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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Nelson's post-election pep talk: 'It has been a difficult slog'

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.

Sen. Bill Nelson sounded a little like the coach of a losing team in the locker room at half time Monday as he made the rounds in the state Capitol, delivering pep talks to House and Senate Democrats.

"I know that it has been a difficult slog," Nelson told a gathering of six Senate Democrats. "We ended up with one net plus in the Florida Senate. But the next time around is a very, very good opportunity for Democrats. I think you see the lay of the land on the national scene, and I think that's going to translate in all the races on the ballot."

The only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, Nelson is holding out hope that progressives upset about President Donald Trump's election will turn out in massive numbers to vote in 2018.

He needs that hope. He'll be on the ballot, too, defending himself first against possible primary challenges from several Democrats mulling a run and then against the winner of a Republican primary in which Gov. Rick Scott is already seen as a favorite in Tallahassee. …

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Richard Corcoran's offer: Keep Visit Florida, slash budget to $25 million, end bonuses, freeze benefits, cut travel

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Times/Herald

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

On the eve of a key committee vote, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday offered what he considers an olive branch: He would let Visit Florida survive but with a much-reduced annual budget of $25 million and restrictions on bonuses, benefits and travel.

Gov. Rick Scott's office responded by calling a "67 percent cut to tourism marketing" unacceptable, and said: "More than a million Florida families rely on jobs in our tourism industry and are threatened with this massive cut." Scott's office said he supports transparency and accountability at Visit Florida and has proved it with "changes (and) new leadership at Visit Florida."

A Corcoran-crafted amendment to an incentives bill (HB 7005) to be offered by Rep. Paul Renner in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday would require Visit Florida to agree to a series of restrictions as conditions for getting a $25 million a year from the Legislature. …

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Senate Democratic leader to Gov. Rick Scott: Treat opioid crisis as a public health emergency

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, speaks to reporters during the annual AP Florida Legislative Planning Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Jan. 31, 2017.

Steve Cannon / AP

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, speaks to reporters during the annual AP Florida Legislative Planning Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Jan. 31, 2017.

Florida Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the growing opioid epidemic in the state.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday.

“There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it,” Braynon added.

MORE: Read Braynon’s letter to Scott

Citing “recent news reports” based on Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, Braynon wrote that the number of heroin deaths in Florida rose nearly 80 percent from 2014 to 2015, while the number of fentanyl deaths rose 77 percent in the same time. …

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Rick Scott, reacting to Buzz blog post, calls out 'absurd' House Republicans for 'hypocrisy' and 'playing games'

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday went after "absurd" House Republicans for "hypocrisy" and "playing games" in response to a post on this blog that quoted two high-ranking GOP lawmakers as saying they would vote to wipe out Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as part of a broader "conversation" about the future of the jobs and tourism programs.

The earlier blog post that immediately got the governor's attention can be found here.

As tensions continue to rise in the state Capitol between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, Scott sent an opinion column to all Florida newspapers for immediate online use and for Tuesday's print editions. In the op-ed, Scott ratcheted up his criticism of his fellow Republicans. …

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Trump golfed more than a 'couple' holes in Florida

The White House today acknowledged that President Trump played more than a "a couple" holes of golf yesterday in Florida.

"As stated yesterday the President played golf. He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "He also had a full day of meetings, calls and interviews for the new NSA, which he is continuing today before returning to Washington, D.C. Tonight."

Turns out Trump was golfing with Rory McIlroy. Trump also played Saturday, though his spokeswoman described it as "a couple" holes and would not identify his partners.

Trump has been in Florida since Friday -- his third consecutive weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago.

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Military jets buzz planes that violated restricted airspace while Trump in Florida

The following is from the Palm Beach Post:

At least nine planes violated temporary flight restrictions through Monday morning for President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago stay, with at least two of those having the unique experience of being buzzed by military jets, federal officials confirmed this morning to The Palm Beach Post.

Eight of those crossed the line on Friday alone, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Hawaii dealt with its own flight restriction hassles when President Obama visited.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said F-15s from Homestead intercepted one pilot around 7 p.m. Friday and another around noon Sunday.

