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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Don't take away our health care, Obamacare defenders urge Gus Bilirakis at his third town hall

A lot of U.S. House members and Senators are avoiding town hall-style meetings in their districts rather than risk being attacked before TV cameras. U.S. Rep. Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, drew national attention early this month when dozens of people turned out for his town hall meeting in northern Pinellas County to rip the GOP's plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Then Bilirakis held another town hall meeting in Hillsborough County that also turned fiery. And tonight in Pasco County, Bilirakis held a third town hall meeting.

"I have an obligation to listen to you. You're my constituents," the soft-spoken Bilirakis said, showing more guts than many of his higher profile congressional colleagues. "The best ideas come from the people."

Tonight's forum at Wesley Chapel High was mellower than the previous two, but the overwhelming message about Obamacare was similar: Mend it, don't end it. …

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VIDEO: On school spending, Corcoran has two words for Gov. Scott, Florida Senate: 'Hell no'

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has two simple words for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate on taxes and spending: "Hell, no."

Corcoran says he won't compromise on the question of whether the Legislature should write a budget that includes nearly $500 million more in local property taxes from Florida homeowners to hit Scott's target of a K-12 spending increase, under a program known as required local effort. Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, don't consider that a tax increase because the property tax rate would stay the same. The extra money would come from rising property values paid by homeowners and businesses.

Corcoran pointed out in an interview that on the same issue last year, Scott and senators both took the opposite position and took credit for a tax cut by rolling back the required local effort millage rate so that the amount of tax revenue collected for schools did not increase (state tax revenue made up the difference, and if that's the case again this year, Scott can kiss his proposed package of $618 million goodbye). …

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Rick Scott's PAC slams House Speaker Corcoran as "career politician" in new video

Gov. Rick Scott's political action committee released a new video on Facebook today that slams House Speaker Richard Corcoran as a career politician, job killer and is full of "fake news."

It's the latest in the back and forth policy battle between the two Republican leaders over the future of state job incentive programs and the state's tourism marketing agency.

Corcoran has made killing both agencies a priority of the Florida House. But those agencies are also a central piece of Rick Scott's political legacy. Scott ran for office as the jobs governor and credits investments in Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as central to his mission.

On Tuesday, the House budget writing committee voted 18-12 for a bill that would kill Enterprise Florida completely and decimate Visit Florida's $78 million budget. Under the bill, which could be on the House floor as early as the first week of the next annual session that begins on March 7, Visit Florida would be cut to just $25 million. …

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New college $1 million scholarship program proposed for 50 children of farm workers

The children of farm workers would be eligible for 50 full-tuition scholarships to Florida colleges and universities under a bill being proposed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

The amendment to SB 2, the Senate's higher education reform bill which will be up for a vote Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, authorizes children of migrant workers who meet the criteria of the award, including meeting the state's residency requirements, to receive the scholarship annually.

Farm worker Miamii Herald

The scholarship would be administered by the Florida Department of Education and students would be required to have a 3.5 weighted grade point average, have at least a 90 percent attendance rate and complete at least 30 hours of community service.

Flores, who as a House member helped establish the First Generation Matching Grant program a decade ago, expects the annual cost will be about $1 million. …

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Senators endorse harsher penalties for criminal undocumented migrants

A controversial plan to impose more prison time on undocumented immigrants who commit severe violent crimes in Florida narrowly passed its second Senate committee on Wednesday, but it’s unlikely to advance much farther without buy-in from the House.

The measure (SB 120) has drawn a litany of criticism and questions about its constitutionality from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocate groups, because it would impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same offenses.

“What is it about their immigration status that makes the crime more heinous?” asked Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “The fact that somebody is here without papers, how does that make the rape or the murder worse?”

“Because they should not be here, and they are now committing these crimes,” replied Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, who is sponsoring the proposal for the second year in a row. Last session, it wasn’t considered at all.

MORE: “Plan would treat undocumented migrants more harshly in criminal court” …

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The Florida House stopped changes to Stand Your Ground last session. Not so this year.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer shakes hands with Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne after a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to Stand Your Ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Payne is sponsoring the House bill.

Kristen M. Clark | Times Herald Tallahassee Bureau

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer shakes hands with Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne after a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to Stand Your Ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. Payne is sponsoring the House bill.

An NRA-backed proposal to shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases appears to be on the fast-track for approval in the Florida House, echoing similar recent endorsements in the Senate — and with the same vehement opposition from state prosecutors and gun-control advocates.

