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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Marco Rubio addresses Pinellas County Republicans, mum on VP talk

Days after his endorsement of Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio returned Saturday night to the county that helped boost his national ascent.

The rising Republican star and short-lister for vice presidential nominee worked to fire up his base, pushing Medicare reform and assailing the federal government's "big black hole for debt."

Though his speech ended with a shout from the crowd of "Rubio for VP," the would-be-candidate mentioned no such speculation. He barely uttered Romney's name, repeatedly calling him "our nominee" instead.

His keynote speech to the Pinellas County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner drew 500 to a crowded ballroom in the Carillon Park Hilton. Bad weather delayed his flight from Miami for more than two hours until Republican officials dispatched a plane to pick him up.

"It's great to be home, and I do mean home," Rubio said. "This county has meant so much to me in my campaign."

Story here.

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Tampa property owners hope to cash in on RNC

Even Democrats could cash in during the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Certainly developer and hedge fund manager Joel Cantor hopes to. On his walls, he has pictures of his family with First Lady Michelle Obama at a fundraiser he hosted in October at his 12,000 square foot mansion on Davis Islands. But he's willing to hide the photos if he lands a Republican to rent his place for the convention.

The price: $40,000 for the week.

"The dollar is bipartisan," he said, laughing. "Money has no boundaries."

A renter could make dinner in the outdoor pizza oven and sip martinis near the pool or host a gala for a few hundred people. Cantor has already fielded calls from a national media outlet and from the campaign staff of one of the Republican candidates. He declined to reveal which one.

Property owners across Tampa Bay are trying to turn their apartments, condos and homes into rentals for the convention. Nightly and weekly rentals are popping up online, targeting 50,000 delegates, dignitaries and journalists who will invade downtown Tampa as the event begins on Aug. 27.

Story here.

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FAMU's anti-hazing panel must meet in public after all

Florida A&M trustees decided Friday to reverse course -- again -- on the charge of its outside anti-hazing committee.

Their decision means the committee must operate within Florida's Sunshine Laws for public meetings, a requirement the outside panel successfully argued last week would be too burdensome for turning around the research FAMU wants by the fall semester.

More than half of the experts on the committee will quit as a result of the reversal, Judge Stephen Robinson, chairman of the anti-hazing panel, warned before the vote.

Go ahead, trustee Rufus Montgomery retorted.

“I took it as a threat when I hear resignations if they’re not allowed to do what they asked,” Montgomery said. “To me that’s kind of a child not getting their way and saying I’m going to take my toys and go home. I’d rather move on because I believe it sets a dangerous precedent... So, you know, go ahead and resign. But I don’t think as a board we should be held hostage under the threat of resignation of anyone.”

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Dem leader Saunders files to run for Senate

Rep. Ron Saunders, the House Democratic leader, made it official Friday and filed papers to withdraw from his House seat and on Monday will file to run in the open Senate seat, District 35 under the new Senate map.

Saunders joined state Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and former state Rep. James Bush III, D-Miami, who have already announced for the seat now held by Bullard's mother, Larcenia, who is retiring because of term limits.

Saunders, a Key West native, first ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2004 in a race against the elder Bullard that got quite nasty. Direct mail pieces were sent against Saunders that portrayed him as someone trying to "turn back the clock" because he was a white man taking on a black woman. One mail piece depicted scenes of police hosing down civil rights protestors from the Birmingham riots of the 1960s.

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Senate to decide punishment in Norman ethics case

The Florida Senate will rule on a punishment for Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, who faces charges that he failed to give timely disclosure of a $500,000 gift from a local business man to his wife.

The Florida Commission on Ethics agreed Friday morning to forward the case to the Senate, which could impose a reprimand, a fine or a removal from office. The panel found probable cause in February to show Norman should have disclosed the gift when he was running for Senate in 2010.

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Florida unemployment falls to 9.4 percent

Florida's unemployment rate tumbled in February to 9.4 percent, reaching the lowest point in three years, state officials reported Friday morning.

