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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Hays confirms plans to run for Lake County elections post

Confirming months of speculation, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has notified state elections officials that he plans to run for Lake County supervisor of elections this fall.

The News Service of Florida reports that Hays, who has served in the Senate since 2010, had raised about $274,000 through January for a Senate re-election bid, but he gave notice Monday of a change in plans.

"Please change your records to reflect my decision to transfer from being a candidate for Senate District 11 to being a candidate for local office,'' Hays said in a brief letter to the office of Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

The Lake County Supervisor of Elections website also now lists Hays as one of five candidates for supervisor of elections.

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House budget panel endorses limits on school construction spending

With resounding opposition from Democrats and school officials, Republican lawmakers in the Florida House are fast-tracking a proposal to significantly change how public school districts use taxpayer money to fund construction projects, while making it easier for charter schools to get capital dollars.

Education budget committee Chairman Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is spearheading the measure primarily to rein in the state’s 67 county school districts, which he argues have “glaringly and grossly” overspent on construction projects over the past 10 years.

“I don’t think school districts, as a norm, waste money on construction projects, but the numbers bear out … in certain instances, there have been unwise business decisions made on certain projects,” Fresen said.

His substitute version of a bill that deals with facilities dollars (HB 873) would limit districts’ spending on capital costs — even if the district is using local revenue, such as a sales tax approved by county voters. Districts would be punished for going over the state-imposed cap; they’d forfeit the next three years of capital-outlay dollars from the state if they exceed it. …

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Bush and Rubio hit the trail in South Carolina today

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio head to South Carolina today to start the next battle.

Bush begins the day with a rally in Hilton Head, then had a town halls in Mount Pleasant and Murrells Inlet. Thursday Bush has a meet and greets in Florence and Sumter and an evening town hall in Columbia. Friday Bush has a meet and greet in Anderson and attends the Family Policy Forum in Greenville. Saturday he participates in the GOP debate.

Rubio on Wednesday has a rallies in Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston. Thursday RUbio has a town hall near Hilton Head then ones in Myrtle Beach and Simpsonville. Friday Rubio has a pre-debate rally in Greenville. Saturday he's got the debate.

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Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

It is the 30th day of the Florida Legislature's annual 60-day session, marking the halfway point. Here's a look at five things we will be watching today.

* The House and Senate both turn their attention to the state budget. Starting at 1 p.m., the full Florida House will convene to debate the proposed $80 billion budget. The full Senate goes into session at 1 p.m. to take up the spending plan.

* A $1 billion tax cut plan goes to the full House for debate. The tax plan includes a reduction in sales taxes on commercial leases and a 10-day sales tax free back to school shopping period. It doesn't include Gov. Rick Scott's top request: elimination of corporate income taxes on manufacturers and retailers. The Senate still has not said how much they will set aside for tax cuts.

* Florida's death penalty procedures will get another review before the House Judiciary Committee starting at 9 a.m. The Legislature is reviewing the state's death penalty procedures following the Hurst vs. Florida U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

* Gov. Rick Scott holds a rally in the Florida Capitol at 10 a.m. to drum up support for his plan to invest $20 million into high school technical centers. …

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Donald Trump wins NH, but Jeb Bush has strong night

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's addresses his supporters at his election night party at Manchester Community College.

Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's addresses his supporters at his election night party at Manchester Community College.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Donald Trump stormed back into the national spotlight by winning the New Hampshire primary Tuesday and Democrat Bernie Sanders avenged his narrow Iowa loss to Hillary Clinton.

The decisive victories came at 8 p.m., right when polls closed, kicking off wild celebrations that displayed the anti-establishment mood of the 2016 election and, for now, put two unlikely candidates in command.

With the winners out of the way — polls long predicted the outcome — drama hinged on who would fill out the rest of the GOP’s top tier. Second went to Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the hard-charging conservative who won the Iowa caucuses last week, had a slight edge into the night for third over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“You’ve all reset the race,” Bush declared to his well-organized supporters. “This campaign is not dead. We’re going to South Carolina.” As he began to speak in Manchester, television networks switched to Trump’s victory address, denying Bush his moment. …

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Rubio's poor New Hampshire finish blunts his momentum

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio waves to supporters Tuesday night after his speech at his Republican primary night rally at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, N.H.

