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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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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The latest example of dysfunction in Florida's prisons: "Daddy"

@jknipebrown

Each day, the female inmates at Lowell Correctional Institution would line up at the back gate waiting to talk to "Daddy."

In the afternoons, the prisoners would take turns visiting his office, passing him slips of paper and asking for favors like special bunk assignments, chocolates or time to liaison with their female partners.Finish

Assistant Warden Marty Martinez had so many women who wanted to spend time with him that it not only interfered with the daily operation of the facility, it caused jealous fights for his attention among inmates, according to an investigation by the Department of Corrections released Thursday.

Lowell corrections officers told the department's investigators that they were overruled, punished — and, in one case, even threatened — when they tried to discipline any of Martinez’s favorites.

Martinez, who was fired last week, is among 44 prison staff across the state who have been dismissed since new DOC Secretary Julie Jones took the helm of the embattled agency on Jan. 5. …

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Another day, another news conference with Scott dodging questions on FDLE

Since revelations surfaced on Jan. 13 about his removal of Gerald Bailey from the Department of Law Enforcement, Gov. Rick Scott has avoided answering questions from reporters in any meaningful detail.

Reporters had another fleeting chance to ask him questions Friday when he was in Miramar during a 10 a.m. news conference to tout SeaLand’s grand opening.

He took only three questions from reporters before leaving.

Here’s what he said about the FDLE situation.

"It’s disappointing what's happened,” Scott told reporters. "The facts are this. I believe we should continue to look at all our management teams, all of our agencies, always look to see if we can bring in people with fresh ideas, new energy. Gerald Bailey stepped down last month in December, waited until a new commissioner was approved by all the cabinets, then he started his nasty attacks. It's not fair to the individuals at FDLE who are doing a great job."

So, again, Scott is not saying that he forced Bailey to resign or whether he supports calls from Cabinet members for a third-party investigation.

Perhaps Scott will say more to reporters at 2 p.m. Friday when he’s scheduled to appear in Winter Park to make an announcement …

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Gov. Rick Scott makes pitch to expand Bright Futures scholarships

ScottGov. Rick Scott on Thursday proposed spending $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures scholarships, but did not address recent criticism of the program — namely, that new eligibility standards put in place to control costs have kept thousands of low-income and minority students from receiving the awards.

Scott’s plan would direct new money to help students with Bright Futures scholarships pay for summer courses.

"By expanding Bright Futures scholarships to include summer courses, we are offering more flexibility for students to achieve their goals," said Scott, who held a press conference at the University of North Florida to announce his plans.

Board of Governors Chairman Morteza Hosseini said the proposal would help students finish their degrees faster, "reducing their debt and quickening their entry into the state workforce."

But Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, called it "odd." …

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Political Connections Sun: Jeff Atwater still skeptical on Medicaid expansion

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9. The show airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. in Tampa Bay. Here's a snippet.

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Scott puts little to rest in response to FDLE inquiries

So Gov. Rick Scott, or rather his office, has responded to inquiries about his Dec. 16 ouster of Gerald Bailey from his job as Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the allegations that were subsequently made by Bailey.

But hold on. Upon further review, the two-page “FDLE FAQs” that Scott released on Thursday, falls far short of filling in the blanks.

The release, which is organized in a Q & A format, lists 10 questions followed by bullet points.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Q: Is it true that Gerald Bailey was forced to resign?

-- Prior to December 16, 2015 (sic), the Governor’s staff notified cabinet staff (including the offices of the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Commissioner of Agriculture) that the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE. Cabinet staff raised no objection.

-- On Tuesday, December 16, 2014, cabinet staff were notified that Gerald Bailey would be met with that day about the Governor’s desire for new leadership at FDLE. Peter Antonacci, then general counsel, met with Bailey and said the Governor wanted new leadership at FDLE and requested his resignation. …

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Rand Paul trash talks Bush over Common Core, again

Rand Paul has become the trash talker of 2016.

As Jeb Bush met today with Mitt Romney, Paul took to twitter. "Mitt Romney's friendship band to Jeb Bush at today's meeting in Utah," he wrote above a picture with a bracelet that read "Common Core."

Mitt Romney's friendship band to Jeb Bush at today's meeting in Utah: pic.twitter.com/eprVgg2YUx

But the photo misspelled friendship as "frienship." Paul replaced the tweet but Kristy Campbell, Bush's spokeswoman, was too quick.

"You misspelled friendship. Maybe there is something to be said for higher standards?" she tweeted.

You misspelled friendship. Maybe there is something to be said for higher standards? RT @SenRandPaul: http://t.co/Eqi1rHA6Pe

Rand, who has used Twitter to fight Marco Rubio over Cuba, shot back: "Lay off. It was a common core post. We don't have to spell it right!"

Lay off. It was a common core post. We don't have to spell it right! pic.twitter.com/ZC3oWjkUXi

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Condi Rice taking over Jeb Bush's education foundation

Jeb Bush letter announcing Condi Rice as new chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Buzz

Jeb Bush letter announcing Condi Rice as new chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Jeb Bush is handing over control of his Foundation for Excellence in Education to Condi Rice.

The news was first reported by the Associated Press. The Buzz obtained the letter Bush wrote announcing the transition, calling the former Secretary of State a "strong and compelling voice for education reform and school choice."

Patricia Levesque will stay on as the foundation's CEO.

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