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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gardiner talks about his session priorities and his take the issues

Andy GardinerSenate President Andy Gardiner laid out his priorities in an information meeting with reporters Wednesday and said he will be focused on implementing Amendment 1, bringing more tax relief to Floridians and finding ways to help special needs students get broader employment opportunities.

Gardiner, R-Orlando, who was sworn in for the two-year term as Senate president in November, touched on several high profile issues that are likely to become the focus of the 60-day session in March.

MEDICAID -- Gardiner, vice president of Orlando Health, said he is open to hearing details on a compromise health care reform plan pushed by a coalition of hospitals this month, that would help the state move toward expanding Medicaid under Obamacare to cover more of the uninsured.

ENVIRONMENT -- He said committees will conduct hearing in January to hear what the authors of Amendment 1 had in mind as the legislature works on how to implement the new constitutional provision to dedicate one third of the state’s documentary stamp taxes to land and water preservation.

CLAIMS --Unlike his predecessor Senate President Don Gaetz, Gardiner is open to giving a hearing to the 33 claims bills filed to require state or local government pay a settlement or legal liability.

TESTING -- He wants his education committees to review the amount of school tests required of Florida k-12 students. “The jury’s still out on if we are over-testing,’’ he said. On Common Core, however, he said there are legitimate concerns about the proposal “but I don’t support walking away from that accountability.”

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Gardiner says first Senate bill will be greyhound injury reporting

GreyhoundsSenate President Andy Gardiner said Wednesday he will revive the bill to require the greyhound racing industry to report animal injuries and have the measure sent to the House during the first week of the 2015 session.

“It’ll be named after Mrs. Gaetz,’’ he said, referring to Vicky Gaetz, the wife of former Senate President Don Gaetz who is an animal lover and worked to help persuade lawmakers to pass the bill last year. 

The bill died in the final week of the 2014 legislative session after it became entangled in pari-mutuel industry politics.

Unlike other states, Florida’s greyhound industry does not have to report when dogs are injured as a result of racing or training. The bill, SB 2, was filed Tuesday by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. It imposes fines on track veterinarians who fail to report race-related injuries and follows a similar bill passed in 2013 that requires tracks to report greyhound deaths. In the first 9 months of 2013, 74 greyhound deaths were reported – more than one every three days. 

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Florida reaction to Cuba news

Reaction to the news that the U.S. is normalizing relations with Cuba and Alan Gross is being freed from a Cuban prison:

Sen.  Bill Nelson: “The success of this monumental development depends on Castro’s willingness to grant basic democratic freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said. On more normal relations, Nelson said: “Let's see if Castro changes the behavior of a brutal police state and provides freedoms for the Cuban people.”


Sen. Marco Rubio "Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost. Like all Americans, I rejoice at the fact that Alan Gross will be able to return to his family after five years in captivity. Although he is supposedly being released on humanitarian grounds, his inclusion in a swap involving intelligence agents furthers the Cuban narrative about his work in Cuba. In contrast, the Cuban Five were spies operating against our nation on American soil. They were indicted and prosecuted in a court of law for the crimes of espionage and were linked to the murder of the humanitarian pilots of Brothers to the Rescue. There should be no equivalence between the two, and Gross should have been released unconditionally.

"The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable. Cuba’s record is clear. Just as when President Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, the Castro family still controls the country, the economy and all levers of power. This administration’s attempts to loosen restrictions on travel in recent years have only served to benefit the regime. While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear. Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism. It continues to actively work with regimes like North Korea to illegally traffic weapons in our hemisphere in violation of several United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It colludes with America’s enemies, near and far, to threaten us and everything we hold dear. But most importantly, the regime’s brutal treatment of the Cuban people has continued unabated. Dissidents are harassed, imprisoned and even killed. Access to information is restricted and controlled by the regime. That is why even more than just putting U.S. national security at risk, President Obama is letting down the Cuban people, who still yearn to be free.

“I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense. Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy. When America is unwilling to advocate for individual liberty and freedom of political expression 90 miles from our shores, it represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”Full Story

Governor's office says DCF will honor child abuse settlement, won't say when

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott has indicated that the governor's office wants the Department and Children and Families to pay the settlement to the surviving Barahona twin whose sibling died after years of torture by their adoptive parents, but questions remain. 

