HART, tourism, and state regulation of vehicles for hire — including a bill (SB 340) from state Sen. Jeff Brandes setting rules to promote the growth of transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft.

However, at the top of the wish list is a call for greater diversity, with the Chamber supporting the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (HB 623 and SB 666) two measures would seek to create statewide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Business leaders say the Act will help ensure St. Petersburg and Florida attract the best, brightest and most creative workers.

Among economic development issues, St. Petersburg business leaders are asking lawmakers to approve $3 million for the Pinellas Center for Innovation for a series of improvements in addition to the creation of a state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot enterprise incubator facility. For the growing Warehouse Arts District, the Chamber asks $500,000 in state funds go to renovate six storage buildings, which would seek to revitalize nearly 3 acres of blighted property.

The Chamber also wants to keep Enterprise Florida – as is or with some modifications — the state’s quasi-governmental business recruitment agency, as well as VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism arm. For every dollar spent through VISIT FLORIDA, the Chamber says, returns $3.20 in tax revenue for Pinellas County – tourism being one of the area’s most critical sectors.

Nevertheless, Enterprise Florida is in the crosshairs of state legislators, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has recently referred to such state-run incentive programs as “de facto socialism.” Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch proponent of Enterprise Florida, sees it as a valuable tool in attracting business growth and jobs to the state.

As for education, the Chamber gives thumbs-up to several local proposals, including $10 million For the St. Petersburg College Student Success Center, and $2.5 million for “STEM academic programming” to prepare the region’s workforce for increasing demands in health care, science, and technology. Also on the list is early learning performance and voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), which the Chamber asks to be boosted by at least $50 per student.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg gets a pair of requests, with $1.5 million for the USF College of Marine Science Coastal Ocean Initiative to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and provide three years of operations and maintenance costs. There’s also $2 million for the USF College of Marine Science Biogeochemical Laboratory Renovation, to “enhance long-term studies of the Gulf of Mexico oil spills.” Investments in these “shovel ready” projects would have an impact beyond the school campus, the Chamber says, by improving the region’s ability to compete for federal research funds to the benefit of the St. Petersburg “marine science cluster,” which provides a regional economic impact estimated at $100 million.

Trauma centers once again on the legislative radar in 2017. The Chamber is calling for legislators to reject a proposal for the Florida Department of Health to change the language to permit a “minimum” number of trauma centers a given district.

Decrying the “fragmented and underfunded” behavioral health system, chamber leaders asks Tallahassee to continue reforms passed in 2016, and uses much money is available in the state budget to expand treatment for mental health and substance abuse. They also support protecting the $450 million lawmakers have used to offset the reduction in the federal Low Income Pool, which is “vital that the existing general revenue be maintained in the Medicaid budget.”

St. Petersburg’s infrastructure woes – highlighted by last year’s city wastewater leaks into Tampa Bay – should get some attention in the 2017-18 budget.

The Chamber asks lawmakers to pass the funding request from South Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters (HB 2005) for $3 million to smoke test the city’s sewer pipes for leaks, remodel lateral clean-outs with removable plugs, and install and seal manholes.

Flood management, another significant issue facing both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, is the subject of two bills (SB 112 and HB 613) that will have the Division of Emergency Management set up a matching grant program to provide up to $50 million for flood risk reduction policies and projects.

Tax cuts, another big topic for Scott in 2017, is also on the chamber agenda, with support for the governor’s call to reduce taxes on commercial rent. The group is requesting additional reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system to address rising cost of attorney’s fees and rate increases without jeopardizing employee access to workers’ comp.

The chamber also opposes any efforts to prohibit a professional sports franchise from leasing public land to build stadiums or renovate stadiums already on public lands. The legislature is also looking at two bills (HB 77SB 122) which require any public land use to build a stadium be to be sold at fair market value.

 

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Dana Young decries the ‘shrill tone’ coming out of Tallahassee this winter

The clash between Rick Scott and the leaders of the Florida House and Senate have dominated the front pages of several Florida newspapers this week.

Dana Young doesn’t like it one bit.

“There is this angry, shrill tone coming out of Tallahassee, and I truly don’t understand why,” the GOP District 18 state Senator told a crowd of over 50 people at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa Friday morning.

“I kind of feel that we’re on the same team and we should be working together to get a budget passed, but this shrill screaming is discouraging,” she continued. “So it could take awhile.”

