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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

Today marks the second day of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

• The long-running legal battle over the 2012 redrawing of Florida's political boundaries shifts to the state Supreme Court, as the League of Women Voters will challenge the Legislature's redrawing of two of the state's congressional districts based on the so-called "fair districts" amendments adopted by voters. Republican legislative leaders are privately bracing for a defeat in the state's highest court.

• A meeting of Cabinet aides will be held in the Capitol. The public gatherings of the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and three Cabinet members have taken on significance following the removal of a top state police official, Gerald Bailey, after the aides held private discussions. Those talks triggered a lawsuit by media outlets, accusing Scott and Cabinet members of secretly violating Florida's Sunshine Law.

• The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice takes up a sweeping bill (SB 7020) aimed at improving conditions in Florida's troubled prison system. …

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Governor uses campaign surplus to cut TV ad to tout his tax cut promise

Gov. Rick Scott may be treated like a lame duck in Tallahassee, but a new television ad from his still abundant campaign account shows he's acting like he's still — or wants to be — a candidate.

Scott's Let’s Get to Work political committee is sponsoring a 30-second ad that will start airing this Thursday in all Florida markets and include broadcast, cable  and satellite, said Brecht Heuchan of the Labrador Company. 

The ad is also a subtle push to promote the governor's $500 million plan to cut communications and other taxes — a notion that has not been embraced by the GOP-led Legislature which faces the prospect of having to fill a nearly $2 billion budget hole because of the potential loss in federal health care funds known as the Low Income Pool. The governor made no mention of the potential budget holes in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, but he did tout his proposed tax cut.  …

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Employee letters spell out troubles at Department of Corrections

In the last month, a series of letters from worried employees at the Florida Department of Corrections arrived in the mail box of Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Employees detailed tales of corrupt officers, onerous staffing conditions, being coached to answer an employee survey, and an atmosphere in which anyone faced retaliation if they spoke up about allegations of agency corruption.

Evers, R-Baker, who has conducted nearly a dozen surprise visits to prisons around the state, said he confirmed the identity of the anonymous employees by speaking to them on the phone but agreed to shield their identities. He said he solicited none of the letters, though he gave people his email and cell phone number. He is now considering having some appear under oath before the committee.

“I want to be sure there is a good working environment at DOC and ease employee fears that if there’s something wrong they can come forward without retribution,’’ he told the Herald/Times. …

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Rubio, Lee team up on sweeping tax proposal

Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee will introduce Wednesday morning a proposal that reduces seven tax brackets to two: 15 percent and 35 percent.

It drops the corporate tax rate to a maximum of 25 percent from 35 percent, including so-called pass through entities, and eliminates capital gains and dividends taxes.

“And under our proposal, firms with overseas operations will no longer be taxed twice (once abroad and again at home), but only in the country where income is actually earned,” they wrote in a op/ed in the Wall Street Journal that went online tonight.

Read the full details here.

The lawmakers, who do not have legislation, will talk about their plan during a 10 a.m. news conference Wednesday. There are lots of tax reform ideas floating about Washington but not a lot of consensus or momentum.

The conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru said Republicans should learn how to love the plan, but added, "A potential drawback to the Lee-Rubio plan -- which will surely draw headlines as Rubio gears up to run for president -- is that it swells the deficit." …

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Greyhound injury bill passes Senate; plan to move back primary date gains traction

The Senate wastes little time moving forward on a pair of issues in Day One of the session:

From the News Service of Florida: …

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No conversation between Rick Scott, black caucus

The first day of the legislative session is over, and Gov. Rick Scott hasn't yet met with members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to discuss issues they say are important to minority communities across the state.

Caucus chair Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, says the caucus has been waiting almost two months for a sit-down with the governor. But Scott's office says they can't find a record of a meeting ever being requested.

"We've reached out to his office, we've tried to get on his calendar since back in January when we released our proposals as a caucus on issues that are of critical concern to our community," Bullard said. "For whatever reason, we have not heard a response back."

