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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott's tax cuts take hit in Senate revamp of school spending

The Senate on Thursday rolled out its proposal for the highest per-pupil spending for public schools in Florida history, but at the expense of Gov. Rick Scott's goal of $1 billion in tax cuts next year.

The strategy reflects the will of senators to shape tax policy around small businesses and homeowners, not corporations that are favored under Scott's tax cut plan. The move puts the Senate squarely at odds with Scott and with the House, which supports Scott's proposal to boost K-12 spending largely by imposing higher property tax payments on homeowners and business owners as their property values rise across the state.

About 84 percent of Scott's school spending increase would come from higher property taxes. Senators call that a tax increase, and Scott's office calls that "flat wrong." This increasingly testy battle centers on the element of school funding known as required local effort -- a state-mandated property tax millage rate that county school districts must impose by July 1. …

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Were Jeb Bush's picks for the Florida Supreme Court consistent conservatives?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s positions on some issues, such as immigration, have been to the left of other members of the GOP presidential field. But last month, Bush laid down a marker on his own conservatism: his selection of conservative judges.

"I have a proven record of appointing conservatives to the Florida judiciary as governor, and my administration devoted substantial time to vetting nominees,"Bush wrote in an article for Medium. "We sought judges who had shown humility, courage, an appreciation of the duties of a judge, a respect for the will of the people, and devotion to full application of the law without equivocation. My two appointments to the Florida Supreme Court, Raul Cantero and Kenneth Bell, have earned reputations as its most consistent conservatives. Additionally, two of the appellate judges I named as governor, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, are now serving with distinction on the Florida Supreme Court."

We wondered whether Bush was right that Cantero and Bell "have earned reputations as its most consistent conservatives." Our research suggests that Bush has a point, though the case is stronger for Bell than for Cantero.

Read what PolitiFact found.

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Hillary Clinton supporters see hope in Broward County

Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened its first office in South Florida in Democratic-rich Broward County Wednesday night.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston spoke on behalf of Clinton at the opening of her Pompano Beach office.

Clinton supporters expressed optimism about her chances in Florida despite the fact that she just barely beat Bernie Sanders in Iowa and lost by a landslide to him in New Hampshire.

“These are two tiny states that reflect only their own little states,” Klein said, noting that New Hampshire is largely white. “Now we are beginning to campaign into the real states.”

Some Clinton volunteers expressed concern.

“I think she got a real scare,” said Peter Lent, a retired criminal defense attorney from Fort Lauderdale. “I am more worried now than I was six months ago. But I take a long view -- and so does she.”

So far, Clinton has invested far more time in South Florida than Sanders. Both candidates gave speeches at the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale in July, but Clinton also gave a speech in Miami in July as well as at Broward College in Davie in October. …

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Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

The state budget becomes the focal point in the Florida Legislature today. Here's a look at five things we will be watching today.

* After a combined more than seven hours of debate on the proposed state budget on Wednesday, the House and Senate are back at it today working on very different proposals. The House has a $79.9 billion plan, compared to the Senate having a $81 billion plan. The House meets at 9 a.m. and the Senate at 1 p.m.

* After the budget vote, the House is expected to vote out a $1 billion tax cut package that would include reducing sales taxes on commercial rents. It also includes a 10-day sales tax break on back-to-school shopping, a day of sales tax free shopping for hunting and fishing equipment, and a one-day sales tax free shopping day at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It doesn't include Gov. Rick Scott's top requests: elimination of corporate income taxes on manufacturers and retailers. …

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Stripped of momentum, vulnerable Marco Rubio heads into South Carolina

Rick Santorum started it. Chris Christie kicked down the door. And the voters of New Hampshire finished the job.

A disastrous series of events in New Hampshire engulfed Marco Rubio and sent him to South Carolina stripped of momentum and vulnerable.

Rubio tried to smile through the aftermath of his robotic answers at the Saturday debate. He defended his performance and doubled down on his message so hard that he had another scripted moment Monday evening in Nashua.

But Tuesday night, after finishing fifth behind Jeb Bush and others in the primary, he could no longer spin.

"Our disappointment is not on you. It's on me," he said. "I did not do well on Saturday night so listen to this: that will never happen again."

All politicians practice lines and it's early to declare Rubio fatally wounded.

But the timing was ugly, just three days before New Hampshire voters went to the polls. At best it made Rubio look robotic. At worst it suggested he was not prepared for the tense situations that confront the commander in chief. He froze. He sweated.

