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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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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As chorus builds for FDLE probe, Scott dodges media

As Gov. Rick Scott on Friday continued to brush off questions about allegations of political meddling made by the state's former top law enforcement officer, pressure mounted elsewhere in Florida to get answers.

A Land O'Lakes man filed a formal complaint with the FBI asking for an investigation into a series of claims made last week by Gerald Bailey, whom Scott ousted as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"There's a clear indication of tampering with criminal investigations and FDLE that an impartial investigator needs to take a look at," said Jim Frissell, a 58-year-old engineer.

Frissell sent his complaint to Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who, along with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, said on Thursday that a third party should investigate Bailey's allegations, which included charges that Scott's office or campaign pressured him to fudge details in a criminal investigation, shuttle campaign workers in state vehicles, expedite a criminal investigation of a possible Scott appointee and craft Scott's campaign platform on law enforcement. …

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Legislator conducts surprise inspection of troubled prison

Suwanee CorrectionalThe chairman of a key legislative committee and an entourage of Senate staff dropped in for an evening of surprise inspections at two of North Florida’s troubled prisons late Thursday.

The initial findings after touring Suwannee Correctional and Jefferson Correctional: dormitories that had been abandoned because of leaking roofs, facilities dependent on community donations for supplies, and dangerously low staffing levels at two prisons with a history of inmate abuse.

 “I’m sorry to be the only fool who has taken it on himself to check it out but I don’t like dog and pony shows,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, in an interview with the Herald/Times. 

He said he decided he needed to conduct the surprise inspections to “get to the bottom of what needs to be done at the Department of Corrections” after a series of reports in the Miami Herald have called attention to a record number of inmate deaths and allegations of cover-up by officials involved.

He said he relied on a state statute that allows authorized visits by legislators, governors, judges, Cabinet officials and states attorneys and brought along his staff to chronicle the experience.

The reaction from the close-knit prison establishment: complete surprise.

“A Senator or Representative, touring a State Correctional facility, afterhours, is unheard of,’’ wrote Samuel Culpepper, director of prisons for Region 1 in North Florida, in an email message to wardens on Friday morning. “We’re in a new day and a new time.”Full Story

Scott appoints new Board of Education member

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

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Stuck on Repeat: Scott avoids FDLE questions in Winter Park

During a Friday afternoon news conference in Winter Park, reporters continued to push Gov. Rick Scott to answer questions that he’s been dodging for a week about why he ousted Gerald Bailey from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the allegations that Bailey has made since then.

And for the second time Friday, Scott avoided answering most of the questions.

“This is by far the most hostile I’ve seen any interaction between Scott and the media,” said Jason Garcia, a Florida Trend editor who attended the Winter Park news conference.

Here’s Garcia’s transcript of the Q & A:

Question: Are you willing to either call for or accept an outside investigation into the ouster of FDLE Commissioner Bailey?

Scott: “Here are the facts: Gerry Bailey was eligible for retirement. My belief is, in all your agencies in government, you ought to be looking for new talent all the time, looking for new ideas. He agreed to step down. Then a new commissioner was approved by all the Cabinet. Then after that, he decided to make attacks. It’s unfair to the individuals that work at FDLE. They do a great job. It’s also unfair to the new commissioner, Rick Swearingen, who also does a great job.” …

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Bush, Scott, Gardiner, Crisafulli to attend education summit in Tally

Jeb Bush's education foundation will hold a summit on Feb. 10 that the former governor will attend along with Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education announced the summit today and said Bush will attend. (Conveniently, the presidential hopeful also has a fundraiser in Tallahassee that day).

"The half-day event, 2-5 p.m., at The Alumni Center in Tallahassee, Fla., is convening top Florida policymakers and education stakeholders for a conversation about accountability and choice, two of the most important factors for unlocking student potential. Event cohosts include Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Council of 100, Hispanic CREO, the James Madison Institute, the Multicultural Education Alliance, and the Urban League of Greater Miami."

Bush yesterday said he was handing over control of the foundation to Condi Rice.

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Scott recommends money for individuals with disabilities

Another day, another budget recommendation.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday unveiled new additional of his budget proposal, including $8 million to enroll all individuals "with critical needs" from the waiting list to the Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Program.

"I am pleased to announce that for the second year in a row, Floridians will be removed from the critical needs waiting list with our proposed funding," he said in a statement.

Scott is also prioritizing the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program. The program provides scholarships worth $10,000 or more to children with profound special needs. The money can be applied toward private school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and therapy.

The governor's proposed budget will include an additional $5 million for the program.

"Every individual should have the opportunity to get a great job and education regardless of the challenges they may face, and that is why we are making this funding a priority," Scott said.

He is expected to release his entire budget proposal next week.

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Police body camera bill loses its teeth

A South Florida lawmaker proposed legislation last month that would require every police officer in the state to wear a body camera while on duty. 

The cameras became central to the debate about law enforcement accountability following the police-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.  

But they have been questioned by many policymakers and leaders in law enforcement because of concerns about costs, privacy and how they would be used in internal police investigations. 

In the first House committee workshop on the bill (H.B. 57) Tuesday, those same concerns were brought up -- and are leading sponsor Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, to dramatically change his proposal. 

There'll be no more requirement that every officer wear a camera, he said. 

"We all should have some type of accountability," Jones said. "I thought it was a great accountability tool on both sides, the citizens and the police officers."  …

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