The biggest public clash has been the different budget proposals unveiled from the governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The House plan would eliminate the state’s economic development agency Enterprise Florida, and the state’s tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, angering Scott.

The House would also eliminate any public subsidies for film incentives and sports stadiums. When asked where she came down regarding the issue of giving incentives to recruit businesses to Florida, Young said she saw validity to both arguments, but said she didn’t believe it is necessary to get rid of state agencies.

“It’s an interesting argument,” she said, adding that there was no right answer about whether economic incentives are good or bad. But she did come out strongly in support of Visit Florida, saying their advertising efforts have been the fuel that has led to record tourism numbers in the state the past couple of years.

“Why completely do away with an agency that by all appearances is doing a decent job of bringing people here?”

Young represented South Tampa and western Hillsborough County in the Florida House for the past six years before graduating to the Senate representing roughly the same geography last fall. That’s when she defeated Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove in a bruising campaign that led to bitter feelings on all sides.

Third-party environmental groups also ganged up on trying to bring Young down, attacking her specifically for her vote in the House on a controversial bill regarding fracking. Young denied the claims that her support for the bill in the 2016 legislative session was a vote of support for fracking, and she’s delighted many of those same groups by introducing a bill (SB 442) that would eliminate fracking in Florida with bipartisan support.

She isn’t ready to say that it will get clear sailing this year, contending that there will be fierce opposition to the bill, and asked that her constituents have her back when the bill gets debated this spring in Tallahassee.

Young did support Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment that was overwhelmingly supported by the public last fall. However, she’s urging a cautious approach to implementing it, co-sponsoring a bill with Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley (SB 406) that limits the number of marijuana producers to seven, though it could expand to as many as 20 or more medical marijuana producers once the number of patients registered for that treatment reaches 500,000.

A competing bill by St. Petersburg’s Jeff Brandes (SB 614) eliminates the cap on how many marijuana producers there can be in the state and sets up four new types of licenses so companies can be licensed to grow, process, transport or dispense.

Bradley and Young’s proposed legislation would also eliminate the current requirement that doctors treat patients for at least 90 days before being allowed to order marijuana for them. It also would expand to 90 days from 45 days, the amount of marijuana supplies patients can purchase.

Young says she prefers to maintain the concept of vertical integration, which keeps the same company that grows the plant also processes it and dispenses it.

The Senator also discussed her just-introduced bill that would allow small craft breweries the opportunity to self-distribute their product to other establishments, saying it demonstrated her support for “the little guy.”

A member of the audience questioned her on why she didn’t embrace that same concept when it came to medical marijuana?

“If we let this genie out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in,” Young responded, acknowledging that there was an inconsistency in her philosophy regarding the two issues.

Like several of her GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Area, Young has been a big supporter of ride-sharing companies, and a huge critic of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which the local delegation has already voted to eliminate later this year. But Young did take up for the taxicab industry on Friday, saying it is unfair that they have to pay a premium fee to be legally allowed to pick up fares at Tampa International Airport, while Uber and Lyft are doing so without paying anything.

Regarding the upcoming gun debate in the Legislature, Young declined to speak specifically about pending legislation, and instead posited the question as being simply whether more guns or fewer guns make the public safer.

Referring to the fall of 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, she decried the fact that school was a gun-free zone.

“How would you feel if you were that Chancellor and you opted not to allow students who were adults with guns, to carry guns on campus when that shooter came in, and they could have killed him,” she said. “But there was nobody there to respond.”

Larry Ahern files bill helping to reduce flood insurance premiums

Larry Ahern

Seminole Republican Larry Ahern is looking to help flood insurance policyholders with a plan to reduce insurance premiums.

On Thursday, Ahern filed HB 613, which instructs the Division of Emergency Management to set up a matching grant program for up to $50,000,000 annually to local governments for technical and financial assistance in implementing policies to reduce risks of flood hazards. The bill also requires the DEM to develop a ranking system for applications, with specific criteria for prioritizing those applications.

The measure also authorizes the Florida Communities Trust to “acquire and dispose of both real and personal property” necessary to reduce flood hazards.

“Continuing to find ways to reduce flood insurance premiums at the statewide level for residents of Florida is imperative,” Ahern said.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has already filed the Senate companion bill (SB 112)

If passed, the bill could be effective July 1, 2017.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons