Dozens of candidates have raised $100,000 or more for their House races

The end of the 2016 legislative session last month can only mean one thing — election season is coming.

Campaign finance reports were due to the state on Monday. The March fundraising reports show that more than two dozen candidates for the Florida House have more than $100,000 in cash on hand, and several candidates raised upwards of $200,000 since getting in the race.

The fundraising totals were compiled by On 3 Public Relations.

House District 52 — Republican Brian Hodgers has built up quite the war chest since he got in the House District 52 race a year ago. Hodgers has raised $319,695 since March 2015. The Melbourne businessman raised $5,100 last month, and ended the one-month fundraising period with $343,064 cash on hand. He has loaned his campaign $40,000.

All that money might be a necessary precaution. Three other Republicans have thrown their hat in the race to replace Rep. Ritch Workman in the Florida House.

Sen. Thad Altman has filed to run for the House seat. Altman raised no money in March, but has raised $10,000 and loaned his campaign $200 since filing his initial paperwork in July. He had $10,025 cash on hand at the end of the fundraising period. Altman can’t run for re-election in the Senate because of term limits.

Republican Monique Irene Miller has raised $26,420 since jumping in the race. She raised $200 during the one-month fundraising period, and ended the month with $27,860 cash on hand.

Robert Francis VanVolenburgh has raised $1,240 and loaned his campaign $16,2000 since getting in the HD 52 race. He raised no money in March, and ended the period with $4,194 cash on hand.

House District 9 —  Loranne Ausley is no stranger to politics, and her campaign account ledger reflects that. Ausely has raised $227,093 since jumping into the House District 9 race last year. In March, the former state representative raised $21,900. She had $203,071 cash on hand at the end of the one-month fundraising period.

While she has raised substantially more money than Republican Jim Messer, the Tallahassee attorney is holding his own. He has raised $100,578 since filing to run for the seat; and reported raising $9,125 in March. Messer had $85,563 cash on hand at the end of the fundraising period.

Two other Democrats — Arnitta Jane Grice-Walker and Joshua Alexander Johnson — have announced they plan to run for the Tallahassee-area seat.

House District 103 — It’s unlikely Manny Diaz Jr. will face a Republican challenger, but the Hialeah Republican is building up his campaign coffers to prepare for a general election challenge.

State records show Diaz raised $37,450 in March, bringing his fundraising total to $199,200 since announcing he was running for re-election. Diaz finished the one-month fundraising period with $153,691 cash on hand.

Diaz will face Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich in the November general election. Petkovich raised $9,680 in March, bringing her fundraising total to $35,266 since getting in the race. The South Florida attorney ended the fundraising period with $29,169 cash on hand.

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Incumbents in three House races have raised more than $200,000 since announcing their decision to run for re-election.

House District 37 — House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran raised $10,000 in March, bringing his fundraising haul to $290,995 since he filed to run for re-election in 2014. He ended the fundraising period with $142,627 cash on hand.

It’s unlikely Corcoran will be unseated. However, Republican Ronson Hale Biedrzycki has filed to run against the Land O’Lakes Republican. Biedrzycki has raised just $115 since filing.

House District 110 — Rep. Jose Oilva is currently running unopposed, but that isn’t stopping him from raising campaign cash. The Miami Lakes Republican raised $500 in March, which boosted his fundraising totals to $208,670. He ended the fundraising period with $159,947 cash on hand.

House District 116 — Rep. Jose Felix Diaz didn’t raise any money in March, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t building up a good size war chest. The Miami-Dade Republican has raised $215,000 since December 2014. He finished the March fundraising period with $147,149 cash on hand.

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State records show that at least 27 candidates have more than $100,000 cash on hand.

Those candidates Rep. Jeanette Nunez, who has $132,955 cash on hand and who is running unopposed; Rep. Holly Raschein, who has $126,905 cash on hand and who will face either Democrat Kevin Diaz or Artie Leichner in November; and Rep. David Richardson, who has $168,955 cash on hand and has two primary challengers — Democrats Reinaldo Valdes and Deede Weithorn.

