Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Bay’

Two remain missing in Gulf of Mexico waters near St. Petersburg

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

A college student and a chartered boat mate who was trying to save the other are still missing a day after they jumped into the waters of a channel leading out into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg, U.S. Coast Guard and sheriff’s spokespeople confirmed Wednesday.
Jie Luo, 21, from China, and Andrew Dillman, 27, went missing Tuesday after Luo jumped into the Gulf of Mexico waters off western Florida with four others, Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer First Class Michael De Nyse told FloridaPolitics.com.
The boat, a 71-foot yacht, was anchored at a point called Shell Key, chartered for the day by 15 college students from Colorado State University, De Nyse said. Both the Coast Guard and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reported four of the students made it back to the boat through strong currents, but Luo was pulled away.
Dillman jumped in to rescue him, but was himself swept away, too.
“At this time, we’re working hand in hand with our agency partners to find the two men,” De Nyse said.
But 24 hours later crews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Station St. Petersburg and marine units from the sheriff’s office had not turned up the two. More than three dozen searches had been carried out so far, with hundreds of square miles covered.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Andrew and Jie during this difficult time,” said Lt. Jason Holstead, the command duty officer at Sector St. Petersburg. “We continue work closely with our partners to search for Andrew and Jie, all of us have them and their family in our thoughts and prayers.”
At 6:10 p.m. Tuesday Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg watch standers received a report from the captain of the 71-foot yacht, Jaguar, stating two males were missing from the boat.
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The post Two remain

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St. Pete man accused of murdering 7-week-old; abuse was to ‘toughen’ child

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Jeremiah Dillard
The father of a 7-week-old girl told police he pinched her cheeks and squeezed her ribs to make her “tough.”
Instead, the St. Petersburg infant died in September after suffering a brain hemorrhage, fractured ribs, broken clavicle and split lip, according to police documents obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.
J’Lena Dillard was taken to John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the early hours of Sept. 24, where she was pronounced dead.
According to the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, J’Lena died of “asphyxia with contributing conditions of blunt trauma and malnutrition,” said an arrest affidavit and warrant obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.
Jeremiah Dillard, 33, told St. Petersburg Police the injuries to her lip and an ear, which were lacerated, resulted from pinching and squeezing her cheeks and face. The injuries to her ribs and collar bone were because he was playing too hard with her, wanting to toughen her up, even though she was severely malnourished.
To explain that, he told detectives he was “slacking off” on feeding the child while her mother, Shefe Cotton, was at work.
After being read his Miranda Rights, the affidavit said, Dillard “admitted he was too tough with (J’Lena) and he was responsible for (her) death. The defendant also admitted he was the sole caregiver when the victim sustained the above injuries and (J’Lena) was in his custody when (she) died.”
A spokesman confirmed Dillard is expected to appear for an arraignment Monday on charges of first-degree murder in a Pinellas County courtroom.
Dillard also admitted he was smoking marijuana around the child the night he killed her, too.
“Pinellas-Pasco associate medical examiner Wayne Kurz ruled Jan. 26 that the baby’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxia and contributing factors were blunt trauma and malnutrition,” The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday. “His autopsy report noted multiple traumas to her head and scalp.”
It was

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Dana Young says Bob Buckhorn should support utility legislation

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says a bill co-introduced by Tampa state Senator Dana Young would take away local control of public spaces, but Young says that the mayor has it wrong in his concerns about what the bill will actually do.
“Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look,” Buckhorn writes in an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times. “This idea tramples on the authority of the very local officials you entrusted to make decisions about how your community, and all others in Florida, look and feel.”
The bill, named the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” is being sponsored in the Senate by Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries committee. It would prohibit the Department of Transportation and certain local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for placing small wireless facilities in rights of way. It also says that local governments can’t require applicants to perform services unrelated to the approval that’s being sought, like reserving fiber or pole space for the governmental agency. It also says that local governments can’t ask the applicant to “provide more information to obtain a permit than is required of electric service providers and other communications service providers that are not wireless providers.”
“When public officials consider where structures may be located, they evaluate many factors, including a community’s character, the safe installation of such facilities, and the cost to the taxpayers,” Buckhorn writes in his op-ed. “The proposed legislation directly negates this by allowing telecom companies to construct equipment with no concern about how they affect our neighborhoods, public safety, or local budgets.”
Buckhorn adds that the legislation also “diminishes communities. The legislation would interfere with a community’s ability

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Joe Ayoub wins solid victory to return as Safety Harbor mayor

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Joe Ayoub will again serve as Safety Harbor mayor, after decisively defeating City Council member Janet Hooper by more than 30 points in Tuesday’s municipal elections. He will replace Mayor Andy Steingold, who had retired from local politics.
“We have a special city and I absolutely love serving our community,” Ayoub said. “it is humbling and an extreme honor to become your next Mayor. I am ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work to protect our small-town charm and give a voice to all of our residents.”
Unofficial results from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections show Ayoub received 3,001 votes, just under 66 percent of the 4,579 votes cast.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Ayoub vowed to continue a “thriving downtown, a waterfront park that is usable and attractive for all residents” as well as “laser focused on keeping taxes low and our spending is in check. I am looking forward to working with the Commission to improve Safety Harbor for all residents.”
Nick Janovsky, Ayoub’s campaign manager, added: “Safety Harbor voters have spoken with a resounding message and they want a fiscal hawk with a proven track record who has a vision for progress as their Mayor by electing Joe Ayoub with 66 percent.
“I’m proud of the issues based campaign Joe Ayoub ran and his hard work to give all residents a voice in city hall,” Janovsky continued. “Joe is a rising star and I can’t wait to see the results he brings Safety Harbor and Pinellas County in the future.”
From March 2007 to January 2013, Ayoub was a City Council member, before chosen as mayor, a job he held until March 2014, losing re-election to Steingold.
In his bid to return to City Hall, Ayoub received bipartisan support, earning endorsements from both former Florida chief financial officer Alex Sink, a