It killed the aura of momentum his campaign assiduously cultivated and that Rubio hammered home again and again. "When I'm the nominee..."

Read more here


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House Democrats fail to remove Planned Parenthood ban from budget

Among the most hotly debated issues in the House’s budget proposal Wednesday was language to block all state money from Planned Parenthood.

The chamber’s Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration budgets direct that "no funds...may be provided to Planned Parenthood" and "no recipients of funds...shall provide funding to Planned Parenthood directly or indirectly."

It’s a sweeping declaration that would go beyond the state’s existing prohibition on spending taxpayer dollars on abortions.

But an attempt by Democrats to remove the language from the House’s budget proposal failed by a 72-36 vote.

Democrats also spent most of an hour trying to goad House Health Care Appropriations chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples, into explaining his reasons for putting the language in the budget to begin with. He said once he found out DOH and AHCA were contracting with Planned Parenthood, even for a small amount, he “felt (it) needed to be pulled back.”

“If it is the will of the body to appropriate to any organization, then that should come before this body and not be an indirect thing outside this body,” Hudson said. …

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House, Senate start state budget debate with big differences to resolve

As the 2016 session reached the midway point Wednesday, the Senate and House tentatively approved separate budgets in advance of floor votes Thursday and the start of marathon budget negotiations by next week.

One major difference between the chambers is that the Senate includes Gov. Rick Scott’s priority of a three-year, $250 million incentive fund to attract jobs, and the House does not. Scott has been pushing for the money for months, by soliciting support from local officials and blitzing lawmakers with emails through Enterprise Florida.

“We don’t have additional funding for new incentives in this budget,” State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said.

Ingram said House is “working diligently” with the governor’s office on ways to reform how the program is structured. He said they haven’t worked that out yet, but said there is “plenty of time left in the process.” …

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Negron committee set to vote on juvenile justice

Thursday morning, Sen. Joe Negron’s Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will hear legislation he voted against last year but that’s tied to one of his main focuses as he ascends to the Senate presidency.

The bill (SB 314) makes a number of changes to juvenile justice laws, notably cutting back “direct file,” a process that allows prosecutors to try kids as adults without a judge’s approval. It limits direct file to 17 violent crimes for 16- to 18-year-olds and to murder, manslaughter and rape for 14- and 15-year-olds. Children could still be tried as adults for other crimes under a judge’s order.

Reform supporters say direct file has been used to charge children as adults for relatively minor offenses, having a long-term effect on their lives. Opponents — namely prosecutors — worry that it takes a useful tool out of their hands in trying to curb criminal activity. 

The issue closely tied to one Negron has already made a centerpiece of his Senate presidency: not over-criminalizing childhood. He highlighted it in December when he was officially designated the chamber’s next leader, telling a story about mistakes he made as a child. …

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Nancy Pelosi raising money in Tampa

Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to headline a fundraising reception for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the Tampa home of Eric and Lyris Newman on Feb. 22. The invite indicates that $1,000 earns you the designation of Patron, $5,000 per couple make you a Host; and a couple giving $33,400 are members of the Speakers Cabinet.

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Senator blasts budget process for blocking restoration of Florida Forever land-buying program

Florida Senate leaders rejected a budget amendment Wednesday that would have restored $222.5 million to the Florida Forever land-buying program that has been left threadbare since the Great Recession, arguing that the amendment was "out of order" because it would have left the Senate's proposed budget out of balance. 

"All I was asking is to restore the right of this body in public to question an allocation,'' he told reporters after the Senate adjourned. "Horrific, horrific ruling that sets a horrific precedent."

The decision to limit the amount of money allocated to land acquisition to $22 million was done during the budget allocation process with no interaction from legislators, he said. 

"It sheds light on a huge, huge issue,'' he said. "It's the fact that allocations are done completely out of the sunshine, privately done and nobody even knows who does them in this back room and the public has no say...I think we should call for allocations to be done in public, they should be voted on. There should be debate. People should have a right to give input." …

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Senators skeptical proposed changes to after-school funding could be in place by July

State senators peppered education budget Chairman Sen. Don Gaetz with questions on and off for an hour Wednesday afternoon about the Niceville Republican's plan to change how after-school and mentoring programs are funded, as the chamber started deliberating its budget plan for 2016-17.

Gaetz's proposal involves pooling together existing program funding from the departments of Education and Juvenile Justice (which currently go to about a half-dozen or so designated organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Boys & Girls Clubs), adding more dollars to that pot and creating a $30 million competitive grant program.