Also of note: Republican William Richard McBride, House District 27 candidate, ended the fundraising period with $259,000 cash on hand. That sum includes a $250,000 loan. McBride has raised $9,000 since getting in the race; while Republican opponent Zenaida Denizac has raised $5,950.

House, Senate set to designate Joe Negron, Richard Corcoran leaders in November

The House will formally designate Speaker-to-be Rep. Richard Corcoran and President-to-be Sen. Joe Negron as head of their respective chambers in an organizational meeting on November 22, according to a LobbyTools Legislative IQ bulletin.

Lawmakers will meet in Tallahassee to affirm their already-settled choices in presiding officers.

First, of course, both must win reelection to their seats, a feat recent history has shown is not always a slam dunk.

The chambers will also adopt rules on committee structure, motions, debate, voting and ethics.

 The 2017 Legislative Session will begin in March as provided in the Constitution, though lawmakers have voted in recent years to move the even-numbered sessions up to a January start date.

Chris Latvala kicks off HD 67 re-election with May 2 Clearwater event

House District 67 Republican Rep. Chris Latvala will kick off his re-election run with a May 2 event at the Island Way Grill in Clearwater, his campaign announced Monday.

Among the attendees listed on the invite are incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Republican Reps. Chris Sprowls, Kathleen Peters, Larry Ahern and Jamie Grant, as well as Sen. Jeff Brandes and Latvala’s father, Sen. Jack Latvala.

For more information or to RSVP for the event, email kaylawademusic@gmail.com or call 727-545-9566.

Through March, Rep. Latvala had about $56,500 on hand for his re-election campaign, which pits him against Democrat David Vogel for the Pinellas County seat.

Vogel, an attorney, didn’t report any contributions in his first month on the campaign trail, though HD67 has the potential to be competitive in 2016. Voter statistics from 2014 show 33,430 registered Democrats and 32,600 Republicans in the district, with an additional 29,000 voters not belonging to a major party.

Despite the even split, Latvala was able to beat his 2014 challenger, Democrat Steve Sarnoff, with more than 53 percent of the vote on Election Day.

Rick Scott signs omnibus FDOT bill into law

Gov. Rick Scott gave his signature on  Monday to a omnibus transportation bill making about a dozen changes to state law regarding the Florida Department of Transportation.

Scott’s final approval of HB 7027 means numerous sundry changes for FDOT, one of the largest aspects of the budget and a prominent area of policy for Floridians who travel the state’s roads, railways, and waterways.

Perhaps most notably, the bill enacts into law a proposal championed by Republican Speaker-to-be Rep. Richard Corcoran, whereby any proposed amendment to the department’s five-year “Work Program” – essentially their funding plan for major projects – amounting to more than $3 million must be review by the joint Legislative Budget Commission.

It also deletes a provision which allowed the chair and vice-chair of that committee to alone approve a project if a meeting could not convene within 30 days, strengthening the committee members’ oversight authority.

The bill also reallocates $10 million from the current work program to go toward the Florida Seaport and Economic Development Program, raising that division’s budget from $15 million to $25 million. Increasing the prominence of state ports has been a priority among economic development officials and private sector advocates, but in practice doing so has been vexing.

Florida Ports Council CEO Doug Wheeler said the move was a step in the right direction.

“The historic funding of seaport infrastructure during Governor Scott’s tenure has already contributed to the incredible growth that we are experiencing in trade across the state, and we look forward to continuing that success,” said Wheeler on Monday.

In a release trumpeting Scott’s signing of the bill, the governor’s office played up language in the bill which “streamlines” the permitting process for proposed highway projects. According to staff analysis, the bill assumes more authority currently held by the federal Department of Transportation under the National Environmental Policy Act, which will “result in more timely delivery of transportation projects to Florida’s citizens and enhancement of the infrastructure needed to support Florida’s economic competitiveness” by “eliminating one layer of governmental review.”

The bill also mandates FDOT most consult with and provide information to the Division of Bond Finance of the State Board of Administration when considering whether to issue bond pursuant to a public-private partnership, a favored mechanism among Tallahassee lawmakers. The new provision is intended as a safeguard against public money being leveraged to finance a project for profit at a potential loss to taxpayers.

