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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida: Does Florida have a religious freedom law like Indiana's?

Likely presidential candidates, including Jeb Bush, have reacted to Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act as Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has had to defend the law against those who say it discriminates against gays and lesbians.

"I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing," Bush said in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on March 30. "Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience."

PolitiFact Florida looked into whether Florida had a similar law and found mixed evidence. Read the full report.


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Jeb Bush, Scott Walker others face FEC complaints

A group of campaign finance watchdogs today filed complaints with the FEC against Jeb Bush, Martin O’Malley, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker that contend they have broken campaign finance law by acting as if they are not candidates.

“These 2016 presidential contenders must take the American people for fools—flying repeatedly to Iowa and New Hampshire to meet with party leaders and voters, hiring campaign staff, and raising millions of dollars from deep-pocketed mega donors, all the while denying that they are even ‘testing the waters’ of a presidential campaign,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “But federal campaign finance law is no joke and the candidate contribution limits kick in as soon as a person begins raising and spending money to determine whether they’re going to run for office. Bush, O’Malley, Santorum and Walker appear to be violating federal law.”

The Tampa Bay Times spotlighted Bush's case in February. He's not an official candidate but has been going around the country raising tens of millions of dollars for two political committees, including a Super PAC that takes in unlimited donations. …

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School guns bill suffers setback in Florida Senate

A contentious proposal that would let designated teachers bring their guns to school suffered a serious setback Tuesday when a Senate panel declined to vote on it.

Because the Senate Education Committee won't meet again, the bill (SB 180) won't have another opportunity for a committee hearing. It could still be incorporated into another proposal, but Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he would raise strong objections.

"It would be a large lift knowing that the Education Committee [deferred] it," the Trinity Republican said.

Legg said he has "significant concerns" with the bill, which would allow school employees with law enforcement or military experience to carry concealed weapons on school property.

"Deputizing private citizens to protect a school is not an avenue I want to go down," he said.

Both the Senate and House are considering a separate proposal that would allow permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses (SB 176/ HB 4005).

The so-called campus carry bill has found support in both chambers. Legg says he supports the proposal because it is about "individual protection." …

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Hold the anchovies: Senator files suit against pizza delivery guy

Hold the anchovies: Republican Sen. Charlie Dean of Inverness is suing a 19-year-old former delivery guy for Hungry Howie's pizza.

News reports say the delivery man took a wrong turn on a dark night in Inverness, ended up in Dean's backyard and the imposing former Citrus County sheriff appeared in the moonlight with a flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other. Dean is seeking nearly $15,000 in damages to cover his legal costs and is claiming harm to his reputation. The Citrus County Chronicle's account, with all the toppings, can be found here.

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Florida senators ask feds for guidance on health care

ReneWondering why Sens. René García, R-Hialeah, and Garrett Richter, R-Naples, aren't in Tallahassee today?

They are meeting with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The two lawmakers flew to Washington at the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner, spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

The purpose of the trip: to get a better idea of where Florida stands on some key health care issues.

"With tomorrow marking the halfway point of the session, we are nearing the time when the legislature is going to have to start finalizing decisions on the budget," Betta said.

Among the unresolved issues: what the future holds for Florida's Low Income Pool program.

The federal government has said it will not renew the $2.1 billion program, which helps hospitals treat uninsured and Medicaid patients, as it exists today. But the state and federal government have been unable to reach consensus on a successor program. 

The Senate recently recommended a new program would distribute the Low Income Pool funds more broadly than the original program. It was not clear how the idea was received by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. …

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Meet Marco Rubio's campaign team

By Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith

Marco Rubio is waiting until April 13 to announce his presidential campaign, but his core team is in place, mostly employed by Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC.


Heath Thompson: An architect of George W. Bush's critical South Carolina primary win in 2000, Thompson is Rubio's big-picture strategist. Thompson is a trusted voice who helps shape Rubio's longer-term trajectory. A former business partner with Terry Sullivan, he now works at Something Else Strategies along with wife Malorie Thompson and Todd Harris.

Terry Sullivan: Another veteran South Carolina GOP operative, Sullivan in 2012 shifted to running Rubio's Reclaim America PAC full time after serving as the senator's deputy chief of staff. A longtime adviser to former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Sullivan headed Mitt Romney's South Carolina presidential campaign in 2008, and like several other members of Rubio's brain trust, worked on the unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign of former Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. …

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Amendment 1 advocates turn up the heat on Sen. Charlie Dean

Supporters of Amendment 1 are busy phone-banking a key state lawmaker in support of setting aside millions for the Florida Forever land acquisition program. Their calls have been targeting Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, chairman of the Senate Environmental Preservation and conservation Committee, the sponsor of the Amendment 1 implementing bill (SB 584) that is on the floor calendar for Wednesday's Senate session.

"I'm asking him to please support Amendment 1 money for the Florida Forever program," said Kathleen Betsko of Sugarmill Woods, a community in Citrus County in Dean's sprawling district. "I thought Senator Dean was going to be in favor of this and it sounds like that's not what they're doing." Betsko identified herself as a Democrat who has voted for Dean in the past. She is among the 75 percent of Florida voters who approved Amendment 1, the so-called water and land amendment, in the November 2014 election. Conservation groups across Florida are emphasizing the same message in phone calls and on social media.

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Business group thanks Senate for 'bold leadership' on Medicaid expansion

One day after a conservative advocacy group sent out mailers attacking the senators who support Medicaid expansion, a coalition of business leaders released a video thanking the Senate for its "bold leadership and courage."

