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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Water bill surges through House with bipartisan support

Despite pleas from environmental groups, the Florida House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed an agricultural industry-backed overhaul of the state’s water management and preservation system that could force taxpayers to pick up more costs.

HB 7003 makes numerous revisions to the state’s oversight of water quality and quantity, including new action plans to protect natural springs that are impaired, an easing of regulations on landowners north of Lake Okeechobee and an expansion of a program that helps landowners near impaired waters to reduce fertilizer-polluted discharge.

Under the bill, landowners will be paid 75 percent of the costs in state or federal funds to implement “best management practices,” or BMPs, designed to reduce pollution. The Department of Agriculture is requesting $10 million for the BMPs in the northern Everglades and suggests another $15 million for larger scale water projects north of Lake Okeechobee, according to a staff analysis.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, the bill is the top priority of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, both of whom work in their families agribusinesses. …

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WaPo: Marco Rubio got himself a Super PAC sugar daddy

Washington Post:

Sen. Marco Rubio doesn’t have the huge numbers of Republican donors that have flocked to fellow Floridian Jeb Bush in anticipation of a presidential bid. But he will have Norman Braman, which could get him pretty far.

People familiar with his giving expect that Braman, a Miami billionaire auto dealer and longtime Rubio benefactor, will put as much as $10 million into a pro-Rubio super PAC if the senator decides to run.

More here

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Poll: Jeb virtually tied w Scott Walker in Fla

Take it with as many grains of salt as you wish, but a new robo poll of registered Republicans in Florida by Gravis Marketing finds that Jeb Bush barely edges Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in an open GOP primary race and barely beats Marco Rubio when voters are asked to choose between only those two Florida Republicans.

From Gravis:

“Pitted against each other, Bush is at 24 percent and Rubio is at 23 percent,” said Doug Kaplan, the managing partner of Gravis Insights, the Florida-based firm that conducted the poll. The poll carries a margin of error of 5 percent. The total may not round to 100% because of rounding.

But, when the field is opened up to other candidates, the dynamic changes, he said. “We are seeing the early stages of two-man horse race between Bush and Walker.”

In the open field, Bush still leads with 23 percent to Walker’s 22 percent, he said.

“But, Bush v. Walker is, again, inside the margin of error,” he said. …

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Scott Walker, Jeb Bush fight for top in new national poll

Q Poll news release:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with 18 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 16 percent, top the list of possible 2016 presidential nominees among Republican or Republican leaning voters nationwide, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are at 8 percent each, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds. Physician Ben Carson has 7 percent, with 6 percent each for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and 5 percent for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. No other Republican contender tops 2 percent. Another 17 percent are undecided.

If Walker does not run, Bush gets 18 percent, with 10 percent for Carson, 9 percent each for Christie and Huckabee, 8 percent each for Cruz and Paul and 7 percent for Rubio.

If Bush is out of the race, Walker gets 20 percent, with 10 percent for Christie, 9 percent for Huckabee and 8 percent each for Carson and Rubio.

In a general election match-up, Hillary Clinton gets 45 percent to Bush's 42 percent.

More here.

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Gov. Scott talks — briefly — about agency reviews, immigration, personal email, school testing, …

Gov. Rick Scott visited St. Petersburg's Jagged Peak Thursday morning as part of an ongoing, statewide campaign to highlight job creators. 

Afterward, in a brief, five-minute Q&A with the media, Scott addressed a few questions in the news, including a brewing disagreement with the Florida Cabinet about next week's process to review and possibly get rid of certain agency heads. Among those targeted by Scott: Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty:

"I'm not sure they (the agency heads) are going to be there," he said, addressing a bone of contention between his office and Cabinet member aides.

Asked directly whether agency heads like McCarty were being invited to sit in on their reviews, Scott said: "I don't know. I'm not sure." 

(In a statement later Thursday, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz explained the latest gameplan for the Cabinet meeting: "Those agencies do not have presentations scheduled, however, it would be beneficial for them to attend in the event Cabinet members have questions on their agency.”)

Here are a few other questions the governor responded to:

-- On recurring technological programs this week with a school testing program statewide:  …

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Activists launch fight against campus carry bill

Activists are launching an aggressive campaign against legislative proposals that would allow guns on Florida campuses.

The groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have a new television ad that will air across Florida. It features a clip of National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre telling the 1999 NRA convention that schools should be "absolutely gun free."

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Florida House to move quickly on testing

The Florida House plans to move quickly on its testing bill, leaders said Thursday.

"We're going to try to get this to the floor as soon as we possibly can so we can alleviate all of the stress and uncertainty in the field," House Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole said.

Her goal: to ensure "the teachers can teach, the students can learn, and the parents can be assured that we know what we're doing." 

The 70-page draft proposal is similar to the version in the Senate. It eliminates a new 11th grade language arts exam, removes the requirement that school districts test every student in every subject, and reduces the extent to which student test performance factors into teacher pay.

It also gives local school districts the flexibility to start school as early as August 10. (Current law says school may start no earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.)

The House education panel took some testimony on the proposal Thursday morning.

Orange County Schools lobbyist Scott Howat called the bill "an excellent start," but raised questions related to this week's bungled administration of new online tests. …

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Quinnipiac poll: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush top competitive GOP presidential field

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lead a crowded field of Republicans in a new poll of potential 2016 potential presidential contenders. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a far wider lead among Democrats.

The survey, conducted by Quinnipiac University, shows Walker and Bush at 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Six other candidates drew less than 10 percent each, with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida placing sixth with 5 percent. If Bush doesn't run, Rubio would move up a couple of notches and draw 8 percent.

