The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

A window into legislative priorities: more $ for local projects than at-risk kids

In the wake of a bloody year for Florida youngsters, lawmakers have pledged to repair the state’s frayed safety net for abused and neglected children.

But as the state’s annual legislative session winds toward the final gavel, many children’s advocates say legislative leaders have failed to match their words with action and fear some proposals may create new problems.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $39 million to hire 400 “boots on the ground,” or child abuse investigators who will respond to hotline reports and identify at-risk kids. But investigators typically work with a family for 60 days or less, and then families in need of follow-up help are sent to privately run local agencies.

Those agencies, the governor says, don’t need new money. The agencies counter that if the governor’s plan goes through, their already-backlogged caseloads will swell and families will compete for the services they need to keep children safe. They are asking for $25.4 million more. …

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South FL voter apathy haunts Democrats, Crist

So Oser is ready to embrace Charlie Crist, a career politician of changing stripes who’s a Democratic newcomer. No matter, says the West Palm Beach retiree: Democrats are doomed to irrelevance until they reclaim the Governor’s Mansion after a 16-year absence.

“We’re outnumbered,” Oser said of the Republicans’ dominance in Florida, sipping coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts. “The only way we can move ahead is to have a Democratic governor.”

The Bronx-born Oser, a World War II veteran who needs a walker to get around his Century Village retirement complex, is now a foot soldier in an increasingly diverse army of South Florida Democrats who view Republican Gov. Rick Scott as vulnerable and believe their best hope is Crist, his predecessor.

But for Crist to win, South Florida voters need to do something they haven’t done in years: vote in bigger numbers in a governor’s race.

About a third of Florida’s 4.6 million Democrats live in the three-county metropolis of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, a sprawling breadbasket of liberalism that proved critical in both of President Barack Obama’s Florida victories. …

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Poll shows Curt Clawson with big lead




Curt Clawson has a big lead in the Congressional District 19 GOP primary, a new poll shows.

Clawson got 38% support with Lizbeth Benacquisto drawing 19%, Michael Dreikorn, 18%,  and Paige Kreegel, 17%.

The poll was conducted for WINK News and the News-Press. More here.

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Florida man caps journey to urge Obama to stop deportations

Francisco Diaz, who rode his bike to Washington from Florida, outside the White House on Friday

Alex Leary | Times

Francisco Diaz, who rode his bike to Washington from Florida, outside the White House on Friday

Francisco Diaz was never going to accomplish his goal Friday, but he pedaled up to the gate of the White House anyway, pressed the call button and told a guard he wanted to speak with President Obama. A guard told him he'd have to make an appointment.

But for the 41-year-old Diaz, an undocumented immigrant who lives in Homestead, it capped a personal journey to bring attention to deportations. He had a translucent blue pen he wanted to give to Obama to sign an executive order stopping deportations.

Obama has rejected that but under growing pressure from activists, his administration is taking another look at its policies.

"Forty people have called me, the families with same problems like me," Diaz said. "I want to do something. Today I'm here for myself but tomorrow maybe 500 people will be with me."

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Is an out of wedlock child a problem for a congressional candidate?

With Democrats scrambling to find a strong candidate to take on newly elected U.S.. Rep. David Jolly in Congressional District 13, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of the Rev. Manuel Sykes of St. Petersburg jumping in the race. Some Democrats are buzzing about the 2007 front page story revealing that the Rev. Sykes, who was single, fathered a child out of wedlock and allegedly encouraged the mother to have an abortion. From the article:

Sykes, 50, says he knows he was wrong to engage in a physical relationship, even though he was single. He says he thinks he has let his congregation down.

"I think we all sin, everybody, but the outcome is not always visible. But my feeling has always been, if I can't garner your respect and I am not suitable to lead you as a human being with all my frailties, I can accept that," he said....

...When she called him to tell him she was pregnant, she said, she hoped he would do the right thing.

"But I know a lot of children are born out of wedlock, so that's not a reason to really marry a person," she said. "But I would think that with him being a pastor, he would say, 'Okay, I know what I need to do.'" …

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Jeb Bush, Rick Scott and former Gov. Martinez: FL Senate should vote on DREAMer tuition bill

From a press release:

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Rick Scott and former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez advocated for lowering tuition by advancing SB 1400, which would allow all Florida students, regardless of their background, to qualify for the in-state tuition rate.

Governor Scott said, “Students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate at universities their peers and classmates do. We want our students to stay here in Florida when they go to college and when they choose a career, and that means we must make college more affordable for all those students who call Florida home. The Florida Senate should take immediate action to move SB 1400 forward.”

Governor Bush said, "We must keep and capitalize on the talent of all Florida students who want to attend our exceptional colleges and universities.  Punishing some children for their parents' acts by creating obstacles to a college degree isn't in their interests, or ours.  I urge the Florida Senate to do the right thing for our state and pass SB 1400." …

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Kendrick Meek among candidates who got illegal donations from Clinton backer

A hotel magnate with ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton pleaded guilty Thursday to funneling illegal donations to three candidates, including Kendrick Meek, the former Florida congresssman who ran for Senate in 2010.

Sant Singh Chatwal admitted using straw donors to move $180,000 to the candidates (the others have been identified as Hillary Clinton and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecitcut). Chatwal then reimbursed the donors.

