Backroom Briefing: Former Sen. Jeff Brandes is back, launching a policy institute

Jeff Brandes
Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2 Dec. 2016).

Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Before leaving the Legislature last year because of term limits, former Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-Pinellas Park, was outspoken on issues such as fixing the state’s property-insurance problems and reforming the criminal justice system.

Now, Brandes has launched a non-profit institute looking for “better outcomes for Floridians,” primarily on criminal justice, insurance, transportation and housing issues.

Brandes, who was often out of step with Republican leaders in the Senate, named the institute the Florida Policy Project.

“We will capture established public policy and best practices and leverage leading-edge technological capabilities to educate and engage elected officials,” a news release about the institute said.

The institute has been in the works for months, with Brandes outlining his plans in August to City & State Florida Editor-in-Chief Jim Rosica.

“Our goal is to be a best practices bank. … I hope that we can work with the governor’s office as they begin to work on legislation and the leaders of the House and Senate,” Brandes said. “Most people walk away after 10 years in the Legislature and go back to their lives and they leave this rich knowledge that they’ve gained when they do that. For instance, my big takeaway after a decade of Tallahassee? So much of the policy is tactical and not strategic. There really isn’t a larger strategy at play. … I’m just not ready to give up on policy. I love public policy. I love solving tough problems and the answers are out there. We just have to go find them.”

Brandes, who left the Legislature with a net worth of $33 million, said he expects to put some of his own resources into the institute and draw corporate donations.


Senate President Kathleen Passidomo this week gave copies of “Path of the Panther: New Hope for Wild Florida” to the other members of the Senate, as her proposal to link hiking and biking trails to a statewide wildlife corridor, cleared the Legislature.

The book is by Carlton Ward Jr., a photographer who helped inspire the bill (SB 106), which helps join the Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network to the wildlife corridor. The bill still must go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Photos by Ward are on the walls of the president’s office and are on display in the 22nd-floor gallery of the Florida Capitol.

The bill includes a one-time $200 million allocation and would increase from $25 million to $50 million an annual amount that goes to the trail network from vehicle registration fees.

“Together we have prioritized investments in environmental restoration and clean-water resources with record funding for water storage, water quality in Everglades restoration, as well as the preservation and expansion of Florida’s iconic wildlife corridor,” Passidomo said. “‘Path of the Panther’ highlights these efforts and the remaining need to protect the 18 million acres of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.”

The House approved the proposal shortly before Passidomo announced the gifts, which sell for $50 apiece online at Barnes & Nobles and on Amazon.

Passidomo spokeswoman Katie Betta noted the invoice for the books was forwarded to the president for payment.

“The Senate did not pay for the books,” Betta said in an email.


As the House seeks to close the state Office of Film and Entertainment as part of a broader proposal that includes shuttering Enterprise Florida, the group Film Florida has worked to scuttle the idea in the Senate.

Now, believing it has made inroads with the Senate, Film Florida is targeting 16 House Republicans from areas rich in film and television production.

“We believe those efforts (in the Senate) are being well received with the help of the close to 400 letters that our industry has sent to us to deliver to the Senate President,” Film Florida President Gail Morgan wrote to members and stakeholders. “It’s now time to be more assertive with members of the Florida House.”

House leaders have made a priority of legislation (HB 5) that would end Enterprise Florida and 25 programs and incentives.

Last week, bill sponsor Tiffany Esposito, R-Fort Myers, said proposals will be introduced to separately address the future of the Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program, the Capital Investment Tax Credit, entertainment industry sales-tax exemptions and an education and film tax exemption.

Morgan wrote that an opportunity exists to save the Entertainment Industry Sales Tax Exemption Program.

“Reminder, these Reps would be voting to help us and going against a priority of the Speaker of the House, which could put their priorities and budget requests in jeopardy, it’s a tall ask,” Morgan wrote. “We believe if we save the sales tax exemption program, we stand a good chance to save the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment (the State Film Commission) and the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council (FFEAC).”


“Transparency: Florida Democratic Party raised $15,861.40 from 461 online contributions yesterday. That’s the most online money and donors to @FlaDems since the day before Election Day (505 donations). It’s not overwhelming, but it’s a start. Help us keep fighting!!!!” — Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried (@NikkiFried) a day after she and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, were among nearly a dozen people arrested during an abortion-ban protest outside Tallahassee City Hall.

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