"Florida's drop in its unemployment rate and increase in private sector job creation continues to prove our state is definitely headed in the right direction," Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement. "The signing of my 2012 Jobs and Economic Development Package represents a significant step towards ensuring Florida is the best place in the nation to create, attract and retain jobs."

The figure, down from 9.6 percent in January, represents 869,000 jobless out of a labor force of nearly 9.3 million.

Separately, an employer survey shows the state created 10,100 jobs between January and February. That's a partial bounceback from January when Florida lost 38,600 jobs, the largest drop in the country.

Florida has gained a net 72,300 jobs over the past year. Among metro areas, Tampa Bay leads the way, up 20,800 jobs since February 2011. Over the last month alone, the region is up 9,300 jobs. …

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Collins Center names new director

Hendersonann160x160With its management stabilized and its financial affairs in order, the Collins Center turned to the University of Florida to find the person to lead what is considered one of the state’s most well-respected think tanks.

The center, named after former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, announced this week it had hired Ann Henderson as president and CEO. She has been director of the Graham Center for Public Policy at the University of Florida since 2009. She begins her new job on May 16.

For Henderson, the job at Collins offers a chance to return a favor.

Twenty five years ago, when she was a cultural affairs director at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, former Gov. Collins urged her to move to Florida to become head of the Florida Humanities Council. She accepted.

“Joining the Collins Center is an opportunity for me to repay his generosity to me,’’ Henderson said. “He is just a hero in my book. I want the Collins Center to equal to the governor’s legacy and what he did for our state.”

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Brody's father thanks Scott, supporters for $10.75M claims bill

The father of Eric Brody, who was struck by a speeding Broward County Sheriff and severely injured, gave thanks Thursday for the $10.75 million claims bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill was one of nine Scott signed into law. Most jury awards against government entities or employees have to be approved by the Legislature if they are more than $200,000. Scott's signature marks the end of the Brody family's years-long political and legal battle.

Here's the statement from Chuck Brody, Eric's father.

“Today, Governor Rick Scott allowed the Relief of Eric Brody by the Broward County Sheriff's Office (SB4) to become law. We are so grateful to him, and to all the champions who helped support us over the last 14 years.

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Nine claims bills get Gov's signature. One gets veto pen.

Gov. Rick Scott signed nine claims bills into law Thursday, compensating victims of government wrongdoing nearly $40 million.

One of the most high-profile bills will go to the family of Eric Brody, who was permanently and severely injured 14 years ago when a speeding Broward County Sheriff plowed into his car. The Brody family has been travelling to Tallahassee for four years running trying to collect on a multi-million jury award. The claim signed Thursday is worth about $10.75 million.

Most jury awards against government entities or employees--school bus drivers, hospital workers, police officers, and the like--have to be approved by the Legislature if they are in excess of $200,000.

The process has been described as arbtrary and politically-motivated, with lobbyists and lawyers often heavily involved and handsomely compensated. The 2012 session was a big year for claims bills, with 11 making it to the governor's desk. Still, dozens of claims bills never make it through the politically-thorny claims bill process. Here's our story on the world of claims bills.  …

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Gov. Scott's much-hyped announcement: A letter asking NY CEOs to move to Fla.

 Gov. Rick Scott’s big announcement on national TV on Thursday? He’s writing a letter to New York’s top CEOs, asking them to move their companies to Florida.

On a much-hyped appearance on Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto, Scott’s big reveal was a letter he wrote to New York’s top 100 CEOs, letting them know that they’d be wise to leave New York’s high-tax business climate and come to the Sunshine State.

His letter begins: “Do you like paying higher taxes to do business in New York? As a former CEO and entrepreneur, I know my answer to that question is absolutely not. After meeting with several business leaders in New York this week and hearing about the issues they face, I am convinced that every company in New York should be doing business in Florida.”

The letter goes on to highlight the various business advantages Florida has over New York.


Cavuto pointed out that a bunch of other Republican state governors are falling over themselves to hand out tax cuts to businesses to lure them to town.

“Who wins in a contest like that?” he asked.

Scott’s response: “Florida wins.”