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Joe Gruters calls Republicans to ‘pack seats’ at Vern Buchanan’s Sarasota town-hall meeting Saturday

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Sarasota-area Democrats have waited several weeks to engage GOP Congressman Vern Buchanan; they’ll finally get their chance at a town-hall meeting Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
But will there be a counter presence of Republicans packing the seats?
Anticipation around the meeting is so strong that Buchanan’s staff announced last week they would move the event from the New College Sudakoff Center to Van Wezel, which has a capacity of over 1,730 seats.
If it’s anything like most other town halls held around the nation in 2017, it could be dominated by rowdy Democrats demanding to know why Buchanan is ready to jettison the Affordable Care Act for the American Health Care Act, which received mixed reviews from many congressional Republicans as well as a dismal score Monday from the Congressional Budget Office.
“This is an important first step toward restoring choice and affordability to health care for all Americans,” Buchanan said upon the unveiling of the bill. “This bill replaces a failing government-run program that forces people to buy insurance with a system based on choice, free markets and competition.”
Although Buchanan has famously said he has conducted more than 70 such town halls since being elected in 2006, this will be his first one this year. During the congressional weeklong break last month, Buchanan was in the Middle East, prompting some Democrats to say he was blowing them off.
That’s hardly the case, but it could be a different element than what is the traditional mood at a Buchanan town hall.
In an effort to have adequate support, Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee Chair Joe Gruters sent a notice to his fellow Republicans, calling on them to attend Saturday.
Although the event doesn’t start until 11 a.m., Gruters’ email message asks Republicans to come early.
“Doors open at 9 and we need Republicans packing the first

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Tampa Bay area GOP Representatives weigh in on American Health Care Act

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted Monday that changes occurring with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the American Health Care Act would result in 14 million people losing coverage in just the first year.
The CBO continued by saying that it expects premiums to come back down afterward, but the number of people without coverage would continue to rise ― eventually reaching 52 million in 2026, or 24 million more than what the CBO expects if the Affordable Care Act remains in place.
Gus Bilirakis press folks directed us to his speech on the House floor last week:
“In recent weeks, I held three town hall meetings and a roundtable discussion about health care in my district. Hundreds of constituents attended, and altogether I spent more than ten hours listening to folks. The best ideas come from the people, and I feel it is my duty as a representative to hear my constituents’ input.
“The American Health Care Act reflects what I’ve heard from patients, families, doctors, and many others over the past eight years. Our bill will lower costs, increase choices, and give patients greater control of their health care. It strengthens Medicaid, and helps middle-income Americans gain access to affordable coverage.
“It also protects those with pre-existing conditions, and allows young adults to stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26.
“Most importantly, this legislation is moving through Congress in an open and transparent manner.
“I invite the people of Florida’s 12th District to read and share the American Health Care Act at ‘ReadTheBill.GOP.’”
Dennis Ross issued out this statement Tuesday:
“Obamacare is in a death spiral with skyrocketing premiums, insurers dropping out left and right, burdensome tax increases, and failed subsidies. It has left Americans with less choice and less control over their own health care. Premiums in Florida alone will increase 19

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House committee pushes through local bill abolishing Hillsborough PTC

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

A bill to shutter the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Committee continued its rapid pace through the House, quickly passing the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee Tuesday.
Transportation and Infrastructure, which oversees taxicabs and limousines, has clashed with municipalities lately over the regulation of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
In past years, several members of the Hillsborough County legislative delegation have unsuccessfully sought the elimination of the agency, in support of transportation network companies (TNC).
However, the 2017 Session is the first time the entire county delegation voted to close the PTC.
Sponsored by Tampa Republican Jamie Grant, HB 647 was unanimously advanced in its first two committees.
Referred to as a “local bill,” HB 647 will move to the Senate floor as part of a consent agenda, bundled with several other local delegation bills.
According to Florida House rules, a local bill is “legislation relating to or designed to operate only in a specifically indicated part of the state or one that purports to operate within classified territory when classification is not permissible or the classification is illegal.”
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Donald Trump could be forcing out U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