Along similar lines, the bill also creates a Florida Department of Transportation Financing Corporation which the governor’s office said will “better safeguard taxpayer dollars.” The move was reportedly requested by Secretary Jim Boxold.

Boxold issued a statement Monday afternoon praising Scott for approving the measure.

“I applaud Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their continued record investment in Florida’s transportation infrastructure. This legislation will allow critical transportation projects in Florida to be delivered quicker and financed at a lower cost. Everyone who uses our transportation system throughout the state will benefit from this bill,” said Boxold.

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes – who chairs the key Senate Transportation Committee – shepherded language into the bill providing that state officials will include autonomous cars in future plans, but was opposed to the above changes regarding Legislative Budget Commission oversight.

“No one from the House has come to me to explain why this is one of their priorities,” Brandes told POLITICO Florida back in December. “I don’t think the LBC needs to have a significant role.”

The bill goes into effect July 1.

Richard Corcoran, Wilton Simpson oppose water rate hike

Two legislative leaders are asking the state’s utility regulators to “follow the law” and deny a request by a water utility serving parts of Marion, Pasco and Seminole counties to increase its rates.

State Rep. Richard Corcoran, the Land O’ Lakes Republican slated to become House Speaker after the 2016 elections, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, the Trilby Republican who chairs the Community Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to the state’s Public Service Commission on Thursday.

Illinois-based Utilities Inc. had filed a request with the Commission to increase its water rate by 33.8 percent in Marion County, 21.8 percent in Pasco County and 2 percent in Seminole County, according to its filing.

The utility said it wants to recover lost revenue “due to irrigation customers installing their own wells and discontinuing irrigation service in Pasco County,” recover the cost of replaced lines in Marion County’s Golden Hills subdivision, Summertree “water quality improvements” in Pasco County, and the “Crystal Lake I Ravenna Park interconnection” in Seminole County.

Corcoran and Simpson reminded commissioners of the Consumer Water Protection Act, which became law in 2014.

“Our constituents had been subjected to multiple rate increases by this monopoly, and there were serious issues with the secondary standards of the water coming into their homes,” the letter said. “The taste, color and smell were far from ideal and the prices were high when compared to the neighboring communities and the state average.”

They said the “legislative intent of The Consumer Water Protection Act of 2014 was clear: protect Florida’s consumers from paying high prices for substandard water.”

“This utility’s complete disregard for these consumers is very upsetting, but not altogether surprising,” they said. “The law does not require the utility to consider the public interest or that the utility provide solutions that are in the customers best interest.”

The letter concluded by reminding commissioners to “follow the law,” adding that if they or their staff “are under the impression that the law would allow a rate increase under this set of facts, please rest assured: it does not.”

A Utilities Inc. spokesman could not be reached Thursday evening.

In all, three “public customer meetings” have been scheduled on the matter:

  • 9 a.m. April 12 at Summertree Recreation Facility, 12005 Paradise Point Way, New Port Richey.
  • 6 p.m. April 12 at West Pasco Government Center, Commission Chambers Board Room, 8731 Citizens Drive, New Port Richey.
  • 6 p.m. April 13 at Marion County Commission Auditorium, McPherson Complex, 601 SE 25th Ave., Ocala.

For Chris Sprowls, shot at leadership means an opportunity be as “bold as possible”

It’s easy to call Chris Sprowls tough.

He beat cancer as a teenager; made a name for himself prosecuting violent offenders; and has become one of the go-to guys to get things done in the Florida House.

Friends, though, say Sprowls is also a genuinely nice person who cares deeply about his community and the state of Florida as a whole. Those traits will serve him well if he becomes Speaker of the House in the coming years.

“He’s a selfless leader,” Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran said.“He’s exactly what the class needs.”

Sprowls appeared to clinch the 2021-22 speakership race this month when two more Republicans — Jacksonville Rep. Paul Renner and Orlando Rep. Mike Miller — switched their support from Rep. Eric Eisnaugle to Sprowls.

The two men mark the latest in a series of defections that could propel Sprowls to the Speaker’s Office. POLITICO Florida reported Sprowls has a 2-to-1 lead in the vote count, and he was quickly embraced as the eventual leader. He is among the lawmakers expected to headline a House and Senate Majority fundraiser in April.

