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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate proposes new protections against inmate abuse

Julie JonesAs Florida’s prisons face increased scrutiny about suspicious inmate deaths, cover-ups, and questionable medical care, a state Senate committee is proposing new safeguards for prisoners.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will take up a broad piece of legislation when it meets next Monday that the chairman says is “a first step” aimed at resetting a prison culture in rife with allegations about excessive force and negligent medical care. 

“I thought we should memorialize certain ideas that would help the Department of Corrections do a better job of being safety and protecting inmates as well as corrections officers, staff, and residents of the state,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, a Crestview Republican and chairman of the committee.

The committee will also hear from Julie Jones, the governor's newly-appointed secretary of the department, who has vowed to "fix what needs fixing" at the troubled agency. …

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Jeb Bush's immigration plan: 'Find where they are and politely ask them to leave'

It happened Friday but in a sign of the modern opposition research machine, Jeb Bush's comments on immigration became a thing this afternoon.

During his speech before the National Automobile Dealers Association, Bush seemed to be trying to find the sweet spot on immigration. Noting how many people come to the U.S. with valid visas but never go home, Bush had this response: "We ought to be able to find where they are and politely ask them to leave."

The liberal American Bridge circulated the clip, which got attention from reporters and immigrant advocates.

But Bridge left out other parts of Bush's immigration remarks, in which he calls for a sweeping approach to the problem and makes an economic argument. He also said we're not going to round up people and deport them (hence, apparently, "politely" asking them to leave.) The Washington Post's Fix blog clipped the full context.

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Longtime advocate: Insurance chief from Louisiana could be bad news for consumers

Robert Hunter has spent decades in the insurance industry as a consumer advocate. When he heard the name of the man being considered for the state's insurance regulator job, he was "shocked." 

Gov. Rick Scott's office confirmed Monday that Ron Henderson, Louisiana's deputy insurance commissioner for consumer advocacy, is being considered as the replacement for Kevin McCarty, who has been commissioner of Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation since 2003 (and is favored by Hunter, incidentally).

"It's really shocking to me that a guy who's supposed to be in consumer advocacy I haven't heard of," said Hunter, who was Texas insurance commissioner and founder of the National Insurance Consumer Organization before his current job as insurance director for the Consumer Federation of America. "I know everyone who's done anything in consumer work." 

The size of Hunter's Rolodex aside, he said hiring an insurance regulator from Louisiana could be bad for consumers in Florida. 

The insurance commissioner plays a critical role in setting rates for property insurance, and Hunter said Louisiana's reputation for in the industry is decidedly not pro-consumer.  …

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Coincidence? Husband of top House aide lands six-figure gig at DOE

The husband of Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli's chief aide was handed the top legal job at the state education department last week.

He filled a vacancy created five months ago by the same aide -- House Chief of Staff Kathy Mears -- when she hired away the education department’s lawyer.

DOE officials won’t say if the $120,000 general counsel job that went to Matthew Mears on Jan. 20 was advertised or if there were other candidates. Mears and House officials said they didn't advertise the general counsel position that was awarded to Matt Carson from the DOE, leaving the vacancy filled by Mears’ husband. But they did say it was a formal process in which one other attorney, Stuart Williams, was interviewed. Two other attorneys were asked if they were interested in interviewing, according to the House, but they declined. 

Mears, who said she only learned about her husband applying for the DOE job in December, said she didn't know at the time she hired Carson that her husband would eventually apply for his old job. …

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Rubio wants permanent extension of 'counterterrorism tools'

Sen. Marco Rubio wants Congress to permanently extend "counterterrorism tools" that have sparked a national debate and divided the GOP.

"We also cannot afford to ignore another lesson of 9/11 and curtail intelligence gathering capabilities that have been legally and painstakingly established following those horrific attacks," Rubio wrote in an online piece for Fox News.

"The U.S. government should implore American technology companies to cooperate with authorities so that we can better track terrorist activity and monitor terrorist communications as we face the increasing challenge of homegrown terrorists radicalized by little more than what they see on the Internet.

