Monthly Archives: July 2018

The official blog of Team Bilirakis. Featuring the latest news and updates from the campaign trail. Check back frequently or sign up for updates.

BILIRAKIS SEEKS FUNDS FOR SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

Tampa Bay Reporter

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has filed a bill to create a funding stream to pay for school resource officers.

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, has filed a bill to provide funding for school resource officers.

Bilirakis said he filed the bill last week in light of the recent violence which has occurred on school campuses around the country, and the need to keep students safe.

The so-called PROTECT KIDS Act, which is an acronym for the Promoting Resource Officers Together for Exceptionally Critical Targets with Key Investments in Districts and Schools Act of 2018, authorizes an appropriation of $225 million for the hiring of SROs. It would also create a five-year Department of Justice matching grant program that would prioritize funding for the nation’s largest school districts (those with 65,000 students or more).  Districts can apply for up to $10 million in funding for the hiring of SROs, with a maximum of $20,000 allocated to each school.

“After the Parkland tragedy, I reached out to local superintendents, school board members and sheriffs in my district asking how the federal government can support them in their mission to keep kids safe in school.  They told me that the single most important factor in improving safety is the hiring of well-trained school resource officers,” Bilirakis said.

“Sadly, the school districts in the 12th Congressional District and throughout the state of Florida do not have sufficient resources to provide a certified school resource officer on every campus. Many of these districts are among the largest school systems in the country. While we successfully increased federal grant funding in our last budget bill for the purpose of hiring school resource officers, I knew more support was needed. The PROTECT KIDS Act will help assure parents that their children have a safe and secure learning environment.”

Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes all of Pasco and northern parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Gus Bilirakis Fights for Funds for School Safety

Sunshine State News

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., brought out a bill last week to help boost security at schools around the nation.

Bilirakis unveiled the “Promoting Resource Officers Together for Exceptionally Critical Targets with Key Investments in Districts and Schools Act”(PROTECT KIDS Act) on Wednesday and showcased in on Thursday.

The bill would hire more Student Resource Officers (SROs) in schools by setting aside $225 million from the federal government that the U.S. Department of Justice will use in a matching grant program over five years. The funds would be used to match funds from local school districts and municipalities to hire SROs.  The bill requires the Justice Department prioritize larger school districts with 65,000 students or more. Under the proposal, districts can apply for up to$10 million with a limit of $20,000 for each school.

Bilirakis weighed in on Thursday as to why he had introduced the bill.

“After the Parkland tragedy, I reached out to local superintendents, school board members and sheriffs in my district asking how the federal government can support them in their mission to keep kids safe in school,” Bilirakis said. They told me that the single most important factor in improving safety is the hiring of well-trained School Resource Officers.”

Bilirakis insisted that the Sunshine State would benefit from his proposal.

“Sadly, the school districts in the 12th Congressional District and throughout the state of Florida do not have sufficient resources to provide a certified School Resource Officer on every campus,” he said. “Many of these districts are among the largest school systems in the country. While we successfully increased federal grant funding in our last budget bill for the purpose of hiring school resource officers, I knew more support was needed. The PROTECT KIDS Act will help assure parents that their children have a safe and secure learning environment.”

So far, Bilirakis has not rounded up any cosponsors nor is there a sponsor over in the U.S. Senate.  The bill was sent to the U.S. House Education and the Workforce and the Judiciary Committees on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Bilirakis files bill to bring security money to large school districts

Tampa Bay Times

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Shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis visited Pasco County school district leaders to get their thoughts on campus security.

Board members asked for funding to place more resource officers in the schools. Bilirakis called the idea a “no brainer” and said he’d try to make it happen.

On Thursday, his office announced Bilirakis had filed new legislation to allocate $225 million for school districts of 65,000 students or more to add resource officers. The student enrollment figure is significant because it could help funnel money to many of Florida’s districts that are among the largest in the nation, including the two — Pinellas and Pasco — that Bilirakis represents.

Earlier in the spring, Bilirakis also encouraged the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to channel Community Oriented Policing Services funds to large districts that needed to add officers. Districts recently were able to apply for that grant.

Bilirakis faces a potentially significant challenge in his reelection bid, for the first time in years. Some big Democratic groups have placed his district on the list of ones to watch, despite his family having held the seat for decades.

Gus Bilirakis Pushes ‘Eye-Bonds’ to Help Combat Blindness

Sunshine State News

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This week, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., joined U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., in pushing a bill to fund treatments to cure blindness.

Sessions, the chairman of the U.S. House Rules Committee, brought out the “Faster Treatments and Cures for Eye Diseases Act” on Wednesday, insisting it can help the 4.5 million Americans–more than 1 million of them being veterans–who suffer from blindness or impaired vision.

The bill would create a pilot program creating “Eye-Bonds” which the congressmen noted would “finance packages of loans to projects at small labs, universities, and other centers that can’t secure needed funding to help progress their research on treatments and cures for a wide range conditions and causes of severe vision impairment” and claimed “would mobilize as much as $1 billion, with virtually no taxpayer risk.”

Bilirakis’s office offered some insight on how the proposal would work on Thursday.

“Eye-Bonds will help to overcome what’s known as ‘The Valley of death.’ This refers to research that is never translated into treatments to help humans because of funding issues. This legislation would speed treatments across the valley and to the people who need them. The success of the Eye-Bonds will also provide a way to mobilize federal resources that can then be deployed for many other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Many other countries already directly support translational research; the Eye-Bond approach can advance American competitiveness in this critical sector with very limited taxpayer risk,” the congressman’s office noted.