Gaetz says it would make a more fair process, free of lobbying and politics, and open up the dollars to more non-profit organizations that provide aftercare services to Florida children. (More here.)

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and several Democratic senators scrutinized the details of Gaetz's proposal during discussion on the Senate floor -- voicing skepticism through their questions that the plan could be implemented for the next budget year, which starts July 1, without affecting a funding stream that programs rely on. …

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Florida firm expands to Washington under direction of former Kendrick Meek aide

A Florida-based political and public relations firms is expanding to Washington under the director of a former aide to Kendrick Meek.

Prime Strategies is an extension of Floridian Partners, a lobbying firm with a presence in Tallahassee and south Florida. It will offer "business consulting, public relations, crisis management, global affairs and government relations services with a national and international reach," according to a release.

The Washington office will be managed by Adam Sharon, who most recently served as Democratic communications director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He held the same role in the House and in 2006-10 worked for U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and on Meek's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.

Prime Strategies is also setting up shop in New York and has plans to expand to Texas and California.

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Five things Iowa and New Hampshire taught us about the presidential race

New Hampshire resurrected Bush, but big hurdles remain

Adam Smith

New Hampshire resurrected Bush, but big hurdles remain

TAMPA -- Just stepped off the plane in New Hampshire after more than two weeks of watching the presidential candidates and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Contrary to expectations a few weeks ago, the topsy turvy Republican primary contest is not much clearer after New Hampshire than it was before the voting starting. We've said goodbye to a few candidates but we still have a jumble of contenders vying to be the mainstream alternative to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, including both Floridians, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. 

Uncertainty continues, and neither primary appears to be winding down. Still, after two weeks on the snowy roads and overheated VFW halls and community rooms of Iowa and New Hampshire, here's where things stand.

1. Donald Trump is rolling toward the nomination. No, it's not a sure thing, but if Trump were a conventional candidate, the pundit class would be looking at current public polling and his performance in Iowa and especially New Hampshire and declaring him the overwhelming favorite for the Republican nomination. …

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Love and hate for Miami Sen. Diaz de la Portilla who hasn't taken up gun bills

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, speaks with reporters after the Senate Judiciary Committee's meeting on Feb. 8, 2016

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, speaks with reporters after the Senate Judiciary Committee's meeting on Feb. 8, 2016

Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla has received a lot of praise and a lot of fury, ever since the Miami Republican announced his decision last month that he wouldn't hear a bill allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses.

It was the second-straight year that Diaz de la Portilla made that decision, so it wasn't an unforeseen outcome for the legislation, which is now all-but-dead despite easily passing the House last week.

Diaz de la Portilla has grown increasingly reluctant to take up a similar bill that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders to openly carry -- which the senator said this week is "on life support."

He told the Times/Herald today that it won't be on next week's judiciary agenda, and the committee might hold only one more meeting after that.

He acknowledged he's been getting "hate mail" for not hearing either the open-carry or campus-carry bills, but he shrugs off the criticism.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "I'm going to make what I think is a good decision based on sound policy reasons and it's no different than any other issue." …

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A touch of Gasparilla in Tallahassee

Mike Norton of Tampa reprises the role of Jose Gaspar as part of Hillsborough County days around the state Capitol Building. Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium and Visit Tampa are among the groups promoting the region to state lawmakers.

Jeremy Wallace

Mike Norton of Tampa reprises the role of Jose Gaspar as part of Hillsborough County days around the state Capitol Building. Lowry Park Zoo, the Florida Aquarium and Visit Tampa are among the groups promoting the region to state lawmakers.

Jose Gaspar is trying his hand at lobbying today.

Tampa resident Mike Norton dressed up as the legendary pirate and inspiration for Tampa's annual Gasparilla festival as part of an armada of Tampa groups that converged on Tallahassee as part of Hillsborough Day.

The Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science & Industry, and the Florida Aquarium were all among those who filled up the courtyard near the state Capitol Complex to promote Tampa. Norton, part of a pirate ship float organized in part by Visit Tampa, was handing out silver beads with a silouette of downtown Tampa's skyline to anyone who got close to him.

Hillsborough Day comes as many of those same groups have a lot at stake in the budget debate that will be on both the floor of the House and Senate today. In the proposed spending plans, Lowry Park Zoo stands to get $500,000 for its manatee hospital and the Florida Aquarium stands to get as much as $1 million for its marine conservation and research facility near Apollo Beach.

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