[Associated Press]

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio waves to supporters Tuesday night after his speech at his Republican primary night rally at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, N.H.

Santorum started it. Christie kicked the door wide open. And the voters of New Hampshire finished the job.

Tuesday was a momentum killer for Marco Rubio, who finished fifth behind Jeb Bush and others. Rubio will move on to South Carolina but no longer has a claim as the establishment candidate to beat. Bush has a strong footing in South Carolina and he and his team are suddenly energized, eager to dispatch Rubio for good.

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 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."

Rubio's camp noted the tens of millions Bush spent and how he once predicted victory in New Hampshire. Below, Rubo's speech:

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Immigration bills dead, Senate chairman confirms

Bills targeting illegal immigration in Florida won't be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee this session, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said Tuesday.

"None of the immigration bills are going to be heard," he said. "So those are off the table as far as the judiciary committee is concerned."

That committment from the Senate judiciary chairman makes the bills essentially dead.

Two pieces of legislation have been put forward to take action against undocumented immigrants to Florida, and both are currently stalled in Diaz de la Portilla's committee.

One (SB 872) by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, would prevent so-called "sanctuary city" policies in Florida, requiring local law enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants if U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement indicates it might be interested in picking them up. Similar legislation passed the House last week.

The other (SB 118) by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, makes it a first-degree felony -- punishable by up to 30 years in prison -- to re-enter the state after being deported.

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House committee votes to expand gambling, ratify compact

The House Regulated Affairs Committee on Tuesday accomplished what has been virtually impossible for the conservative House to do in the last decade: pass a bill that expands gambling in Florida.

The committee not only gave the nod to one bill -- ratifying the agreement between  Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe to expand casino games on their reservations -- it also approved an ambitious gambling bill that tightens loopholes in the state's gambling laws but expands casino games at parimutuels in Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Then, to punctuate the message that any future gambling should face very steep hurdles, the committee passed a bill to require that any future attempt at expanding gaming in Florida must receive statewide voter approval -- through a citizen-led initiative. …

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Open-enrollment bill goes to Florida House floor with amendments

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, presents HB 669 to the House Education Committee on Feb. 9, 2016.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, presents HB 669 to the House Education Committee on Feb. 9, 2016.

A bill that would allow open enrollment in Florida public schools is headed to the House floor, after the House Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon made two significant changes.

HB 669 -- from Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor -- would allow parents to request classroom transfers for their kids or put them in any school in the state that has capacity.

After stalling last year, the measure moved swiftly through three committees since passing its first panel three weeks ago, and it's one of several bills being debated in both the House and Senate this session that call for open enrollment. The concept is supported by "school choice" advocates and the charter school industry -- which gave Florida lawmakers' campaign and political committees at least $182,500 between July and early January, before the 2016 session started.

After more than an hour of debate Tuesday, Sprowls' bill passed the House Education Committee on a 13-5 vote, with Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joining Republicans in support. …

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Jeb Bush and Marco TV spending: $124 million

In what has become a familiar story, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio lead all Republicans on TV spending in South Carolina. The Floridians also led in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Bush and his Right to Rise super PAC have already spent $10.3 million ads in South Carolina, according to NBC News, which relies on data from SMG Delta. Rubio and his super PAC and dark money group have spent $9.4 million.

Biggest overall ad spenders to date:

Team Bush: $76.7 million ($71.8M from Super PAC, $4.9 million from campaign)

Team Rubio: $48 million ($16.9M from campaign, $20.7M from Super PAC, $10.5M from 501c4)

Team Sanders: $21.3 million (all from campaign)

Team Clinton: $17.4 million ($17.2M from campaign, $199K from Super PAC)

Team Christie: $16.6 million ($16.1M from Super PAC, $500K from campaign)

Team Cruz: $13.9 million ($5M from campaign, rest from outside groups)

Team Kasich: $13.2 million ($12.7M from outside groups, $500K from campaign)

Team Trump: $8.3 million (all from campaign)

SOURCE: NBC News/SMG Delta

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Mass mailing of ballots begins in advance of Florida's primary

Pinellas elections workers Matt Parri and Martin Munro move ballots to a delivery truck Tuesday at the county voting center in Largo.