But for his part, the 32-year-old Palm Harbor Republican is hesitant to talk about his rise to leadership. He said he wants to focus on helping his constituents, saying lawmakers are “really fortunate” to work for Floridians.

“I think we have a really talented group of freshman House members,” he said in an interview last week. “We all came to Tallahassee to do big things for our constituents.”

Sprowls said lawmakers should focus on wide-sweeping legislation and bold reforms while in Tallahassee. Each year they leave home, giving up time from their families and jobs, and Sprowls said he doesn’t give up “a lot of precious memories to go up there and trim around the edges.”

“One of the things you’re seeing is people are frustrated that (lawmakers) go to Washington, D.C., they go to Tallahassee, and they don’t do what’s promised,” he said, before going on to say lawmakers should be “as bold as possible.”

It is that mindset that makes him well-suited for the position, said Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican who has known Sprowls for decades. Corcoran said Sprowls cares “more about the front of the jersey” than the name on the back.

Since taking office in 2014, Sprowls has been focused on issues like education and health care. This year lawmakers passed an omnibus education bill that included the language from Sprowls’ popular public school choice bill. The provision allows students to attend any public school in the state that isn’t at capacity.

“The school choice bill is a great bill. It really highlights that we have great public schools,” Sprowls said. “I’m super pleased. We achieved all of the goals.”

Only a portion of Sprowls life revolves around Tallahassee. He’s a lawyer by trade who became an assistant state attorney representing Pasco and Pinellas counties after he graduated law school. He’s married with one son, and a second on the way.

“He’s just extremely successful,” said Mike Fasano, the Pasco County Tax Collector and a former state lawmaker. “I am so proud of him and of what he’s accomplished over the years.”

But Fasano said people aren’t just drawn to Sprowls because of his accomplishments. Fasano said he is sincerely a nice guy from a good family who has spent years helping his community.

“He has learned along the way how to … help people, work with people, and he had a great instinct of being able to reach out and get individuals on his team,” said Fasano, who has known Sprowls for more than a dozen years. “I hear nothing but good things about Chris Sprowls.”

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Richard Corcoran

Top 25 1Not only is Richard Corcoran, the 51-year-old Land O’ Lakes state Representative, the most powerful lawmaker in the Tampa Bay area for the second consecutive year, he’s arguably the most influential legislator in Florida.

Corcoran’s influence stems from his perch as House Appropriations Committee chairman, and his upcoming promotion to House Speaker after this fall’s elections.

His star-making moment came in April 2015, when on consecutive days he challenged the status quo in two fiery speeches. He invited the state Senate to “come to war” with the House to take on the “Gucci-loafing, shoe-wearing special interests, powers-that-be” responsible for Florida’s broken healthcare system.

With the Senate pushing the House to take up Medicaid expansion in 2014, Corcoran vowed the House wouldn’t “dance” with the upper chamber.

“They want us to come dance,” he said in words reprinted up and down the state. “We are not dancing. We are not dancing this session, we are not dancing next session, we are not dancing next summer. We’re not dancing. And if you want to blow up the process because somehow you think you have the right that doesn’t exist, have at it. But we are going to do what’s right.”

Corcoran was also an implacable bulwark in this year’s Session against Gov. Rick Scott’s $250 million request to fund Enterprise Florida.

“I’m most impressed with Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran’s leadership during the budget negotiations this session,” Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano said. “Arguably one of the most difficult positions in leadership, the budget chair ultimately is responsible for ushering Florida’s multibillion-dollar budget through the process and to the governor’s desk. Chairman Corcoran’s courage to stand up to the governor and oppose the ‘corporate welfare’ package was a true highlight of his chairmanship.”

Not everything the Speaker touches turns to gold, though. Like every other Speaker of the House in the modern Republican era, Corcoran supported Jeb Bush over Marco Rubio for U.S. president this year, despite being Rubio’s chief of staff and special counsel.

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

House, Senate Republicans to hold fundraiser at Universal Orlando

How do you celebrate the end of a Legislative Session?