Friday’s encounter “required the Air Force F-15s from Homestead Air National Guard Base to travel at supersonic speeds, a sound noticed by area residents,” NORAD said in a release.

Full story here.

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Disparities in school recess revealed by Legislature's research survey

Kindergarten students head out to the playground for 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

Kindergarten students head out to the playground for 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.

For more than a year, whenever a “recess mom” has come to the Florida Capitol and pleaded with lawmakers, they have told stories of their child’s lack of access to daily recess — offering anecdotes from their child’s school or school district to showcase the inequities of unstructured playtime offered in Florida’s public schools.

Informal surveys of parents in some counties, like Pinellas or Miami-Dade, have seemed to support their assertions.

IN-DEPTH: “Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature”

But if lawmakers need official, solid evidence of the disparities in school recess, they need look no further than the findings of their own research analysts.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) last fall surveyed all 67 county school districts about their recess policies and also sought responses from 2,900 public elementary and middle schools.

The results revealed broad inconsistencies in whether school districts and specific schools actually offer daily recess, and if they do, how frequently and for how long. …

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Liberal activists plan 'empty chair' town hall for Rubio in Tampa

Liberal activists in Tampa on Wednesday will hold an “empty chair” town hall on behalf of Sen. Marco Rubio, part of an ongoing campaign that borrows from tea party tactics.

“Join fellow Tampa Bay constituents as our invited (yet unconfirmed) guest Senator Marco Rubio hears and responds to constituent questions, concerns and issues brought forth in a format of an organized Q&A style evening,” reads a Facebook notice from Indivisible Tampa.

Rubio won’t be anywhere near Tampa, Miami or Washington. He’s in Europe this week.

The Republican has been the target of regular protests outside his Tampa office (and elsewhere around these state) and detractors say he’s not paying attention to Florida or being responsive to constituent concerns.

Rubio’s Tampa staff is meeting with a small group before Wednesday, according to a message one activist left for the Tampa Bay Times. But organizers say Rubio himself should be available.

A Rubio spokesman last week was dismissive of the tactics and said staff had met with “dozens of these liberal activists.”

"Their goal is to flood offices with calls and emails and then go to the press and claim they aren't getting a response," a statement read. …

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As Rick Scott and House wage war, Senate steps back

Gov. Rick Scott

AP

Gov. Rick Scott

Almost three weeks have passed since open warfare erupted between Florida House Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott over a major philosophical - but increasingly personal - disagreement over the role of government when it comes to business recruitment and tourism.

But while the House and Scott are in full crisis mode and threatening one another politically, the Florida Senate has been restrained in their reaction and seemingly avoiding being drawn directly into the fire.

Initially, Sen. Jack Latvala was quick to call the House idea of completely eliminating Enteprise Florida and Visit Florida the “dumbest thing” he had heard, but even the outspoken Clearwater Republican has been unusually restrained.

Scott's even tried to draw Senators into the crossfire. Last week while ripping House Republicans during a statewide tour, Scott was sure to specifically praise Latvala and Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, for their support of Enterprise Florida. And in one stop in Panama City, Scott has Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, by his side. Still, Senators have been largely outside of the fray.

What gives? …

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Rubio in Europe this week for talks on 'Russian aggression'

Sen. Marco Rubio will be in Europe this week for "multiple bilateral meetings" with German and French officials, according to Rubio's office.

The trip comes as Congress is on recess.

"Senator Rubio is traveling overseas this week to 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," reads a note posted on Facebook.

"As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Appropriations Committee, and Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Rubio is conducting this official oversight trip to discuss the U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs, and Russian aggression in Europe."

Rubio did not attend the Munich Security Conference over the weekened, his staff said, due to "extended Senate business on Friday."

He'll be traveling with his wife, Jeanette.

Rubio's office has not responded to two emails seeking additional information about the trip.

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PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott's defense of agencies off the mark

Gov. Rick Scott

[Andrew Wardlow/News Herald via AP]

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott is painting fellow Republicans as job-killers for their support of a bill that would decimate the state's agencies for tourism promotion and business incentives.

Scott has escalated his feud with House Speaker Richard Corcoran by calling out legislators on their own turf for votes in committee to dismantle Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Scott credits these two groups for helping usher 1.2 million private-sector jobs into the state since he was elected.