"DCF will work with everyone involved to honor the agency's commitment to compensate the victim of this terrible tragedy,'' said Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz in an email to the Miami Herald late Tuesday.

It is unclear how DCF will honor the agency's commitment or how long it will take. The department's deputy general counsel has objected to a claim bill that has been filed to compensate Victor Barahona for the $3.75 million the state owes him and, as a result of those objections and additional concerns raised by the Senate's lawyer, the bill has been put on indefinite hold. …

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Who is Jeb Bush?

Who is Jeb Bush.

Correct, sir, for $200.

Tuesday evening on Jeopardy, the first question under the category "Picture the Politician" was a picture of Jeb Bush.

The contestant, a writer from New Orleans named Rooks, got it right, picking up $200.

-- Lucy Morgan

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Rand Paul takes early shots at Bush on Common Core

At the start of Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul had this to say about Jeb Bush's news: "The more the merrier."

But Paul, who is no doubt eyeing a run for president too, dropped the nice talk as the day wore on. To reporters he questioned whether Bush's name would be a problem. Then his team leaked that it had purchased Google ads so when people search for Bush, Paul's website would pop up.

Tonight, on Fox not long ago, the Kentucky Republican implied that Bush was stale and had a major problem with Common Core. Asked by Megyn Kelly why Bush got in so early, Paul replied: “Maybe he has more ground he needs to gain. He’s been out of this a while so maybe he needs to get back in and practice up a bit.”

Paul said he would wait a few months to announce. …

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Latvala orders another round of growlers

It was one of the most spirited battles in the Legislature last year, pitting scrappy independent craft brewers against wealthy beer distributors intent on preserving their dwindling customer base.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, renewed the fight, filing a bill that would give microbreweries what they have long craved: half-gallon "growler" containers. Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, plans to file an identical companion bill in the Florida House.

SB 186  would allow local breweries to fill up the 64-ounce containers for customers to take home, which is currently illegal in Florida thanks to resistance from large beer distributors such as Anheuser-Busch. Brewers now can fill up containers that are 32 ounces or 128 ounces, but not those that are 64 ounces, which is the most popular size because it's large enough to satisfy and small enough to consume in one day (it goes flat soon after opening).

Mitch Rubin, the executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, said his group doesn’t plan to oppose Latvala’s bill this time. …

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Lawyers ask court to intervene and enforce child abuse settlement with state

Lawyers for one of the surviving victims of the Barahona child abuse tragedy asked a judge on Tuesday to order the Florida Department of Children and Families to honor a settlement it agreed to last year and stop trying to delay the payments.

Neal A. Roth filed a "Motion to Enforce Settlement" with the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade County Tuesday, suggesting that the agency's attempts to oppose legislation that authorizes payment to Victor Barahona and his new parents has "breached the settlement agreement and has completely undermined the settlement."

DCF last year agreed to pay $5 million for the rehabiliation of Victor Barahona, after he was found with chemical burns and near death alongside the body of his his twin sister, Nubia. The 10-year-old twins had been in the state's child welfare system their entire lives, including after they were adopted by Jorge and Carmen Barahona. Despite repeated warnings to the state's child abuse hotline, the twins suffered years of torture and sexual abuse from their adoptive parents as the state stood silent. …

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Upheaval at FDLE: Bailey forced out, Swearingen interim leader

One week after addressing the governor and Cabinet, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday abruptly replaced Commissioner Gerald Bailey of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with Rick Swearingen, director of the Capitol police.

No explanation was given for Bailey's departure and the news came as a shock to others in the law enforcement community.

Bailey is a respected professional with a 35-year career in law enforcement who has been FDLE commissioner since 2006 when Jeb Bush was governor. A terse announcement from the governor's office cited Swearingen's interim appointment and thanked Bailey for his service to the state. Scott's chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, declined to elaborate beyond the news release.