“The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, would be in charge of approving applications for Eye-Bond funding, a provision that ensures selected projects are top quality science and free of conflicts of interests. Taxpayers would be paid off before investors, a unique way to ensure that Eye-Bonds have virtually no cost to the federal deficit,” Bilirakis’ office added.

“Eye-Bonds would pioneer a new way to bring long-term, low-risk private investors into the biomedical arena that should cost the taxpayer virtually nothing,” Sessions said. “Translational biomedical research advances the initial, basic research taxpayers fund into the cures and treatments private companies develop and patients need. However, this research often takes years of clinical trials and testing, leaving much of the research funded by the government on the shelf instead of out in the clinic. There are times when the private sector needs a push and there is a proper role for the government to play in making these critical advancements — this is one of those instances.”

“I have long been an advocate for those living with a disability, whether it is supporting their access to jobs and a productive and robust quality of life or supporting vital health research, and I know that it is essential that we find new ways to tackle old problems,” said Bishop. “We have had federally funded research sitting on the shelf, waiting for private investors to put it into practice, for far too long. But that has not happened. The Eye Bonds created by this legislation will give this research the boost it needs to help Americans. It has the potential to deliver new treatments for a range of conditions including macular degeneration, glaucoma, blindness caused by diabetes and sickle cell disease, and many others. And this is just the first step, as similar bonds could be created to support groundbreaking research into a host of other conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, weighed in on Thursday and pointed to his own personal experience as one of the reasons he was championing this bill.

“As a visually impaired American, I am very proud to support this initiative because it reflects out-of-the box thinking about new ways to spur the development of cures and treatments that could potentially transform lives,” Bilirakis said. “This creative approach to funding innovative treatments to cure blindness holds great promise as a model that can be expanded to support the development of cures for other diseases, which is extremely exciting.”

The Foundation Fighting Blindness, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research and Blinded Veterans of America are backing the proposal.

The bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday. So far, there is no companion legislation over in the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis sends out press release inflating amount of local fundraising support

Tampa Bay Times

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The press release blasted over the weekend touted an accomplishment that would make any congressional candidate stand out.

Between April and June, District 12 Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, raised $355,000 for his re-election bid, “almost 90 percent of which came from Floridians,” claimed the campaign statement titled “Local Support Flowing for Bilirakis.”

There is one problem: The accomplishment is utterly inflated.

A review of Bilirakis’ finances shows that of the $355,000 raised in the second quarter, only 62 percent even came from individuals. The rest came from political committees, almost all out of state.

When the Tampa Bay Times asked about the discrepancy, campaign manager Towson Fraser said he “made a mistake during the editing process.” Fraser, a longtime lobbyist, clarified he should have said about 90 percent of individual contributions, not total money raised, came from Floridians.

But even that is unclear. Candidates are required to provide data to the Federal Election Commission on individual donors who give more than $200. Of the 203 who gave more than $200 to Bilirakis in the second quarter, only 77 percent were Floridians.

The publicly available FEC data does not include donors who give less than $200. Fraser said those smaller donors bumped the individual total to be 90 percent from Florida. But he declined to share this data with the Times.

The false claim on Bilirakis’ local support comes amid recent scrutiny of his special interest connections. The six-term congressman received $79,000 in the 2016 election cycle from the pharmaceutical/health products industry.

Bilirakis received the contributions while he co-sponsored legislation making it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after drug companies that distribute suspicious quantities of prescription pills to doctors and pharmacies.

That same year, 5,725 people died in Florida of opioid related issues, a 35 percent increase from 2015, according to a report from state medical examiners.

So far this election cycle, Bilirakis has received $50,200 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. He has raised a total of $1.32 million since Jan. 1, with about half coming from political committees and special interest groups, according to FEC filings.

Bilirakis spokeswoman Summer Robertson said he co-sponsored the 2016 legislation to address “a very serious problem in our community in which many people with legitimate pain and prescriptions have difficulty getting their medication filled.” She said the first time Bilirakis heard any concerns about the bill was after the publication of a Washington Post investigation in October, which detailed the influence industry lobbyists and lawyers have through political contributions.

She added: “Campaign contributions have no impact, whatsoever, on Congressman Bilirakis’ legislative decision-making. He does what he believes is in the best interests of his country, community and constituents 100 percent of the time.”

The leading Democrat challenging Bilirakis, former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Chris Hunter, said Bilirakis doing “the bidding of the opioid industry lobbyists who give him campaign money,” is one issue that pushed him to quit his job as a prosecutor with the fraud section of the Department of Justice in Tampa to run for office.

While with the DOJ, Hunter led the investigation and prosecution last year of the owner and associates of A to Z Pharmacy of New Port Richey, which generated more than $100 million from a compounding pharmacy fraud scheme.

He has raised $422,874 in his first bid for elected office, with $14,250 coming from political committees, mostly tied to Democratic leadership committees, according to recent FEC filings.

Hunter will face Clearwater defense attorney Robert Tager and Tarpon Springs tax consultant Stephen Perenich in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary. Their second-quarter financial reports were not immediately available through the FEC on Monday, but both raised a fraction of Hunter’s support in the first part of the year.

Correction: Gus Bilirakis is a Republican from Palm Harbor. An earlier version of this story had the incorrect city.