In his view, a vote to eliminate the agencies is a vote against jobs.

At a stop of the "Fighting for Florida's Jobs" tour in Flagler Beach, Scott targeted the bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

"Your politicians in Tallahassee today are saying, in your area, that they don't need any more jobs," Scott said Feb. 13 to business leaders and constituents at Vessel Sandwich Co. "That is exactly what Rep. Paul Renner said."

Scott continued, "He said, 'I will sponsor the bill to eliminate marketing for tourists.' He sponsored the bill to do that and to get rid of Visit Florida."

Scott is using the jobs argument a lot lately (though not for the employees who work at the agencies). …

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Tampa Bay Democrats follow tea party playbook to take on Trump era

Sandra Duenas joined about 150 protesters from a variety of local groups for a demonstration Tuesday in front of the Tampa district office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on West Kennedy Blvd. Groups challenging President Trump have coalesced, locally and nationwide, through a how-to manual titled "The Indivisible Guide.

James Borchuk

Sandra Duenas joined about 150 protesters from a variety of local groups for a demonstration Tuesday in front of the Tampa district office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on West Kennedy Blvd. Groups challenging President Trump have coalesced, locally and nationwide, through a how-to manual titled "The Indivisible Guide.

From Tony Marrero:

The married couple stood on the sidewalk in front of the gleaming high rise, clutching pink posters as traffic zoomed by on West Kennedy Boulevard.

It was Valentine's Day, and Andrea Beley and Gaston Naranjo of Tampa had joined about 150 other demonstrators to send a message to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. This day, the group was largely focused on getting Rubio to hold a town hall meeting.

"I don't feel like I have a senator," said Beley, a 64-year-old retired university professor, as she held a holiday-inspired sign that read, "Rubio, Wherefore Art Thou?" "He seems like he's disappeared."

The weekly demonstrations at Rubio's Tampa office are among the most visible signs of a national grassroots movement taking hold in Tampa Bay. The goal: Block President Donald Trump's agenda by pressuring members of Congress at home. …

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'A tough spot': 20 more House Republicans have to choose between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran

It's robo-call time for 20 more Republicans in the Florida House. They are the GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee who are set to vote Tuesday on one of Speaker Richard Corcoran's top priorities: a bill dismantling Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida (HB 7005).

This is the issue that has created a major rift between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who supports retaining the two programs that Corcoran calls "corporate welfare" and "the government picking winners and losers." Scott has aggressively turned up the heat on the bill's supporters, including robo-calls to their constituents, a tactic usually seen in the heat of an election campaign.

FullSizeRender(13)Eleven of the 20 GOP members on Appropriations are from South Florida or Tampa Bay, including Reps. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale; Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo; Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami; and Jose Felix "Pepi" Diaz, R-Miami (in photo), who said Tuesday's vote will simply keep the debate going. …

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Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week

Andrew Gillum. The little-known 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee may seem like a longshot for governor, but as the crowd of white Democrats looking at running grows (Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando businessman Chris King, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, lawyer John Morgan of Orlando, among them) the odds of anAfrican-American candidate winning the primary where 30 percent of the voters are black seems not so bleak.

Loser of the week

Richard Corcoran. The problem for politicians holding themselves as holier-than-though ideological purists is that they tend to be vulnerable to hypocrisy charges. So when Florida House Speaker Corcoran -- the ultimate Tallahassee political insider casting himself as a warrior against Tallahassee insiders -- bars the public and press from attending a meeting of Republican legislators viewing a taxpayer-funded video, his claim to be a champion of transparency rings hollow.


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Trump welcomes a super fan onto the stage in Melbourne

President Donald Trump in Melbourne

Screen capture

President Donald Trump in Melbourne

Donald Trump dismissed security concerns and welcomed a man onto the stage in Melbourne on Saturday, a splash of showmanship in a rally that made you think the campaign was still going.

"I'm only worried he's going to give me a kiss," Trump joked. "Come on up."

The man is Gene Huber of Boynton Beach, per the Palm Beach Post's George Bennett. Media reports indicated Huber had been on line many hours before the rally.

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