Scott spokesperson Jackie Schutz said Tuesday that she couldn't find a request for a meeting with the caucus but that the governor was eager to sit down with members and discuss their goals for the session.

"The governor would like to meet with them, and we're going to reach out to set something up," Schutz said.

On the agenda will likely be issues that "really aren't things that he should wrestle with," said Bullard. …

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Jeb Bush blew off voting in '08 prez race?

Bush's voting record since 1996

American Bridge

Bush's voting record since 1996

Miami-Dade elections records indicate that Jeb Bush did not cast a vote in the 2008 presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, even though he campaigned for the Arizona senator. Bush's spokeswoman insisted to the New York Times, which first reported on the discrepency, that Bush and his wife voted absentee in the election.

Lord knows mistakes happen when it comes to south Florida elections, and Bush is not the first prominent politician to insist the elections office records wrongly list them as non-voters. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Davis had to explain days before the 2006 election why Hillsborough County listed him as not voting in the virtually tied 2000 presidential race in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Democratic oppoisition research firm Amercian Research pulled the records that suggest it has not been all that rare for bush to not bother voting in elections. Since 1996, county elections records indicate he missed voting in six of the 39 elections he was eligible to vote in. In other words, it appears he did not vote 15 percent of the time.

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Fla state rep accused of cold cocking college student

Peter Alberti, a Connecticut native who studies in Charleston, said state Rep. Frank Artiles, pictured, decked him at Clyde's and Costello's, a downtown Tallahassee bar steps from the Florida Capitol.

COLIN HACKLEY (2011)

Peter Alberti, a Connecticut native who studies in Charleston, said state Rep. Frank Artiles, pictured, decked him at Clyde's and Costello's, a downtown Tallahassee bar steps from the Florida Capitol.

A college student spending Spring Break in Tallahassee didn't expect to get punched in the face by a Miami lawmaker.

But that's what happened sometime between late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, hours before the start of the annual legislative session, according to the student.

Peter Alberti, a Connecticut native who studies in Charleston, said state Rep. Frank Artiles decked him at Clyde's and Costello's, a downtown Tallahassee bar steps from the Florida Capitol.

"He was trying to get by, up at the bar, to get drinks," Alberti told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He punched me in the face."

Artiles, 41, denied the accusation.

"Didn't happen," he said in a text message to the Herald after learning from a reporter that the newspaper had spoken to Alberti. "It is a set up."

It's the second time Artiles, who represents deep Southwest Miami-Dade County, has been whispered about in the Capitol over a purported punch. One of Artiles' friends, former state Rep. Doug Holder, even joked in his farewell House of Representatives speech last year that he would leave Artiles former state Rep. Rob Schenck's punching bag. …

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Five Florida Republicans help pass 'clean' Homeland Security funding

The U.S. House voted this afternoon to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the rest of the fiscal year with no attempt to undo President Obama's executive action on immigration. The latest standoff was averted before a partial shutdown was to go into effect Friday and 75 Republicans voted with Democrats.

Five Florida Republicans, out of 17 in the delegation, were among those: Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Jolly and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee: “With threats ranging from ISIL terrorists to drug smugglers, it’s unacceptable we came so close to a Department of Homeland Security shut down. Passing a long-term DHS funding bill is a step in the right direction. Moving forward, leaders in both parties must do more to end the political games in Washington that threaten our entire country.” …

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Corrine Brown's Netanyahu moment

We're compiling reaction to Bibi Netanyahu's speech but this news release from Rep. Corrine Brown deserves its own space. Read to the end for the kicker:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:   March 3, 2015

(Washington, DC)  Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a strong supporter and friend of the Jewish nation of Israel, wholeheartedly applauded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address today to a joint session of Congress: …

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Activists unveil liberal agenda to counter Rick Scott's

Pointing to inequality and “self-delusion” by Gov. Rick Scott after his State of the State address Tuesday, a group of liberal activists called Awake the State outlined their proposals for the legislative session.

