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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Obama golfing in Florida

President Obama this afternoon is at Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City, continuing his love affair with the sport.

Obama will remain there overnight and return to Washington tomorrow. He was greeted at the airport by Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Jupiter Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, and Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson. According to the White House, his golfing partners are Ahmad Rashad, Cy Walker and Alonzo Mourning.

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April 13 presidential announcement day for Marco Rubio?

Marco Rubio has reserved the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami for an undisclosed event April 13, which appears to be a potential, if not likely, spot for Florida's junior senator to announce his candidacy for president.

A Rubio adviser stressed nothing has been nailed down for any kind of announcement, but the timing makes sense: Likely presidential candidate Rand Paul is expected to make his candidacy official on April 7, followed by a five-day, five-state announcement tour, so Rubio presumably would not want to share the spotlight during that period.

All-but-announced candidate Jeb Bush appears to be in no rush to shift more formally into campaign mode, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made his announcement this week, and Democrat Hillary Clinton is expected to make her campaign announcement in April as well, though nothing has been set.

Rubio, 43, has been preparing for a potential presidential run for at least a year. While behind in most early polls, he has generated considerable early buzz as a top-tier contender who offers the party a fresh face, foreign policy experience, charisma, and substance. …

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PolitiFact Florida: Checking Jeb Bush's claim about Florida's achievement gap

In his first foray into New Hampshire as a potential Republican presidential contender, former Gov. Jeb Bush talked up Florida’s record on education during his tenure.

Bush, who was governor between 1999 and  2007, talked about how the state stopped automatically moving up third-graders to fourth grade if they weren’t deemed ready. (The old approach has sometimes been called "social promotion.") And he also touted that during his tenure Florida started the state’s voluntary prekindergarten program.

Such policies paid off, Bush said.

"We had significant gains, particularly with kids in poverty," Bush said at a business roundtable in Hudson, N.H., March 13. "Florida continues to be one of the states that does the best with low-income kids, and we are one of the few states that has actually had a narrowing of the achievement gap based on income, or based on race or ethnicity."Full Story

Controversial charter school bill wins support in Florida House

Without a word of debate Friday, the Florida House approved a controversial proposal that could require school districts to share tens of millions of dollars in construction funds with rival charter schools.

The bill was one of four high-profile education proposals that won the support of the Republican-dominated House. The others would:

* Ease the penalties for schools that fail to comply with the Constitutionally-mandated limits on class size;

* Create a pilot program to give principals more control over hiring and budget decisions; and

* Encourage school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8 by offering incentive money.

All of the Democrats in attendance voted against the charter school bill (HB 7037). But none debated the measure on the floor.

Read more here.

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Struggling with gay rights in Jacksonville's mayor race

Guess where you'll find the most gay Floridians? Wrong, it's not Miami. The Florida metro area with the highest percentage of residents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) is actually Jacksonville (4.3 percent), followed by Miami (4.2 percent) and Tampa Bay (4.1 percent), according to Gallup polling.

So you might think it would be a no brainer the Jacksonville Democratic mayor to come out in favor of a proposed human rights ordinance, guaranteeing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nope. It's proven to be one of the biggest issues in the widely watched mayoral race, but neither Democratic incumbent Alvin Brown nor challenger Lenny Curry, the former state GOP chairman, have been willing to take a position beyond not-so-boldly declaring their opposition to discrimination in general.

We've heard some Democrats lament that if Brown winds up losing the May 19 runoff election, he can blame that one issue for hurting him with progressive, Democratic-leaning voters. But it's not really so simple, of course. …

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Rubio says D.C. residents need guns to achieve the American Dream

Sen. Marco Rubio says residents of the District of Columbia need guns to achieve the American Dream, and has proposed legislation to strip local officials of the right to regulate firearms.

“In order to achieve the American Dream, people need to be able to live in safe communities and be able to protect themselves, their families and their properties from danger. The lawful exercise of the Second Amendment is part of what makes this possible,” Rubio said in a statement announcing the Second Amendment Enforcement Act of 2015.

“For years, the District of Columbia has infringed on its residents’ Second Amendment rights and rendered them vulnerable to criminals who could care less what the gun laws are. This legislation will finally allow D.C.’s law-abiding residents and visitors access to firearms for sporting or lawful defense of themselves and their homes, businesses and families.”

The legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, adds to a long-running fight over guns in Washington. It has little chance of becoming reality. …

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Meet Scott Walker, Jeb's biggest threat, who is quietly making inroads in Fla

Scott Walker will likely be on the front page of Florida's biggest newspaper Sunday. From our profiile:

...Even in Florida, home turf of 2016 contenders Bush and Marco Rubio, Walker is making inroads. A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Bush leading Walker among likely Republican voters 25 percent to 17 percent, followed by 15 percent for Rubio. Among Florida Republicans describing themselves as "very conservative," Bush actually trails Walker, 23 percent to 19 percent.

The Wisconsin governor has made at least seven trips, mostly below the radar, to southeast and southwest Florida — a mecca for Midwestern transplants. In a state where Bush overwhelmingly controls the GOP money machine, Walker has several top Republican fundraisers, and millionaire and billionaire donors actively helping him.


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The Buzz Official Amendment 1 Poll* Results: Buy more land

* Not even close to scientific.....

On Wednesday, The Buzz asked you, dear reader, why you voted for Amendment 1. Thanks to get-out-the-vote efforts by the Florida Senate Democrats on one side of the issue (buy more land), and Associated Industries of Florida on the other side (land and water maintenance), the votes poured in. 

By a 2-1 margin, the side advocating for the purchasing of more land carried the day.

Here are some of the reader comments. See if you can tell which side is relying on the same talking points.

