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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Marco Rubio is 44 years old (or young)

Marco Rubio as a kid in Las Vegas; Marco Rubio as a U.S. Senator

Times files

Marco Rubio as a kid in Las Vegas; Marco Rubio as a U.S. Senator

Marco Antonio Rubio, the wanna-be college football star turn star politician, is 44 years old today.

That’s a good thing for the presidential candidate. He’s a year older than 43, yet comfortably younger than you know who (and you know, too, Jeb).

Here’s a kid who once was ordered to make copies for Toni Jennings. Ahem, lieutenant governor, that was state Rep. Rubio, R-West Miami --  a made man already, given his ties to then-Gov. Bush, yet the budding version of one of the most talented politicians Florida has ever seen.

He hasn’t even served a full term in the United States Senate, a job he’s leaving.

Yet Rubio — born in Miami on May 28, 1971, to Cuban immigrant parents who would gift him with the narrative of his political career — is now a serious contender for the Republican nomination.

Rubio celebrates today with a fundraiser in Las Vegas, a city where he spent six years as a boy and played Pop Warner football.

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House offers up health care bills aimed at cutting costs but they could also ignite turf battles

After spending the last legislative session knocking down Senate proposals for expanding health care coverage while offering no alternative of their own, Florida House Republicans filed a series of bills Wednesday that attempt to take a rifle-shot approach to lowering the spiraling costs of health care in Florida.

Many of the proposals are not new, and some have been passed by key committees in the state Senate, but all embrace the belief of many House leaders that the state must inject free-market competition into the health care marketplace to lower costs of health care before expanding access to the uninsured. Opponents, however, claim that many of the proposals just unleash turf battles within the health care industry that will not suppress costs.

“The crisis in health care begins at the cost part of that equation,’’ said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, a top House lieutenant. “Until we address costs there will never be enough [Medicaid] expansion as those costs continue to rise. What I need to do is put together a system that is heavily dependent on competition and consumerism and free markets.” …

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Judge ends challenge to marijuana rule, low-THC strain could be sold by end of year

Florida regulators said they expect to provide access to a limited strain of non-euphoric marijuana for medical purposes by the end of the year after a Tallahassee judge on Wednesday dismissed the final challenge to the long-awaited rule.

The Florida Department of Health, which developed the rule, is expected to start accepting applications within three weeks from eligible growers for the strain of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Growers could start selling to eligible patients who are put on a state-run "compassionate use registry" within months.

"I am one happy legislator,'' said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, one of the sponsors of the 2014 legislation that attempted to expedite the development and cultivation of the so-called "Charlotte's Web" strain of low-THC marijuana to help people suffering from epileptic seizures, cancer and other ailments.

Legislators had intended for the medical strain of cannabis to be available to Floridians by January of this year but regulators had their first rule rejected, and then faced a series of legal challenges. On Wednesday, they offered patients new hope.

"Today's ruling allows the department to move forward with implementing the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, approved by the legislature in 2014,'' the Department of Health said in a statement. "The department remains committed to ensuring safe and efficient access to this product for children with refractory epilepsy and patients with advanced cancer. We are moving swiftly to facilitate access to the product before the end of the year.”

The ruling by Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins came after a two days of testimony and more than a year after the Legislature had The rule challenge was brought by Baywood Nurseries of Apopka whose owners, Raymond Hogshead and Heather Zabinofsky alleged that the rule proposed by the state were unfair and vague.

Watkins is the same judge who tossed out DOH’s first attempt at a rule last year, prompting the agency’s Office of Compassionate Use to hold a rulemaking workshop involving a handpicked panel of advisors from various parts of the industry.

Under the law, nurseries that have been in business for at least 30 years in Florida and grow a minimum of 400,000 plants are eligible to apply for one of five licenses to grow and distribute the marijuana within the state. About 100 nurseries meet the criteria, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Under the proposed rule, dispensing organizations would have to prove that they would be able to stay in business for at least two years and be able to cover not only the bond but what could be expensive start-up costs.Full Story

Obama spokesman says Florida GOP putting politics over poor people in Medicaid fight

President Obama's two-day stop in Miami has nothing to do with Florida's upcoming special legislative session forced by a disagreement over how to fund healthcare.

But the White House couldn't avoid a reporter's question Wednesday about the president's opinion on the opposition from statehouse Republicans to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

"We have demonstrated a willingness to work closely with state leaders to tailor solutions" to their residents, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when asked about the issue in a conference call with Florida reporters. "The refusal of Republican officials in Florida to put the interests of their citizens ahead of their own political arguments is something that we've been disappointed by."