President Donald Trump has asked for resignations from 46 U.S. Attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama, possibly including A. Lee Bentley of the Middle District of Florida.
The Tampa Business Journal contacted multiple sources to see if Bentley had been asked to step aside, but did not get a confirmation as of Friday evening.
Bentley was sworn in to the position just a year ago, and was appointed based on the recommendation of Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. Before becoming U.S. Attorney, Bentley spent 15 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same district.
The Middle District of Florida is headquartered in Tampa.
U.S. Attorneys generally step aside when the presidential administration changes parties, but the process usually takes place gradually to ensure replacements are lined up for a smooth transition.
Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, also an Obama appointee, announced his resignation last month.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, equated asking for the resignations to an “abrupt firing.”
“Under previous administrations, orderly transitions allowed U.S. Attorneys to leave gradually as their replacements were chosen,” she said. “This was done to protect the independence of our prosecutors and avoid disrupting ongoing federal cases.”
Feinstein said she is “very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”
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Tampa a ‘final four’ city to host National Gay & Lesbian Chamber Convention

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Tampa is one of the final four cities in the running to host the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Convention this summer.
Last week, a team of NGLCC officials visited Tampa to evaluate the location for the gathering scheduled for Aug. 7-10, 2018.
Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to attract the conference to Tampa — competing against Austin, Texas; Philadelphia and New Orleans. The chosen city could see an economic impact of more than $2.1 million, with bookings for approximately 2,450 hotel rooms, including another 700 on the peak night.
If Tampa does make the final cut, local leaders say it would represent a significant nod toward Tampa’s thriving economy, inclusive policies, and regional support of LGBTQA issues. Both Tampa Mayor Bob Bckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, along with Visit Tampa Bay, have welcomed and supported the selection of the city as a host of the 2018 conference.
Nick Janovsky, a Board Member of the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber — the local chapter of the NGLCC — says Tampa hosting the convention would cap off series of successful scholarship programs and a record year for the annual Diamonds in Diversity gala, which honors local political and business leaders.
 “We at the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce are proud of our members and their companies for embracing diversity as a strength and the impact their small, medium and large companies are having to make our region a thriving economic hub — attracting a talented workforce,” Janovsky said in an email. “We applaud Mayor Buckhorn and Mayor Kriseman for their support and are confident Tampa is the best city in the country to host the 2018 NGLCC Convention.”
Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada says hosting this event will “elevate the entire

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Minority Whip Steny Hoyer returns to Florida for Charlie Crist fundraiser March 24

Friday, March 10th, 2017

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer will be back in Florida later this month as special guest at a fundraiser for St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.
Hosted by Kathy and Joe Saunders, JoAnn and John Nestor, Janette and Tom Carey and Watson Haynes, the reception will be Friday, March 24, at the Saunders’ St. Petersburg home at 4916 62nd Ave. S. The $500-a-ticket event begins 5 p.m.
Hoyer represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District and has served as House Majority Leader (2007-11) and House Majority Whip (2003-2007). The last time he was in Central Florida was October in Sanford to stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Crist, the freshman lawmaker representing Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, sits on the House Financial Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.
RSVPs are available online; for more information, contact Evan Lawlor at [email protected] or (202) 741-7215.

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After 27-hour committee hearing, Kathy Castor calls GOP House push to pass health care bill without CBO scoring ‘ unconscionable’

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

The House Energy & Commerce Committee passed the GOP health care repeal bill this afternoon, in a session that lasted 27 hours. It was the second committee on Thursday to pass the legislation, after the House Ways and Means Committee voted 23 to 16 to advance the American Health Care Act shortly before 4:30 a.m. Thursday after about 18 hours of debate.
Tampa Representative Kathy Castor serves as Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and she went off her GOP colleagues after the bill passed this afternoon.
“It is unconscionable that House Republicans rammed this repeal bill through committee without understanding how much the bill will cost, the impact on the deficit and how many Americans will lose their health insurance,” Castor said. “Republicans repeatedly rejected amendments to protect and fight for patient protections and health care affordability.  We stayed up through the night and forced them to debate and go on record opposing measures that address the concerns that we have all have been hearing about from our neighbors at town halls throughout the country.”
The requirements for the bill have been extensively reported on this week since it was unveiled on Monday night. It would result in major cuts to Medicaid funding which has been crucial for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and eliminates the subsidies that approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA are relying on to stay on their current plan.
Castor also took aim at the fact that the House Republican declined having the bill “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to determine the costs to the American public, and how many people will be able to afford the new plan.
“Rather than rush a Republican repeal bill, I urge my colleagues to work together to improve health care coverage for families across

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Tampa officials reacts to Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Bob Buckhorn’s decision not to run for Governor is eliciting plenty of reaction in Tampa. Many people say they are not surprised Buckhorn has chosen not to pursue a path to the top political job in Florida.
“Am I the only one who felt he wasn’t heading in that direction?” asked City Council woman Yolie Capin.
“I truly believe that he made the right decision, because he has not demonstrated over the past six months that he had a keen interest in running for governor,” said Councilman Frank Reddick.
Alluding to the fact that he has done little over the past year to travel around the state to get to know Democrats in way that potential candidates like Gwen Graham and Philip Levine have, Reddick said,”I think his chances of winning would have been very, very slim. So I think he did the right thing to wait this out.”
“While I absolutely believe that the State of Florida needs a course correction and a new direction, the timing for me and my family would be a challenge,” the Mayor said in his statement issued out shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday. “As the father of two daughters who are 15 and 11, the all consuming task of running for Governor would cause me to miss the milestones in their lives that I could never get back.”
“Although I’m not surprised, I’m a little sad that we won’t have a representative from Tampa running for Governor,” said Councilman Mike Suarez. “I would have loved to have seen him go out and talk about the vision that he’s been able to put together in Tampa for the rest of the state.”
“I think that Mayor Buckhorn should be commended for putting the interests of his family and the City of Tampa first,” said Councilman Harry Cohen. “Being Mayor is more than a full time job and the continued success of much of what is