“Amendment was approved by 75 percent of Florida voters who participated in the election, and yet certain special interests are insisting it only be used for a narrow use, like land buying.  In Florida, government already owns more than 30 percent of the land.  The Legislature should use the money to maintain properties currently owned but, under managed.  The money should also go towards projects that will actually increase and protect our water supply.”


Thanks and have an INCREDIBLE day

Tom Martin


Andrew Mason Dixon

Lake County


Bill St. Amour …

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Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

Most members of the Senate will be back in their home districts Friday, but the House is in session at 10 a.m. The lower chamber will take up several high-profile education proposals.

Here are five bills to watch on the House floor:

* HB 7043: This proposal by House K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, encourages school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8. Districts that do could receive up to $10 per student to spend as they see fit.

* HB 7037: This bill by Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, would create the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to provide support to new charter school applicants and the school districts that sponsor them. The bill includes a controversial provision that would require school districts to share some of their capital outlay dollars with charter schools.

* HB 357: This bill by Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Miami, creates the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative, or PAPPI. The program would give certain school principals more autonomy over their budgets. …

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Jeb doesn't read the NYT? Come on

The formerly Old Gray Lady

New York Times

The formerly Old Gray Lady

Jeb Bush said today he doesn't read the New York Times, a dubious statement, at best.

Bush made the remark during a Fox News radio interview and, as expected, Twitter lit up with commentary,

How Bush -- the former governor, policy wonk and smartest guy in the room -- could not read the most influential news source in the country suggests there are limits to his pledge not to pander.

It took us about 60 seconds to find 12 New York Times citations in the footnotes of Bush's 2013 book Immigration Wars, which was co-authored by Clint Bolick.

The radio interview is here. And here's our report on what he had to say about Guantanamo Bay.

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House committee begins gaming debate but no end is in sight

The odds of passing a sweeping rewrite of the state’s gambling laws appeared to dim Thursday as a House committee began debate on a draft proposal to expand gambling in Florida and ended with no commitment to take up the bill for a vote.

Meanwhile, progress appeared to be occurring on another gambling debate -- behind closed doors – as key lawmakers confirmed they continue to talk about renewing the portion of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe that expires in July.

“I would describe our discussions as having been more detailed than they have perhaps been in the past,’’ said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

He said that he has been in meeting with tribal negotiators “over the past several days” as the Seminoles discuss renewing their exclusive agreement with the state to operate black jack and other banked card games in return for an estimated $136 million in revenue sharing each year.Full Story

Rick Scott raised $710k in March and spent $410k

From our friends at News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" political committee has raised more than $700,000 this month as it has sought to highlight the governor's record, according to a list of contributions on the committee's website. The contributions, totaling $710,000, included $250,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC and the chamber's Florida Jobs PAC. Also, the Scott committee received $100,000 from the Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee and Floridians for A Stronger Democracy, which are linked to Associated Industries of Florida. Other contributions included $25,000 from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association PAC and $20,000 from The Villages development in Central Florida, according to the website. Let's Get to Work, which played a pivotal role in Scott's 2014 re-election campaign, started running television ads early this month touting the governor's record and his effort to cut taxes. The website also lists about $411,000 in advertising expenses in March.

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Poll: Medicaid expansion remains 'very popular' in Florida

The following is from Public Policy Polling:

Even after being narrowly reelected in November, Rick Scott continues to have a negative approval rating. 42% of voters think he's doing a good job to 46% who disapprove. Those numbers speak to Scott's victory having more to do with driving Charlie Crist's favorability numbers into the ground than to doing much to become popular in his own right. There's been some talk of a 2018 dream Senate contest between Scott and Bill Nelson- at this point Nelson leads such a hypothetical contest 47/43. Nelson has a 43/31 approval rating which makes him the state's most anonymous key politician despite having been on the scene far longer than Scott or Marco Rubio.

-A second try at a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Florida would start out within striking distance of the 60% needed for passage. 58% of voters say they would support it to 35% who are opposed. With a younger and more progressive Presidential year electorate it seems like it would have a pretty good chance at hitting 60% support on the second go around. …

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St. Pete-area biz leaders hear predictions of overtime session

A visiting delegation of local business leaders from Pinellas County got insights Thursday on where the 2015 session might be headed. The Pinellas Chambers Legislative Coalition heard Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater predict that a "vast gap" between the Senate and House over health care spending will force the session into overtime.

"My prediction is we won't get done on time this year," said Latvala, in his 13th year in the Legislature. "I think the Senate is pretty committed to properly funding health care, and I think the House is pretty committed to their position of whatever we do has got to be done with just state funds." He added: "I'm not making any plans for the month of May to do anything other than to be here."

The coalition's priorities include dedicating part of the new Amendment 1 money to beach renourishment; exempting business rents from the sales tax; reducing the state's emphasis on standardized testing for K-12 students; expanding the use of federal health care money to cover uninsured Floridians; and a series of local transportation projects, including widening the Howard Frankland Bridge from 10 to 12 lanes to accommodate projected population growth.

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Jeb Bush: 'Stay the course' on Gitmo

Jeb Bush just wrapped up an interview with a Fox News radio host and said the U.S. should not close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The discussion began when the host asked Bush about the desertion charges facing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"To try to bring back someone who turns out to have been a deserter is just heartbreaking," Bush said, speaking from a cell phone on the road in Texas, while an aide in the back seat streamed the interview on Meerkat. "The president is totally focused on closing Guantanamo as an organizing principle. And it's all based on politics. It's not based on keeping us safe, which should be his first obligation. We shouldn’t be closing down Guantanamo. We shouldn’t be releasing Taliban that are openly organizing once again to attack us." …

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