If you’re Florida House and Senate Republicans, you do it with a fundraiser at Universal Orlando.

Republican leaders will hold a fundraiser at Universal Orlando on April 9 and 10. The event, first reported by POLITICO Florida reporter Matt Dixon, will benefit the House and Senate Majority Committees, which oversee legislative campaigns.

Among those listed as headliners is Rep. Chris Sprowls, the Pinellas County Republican who may be the House Speaker beginning in 2021.

Last week, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, conceded the 2021 House Speaker race to Sprowls. The move came after state Reps. Paul Renner and Mike Miller said they would support Sprowls. Several other of his colleagues tweeted their support for Sprowls after Renner and Miller flipped.

Sprowls is one of seven House and Senate Republican leaders headlining the event.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran and future Speaker Jose Oliva will represent the House leadership team, while Senate President Andy Gardiner, Speaker Designate Joe Negron, and Majority Leader Bill Galvano will represent the Senate leadership team.

Ed Narain proud of his accomplishments in the House, ready to advance in the Senate

Like may people in the Tampa Heights community that he represents, House District 61 Democrat Ed Narain was holding his breath when news broke on Tuesday that Governor Rick Scott had vetoed $256 million in projects from the just concluded legislative session.

The good news is that Narain’s request for $1.2 million to move what has become a beloved community center to another part of the area will go through. The facility,  the former Faith Temple Missionary Baptist Church on Palm Avenue, appeared to be slated for demolition in the coming years to make way for the construction of the Tampa Bay Express project.

“I’m obviously pleased that it was able to remain in the budget. I think it’s the right thing for the Tampa community,” Narain told Florida Politics on Tuesday. “It was supported by Senator Joyner, Senator Lee, House Budget Chair Corcoran, and everybody in the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation. I think it’s a big win for our community.”

The Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association has invested lots of sweat equity and an estimated $1 million to rehabilitate the facility, and they were extremely disappointed to learn from the city last fall that they should stop working on new projects, since it was FDOT owned property, and they wanted it back.

Now the building will literally be picked and moved to a different part of the community.

Narain was also pleased that his request for $800,000 for the Hillsborough Homeless Initiative escaped the governor’s veto pen as well.

The 39-year-old second-term representative from Tampa had a very good session, as good as any member in the House Democratic caucus. Among his achievements include sponsoring a bill to remove and replace the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Smith was a Confederate army general. The law calls on the Florida Arts Council and the Department of State to estimate the costs of replacing the statue, including the costs associated with designing and creating a new statue, removing the current statue, and any unveiling ceremony.

He also sponsored the legislation in the House that finally addresses the legacy of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. The school was closed down in 2011 amid accusations by former students of physical and sexual abuse.  The bill calls for providing up to $7,500 for funeral and burial expenses for each exhumed body. It also would require officials to preserve records, artifacts and remains found on the school site. And it creates a task force charged with devising plans for a memorial and figuring out what to do with any unidentified or unclaimed remains.

 “Now we have to pivot towards the surviving victims of the school and see what we can do for them,” Narain says.

Narain served as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus during the just concluded legislative session.  Among its victories this year include legislation requiring the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate all deadly police involved shootings. The Caucus was also instrumental in ensuring that a group of black farmers will be able to obtain a license to allow them to participate in the medical marijuana nurseries.

One disappointment for Narain was that his proposal that would  protect witnesses from being harassed and retaliated against by criminals when cooperating with the police passed through several committees in the House, but died in the Senate. HB 475 provided an exemption from public records for the names of witnesses to a felony.

“When you look at the five shootings that started off 2016 in the Tampa area, and then the several you’ve had all across the state in St. Petersburg and Miami, there are people out there – they know what happened, but they’re afraid to come forward because they’re afraid of becoming the next victim. So what HB 475 would have done would have allowed witnesses information to be able exempt from public records until the end of that trial.”

The bill was supported by the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Police Benevolent Association. Narain says the PBA will highlight the bill as one of their highest legislative proposals in 2017.