The group, a Healthy Florida Works, was instrumental in drafting the Senate's plan to expand healthcare coverage to nearly one million poor Floridians.

"As highlighted in the coalition’s new video, the Senate's comprehensive health care package will save the state billions, create good paying jobs and provide health care coverage to more than 800,000 Floridians," the group said in Tuesday press release.

The video will be blasted out on social media and will run in certain TV markets.


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Charlie Crist has a new business venture

Former Republican governor and Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist is getting into the consulting business. He and Orlando investor Bob Poe, the Democratic fundraiser, former state party chairman and chairman of the Charlie Crist for Florida political committee, recently created a St. Petersburg-based company - C2&P LLC - that Poe said is for business consulting.

A couple deals are in the works, said Poe, but they are not far enough along to discuss publicly.

Crist, who narrowly lost last year's gubernatorial race to Rick Scott and recently ruled out running for U.S. Senate in 2016, continues to work FOR THE PEOPLE at the personal injury firm of Morgan & Morgan.

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A decade later, Jeb Bush calls Terri Schiavo case 'one of the most difficult times in my life'

Demonstrators, pleading for Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene in Terri Schiavo’s case in 2003, regularly sat vigil outside Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park in the years leading up to her death. Bush defied court orders that her feeding tube should be removed.

Associated Press (2003)

Demonstrators, pleading for Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene in Terri Schiavo’s case in 2003, regularly sat vigil outside Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park in the years leading up to her death. Bush defied court orders that her feeding tube should be removed.

She died ten years ago today, at 9:05 a.m. Age 41.

The anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death takes on added meaning today as, once again, the former St. Petersburg resident is part of the national political conversation — forever linked to the man who tried to keep her alive and is now trying to become president.

"This woman was being starved to death,” Jeb Bush said Monday afternoon on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “It was one of the most difficult times in my life."

In January the Tampa Bay Times revisited Bush's central role in the saga: The audacity of Jeb Bush: A governor goes all in on the Terri Schiavo case.

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Cabinet hires RPOF's lawyer for Sunshine Law suit

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted Tuesday morning to hire Daniel Nordby and law firm Shutts & Bowen to represent them in a case alleging Sunshine Law violations — the same legal representation as the Republican Party of Florida.

Nordby has a history of representing Florida Republicans. From 2012-14, he was general counsel to the House of Representatives, a GOP-controlled body, and he represented the chamber during lawsuits over proposed redistricting plans.

Five law firms applied for the job to represent the governor and Cabinet — which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — and they made a hiring decision just 10 minutes after starting the call. (Watch the full video on the Florida Channel here.)

Bondi recommended hiring Shutts and Bowen, citing the firm’s experience with state government.

“Dan (Nordby) and Jason Gonzalez have vast experience with state government,” she said. “I’m confident they will do a superb job on our behalf.” …

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Fla Q poll: Bush 45% to Clinton 42%; Clinton 46% to Rubio 44%

Quinnipiac released a new round a swing state polling today that found Hillary Clinton losing ground in Florida. While she still beats every Republican except Jeb Bush in Florida, her margins and favorability ratings have slipped since the last Quinnipiac poll in early February. From the release on their Florida results:

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Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

It’s the last committee-heavy day of the week in Tallahassee before lawmakers zero in on the budget in floor sessions. Here are five things worth watching today:

* The Cabinet’s starting the day with a conference call about hiring outside attorneys for the lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations in the forced resignation of Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They’ll have the call audio set up in the Cabinet Meeting Room so members of the public can tune in. (8 a.m.)

* One of several bills relating to guns and education has a hearing in the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee. The bill (SB 180) by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, allows school boards and superintendents to appoint a person in each school to carry a concealed weapon. (1:30-3:30 p.m., 412 Knott)

* The Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities Committee takes up four bills related to texting while driving (SB 192, 246, 270 and 492). Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense, but some senators hope to make it more easily enforceable by allowing police to pull people over for texting. (4-6 p.m., 301 S) …

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Jeb Bush praises Indiana law under attack as anti-gay, and pro-discrimination

On Hugh Hewitt's radio show today, Jeb Bush stood behind Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been attacked by critics - including corporate leaders in Indiana -- for potentially allowing discrimination. Here's an except of Bush's interview:

HH: All right, now I’m going to go abroad in a moment, but first, I want to do a domestic political story. Earlier today, I watched Peter Hamby on CNN, which is on over your head, say that, and I want to quote him correctly, you don’t see a lot of Republicans rallying to Mike Pence’s defense right now. That’s a direct quote from Hamby. He’s a great reporter talking about the Indiana Religious Freedom Act. What do you make of the controversy? Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, great company, had a blast at it in the Washington Post yesterday. What do you think? …

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Lawmakers advance plan to curb youth arrests

A Florida House panel on Monday gave its overwhelming support to a proposal seeking to reduce youth arrests by expanding civil citation programs.

The 11-1 vote in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee came on the same day St. Petersburg city officials rolled out a new "Second Chance" program to steer young people away from the criminal justice system.

"It appears to me that all across this state, people are realizing we should not criminalize, we should not have knee-jerk reactions and make arrests when there are more appropriate consequences," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Civil citation programs, which exist in 59 of Florida’s 67 counties, provide police officers with an alternative to arresting young people.

Under current law, officers can issue a civil citation or prescribe community service to young people who are first-time misdemeanor offenders. The proposal under consideration (HB 99) would extend the program to young people who have already been in trouble. It would also give officers the option to call the young person’s parent or give a verbal warning instead.

Read more here.

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