Obama arrives Wednesday afternoon for a pair of Democratic Party fund-raisers. Earnest's question-and-answer session was intended to delve into the president's visit Thursday to the National Hurricane Center, where he will ask people to prepare for the annual storm season that formally begins June 1. …

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Did Marco Rubio say felons should be barred from voting but get their guns back?

A Facebook meme suggests that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., believes convicted felons should regain their right to own a gun but not the right to vote.

The meme, sent to us by a reader, presents two quotes purportedly by Rubio. The first, dated March 16, is, "No, felons should not have their voting rights restored even after they have served their sentence." The second quote, from May 6, says, "Of course, convicted felons should be allowed to own guns after they have done their time. It is their constitutional right."

The claim was attributed to the Facebook community group "Stop the world, the teabaggers want off."Full Story

Prominent GOP kingmaker loses post after calling judges 'dumbasses'

Be careful with those Facebook posts, politicos.

Sam Rashid, a prominent Hillsborough County Republican activist and political kingmaker, wasn't careful and it cost him his spot on the coveted  Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission to which he had been appointed by Sen. Marco Rubio. It seems Rashid on Facebook had referred to three Hillsborough County Circuit Judges as “dumbasses,” which does not exactly signal neutral and unbiased views.

The Tampa Trib has the story here

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Court decision blocking Obama's immigration plan could affect 182,000 people in Florida

A court ruling Tuesday to block implementation of President Obama’s latest program to shield illegal immigrants from deportation will have widespread implications in Florida.

Experts estimate that as many as 182,000 adults in Florida would have been eligible to participate in the program know as DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parental Accountability. It resembles DACA, which is already in effect, and focuses on younger undocumented immigrants.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled, 2-1, against lifting an injunction imposed by a Texas judge.

As the Obama administration plans its next move, immigration activists say they remain confident they will prevail. But it also ensures that it would be a while before Obama’s plans are restarted, if at all.

Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have criticized Obama’s executive action but also said they would keep the programs until a legislative fix is in place.

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How Rick Scott snubbed the Fla GOP on presidential cattle call

Gov. Rick Scott will be front and center before the national media Tuesday as he hosts his Economic Growth Summit at Disney World, where most of the top tier presidential candidates will be talking about the vision for growing the economy.

Overlooked on this high profile cattle call is how the entire thing was put together through Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, rather than the state GOP. This is unprecedented and a reminder that the leading elected Republican in Florida still has a rocky - at best - relationship with the Republican Party of Florida. It's been that way since party officials snubbed him early this year by electing state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia the party chairman, rather than Scott's preferred candidate.

Traditionally, the state party has used the events featuring presidential candidates to raise money through sponsorships, speaking fees, and the like that ultimately helps pay for the Republican nominee's general election campaign in Florida. But Brecht Heuchan, who is helping Let's Get Together put together the event,  said the summit is different from party events in the past - Presidency 1, II, III, IV, and V, for instance - because it includes no straw poll and is not a rally. It is more focused on one issue, jobs.

"In hosting the summit, Gov. Scott is giving some leading Republican presidential contenders an opportunity to share their vision for America’s prosperity going forward while showcasing Florida’s economic turnaround story," Heuchan said in an email. "On the fundraising question, there is no fundraising associated with the event, there is no cost to attend on the part of the guests and there is no cost to the potential candidates either."

Ingoglia said he had no hard feelings: "The “Let’s Get to Work” summit is an excellent platform for Republican leaders – many who are running for president – to reach out and share their vision for the economic future of our nation," said the party chairman, who will not be there. "Economic growth and opportunity is an important issue to every American, and we applaud Governor Scott for his leadership in organizing this summit."

Here's the rough schedule Tuesday:Full Story

Watchdogs ask Justice Department to investigate Jeb Bush campaign

Former Gov. Jeb Bush delivers a speech during April's annual meeting of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Ohio.

Associated Press

Former Gov. Jeb Bush delivers a speech during April's annual meeting of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Ohio.

Two watchdog groups today asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Jeb Bush and his Super PAC are “engaged in knowing and willful violations of the campaign finance laws.”

The complaint comes from the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, groups that have raised questions before about Bush’s Right to Rise committee. They ask Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel to conduct an investigation.

“It is hard to conclude that laws are not being broken when you look at Jeb Bush’s actions as an ‘undeclared’ candidate and the laws on the books,” said Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert. “Quite clearly this is a man very actively running for President and raising tens of millions of dollars in ‘soft money’ to aid his quest. Denying he is a candidate does not exempt the former governor from obeying the law which prohibits candidates from raising and spending soft money. While the FEC has all but declared that it will not be enforcing campaign finance laws this election cycle, that does not mean the laws passed by Congress and signed by Presidents of both parties may be ignored.” …

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President Obama making 39th trip to Florida

Obama steps off Air Force One in Miami on April 22, 2015, followed by U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Carlos Curbelo


Obama steps off Air Force One in Miami on April 22, 2015, followed by U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Carlos Curbelo

President Obama loves Florida.