If things go as he intends, Narain will be serving in the state Senate in 2017. Last week he made the somewhat surprising announcement that he will take on fellow Democrats Betty Reed and Darryl Rouson for the state Senate District 19 seat being vacated by a term-limited Arthenia Joyner later this year.

Narain has Joyner’s blessing, but it’s a bit of awkward in confronting Reed, who previously represented HD 61, and gave him a crucial endorsement in his tough as nails race against Sean Shaw in 2014 (Shaw, incidentally has recently announced his candidacy for the HD 61 seat).

Narain said from the time he started working in the House last year he’s been fending off requests that he run for the Senate.

“I didn’t even want to talk about it,” he says. “I didn’t think it was fair to Representative Reed, more than anybody else.”

But he says the call for him to enter the race “kept getting louder and louder with the more success that we had.”

“I do feel it’s about the future of the district. It’s the right thing to do, so after a lot of prayer, a lot of consultation, I decided to put throw my hat in the race. It’s definitely nothing personal, I have the utmost respect for Representative Reed, but I do think that it’s important that we have somebody that has a strong vision, not just for the future, but for the state.”

State police radios funds spared from veto list

Gov. Rick Scott declared his plan to lay waste to nearly 300 projects amounting to some $256 million with a preemptive announcement on Tuesday.

Among the roughly $82 billion in funding items left standing: a controversial appropriation of $7 million to refresh the state’s stock of radio equipment for state law enforcement agents.

The radio money making the cut is a big win for Brevard-based Harris Corporation, who argued the funds are needed to replace outdated models. A representative involved in pursuing the item described the windfall as a matter of time.  He said guidelines indicate law enforcement radios should be swapped out every seven years. The current 20-year procurement deal was awarded in 2000, meaning some units could be 15 years old or more.

Critics of the move – including representatives for Motorola Solutions, who hope to take over the contract after the current arrangement expires in 2021 – say the appropriation could unfairly bolster Harris’ grip on the contract.

The item was a priority for the House, particularly Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Rules Chair Ritch Workman, who requested the funding in the chamber’s budget. Both lawmakers represent Brevard County.

Senate appropriations chief Tom Lee told reporters after a budget conference he would have preferred not include the dollars in the budget, but accepted the deal as part of a compromise with House counterpart Speaker-to-be Richard Corcoran.

A representative from Motorola issued the following statement on the budget announcement:

“Motorola Solutions commends Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their support of a competitive procurement process for a cost-effective, next-generation mission-critical communications system for first responders throughout the state,” said Corporate Vice President Claudia Rodriguez, For the last two years, the governor and state legislators have wisely funded efforts to ensure that a fair and open procurement process takes place this year for a standards-based statewide communications system.”

“Florida is in a position to build a new state of the art, interoperable system that will enable public safety agencies and jurisdictions throughout the state to communicate seamlessly and effectively to coordinate a joint response – whether in a hurricane or other large-scale emergencies, as well as for everyday situations.

Several independent studies have been conducted at the request of the state that confirm that a competitive procurement process will open the door for multiple vendors to provide creative solutions to address the state’s communications needs with the best and most cost-effective solutions. We are pleased that the governor and legislators have also agreed that all vendors will have equal access to the state’s existing assets.”

Harris released a statement on the topic as well, saying, “Harris applauds Governor Scott for putting the safety of first responders and Floridians first. New state-of-the-art radios that work on the current and future SLERS systems will give law enforcement advanced interoperable communication technology now, and will allow officials to retire radio models that are more than a decade old. As hurricane season approaches and as Florida hosts more than 100 million visitors annually, it is critical that first responders have the right tools. We question why anyone would want our state law enforcement to be forced to use outdated equipment or wait another five years.”

Harris also points to the following finding from the state Joint Task Force charged with implementing the state’s police radio regimes.

“Unlike cell phones or computer systems, the law enforcement radio replacement cycle is typically longer; usually eight years for mobile and six years for portables as outlined in the State’s Law Enforcement Communications Plan guidelines. The current mobile radios used in our system have been identified for end of support and will become obsolete by December 2014. This technology must be replaced with newer mainstream equipment that is capable of operating on the federally supported P-25 platform. The cost of replacing all mobiles and portables with radios for our state agencies is estimated at $85M.”