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House bill could transfer millions from FHP to county sheriffs

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

The Florida Highway Patrol came out against a proposed committee bill Wednesday that would hand over agency funding and jurisdiction in two counties.
CRJ 17-01 from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee could give the Pinellas County and Polk County sheriff’s offices a combined $6 million to handle crashes on state roads within county borders.
FHP Lt. Col. Mike Thomas said the move “would be a stark change to our business model” and that FHP hasn’t “had the chance to really evaluate any of the fiscal impacts as well as the impacts on the public.”
FHP has jurisdiction to investigate crashes on state roads in many Florida counties, though sheriffs say they end up doing a lot of the heavy lifting because FHP doesn’t have the boots on the ground to handle the case load.
“We’re already doing it,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in an interview with the Times/Herald. “I believe we can do it faster, better, cheaper.” He added: “The citizen doesn’t understand why the guy in the green uniform goes by five times while they’re sitting there waiting for the guy in the brown uniform.”
Under the bill, FHP would be required to enter into a contract with the Pinellas and Polk sheriff’s offices if  requested, while the sheriff’s offices would be required to employ displaced FHP troopers unless they decide to transfer locations or leave to pursue another job.
The bill also requires payments to the sheriff’s offices to be less than the cost of having FHP do the work. The cap for Pinellas County is $2.8 million a year, while the cap in Polk is set at $3.2 million.

 
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Charlie Crist opens political action committee

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

First-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist opened a political action committee Monday that he can use for his own re-election and help other candidates.
The former Florida governor is listed as the chair of Charlie Crist PAC, with Peggy Gagnon serving as custodian of records and Joseph Saunders taking the treasurer job.
The FEC filing reads that the “committee supports/opposes more than one Federal candidate and is NOT a separate segregated fund or a party committee.”
“In addition, this committee is a Leadership PAC,” the filing concludes.
Saunders is hosting a fundraiser for Crist at his and his wife Kathy’s home in St. Petersburg on March 26. The event is from 4:30 -6 p.m. at 4916 62nd Ave S.
Crist beat former Republican Rep. David Jolly in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional district, which covers southern Pinellas County, last year.
Since his swearing-in January 3, Crist has been regularly fundraising for his 2018 re-election bid.
The post Charlie Crist opens political action committee appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Charlie Crist gives a thumbs down to GOP health care replacement for the ACA

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In recent weeks, Charlie Crist has heard loud and clear from his constituents that he should be standing behind the Affordable Care Act, and on Tuesday he registered his strong opposition to the Republican House replacement for the ACA that Democrats say will result in over 10 million Americans to lose their health care coverage.

“The plan Republicans have put forward falls far short of current law – driving up health care costs, stripping away important protections, and leaving millions without coverage,” said Crist.  “Even more troubling, it slashes Medicaid, a program that 70 million Americans depend on, hurting those most in need of coverage – seniors and long-term care recipients.
The GOP House bill would replace federal insurance subsidies with a new form of individual tax credits and phasing out most of the ACA’s taxes. It would ultimately phase out current Medicaid funding, instead distributing by a per-person allotment to the states, but not until 2020.
While Democratic opposition isn’t surprising, criticism from some conservatives exposes the fissures within the Republican Party on how best to replace President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
“In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands upon them,” said Michael Needham with Heritage Action.” Ronald Reagan once said, ‘Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’ The AHCA does all three.”
“Keep Medicaid in place until 2020?” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. “We didn’t have Medicaid expansion in the bill we sent to President Obama, but we have it in the one we send to President Trump? That makes no sense to me.”
Crist said that Congress should work in a bipartisan fashion to improve the Academic, “so it works better for all Americans. “
“This

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Kathy Castor calls new GOP House health care plan ‘Robin Hood in reverse’

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Congresswoman Kathy Castor has always been an unflagging champion of the Affordable Care Act, so you could have bet she would have a harsh reaction to the plan unveiled by House Republican leaders on Monday night.
“It’s pretty horrendous,” the Tampa Democrats told a group of reporters who gathered in front of a medical building on West Swann Avenue in South Tampa on Tuesday morning.
Castor said Floridians arguably have the most to lose under the GOP proposal. Over 1.7 million Floridians signed up for ACA plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016, the most of any state. They would automatically lose coverage when the exchanges are eliminated.
Although Florida Governor Rick Scott did not allow for Medicaid expansion which could have brought on at least 750,000 more Floridians to the ACA, there are groups of Floridians – children, the disabled, people with Alzheimer’s and others – whose coverage is funded by Medicaid.  The GOP House plan calls for a change Medicaid funding which would have it distributed by a per-person allotment to the states.
“If they devastate Medicaid, they will harm families across the state,” Castor warned.
Approximately 85 percent of those on the ACA receive some sort of government subsidy to pay for their coverage. Under the House GOP plan, that subsidy would go away, to replaced by a tax credit that would start at $2,000 annually for those under 30 years of age, and maxing out at $4,000 for seniors.
“Instead of going to the doctor’s office, they want to ask working families across America to go to the accountant’s office for care,” Castor remarked, adding that such credits won’t be available until after a citizen gets their income tax refund, which could be a full year or longer from when they would have to pay for a medical procedure.
Higher-income Americans could pay fewer taxes and get more tax benefits with the new plan,