Douglas R. Clifford - Times

Pinellas elections workers Matt Parri and Martin Munro move ballots to a delivery truck Tuesday at the county voting center in Largo.

Across Florida Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of ballots headed to homes of voters in advance of next month's presidential preference primary. Many minds will be made up long before the polls open in Florida on March 15.

In Largo, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark sent more than 204,000 ballots to local voters. Of all ballots Clark's office has mailed so far, including overseas and military ballots, 98,618 went to Republicans, 93,415 went to Democrats and 13,973 went to voters who belong to minor parties or have no party affiliation.

Voting by mail is more popular in Pinellas than any other county in Florida thanks to aggressive promotion efforts by Clark and her system of remote dropoff sites where voters can leave their completed ballots. 

Florida is a so-called no excuse absentee voting state, and this session, the Legislature is considering bills that would remove the word "absentee" from the statute books permanently.

 

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Meet another Democrat who could be 2018 nominee for gov

What better place to catch up with leading Republican and Democratic candidates for Florida office than Manchester, N.H., where it seems half of Florida's politicos have converged to help Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton. Today we caught up with Phillip Levine, the wealthy Miami Beach entrepreneur who currently serves as Miami Beach Mayor. Like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn who also was campaigning for Clinton in New Hampshire, Levine is widely seen as a contender for governor in 2018.

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NRA's Hammer says water agency's actions against local gun club are illegal

The National Rifle Association's most influential lobbyist denounced a state water agency Tuesday, demanding that Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature abolish the Southwest Florida Water Management District for what she called violations of the Second Amendment.

Marion Hammer, whose Florida concealed weapons permit is License No. 0000001, is upset at the agency commonly known as Swiftmud because it is trying to make a Pinellas Park gun club clean up lead pollution caused by spent ammunition.

She called Swiftmud "a malignant state agency that uses unlimited tax dollars in what I can only call an evil attempt to steal private property and destroy a small private business."

"They clearly think they are above the law," Hammer said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times. She's also calling for Attorney General Pam Bondi and the governor's inspector general to investigate the agency and prosecute everyone involved.

Read more here

 

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House committee rejects attempt to put gaming compact to statewide vote

The House Regulatory Affairs Committee meeting is off and running, as they take up three high-profile bills aimed at rewriting the state's gaming laws and ratifying the compact negotiated between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe. 

First up, Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, offered a rewrite of the compact, putting a cap on the number of slots the tribe can offer,  giving blackjack to them for the next 15 years -- but not including craps and roulette and clarifying that they may not relocated their existing gambling facilities.

"I feel the legislative perogative for the members of this committee and the body fo thewhole is ot particcipate in the agreement with the Seminole Tribe,'' he said.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of the bill to ratify the compact, said he will work on need for clarification about what happens within the reservations but the rest of it could interfere with the amount of money that the state gets. "You can't negotiate more money for the same deal,'' he said. "I understand these are all three important isseus that continue to be discussed with the fundamental parts of this bill." …

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Can Jeb Bush's ground game deliver?

A Rubio badge as worn by Adam Hasner in Bedford, N.H.

Alex Leary | Times

A Rubio badge as worn by Adam Hasner in Bedford, N.H.

Hundreds of Florida supporters of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush spent the last few days in New Hampshire staffing events, making phone calls and knocking on their doors. With more than 20 percent of voters saying they could change their mind today, the ground game is critical.

And Bush seems to have an advantage. No other Republican has reached out to voters more, according to Monmouth University polling data. Thirty-one percent of likely GOP voters say they had been contact by the Bush campaign. For Rubio, it was 22 percent.

“Now I think it’s a question of who’s going to come and turn out," Bush said Tuesday on Fox & Friends. "Are the independent voters going to participate in our primary or the Democratic primary? And we have a great ground game here and I’m optimistic but you just got to put it in the hands of the voters here.” …

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