Throughout Scott's first term as governor, FDLE publicly shared in the credit for the steady decline in Florida's violent crime rate to a 43-year low. The governor's office and FDLE must have a close and trusting relationship since the agency provides round-the-clock travel and security protection for the governor and his family members. …

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Gov. Scott names new DMS chief, reappoints DBPR secretary

Gov. Rick Scott appointed leaders of two more state agencies Tuesday, naming Chad Poppell as the new secretary of the Department of Management Services and reappointing Ken Lawson as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Poppell has been chief of staff to Secretary Jesse Panuccio at the Department of Economic Opportunity for the past two years. Before that, he worked for the city of Jacksonville, first as director of human resources under Mayor John Peyton and later as director of employee services for JEA, the city-owned utility. Poppell replaces Craig Nichols at DMS.

Lawson, a former assistant U.S. attorney, will remain in the post he has held since March 2011.

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Jeb Bush: I will 'actively explore' presidential run

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush says he'll "actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States" in 2016, taking a decisive step that could shake up a large and eager Republican field.

The 61-year-old former Florida governor made the announcement Tuesday morning via a Facebook post, saying he talked with his wife Columba over Thanksgiving about their family and the future of the country.

"As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States," Bush wrote. "In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.

"The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America." …

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Legislators vow to get payment to abused child

Several influential South Florida legislators said Monday they will not let a legal technicality stand in the way of getting payments to the victim of one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she “won’t rest” until Victor Barahona and his new parents get the $3.75 million they are owed after he was found near death alongside his twin sister’s decomposing body after years of abuse warnings to the state went unheeded.

The payment is part of a $5 million settlement agreed to by the Department of Children and Families in 2013, but Flores, and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers, face an uphill battle getting the money to the family.

Senate President Andy Gardiner told the Herald/Times on Monday that he stands by the recommendation of his general counsel George Levesque who, along with DCF, wants the settlement payments put on indefinite hold. Even though the state agreed to not interfere with the legislation as part of the settlement, the lawyers now argue that passage of legislation could hurt the state’s attempt to fight two other child abuse lawsuits by two other Barahona children. Story (please consider subscribing) here. 

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Jeb Bush to University of South Carolina grads: Seek joy in life

Right after Jeb Bush finished speaking to graduates at the University of South Carolina on Monday, a Democratic opposition research group tweeted that it was there watching.

“Nice but typical commencement speech you gave. Hope you’re well. All the best,” wrote the president of the group American Bridge.

Bush naturally steered clear of any 2016 presidential talk, but the growing prospect of him running attracted a lot of outside eyes on what was indeed a nice, conventional speech.

His advice to the winter graduates was in effect to seek what he is searching for from his impending decision: joy.

The former Republican governor of Florida offered three pillars of advice: Don’t let anyone tell you how big to dream; Don’t be afraid to experiment and change, and even fail; No matter how many challenges, remember to have fun. …

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Gov. Scott picks GrayRobinson's Tim Cerio as general counsel

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed as his new general counsel Tim Cerio, a shareholder at the GrayRobinson law firm that was the home of his departing counsel, Pete Antonacci. Cerio takes over for Antonacci on Jan. 5.

Cerio was chief of staff and general counsel at the Department of Health in the final two years of former Gov. Jeb Bush's administration. He's president-elect of the University of Florida Alumni Association and is a Scott appointee to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the First District Court of Appeal. Scott has appointed at least four GrayRobinson lawyers to JNCs. The law firm contributed $20,000 to the Republican Party of Florida during the latest campaign cycle and gave $2,500 to Scott's re-election campaign committee, Let's Get to Work.

During 2014, Cerio was a registered lobbyist with 13 clients, including the American Cancer Society, the city of Key West, Corizon, a health care provider, and the Darden restaurant chain.

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Vern Buchanan awarded $6.4 million in business dispute

This story, from the Bradenton Herald, is from last week, but since Buchanan's business dealings have been a matter of past blog entries, it's worth noting for the record:

SARASOTA -- A judge and jury found in favor of Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, issuing a final judgment awarding him more than $6.4 million in connection with a business dispute.

Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky on Friday issued the judgment incorporating the jury award in a case involving Sam Kazran, the congressman's former business partner in a Jacksonville car dealership. Kazran's case named as defendants Buchanan and his 1099 Management Co. LLC.

"We're obviously pleased with the outcome, it was a very long road, and one that involved a resolution of a case that never should have been brought in the first place by his business partner," said Charles Bartlett, Buchanan's attorney.

Full Herald story here.

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