“We’re here to unveil a bold, progressive agenda that works for all Floridians, not just the wealthy and well connected,” said Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Town of Cutler Bay, headlined the announcement, which brought together activists on five central agenda items.

1. Expanding health care, including a Medicaid expansion that has been unable to gain traction among many Republicans, especially in the Florida House of Representatives.

2. Passing a Water Protection Act to ban fracking and institute other regulations aimed at minimizing pollution.

3. Implementing a Clean Energy Act to set a goal for 40 percent of the state’s energy to come from non-nuclear, renewable sources by 2030. Activists are already rallying behind a constitutional amendment to allow individuals to harvest and sell solar power on the 2016 ballot. …

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House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford gives response to State of State

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, is the House Democratic leader. Here are his remarks in response to Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State address. Watch him here.

Hello, I’m Mark Pafford from West Palm Beach. It’s my honor to serve as Democratic Leader of the Florida House of Representatives.

I’m glad to be here to offer our response to Governor Rick Scott’s State of the State.

The start of the Legislature is always an exciting time for me. It’s especially true this year as we look forward to making Florida a better place to work and live. We want to address your concerns: How to get ahead. How to give your children a great future. How to take care of your family’s health and safety.

We’ve noticed how Governor Scott and Republicans are finally hearing the people. It’s the same thing Democrats have been saying all along.

Governor Scott last week tapped the brakes on some tests our students are forced to take. Let’s fix testing. These tests are so stressful for our children and take up too much teaching time.

We’ve heard you all along. It’s exactly what we feared would happen during long debate about these bad laws. …

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Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, gives Democratic response to State of the State

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the Senate Democratic leader, gave a response to Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State. Her remarks as prepared for delivery:

On the road to his first election, Republican Governor Rick Scott promised Floridians that under his 7-step economic plan, “total job growth will accelerate, the number of new business start-ups will increase, wages and salaries will grow, and the productivity and vitality of Florida’s economy will soar.”

Well, this past January, as Governor Scott returned for a second term, the jury came in about all those promises. And the verdict was grim: Florida is taking the lead in the race to the bottom, in large part because all those new jobs Governor Scott has been busy creating are mostly minimum wage. And it’s not working. Just ask Adhanet Kidane, a 30 year old single mom in Tampa, who works two minimum wage jobs at fast-food restaurants. …

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Gardiner vows to push the debate on health care

Senate President Andy Gardiner opened the first legislative session of his two-year term with a promise to focus on one of the most difficult issues dividing Tallahassee's Republican leadership: Medicaid expansion.

The intractable issue has divided the House and Senate for three years as the House has refused to talk about expanding what it considers a dysfunctional Medicaid system and has rejected drawing down $50 billion in federal money from the Affordable Care Act. The Senate has been open to dialogue, advanced alternatives and been stymied by Gov. Rick Scott's who has chosen not to engage in the debate.

Gardiner, who works at Orlando Health, a large hospital unit in Central Florida, said he will push the envelope.

“We will start the discussion about Medicaid expansion. We have an obligation to look at this issue,'' he told senators and their guests. "For many of us, we believe in it but also the Low Income Pool is possibly in jeopardy. We at least will have the discussion." …

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Gov. Scott's fifth State of State speech: 'Everything is possible'

The 2015 session of the Legislature opened Tuesday in Tallahassee with an upbeat State of the State speech from Gov. Rick Scott, who described a Florida where "everything is possible."

Addressing all 160 lawmakers in the House chamber, Scott reiterated his goals of cutting taxes, spending more money for public schools and job training and freezing graduate school tuition in Florida universities.

"We agree on more than we disagree on," Scott said in prepared remarks. "We want to give families back more of the money they earn and reduce the burden of government."

He asked lawmakers to help him keep a campaign promise to raise K-12 funding to its highest level in state history. That's likely to happen, but Scott's call for a freeze on graduate school tuition is already drawing resistance from lawmakers.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told the Times/Herald: "There will be a pretty strong argument made by universities that graduate school costs are different than for undergraduates. That's one I would keep an eye on." …

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