Today, he's making his 39th visit since he was first elected, attending a pair of fundraisers in Miami and then visiting the National Hurricane Center on Thursday.

It’s Obama's 16th visit to Miami alone, according to Mark Knoller, a CBS News reporter in Washington who keeps statistics on the president’s travel.

“Aside from DC neighbors VA and MD, FL is Obama’s 3rd most frequent destination behind NY (49 visits) and OH (41 visits),” Knoller told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

Obama has two fundraisers today benefitting the Democratic National Committee: the first at the home of mortgage broker Joe Falk and the second at the home of developer Stephen Bittel.

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Rift widens between governor and Senate -- they now disagree about budget hole

Tensions continued to mount Tuesday between Gov. Rick Scott and the Senate as the governor blasted a Senate compromise and the governor’s Agency for Health Care administration issued a letter to the federal government suggesting that the state would not lose the $1 billion in federal money to reimburse hospitals for serving the uninsured under the low income pool as legislators previously suggested.

Agency for Health Care Administration deputy director Justin Senior sent a letter to the federal Department of Health and Human Services suggesting that “there is no need to infuse additional state general revenue to maintain current Medicaid hospital funding levels” in the 2015-16 budget year because local governments could draw down matching funds to offset the $1 billion not coming to the state.

He quotes the May 21 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which suggests that the state will get $1 billion and notes that "this level of funding for the LIP coupled with the options the state may elect at its discretion described in this letter would enable Florida to retain Medicaid investment in the state at or above the current $2.16 billion level of LIP funding.” …

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PolitiFact Florida's mailbag features a 'Jebio' edition, plus a look at 'Veto Corleone'

PolitiFact Florida readers had plenty to say about a host of fact-checks and stories about the state's two presidential contenders.

The most recent mailbag is focused on what we've written about both Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush. We heard about Rubio's 1999 metaphor, his take on Iranian weapons programs and more.

Readers also focused on Bush's claims about how many poor people there are, median income in the economic recovery and more.Full Story

Gardiner says health care debate won't be tied to completing budget

Senate President Andy Gardiner promised Tuesday that legislators will “get a budget done” when they meet in special session starting June 1 for three weeks but said the debate over health insurance will not be tied to it.

"You could have a scenario where no health care bills get done and you do a budget and you go home,'' Gardiner told reporters at a media availability Tuesday. "But I have confidence in the Senate that we'll be able to address all these issues and we'll figure it out."

Gardiner's comments came after the Senate extended an olive branch to the House and proposed a modified version of the Senate FHIX health care plan (Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange) in an attempt to resolve the budget impasse that led to the House's abrupt adjournment three days before the scheduled end to the regular session.

The Senate’s proposal, referred to by Gardiner as FHIX 2.0, bypasses putting people into Medicaid starting in July as was initially proposed and instead requires those eligible for the FHIX coverage to wait until January. The state plan also would have to obtain federal government approval. …

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Club for Growth praises Alan Grayson in new ad

The Club for Growth is out with an unusual TV ad praising Alan Grayson and criticizing Patrick Murphy over the Ex-Im Bank.

"The ad will begin airing tomorrow statewide on MSNBC and other outlets in Florida, and it represents the third phase in an overall $1 million campaign, including digital advertising," the conservative group said in a news release.

Grayson, who could challenge Murphy for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, opposes the Export-Import Bank.

But what's really going on here? Unmentioned is that the Club is backing Ron DeSantis, the Republican congressman who is running for Senate.

Murphy's campaign said it shows Republicans are afraid of him. "The fact that an ultra-right-wing Super PAC that aims to privatize Social Security is attacking Patrick is the clearest sign that he's the strongest candidate in this race," said campaign manager Josh Wolf. "Patrick entered public office to fight back against Tea Party obstructionists like the Club for Growth who are intent on outsourcing Florida jobs overseas and privatizing Social Security and Medicare."

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Jeb wants more funding for Alzheimers, but he vetoed spending on it as gov

Jeb Bush's comments that he thinks the government should increase funding for Alzheimer's research are likely to resonate without countless American families who, like Bush's, are struggling with the disease.

But they also may stick in the craw of former Florida legislators, Democrat and Republican alike, who recall Bush vetoeing their budget items targetting Alzheimer's research and care while at the same time approving tax cuts often mainly for the benefit of specific businesses or wealthier Floridians

From the clips: …

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