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After nearly 50 years in news, Mike Deeson announces retirement

Monday, March 6th, 2017

In a sudden announcement, longtime WTSP investigative reporter Mike Deeson says he is retiring from the Tampa airwaves, effective immediately.
“I know this will come as a surprise to many of my friends in Tampa Bay,” Deeson says in a Facebook post published Monday, “but I have decided to retire from Channel 10 effective today.”
Deeson, named one of the INFLUENCE Magazine’s top 100 Florida influencers in 2015, will use the time to “put more effort into many of other projects I have been trying to juggle while working full time … Maybe I’ll even improve my golf game.” He explains that he had been thinking about retiring for a while “especially because of the changing landscape of TV news.”
The 68-year-old Chicago native is one most highly awarded reporters in Tampa bay region. According to his WTSP bio, Deeson has been recognized with 6 Green Eyeshade awards (one of the oldest journalism contests in the country), more than 50 AP, United Press International and Society of Professional Journalist Awards including several Outstanding Individual Achievement in the state and Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Southeast.
As for his seemingly sudden announcement, Deeson says he “didn’t want the long goodbye tour,” instead “ripping off the bandage” and go forward immediately.
“My nature is to come to a conclusion and act on it quickly without looking back,” he says.
Deeson also talked about finishing up a book of his nearly half a century in the news business, which he promises will be “extremely frank.” Deeson and his wife have plans to travel overseas, and he wants to “finalize this life changing decision beforehand” so it wouldn’t distract from his journeys.
“I want to thank all the people who have been so kind to me over the years,” he writes. “The viewers, my colleagues, the friends I have made. I have

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Personnel note: Former lawmaker Kim Berfield named chief lobbyist for All Children’s Hospital

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Kimberly Berfield, a former deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Health and state Representative from Clearwater, has been appointed Vice President of Government and Community Affairs for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The hospital hopes the move will strengthen the 90-year-old hospital’s community outreach as well as increase its visibility in Tallahassee’s corridors of influence.
“Kimberly is a proven leader, coalition builder, and long-range strategist who will spearhead our community mission-based initiatives. Her addition stretches our capacity to fulfill our mission of providing child health through treatment, education, advocacy, and research, locally and beyond,” said Jonathan Ellen, M.D., Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital president and vice dean. “Due to Kimberly’s invaluable experience and expertise in both the private and public sectors, she hit the ground running when she joined our team on February 20.”
Following her work for the state, Berfield served as Business Strategy and Development Contractor for the Florida branch of Primerica and Director of Government Affairs for Tampa-based Wellcare Health Plans. Her duties included developing and implementing multi-year business plans, building and maintaining collaborative relationships and providing strategic counsel in the government relations arena.
St. Petersburg-based Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital offers a wide variety of community programs and classes designed to promote child health and safety through education, injury prevention, advocacy and research.
These initiatives, which include Safe Kids, Healthy Start, Fit4Allkids and Safe Routes to School, will benefit from Berfield’s track record as a collaborative leader in the community, Ellen noted.
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Jeff Brandes amendment would give felons gun rights

Monday, March 6th, 2017

A restoration of civil rights bill got an amendment from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes that would give convicts the right to own guns after completing their sentence.
SB 934, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston, would automatically restore all other civil rights, such as the right to vote, when a felon completes their sentence, but specifically carves out the right to own firearms.
Thurston argues in the bill that automatic restoration helps felons reintegrate into society and takes some weight off the “cumbersome, costly” process of executive clemency.
Brandes’ amendment removes the portion of the bill carving out gun ownership and would automatically restore gun ownership rights so long as the felon was not convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, sexual battery, incest, child sex abuse or human trafficking.
Executive clemency is currently the only way felons can have their civil rights restored. To gain clemency, felons must apply and go before the governor and the Cabinet to plead their case for restoration. If a majority of the four-member panel approves, rights are restored.
Having the right to own firearms restored requires a separate application.
Florida had a more streamlined system for restoring civil rights under former Gov. Charlie Crist, who allowed non-violent offenders to regain their rights without a hearing, resulting in about 150,000 restorations during his term as governor.
Gov. Rick Scott ended that practice when he took office in 2011, and through his first term granted restoration to just 1,550 felons.
SB 934 goes before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday at 1:30 pm.
The post Jeff Brandes amendment would give felons gun rights appeared first on Florida Politics.