"This year, a new Republican majority in both houses of Congress will have to extend current authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and I urge my colleagues to consider a permanent extension of the counterterrorism tools our intelligence community relies on to keep the American people safe."

The op/ed brought a response from Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, who has worked with Republicans to scale back the data collection. …

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Welcome -- or not -- to Iowa, Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush skipped Steve King's Iowa gathering over the weekend and for good reason. The forum was hostile to anyone who supports Common Core and immigration reform.

American Bridge put together this video that illustrates Bush's problems with the most conservative reaches of his GOP.

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Not Romney. Not Bush. Rather, 'undecided' leads latest GOP presidential poll

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll out today highlights the wide-open Republican field. It's so early that no one knows what will happen. But for the time being:

Undecided: 45 percent

Mitt Romney: 16 percent

Jeb Bush: 13 percent

Ben Carson: 6 percent

Ted Cruz: 3 percent

Marco Rubio: 3 percent

Rand Paul: 2 percent

Chris Christie, 2 percent

Mike Huckabee: 2 percent

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Consumer advocate: Gov. Scott shouldn't replace Kevin McCarty

Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Monday that he's looking at replacements for insurance regulator Kevin McCarty. But former Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw is not pleased. 

After news started to spread that Scott's office was considering Louisiana Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy Ron Henderson to lead the Office of Insurance Regulation, Shaw issued a statement defending McCarty and calling out the governor for circumventing the cabinet. 

“Kevin McCarty has only been doing right by policyholders," Shaw said in the statement. "His job should not be in jeopardy, nor should Governor Scott be attempting to circumvent the constitutional obligations of the Florida Cabinet again. This isn’t how our government is supposed to work.”

Shaw is now president of Policyholders of Florida, a property insurance consumer advocacy group.

Scott made his intention to replace McCarty public last week. In a statement Monday to the Times/Herald, his office said:  

"As we made the transition to a second term in office, Ron Henderson was brought up as a possible candidate for Commissioner of OIR. We reached out and asked for his resume. We did not discuss Mr. Henderson with other Cabinet staff.”  …

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Fla. GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill

Florida medical physicians would be allowed to prescribe "medical-grade" marijuana to needy patients under a major cannabis bill filed Monday by a top Florida Republican state senator.

The legislation proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would allow people who have specified serious medical conditions -- such as cancer, AIDS or epilepsy -- to receive and use medical marijuana if a doctor certifies its use. Patients would be limited to a 30-day supply.

But the bill goes a step further and says that doctors could certify medical-marijuana use for other patients who have exhausted other medical treatments first.

The legislation is the most far-reaching of its kind proposed by a top Republican and reflects a proposed constitutional amendment that garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. That amendment, which failed because it didn't meet a 60 percent threshold for approval, has been redrafted and could appear on the 2016 ballot.

"Floridians have spoken on the issue of medical marijuana and Sen. Brandes has heard them," said Ben Pollara, the executive director of the United for Care group that has back the proposed amendments. …

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Rubio's fundraising trip to California means missed votes and criticism

It’s cold and nasty in Washington today.

Fortunately for Sen. Marco Rubio he’s in California for the week, attending a series of fundraisers. Yet as he pursues his national ambitions, Rubio is neglecting the job Floridians elected him to do.

That says something about how serious he is about a run for president but it also invites criticism - which other presidential hopefuls have had to face.

"It's not unusual for presidential candidates to miss Senate votes,” spokesman Alex Conant said. “Senator Rubio has not made a final decision about 2016, but he's seriously considering running for president and taking the necessary steps to prepare a competitive campaign. As he travels the country talking about his agenda to help the middle class, there will be no doubt where he stands on any important issues before the Senate."

Rubio’s attendance record has drawn notice before. He had one of the worst in the Senate as of last year and his office attributed it to family matters. He has an elderly mother and four children. …

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Gov. Scott's office confirms it eyed La. official in place of McCarty

Gov. Rick Scott publicly suggested last week that Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty, left, be replaced.

AP photo (2007)

Gov. Rick Scott publicly suggested last week that Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty, left, be replaced.

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott's office confirms that it sought to recruit a Louisiana insurance official as a possible replacement for Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty before Scott publicly suggested last week that McCarty be replaced.