After the proposal abruptly failed on a deadlocked vote in the same Florida House committee last session, members of the Republican-heavy Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4, along party lines, on Wednesday to advance the legislation (HB 245). It faces only one more committee hearing before it could reach the floor.

An identical measure in the Florida Senate (SB 128) quickly cleared its two committees — despite similar concerns raised — and became the first bill from either chamber that was sent to the floor for the 2017 session, which begins March 7. …

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Poll: Sorry Marco, the GOP super stars of Fla are Rick Scott and Donald Trump

Scott and Trump took a selfie at Trump Tower in November

Tampa Bay Times

Scott and Trump took a selfie at Trump Tower in November

A newly released poll of Republican primary voters in Florida provides a healthy reminder to politicos inside the Tallahassee bubble that perceptions in the real world are very different from those in and around the Capitol. And to the legislative leaders mulling a run for governor, the Associated Industries of Florida poll should be humbling: You're a nobody outside Tally. 

What's it show? That among Republican primary voters, Rick Scott and Donald Trump are rock stars, with 81 percent of Republicans approving of both the president's and the governor's  job performance.

"Even with an endless, round the clock bombardment of negative coverage in the main stream media, the base remains unfazed in their approval of the President, giving him an 81% approval rating, with 56% strongly approving of the job he is doing as President. These numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise because A) these are primary voting Republicans and B) the President is only doing what he told the voters he would do," AIF's Ryan Tyson wrote of Trump, who enjoys a net 67 percent approval rating among Florida Republicans (81 percent approve and 14 percent disapprove). …

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Visit Florida's breakup with Pitbull almost complete

Miami music star Pitbull

Luis Santana/Times

Miami music star Pitbull

It definitely wasn’t an apology.

But when new Visit Florida leader Ken Lawson stood before a Florida Senate committee earlier this week there was a strong acknowledgement that the highly controversial (and for the longest time secret) $1 million contract with Pitbull to promote state beaches will never happen again on his watch.

“A great Floridian who’s made his way,” Lawson said of Miami music start Pitbull. “But anytime we use a celebrity or any person, we need to make sure it fits the brand.”

Lawson said in the future any use of celebrities would have to “fit our program” and require “commonsense.”

Pitbull’s deal called for him to promote Florida in his “Sexy Beaches” music video and on social media. In addition, the Visit Florida website included a section dedicated to “Pitbull’s Sexy Beaches Finder” (which has since been removed from the site).

While Pitbull cannot be blamed for the entire political fight over Visit Florida, his deal has become the fuse that helped ignite the debate. …

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GOP ad likens Sen. Nelson to Elizabeth Warren

Facebook ad

NRSC

Facebook ad

WASHINGTON - In what may be the first campaign ad against Sen. Bill Nelson, Republicans today debuted a Facebook spot that asserts the Florida Democrat is not much different than liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The NRSC said the ad will target people who “lean conservative” and independents statewide; it would not reveal how much money is behind the ad. Nelson is up for re-election in 2018.

The selection of Warren illustrates her rise on the national stage and she may have supplanted Nancy Pelosi as the bête noire of the right. The NRSC says it used Congressional Quarterly to compare voting records and has launched ads against a number of other Democrats from GOP-leaning states.

The liberal tag is a common attack line for Nelson’s opponents and so far he’s been able to wave it off.

"I'm a political moderate," he told the Tampa Bay Times ahead of his 2012 election. "In the mainstream of American politics and the mainstream of Florida politics."

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What's Marco Rubio doing in Europe?

WASHINGTON - As lawmakers are home facing often hostile crowds at town halls, Sen. Marco Rubio is somewhere overseas right now on what his office calls an “official oversight trip” whose mission includes discussing “Russian aggression in Europe.”

On Monday, Rubio’s office said he would “attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference.”

A member of the Foreign Relations, Intel and Appropriations committees, Rubio was also to discuss “U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs.”

But beyond that broad outline, Rubio’s office has not provided any detail about the visit, including specifically where his he’ll be, who he’ll meet with and who he is traveling with, besides his wife, Jeanette.

Several request for additional information have gone unanswered. “As soon as I have additional details I will be happy to share them with you,” a spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times in an email Tuesday morning.

Rubio left on Sunday. His has not used Twitter of Facebook since then. …

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House hands Rick Scott defeat on jobs programs, tourism

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Eve Edelheit/Times

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott suffered another political setback with the Legislature.