A potential problem spot for Bush: He also topped the list of which candidate Republicans "would definitely not support," drawing 16 percent along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The poll's error margin is 2.7 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, Clinton received 56 percent, with 14 percent for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. If Clinton doesn't run, Vice President Joe Biden would lead the field with 35 percent, compared to Warren's 25 percent. Warren has said she's not running. The poll was conducted before revelations this week that Clinton used a private email account at the State Department. …

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Testing bill advances in Florida Senate

A plan to scale back testing in Florida schools cleared its first hurdle in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday, winning the approval of the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former schools superintendent, said the bill would "place a lid on too much testing."

But the vote did little to satisfy parent and teacher groups, who say state lawmakers need to take more dramatic action — especially in light of this week’s problem-plagued rollout of the new Florida Standards Assessments.

"What's happening in public schools is criminal, and this bill doesn't do much to help our kids," said Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall.

Read more here.

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Florida Senate to consider Medicaid expansion

A potential budget crisis is fueling a new conversation about Medicaid expansion in Florida.

The issue was a non-starter in 2014, largely because House Republicans oppose expanding Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. But Florida now risks losing a separate pot of federal money known as the Low Income Pool that helps hospitals like Jackson Health System treat uninsured patients.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the potential $1.3 billion loss in funding has given lawmakers a reason to reconsider Medicaid expansion.

"We have an obligation to look at this issue," Gardiner said.

It will still be a tough sell in the Florida House.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Tuesday said the federal government wasn’t offering enough flexibility on how to spend the $51 billion available to extend health insurance coverage in Florida to cover an estimated 800,000 people.

"We feel like some progress has been made in that arena," said Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. "But at this point in time, we are not interested in expanding Medicaid as we know it."

Read more here.

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Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

Thursday marks the third day of the Florida legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

* The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee holds a hearing on a bill to restrict cities from relying on their police departments to issue ticket quotas to balance their budgets. The bill (SB 264), by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, is a reaction to ticket-writing policies by the North Florida cities of Hampton and Waldo.

* Speaking of transportation, the Senate Transportation Committee receives a report on the effectiveness of red-light cameras in Florida.

* Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, holds a press conference on discrimination in Florida.

* The Senate Appropriations Committee holds a hearing on the subject of funding of charter schools.

* The full 120-member House holds a floor session and will take up a bill (HB 7035) setting March 15, 2016, as the date of Florida's next presidential preference primary.

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Federal court rejects whistleblower lawsuit by prison inspectors

via @JknipeBrown

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by five prison inspectors and a probation officer who claimed that their bosses at the Florida Department of Corrections threatened them after they tried to expose corruption and cover-ups.

The inspectors, Aubrey P. Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson, John Ulm and James Padgett — all of whom are still employed — filed the federal whistle-blower complaint in July.

Among other things, the inspectors alleged that their boss, FDOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, told them at a December 2013 Christmas party that he would “have their asses” if they didn’t back off an investigation into the death of a 27-year-old inmate they believed had been covered up.

Beasley subsequently filed an internal affairs complaint against them that accused them of misconduct. They were later exonerated.

The inspectors turned to Chief Inspector General Linda Miguel to ask for whistle-blower protection, but she declined. Story here. 


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Prison reform plan gets unanimous approval

Prison deathsA fast-moving bill intended to reform Florida’s troubled corrections agency received unanimous approval Wednesday through a second Senate committee but opposition is mounting from opponents who say the bill creates another layer of bureaucracy.

The bill, approve by the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, would create an independent board to provide oversight of the Department of Corrections and impose strict new policies intended to protect both inmates and employees.

This is the second committee to give approval to the wide-ranging measure and it has one more stop, the Senate Appropriations Committee, before it reaches the Senate floor.

The measure was crafted to respond to a growing number of reports about questionable inmate health care provided by private prison contractors, understaffed prisons that have been chronically underfunded for years, buildings in disrepair and staff accused of using excessive force, covering up suspicious inmate deaths, allegations that the agency retaliates against whistleblowers. …

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Voter groups ask Florida supremes to reject 'tainted' congressional districts

RedistrictOldNewFlorida’s congressional redistricting maps should be rejected because they are the product of a shadowy process infiltrated by Republican political operatives in violation of the law against partisan gerrymandering, lawyers argued before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of voters and the League of Women Voters, want the court to adopt an alternative map because, they said, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis erred when he ruled that the entire map had been infiltrated by operatives but then asked lawmaker to redraw only two of the districts.

The court concluded that the political operatives “tainted the map with improper partisan intent,” said David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters, who initially commended Lewis for his ruling. King said that constituted an “intentional violation by the Legislature” and invalidated the map. …

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With water bill on verge of passing House, environmentalists look to Senate

Rep. Matthew Caldwell

Rep. Matthew Caldwell

Environmental groups sent alerts marked “URGENT” warning members about HB 7003 minutes before it was taken up Wednesday afternoon on the House floor.

“With this bill, Florida legislators are protecting developers and Big Ag at the expense of the public,” said an e-mail blast from David Guest, managing attorney at the Florida office of Earthjustice.

“HB 7003 falls short on protecting Florida’s water,” said a flier by Audubon Florida.

“Please call your State House Representative and ask him or her to VOTE NO ON HB 7003 because it falls short on springs protection, conservation and Lake Okeechobee cleanup,” said an e-mail from 1000 Friends of Florida.

Yet for all the fuss, the bill is expected to easily pass Thursday in a chamber where Republicans hold a 80-39 advantage over Democrats. After a day of polite questioning from his caucus members, Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, acknowledged that it’s possible a majority of Democrats will end up supporting the legislation, making it the first bill to clear the House in 2015.

“Thank goodness for the Senate,” Pafford said. …

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