A Justice Department news release said: “The evidence against Chatwal includes an October 2010 recorded conversation between Chatwal and a business associate who became an informant, in which Chatwal underscored his view as to the importance of political campaign contributions, stating that without campaign contributions, “nobody will even talk to you. . . . That’s the only way to buy them, get into the system. . . . What, what else is there? That’s the only thing.”

It also said there is "no allegation that the candidates participated in, or were aware of, Chatwal’s scheme." …

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Rubio headed west for fundraising

Sen. Marco Rubio is going west - for campaign money.

He's scheduled to begin a three-day fundraising swing in Seattle on Monday, with two events. The Florida Republican then heads to California for events in Sonoma, San Diego, Los Angeles and Tarzana.

Rubio's fundraising committees pulled in about $1 million in the last quarter, pushing his overall total to about $9 million. He has $3 million in the bank. Where'd all that money go?

Building a national fundraising infrastructure and assembling a staff that just might guide a 2016 presidential run (or Senate re-election.) Rubio last week shifted Cesar Conda, his Senate chief of staff, to the Reclaim America PAC, where he'll join Terry Sullivan, Todd Harris and others. Rubio has also paid for ads to support other Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Senate candidate Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

While in Texas this week, where he did public events in San Antonio and Austin, Rubio raised money in those cities plus Houston and Dallas.

He'll visit in New Hampshire in early May.

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Juvenile justice funding becomes latest state budget dispute

An article in Friday's paper outlines the budget dispute between counties and the state over juvenile justice costs and how the Legislature is being asked to find a solution:

For years, county officials say, they've had to shoulder too much of the cost of dealing with young offenders. In recent years, they say, the state has erroneously billed them $140 million for juvenile justice costs, sparking legal action.

Now, with the annual legislative session drawing to a close, the costs are at the center of the latest budget dispute.

Lawmakers have proposed a new funding formula that counties agree would avoid future billing disputes. But only the House proposal, HB 5305, also reimburses counties for previous overpayments through small annual installments.

Counties — especially large urban centers that are bearing the brunt of costs — are hoping the Senate will embrace the House plan during budget negotiations that begin when lawmakers return Monday.

"When the state overbills us over $14 million (over several years), we need to be compensated," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman.

Read more here.

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Political Connections Sun: Jack Latvala's admiration for Rick Scott, Adam Hollingsworth

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is arguably the leading moderate Republican in Tallahassee, and at first blush, not the most likely candidate to be a top legislative ally of Gov. Rick Scott. But the maverick Pinellas legislator who never hesitated to butt heads with Gov. Jeb Bush has emerged as one of Scott's most vocal cheerleaders.

Latvala appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9, gushing about Gov. Scott and Scott's controversial chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth. The praise appears genuine, but it also happens to be a wise approach as veto season approaches.

The full interview airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday. Here's a clip.

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Senate panel won't hear in-state tuition bill, weakening its chances

Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates may have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.

The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor's office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.

Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.

"If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?" Negron said in a statement. "I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact."

But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron's argument a "red herring." …

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Gay Florida couple and son invited to White House Easter Egg Roll

From left to right, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier during a January news conference

Associated Press

From left to right, Vanessa and Melanie Alenier during a January news conference

A gay couple from South Florida has been invited to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll with their son, an advocacy group said today.

Melanie and Vanessa Alenier are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida's ban on gay marriage.

“Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides," Vanessa Alenier said in a statement distributed by Equality Florida. "Our family is in need of those protections just like other families. We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family part of our community here in Florida.”

The annual Easter Egg Roll will be held Monday.

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In Miami, Rubio and Nelson renew call for sanctions against Venezuela

By Patricia Mazzei, Miami Herald

Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, joined forces Thursday in Miami to call for stepped up attention and potential sanctions from the U.S. against Venezuela for repressing political protests.

To try to persuade their colleagues, Rubio said the Senate Foreign Relations committee on which he sits plans to hold a hearing soon on the ongoing unrest, with as-yet unnamed leaders of the Venezuelan opposition invited to testify.

“What we want to do is build a case,” Rubio said — not only for sanctions against members of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, but also perhaps against private Venezuelan citizens tied to the government.

That possibility has drawn particular interest in South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelans outside their country, including some rumored Maduro allies. Miami and Orlando remain frequent destinations for Venezuelan tourists, among them government officials. …

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Gaetz: SB 1400 "not limited to Hispanics"

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged. …

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Another Charlie Crist campaign shakeup: Eric Conrad edition

Something's weird in the Charlie Crist campaign.

His new spokesman, Eric Conrad, just left after less than a week on the job "to pursure other opportunities," said de facto campaign spokesman Kevin Cate. The pro-Crist Saint Petersblog noted the departure first.

Cate has said as much before when Bill Hyers, Crist's here-today-gone-tomorrow campaign manager quit before/around the time he started.

Gov. Rick Scott also has had his share of shakeups. So it's not as if these things don't happen. They do.

But Crist is walking a tight rope. He doesn't have the money that Scott has. Florida Democrats don't have the organization Republicans do. And for a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, having Democrats in good standing suddenly up and leave your campaign with no explanation looks a lot more damaging. …

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