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2017 Legislative Session preview: Sewage, transportation, beer issues face Tampa Bay

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

As the gavel falls Tuesday on the 2017 Legislative Session, several key issues face Tampa Bay’s legislative delegation.
With 40 official members, the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation — sometimes known by the not-so-attractive acronym BALD — represents a vast region of eight different counties.
Among the significant topics BALD is looking to see some action:
Transportation
With lawmakers hailing from areas as disparate as Lakeland, Trilby and Longboat Key, no issue has the delegation more unified in getting something accomplished than transportation.
While the ideal bill would include lots of money to fund a regional transportation entity (think TBARTA but with money attached), it’s likely to come in smaller increments.
That could include the creation of a multicounty Metropolitan Organization (MPO).
Also a regional center for transit operations and a regional transportation study.
Another priority will legislating ride-sharing, with bills already moving smoothly through committees in both the House and the Senate.
Frustrations in Tampa with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission — which had many lawmakers clamoring for its dismantling — will be an animating factor.
Ride-sharing
“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on a recent call with the group Floridians for Ridesharing.
With that, Rohrlack blamed “the status quo” (predominantly the taxicab industry) for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow, markets.
“The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.
Sewage
After the city of St. Petersburg’s wastewater issues last summer, South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters sponsored two separate bills to appropriate funds for the St. Pete inflow abatement program and sanitary sewer improvements.
However, as of press time, there are no companion bills filed in the Senate.
Craft breweries
South Tampa Sen.

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James Buchanan – son of Vern – launches campaign for House District 71

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

James Buchanan, the son of Sarasota area Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, has filed to run for the House District 71 seat in 2018.
The 35-year-old is the founder of James Buchanan Realty, which specializes in residential, luxury, waterfront, condominiums, commercial, and land real estate.
“I’m running because as a small business owner with deep roots in our community, I want to be a voice for those conservative principles,” he said in a statement. “I understand firsthand how decisions made by government can affect local businesses ability to grow and create jobs. I also know that a healthy and vibrant economy is the key to addressing many of our other critical priorities, like great schools for our children or a secure retirement for seniors.”
Buchanan is a graduate of FSU with a dual degree in Finance and Entrepreneurship. He received a MBA from USF in Tampa.
House District 71 is currently occupied by Republican Jim Boyd, who is term limited out next year. Bradenton attorney Will Robinson has already filed to run for the seat.
“There is a wave of conservatism sweeping our country and our state and it is more important than ever that we have business-minded, community leaders in elected office who will honor their campaign promises and pursue conservative solutions to our state’s challenges,” Buchanan said.
District 71 encompasses Bradenton, Palmetto and parts of northern Sarasota County.
The post James Buchanan – son of Vern – launches campaign for House District 71 appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Charlie Crist fields questions for nearly four hours at his first town hall meeting in St. Petersburg

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

In the weeks since Donald Trump and the Republican Party have taken control control in Washington D.C., congressional town hall meetings around the nation have been marked by vitriol, confrontation and anger.
Those elements were decidedly not present at Charlie Crist’s town hall meeting held on Saturday at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. Instead, it was a veritable love fest, with the mostly liberal crowd calling on Crist to hold the new regime accountable, as well as asking him to help guide them on what they could do to slow down the Trump administration.
“It’s not Democrats, Republicans or independents,” the freshman Representative said when asked who could bring the greatest pressure on Trump and the GOP agenda. “It’s Americans on Americans, encouraging these people in Washington to get to the truth. The more you do it, the more it’s going to happen.”
The St. Petersburg Democrat showed Springsteenian stamina in his first town hall,  taking questions for nearly four hours before a crowd that started out over 500 people strong, but which had dwindled down considerably as the clock drew near 2 p.m.
As he said in a community in South St. Petersburg last weekend, Crist wants an independent, 9/11 style commission to investigate the ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials. He said he would suggest former Secretary of State Colin Powell would be an ideal personality to lead that panel.
He received a standing ovation when he said that he has called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after it was reported this week that he met with Russian officials after saying he had not done so during his Senate confirmation hearing. But Crist said it was important “not to take the eye off the ball” on what was really important.
“The real issue to me in this whole Russian imbroglio, if you will, is what did they do? What did they hack? What did they cyberattack? And why did they do

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Bill Edwards to help raise money for Rick Scott in Pinellas next week

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

St. Petersburg entrepreneur Bill Edwards will be helping raise money next week for Let’s Get to Work, the political committee closely tied to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The reception begins 6 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at The Club at Treasure Island, 400 Treasure Island Causeway in Treasure Island. Minimum suggested contribution for the VIP reception is $5,000; tickets to the General Reception are $2,500.
Edwards, CEO of The Edwards Group, has been a longtime supporter of Scott and Republicans. He gave $1 million in 2013 for Scott’s re-election effort, as well as about $4.6 million to support Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012. In 2015, Edwards also gave $350,000 to the political action committee supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.
Joining Edwards on the host committee are former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Jay Beyrouti, Joe White and James Holton, president of real estate development firm Holton Companies. Beyrouti sits on the board of directors for both Space Florida and Enterprise Florida, the state’s job incentives arm currently under fire by the Florida Legislature. Baker, who serves as president of the Edwards Group, is also seen as a potential candidate this year for his old job as St. Petersburg mayor.
As owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Edwards is behind the latest effort to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to St. Petersburg. Edwards will be covering the entire cost of a May 2 special election to vote for giving the St. Pete City Council the authority to negotiate a long-term use agreement for Al Lang Stadium, home of the Rowdies and a key part of bringing MLS to the city.
Although Scott cannot run for re-election, many consider him a likely candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. According to the Florida Division of Elections, Let’s Get to Work raised

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Jeff Brandes and Kathleen Peters file legislation to limit the release of sewage discharges