On Wednesday, the governor signed a package of business tax cuts worth more than $1 billion over three years. …

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Scott approves controversial Medicaid billing law

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott office has formally announced that he has signed HB 5301, despite intense lobbying from counties and the Tea Party for a veto. He also took the unusual step of submitting a letter to the Secretary of State explaning his willingness to work with counties to address their concerns about the bill.

Download Scott HB 5301 letter

Florida Association of Counties President Doug Smith said the bill “represents the worst kind of body blow to taxpayers.”

“Rather than correcting Tallahassee’s error-ridden Medicaid billing system, H.B. 5301 codifies it and leaves local taxpayers with the bill,” said Smith, a Martin County commissioner, via email.

Smith's full statement is below the original post.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Senate's web site, Gov. Rick Scott has signed HB 5301, which could force counties to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in increased Medicaid costs. …

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Rubio says Obama's 'open mic' incident prompted Romney endorsement

Sen. Marco Rubio told the Daily Caller that he decided to endorse Mitt Romney after President Obama was heard telling the Russian president he would have more flexibility after the election to discuss arms control. “It’s been weighing on my mind all week,” Rubio said.

But what is more notable is what Rubio went on to say about Romney, words that display less than glowing enthusiasm for the probable nominee.

“There are a lot of other people out there that some of us wish had run for president — but they didn’t,” he said. “I think Mitt Romney would be a fine president, and he’d be way better than the guy who’s there right now.”

Rubio surely expected some blowback from conservatives, and Twitter lit up last night with complaints that he got behind Romney. Still, for all the tea party buzz around him, Rubio has a long history as a mainstream, loyal Republican. Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and Rubio ally, suggested a different reason for his late endorsement.

"Marco is particularly sensitive about not being heavy handed in asking others to drop out because so many establishment Republicans tried to push him out when he started running against (Charlie) Crist."


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Mack, campaigning in South Florida, misses big vote

Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, missed today's vote on the Ryan budget plan, campaign manifesto for the GOP. Mack was doing some campaigning of his own, with events in South Florida for his U.S. Senate bid.

His spokesman, David James, tells the Buzz that Mack certainly supports the Ryan budget, as well as his own debt reduction plan, but had other obligations.

Those obligations have made Mack miss votes all week, in fact, adding to a pile of absences as he kicks the Senate campaign into gear. It's certain to be used against him by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. In 2006, Rep. Jim Davis got hammered for missed votes while running for governor against Charlie Crist.

It's may only be a matter of time before the empty chair Connie ad surfaces.

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Appeals court throws out Kriseman subpoena, upholds legislative immunity

In a precedent-setting legal opinion, First District Court of Appeals Judge Phil Padovano ruled today that legislators are entitled to the common law immunity from prosecution and cannot be compelled to testify about how they arrived at their decisions. Download 1st DCA ruling on legislative immunity

The ruling reversed a trial court decision that had forced Rep. Rick Kriseman, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and his aide to testify about the source of legal documents they obtained during the 2011 legislative debate over how to tax online travel companies.

Expedia had subpoenaed Kriseman and his aide, David Flintom, so they could ask how they obtained confidential company documents that were sealed as part of the court record in a Georgia case over online travel company taxes. Download Flintom - subpoena for deposition on 11-04-2011The lower court ruled that the legislators and his aide could be deposed but required that the questions be limited.

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PolitiFact Florida: How long did it take Connie Mack to finish college?

George LeMieux depicts Florida Republican U.S. Senate rival Connie Mack as a man who vaulted from college party boy to congressman. And those college days, well, they lasted awhile, according to LeMieux.

In the Web ad "Two and a Half Macks" LeMieux says that  "Connie the IV took seven and a half years to finish college," while showing a buffoonish-like Mack wearing a T-shirt that says "Kollege" and dancing around in front of a University of Florida sign.

We've already checked other claims in the same February 2012 Web ad including that Mack "failed to pay his child support" (False) and whether his only job in the real world was an events coordinator for Hooters (Mostly False). Here, PolitiFact Florida explores how long it took Mack to finish college.

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