An online news service that covers the insurance industry, SNL, first reported that Scott's office asked Louisiana Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy Ron Henderson to interview for McCarty's job weeks before Scott said he was looking for "new leadership" at OIR. SNL said it learned about Scott's interest in Henderson from Henderson's boss, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon, who alerted McCarty.

Donelon has received campaign contributions and free meals from Fred Karlinsky, a long-time Tallahassee insurance industry lobbyists with close ties to Scott, Louisiana public records show. Karlinsky was a leading fund-raiser for Scott's recent second inauguration and Scott appointed Karlinsky last month to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

In response to Times/Herald inquiries, Scott's office issued the following statement: …

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At Koch Bros event, Rubio, Cruz, Paul show GOP's split on foreign policy

Three senators, including Florida’s Marco Rubio, gave a preview Sunday of the coming Republican presidential primary debate exposing differences on foreign policy while holding the party line on taxes.

Rubio was on stage with Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul as part of the annual winter retreat held by Freedom Partners, a Koch brothers organization. The discussion, which was webcast, was cordial but saw the biggest divide over foreign policy.

“We’ve tried for 50 years and it hasn’t worked,” Paul said of the Cuban embargo.

Rubio disagreed, calling it "leverage” and suggesting President Barack Obama got almost nothing in dealing with the Castros. Rubio took on Paul’s argument about President Richard Nixon opening up ties to China, pointing out that China is still an oppressive country. Rubio, however, doesn't think the U.S. should cut off ties with China because of its geopolitical importance.

On Iran, Paul said he did not support adding new sanctions while talks are under way to halt the country’s nuclear ambitions. “If you do (more sanctions) in middle of the negotiations, you're ruining it,” he said. …

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Chris Christie moves closer to running for president, launches PAC like Jeb Bush

The Jeb Bush factor ... His aggressive foray into race drew in Mitt Romney and now Chris Christie. From the Wall Street Journal:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his supporters have formed a political-action committee ahead of a likely bid for president, adding a third well-known Republican figure to the fight for campaign funds among the party’s core donor class.

The launch of the PAC, called Leadership Matters for America, is the clearest sign yet that Mr. Christie is running. It allows Mr. Christie to assemble a team of about a dozen staffers and fundraisers who could support a potential run for president, as well as to raise money that can be used to contribute to like-minded political candidates.

The PAC signals increased competition for the same set of large-dollar donors who have been taking calls recently from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney , both of whom are considering presidential campaigns. …

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Winner and loser of the week in Fla politics

Winners of the Week: Foundation for Excellence in Education. The profile of Jeb Bush's education foundation could well have diminished after the former governor stepped down to focus on the presidency. Naming former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to serve as the foundation's new chairman, however, should help ensure that doesn't happen.

Winner of the week II: POLITICO. The beltway political outlet took a huge step into Florida, smartly hiring away ace reporter Marc Caputo from the Miami Herald to lead its Florida coverage

Loser of the week: Rick Scott. His fellow Republicans on the Florida Cabinet are now speaking out about his handling of the FDLE. the scandal has spread from the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald onto the front page of other Florida newspapers and is overshadowing most everything he does and says lately.

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Jeb Bush tests a stump speech in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In his first public event since taking steps toward a presidential run, Jeb Bush on Friday called on political leaders to overhaul the country's immigration and education systems, increase job training programs and ease energy regulations to spur economic growth.

"We're in the fifth, almost sixth year of a recovery and 60 percent of Americans believe we're still in a recession," Bush told the annual convention of the National Automobile Dealers Association. "They're not dumb. It's because they are in a recession."

While Bush agreed to appear at the convention long before he began exploring a White House bid, his comments offered the most detailed picture yet of what a presidential campaign might look like. He outlined a wide-ranging policy agenda that he said would boost the country's lagging middle class and restore U.S. standing abroad.

Bush, like several of his potential GOP rivals, is hoping to tap a spirit of economic populism amid an uneven recovery. But his remarks also showed how he is trying to appeal to the GOP base without shifting his positions on issues that remain deeply unpopular with conservative voters. …

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