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Following the dumping of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, Clam Bayou and other waterways by local governments in 2016, two state lawmakers filed legislation Thursday to incentivize local governments and private utilities to dedicate more resources to improving their sewage infrastructure.
St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes and Pasadena Representative Kathleen Peters‘ bill (SB 1476) creates within the state Environmental Regulation Commission, the Blue Star Collection System Assessment and Maintenance Program to limit the unauthorized releases or spills of treated or untreated wastewater and the unauthorized discharge of pathogens. 
“This legislation gives utilities an incentive to improve their infrastructure assets and prevent harmful discharges into our waterways,” said Brandes. “With this bill we are able to recognize those utilities that implement industry best practices and encourage continued upgrades to limit future discharges.”
“I have given my commitment to working on solutions for Florida as they relate to our sewer systems,” added Peters. “I believe this bill is a first step to ensure our public and private utilities are operating optimally state wide and an effort to prevent another storm from resulting in more overflows or dumping.”
Certification under the program requires a utility to engage in detailed assessments of their sewer infrastructure, reinvest resources into maintenance, identify strategies to improve infrastructure to meet state requirements, as well as several additional requirements. To incentivize participation in the program, the department may reduce penalties for a future sewer overflow based on a utility’s status as a Certified Blue Star Utility. The bill allows financially constrained counties to apply grants to implement the requirements of the Blue Star certification. The bill also authorizes existing grant funds to assess the vulnerability of wastewater infrastructure to identify needed improvements to prevent future discharges and overflows.
Peters has also filed legislation requesting $5.5 million for sewer improvements in St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. Of

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Vern Buchanan demands answers on VA drug thefts

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Congressman Vern Buchanan Thursday demanded answers from the new Veterans Affairs secretary about the nationwide theft of opioids and prescription drugs intended to help suffering veterans.
In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, the Sarasota Republican wrote, “I’m concerned that Florida veterans may be at risk following press reports of a shocking spike in drug thefts at VA health facilities across the country.”
“The perpetrators are stealing directly from veterans who need help,” Buchanan wrote. “In addition, those VA employees may be using the stolen drugs at work, endangering the veterans they’re supposed to be caring for.”
A former VA employee in Baltimore was sentenced to 39 years in prison for causing a Hepatitis C outbreak after stealing a powerful painkiller intended for patients headed into surgery. After injecting the narcotic into himself, the employee refilled the same needle with saline solution and injected it into veterans. The employee had Hepatitis C and exposed more than 150 veterans to the deadly disease.
The Associated Press reported that drug loss or theft at federal hospitals, 98 percent of which are VA facilities, increased tenfold between 2009 and 2015 nationwide.
The VA’s inspector general has pointed to over 100 open investigations around the country.
The reports of missing prescriptions and opioids at VA hospitals come in the midst of a national crisis – drugs now kill more Americans than car accidents annually.
Charges have also been brought in VA drug theft cases across the country, including in Utah, Arkansas, New York, Rhode Island and California according to The Associated Press.
Buchanan specifically asked that the VA disclose how many facilities in Florida experienced drug theft and loss; which facilities were hit; the type and quantity of missing drugs; what the street value of the missing drugs was; how many Florida VA employees were involved, what had been done to discipline

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Charlie Crist calls for Jeff Sessions to resign after reports of meeting with Russian ambassador surface

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

St. Petersburg Democratic Representative Charlie Crist is calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, a day after published reports surfaced that Sessions met twice with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. during the president campaign last year, and yet said last month that he had not done so.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that one of the meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race. Sessions did not disclose those meetings during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he was asked about ties between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.
“As the former Attorney General of Florida, I find Attorney General Sessions’ actions inexcusable, and call for his immediate resignation. How can we have faith that the duties of the office of the Attorney General will be carried out when the chief legal officer of the country doesn’t tell the truth under oath to the United States Congress,” said Crist. “It is clear that we need to establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate this administration’s Russian connections. The American people demand answers, and we have a responsibility to get to the truth of this Russian imbroglio.”
Crist had previously said that there should be a 9/11-style commission to investigate potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Earlier on Thursday, the man Crist lost to in the race for U.S. Senate in 2010, Marco Rubio, would not even go as far as to say that Sessions should recuse himself from any investigations regarding the potential Russian-Donald Trump campaign connection.
“We’re not at that stage yet,” Rubio said speaking with Steve Inskeep Thursday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. “Let’s take this one step at a time, but this is certainly a relevant story. I want to

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Pinellas GOP chief Nick DiCeglie confirms he will run for Florida House

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Nick DiCeglie confirmed Wednesday he is running for House District 66 in 2018.
The Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman will make a formal announcement sometime this spring. 
When asked if he would run for office, DiCeglie told FloridaPolitics.com: “I’m really focused right now on my duties as chairman.”
But with nearly a year and a half before the GOP primary, DiCeglie is in no hurry to file.
“I certainly would like to make an official announcement in the next several months,” he said.
A Long Island, New York native who moved to Pinellas County in 1996, DiCeglie owns Solar Sanitation, a Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company.
He was elected Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee chair in 2014 after defeating two other challengers to take the take the reins.
In January, DiCeglie was elected to serve as Republican Party of Florida caucus chair, leading all 67 county GOP leaders statewide.
The news comes as another Pinellas Republican, Berny Jacques, made it official Wednesday that he will also seek the House District 66 seat in 2018.
HD 66, which encompasses Clearwater, Largo, Seminole and Belleair, is currently occupied by term-limited Larry Ahern.
The post Pinellas GOP chief Nick DiCeglie confirms he will run for Florida House appeared first on Florida Politics.