Over the last two weeks he has toured the state, recorded campaign-style automated phone calls and penned a sharply worded letter in newspapers statewide to pressure fellow Republicans in the Florida House to back off of a bill that would eliminate the state agency that has been at the center of his job creation efforts.

It didn't work.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee responded with a rejection of the Republican governor's agenda. It voted 18-12 to kill Enterprise Florida and decimate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency that Scott credits with helping the state set tourism records for six straight years. Seventeen of the 20 Republicans on the committee voted for the bill.

"It all comes down to: Is this the purpose of government?" said House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

Trujillo said with all of the other state needs, the government should not be taking money from taxpayers and giving it to companies to create jobs. …

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Death penalty fix likely ready for floor votes at start of session

Herman Lindsey, one of 26 exonerated off Florida's death row, speaks to state lawmakers in opposition to the death penalty Tuesday in Tallahassee.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

Herman Lindsey, one of 26 exonerated off Florida's death row, speaks to state lawmakers in opposition to the death penalty Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Legislation that lawmakers hope will restore normalcy to Florida’s death penalty is on track to land on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk at the start of their upcoming session.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a bill requiring jurors to vote unanimously for a sentence of death its approval on a 17-1 vote, clearing it for passage by the full chamber. A similar Senate bill is expected to pass the Rules Committee this afternoon.

“The goal of the bill is to have a working death penalty statute and allow victims and families throughout our state to continue to have justice,” House sponsor Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said.

The legislation (SB 280 and HB 527) was necessitated after a Florida Supreme Court ruling last fall that declared the state’s death sentencing laws unconstitutional because they allowed juries to sentence someone to death without unanimous consent.

Since then, trial court judges were postponing death cases or prohibiting capital punishment. However, a Monday ruling from the Supreme Court suggested some death cases could continue with unanimous jury votes and new jury instructions. …

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Richard Corcoran is that guy who's always quoting Game of Thrones

The Florida House posted a new video Tuesday.

And even by the smashmouth political stylings of Speaker Richard Corcoran, this one is over the top.

The minute-long video begins with an ominous shot of the Capitol, with a voice over by Corcoran.

"I remember being just a little boy, mesmerized by those stories. This idea of a group of men, working side-by-side together, none greater than the other. All of them willing to die for something greater than themselves."

Then, as if it's an HBO teaser for Game of Thrones, appearing on screen, one-by-one, are the words "Session. Is. Coming." 

As the music builds to a crescendo, a grungy montage unspools in slo-mo. A contemplative Evan Jenne. A rotunda crawling with suits and special interests. An anonymous handshake. An FHP trooper guardin the American flag. A gold eagle.

And then: Corcoran addreses the House members with the pledge: "And it's all up to us."

Final shot: the Florida House shield, gleaming, ready for battle.

So, either this is tongue-in-cheek (at taxpayer expense) or Corcoran and the House are taking themselves way too seriously.

But the video is on the mark with one thing: Session is coming.

 

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Daily recess requirement advances in Florida Senate

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Parent-driven efforts to require daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools cleared a key milestone on Tuesday: An actual hearing — plus a favorable vote — in a state Senate committee.

Although similar legislation last year earned near-unanimous approval in the House, senators never had the chance to formally consider the issue, because one committee chairman refused to take up the bill.

Not this year.

The 7-0 vote by the Senate Education Committee gives the recess legislation (SB 78) a more viable path in the upcoming session, which begins March 7.

More here.

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Florida House panel votes to kill Enterprise Florida, decimate Visit Florida

Gov. Rick Scott lost again.

Over the last two weeks he toured the state, launched campaign style robo calls, and penned a sharply worded letter in newspapers statewide all in a bid to pressure House Republicans out of backing a bill to kill the state agency that has been central to his job creation programs.

But on Tuesday the House Appropriations Committee responded with an unmistakable rejection. The committee vote 18-12 for the bill that kill Enterprise Florida and decimate Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency that Scott credits for helping the state set tourism records each of the last five years.

Seventeen of the panel's 20 Republican members voted for the bill despite the potential of facing more anger from the governor.

The bill has no more committee stops and could head to the full House for a vote when the spring legislative session starts in March. The bill however faces big hurdles still. The Florida Senate has no companion bill and in order for a bill to become a law both chambers must pass identical bills. 

 

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