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Toddler dies after hours in hot car parked outside Tampa day care

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

A 2-year-old boy died after his half-sister left him in a hot car parked outside a Tampa-area day care for several hours while the girl was working, a law enforcement spokesman said Wednesday.
Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies were called to the Oak Park Shopping Center Tuesday at 2:40 p.m. at the corner of W. Lumsden Road and Kings Avenue in Brandon.
They were responding to a child found locked in an unattended vehicle, said Det. Larry McKinnon, a representative for the HCSO.
McKinnon told FloridaPolitics.com paramedics rushed Jacob Manchego to Brandon Regional Hospital, where the boy later died.
“We’ve told the public for years about the dangers of leaving small children and animals in hot cars, but we continue to see it happen,” he said. “We have a responsibility to protect our children, so we have to charge people in these cases even though they didn’t intentionally mean to do it.”
Fiorella Vanessa Silva-Tello, Manchengo’s 21-year-old half-sister, arrived for work at the BFF Kidz Child Care Center at 733 West Lumsden Road with Jacob in the back of the SUV she was driving, a police report noted.
Detectives are actively investigating Silva-Tello and any other potential witnesses, along with gathering physical evidence. No charges have been filed against the young woman so far, as the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office continues their portion of the inquiry.
Investigators will be reviewing the prior history of the child, including any calls for service at the residence, McKinnon said.
“In this case, a mother lost her 2-year-old son to her 21-year-old daughter and it’s a terribly sad situation,” the detective said.
He further noted investigators were trying to determine whether Manchego was enrolled at the day care or why he was in the car in the first place.
“That’s all being examined right now and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned,”

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Berny Jacques announces his candidacy for HD 66 seat in Pinellas County

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Former Pinellas County Assistant State Attorney Berny Jacques has announced that he is running for the Florida House District 66 seat next year.  The seat is currently occupied by GOP incumbent Larry Ahern, who is term limited out in 2018.
“I’ve had the great privilege of serving this area as a prosecutor, in community service groups, and as a grassroots conservative leader. As a proud first generation American, I’ve been fortunate to achieve the American Dream because of the opportunities available in our great state,” says Jacques, a Haitian native.

“My reason for running is simple: I am running because I’m passionate about public service, and I want to protect the opportunities that I had growing up. I believe that Pinellas County is a unique place of opportunity and must be protected! Protecting our quality of life, enhancing our schools, and growing jobs will be my focus in Tallahassee.”
The 29-year-old Jacques was born and raised in Haiti until 1994, when at the age of seven his family sought asylum in the U.S. after political violence erupted in the country and relocated to Immokalee, Florida.
In an interview with SPB last month, Jacques spoke fondly of how hard his parents worked when they came to the U.S.

“They had to work hard to put their children in a better position,” he said. “And to see me go to college and graduate and become an attorney all within their lifetime, I mean, that’s a strong testament to what this nation has to offer, and I think that’s made possible by a free enterprise system that capitalizes on people’s desire to work hard.”

He’s a graduate of Washington Adventist University and received his JD from Stetson Law School. He then served as an Assistant State Attorney, working with local law enforcement and domestic violence victims. Now he works in private practice with the St. Petersburg law

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Newsprint vendor sues Tampa Bay Times over defaulted $340K debt

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

A newsprint vendor is suing the Tampa Bay Times, claiming the paper owes more than $340,000 in debt from the acquisition of the Tampa Tribune last year.
Emails submitted in the suit show a story of increasing disarray with vendors at the 121-year-old Trib leading up to the May 2016 purchase.
In April 2015, the Tribune issued a promissory note to Boise Packaging acknowledging an unpaid debt of nearly $600,000 for newsprint. Boise Packaging is a subsidiary of Packaging Corporation of America, an Illinois-based manufacturer of corrugated boxes and paper products.
The note came about three years after Revolution Capital Group, led by Robert David Loring Jr., purchased the struggling paper for $9.5 million.
Court records show the Tribune agreeing to weekly payments until the debt was clear. Boise’s credit manager Steve Grant, in a series of emails in 2015, communicated with Revolution Capital chief financial officer Stanley Huang about the Tribune’s unpaid debt.
On June 8, 2015, Grant wrote to Huang: “My patience has run out. Last chance to begin paying $10,000 a week without fail. Failure to do so will result in legal action. The ball is in your court.”
Huang responded with several excuses — including the postponed sale of the Tribune’s headquarters and unexpected employee health-insurance claims — for the paper’s failure to make payments.
“I can definitely appreciate and understand your frustration,” Huang responded. “To be honest, you weren’t at the bottom of the list. There were other current vendors that didn’t get paid this week. The medical claims typically come in around $50K a week, but this week it skyrocketed to $110K and ate up all the availability we had on paying vendors.”
“I wish people didn’t get sick and we didn’t have to pay these medical costs that just automatically get drawn,” said Huang’s email of June 26. “I don’t ever

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