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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida's gambling options expand as regulators shift policy under Scott

Days after a judge ruled last month that the barrel races held at a fledgling North Florida racino were not a legitimate parimutuel sport, state regulators crafted a license, the first of its kind, to allow "flag-drop" races to replace them.

In the past two years, the same regulators have allowed slot machine operators to run electronic roulette and craps games in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowed a dormant jai alai permit to be used to expand the number of slot machines at Magic City Casino, and allowed Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream racetrack in Hallandale Beach to run a one-time race in June so they could offer thoroughbred races via simulcast year-round.

These are just a handful of decisions by state regulators that have effectively expanded the gambling footprint in Florida under Gov. Rick Scott.

"There are a couple of clever lawyers out there and we're seeing a lot of strange decisions,'' Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, told the Times/Herald. "If the law doesn't specifically say no, the answer from the department seems to be, always, yes." …

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Immigration backlash: The petition to recall Marco Rubio

It seems there's a petition, as certain to flop as Allen West's suggestion that he might primary Marco Rubio, to recall Florida's junior senator because of his immigration reform efforts: …

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Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week

Rick Scott. Florida's economic numbers keep improving, and with them so do the governor's re-election prospects. A Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll of more than 120 of Florida's savviest politicos found for the first time a majority expect Scott to win a second term.

Loser of the week

Steve Southerland. The Republican Panama City congressman, already facing a potentially tough challenge from Democrat Gwen Graham (Bob Graham's daughter), handed opponents an opportunity to cast him as more interested in currying tea party favor than representing middle-class farmers in his district. Southerland effectively killed reauthorization of the farm bill with a controversial last-minute amendment aimed at increasing work requirements for food stamp recipients.

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Charlie Crist comfortable with his party switch, multiple flip-flops

What kind of Democrat would oppose President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, support a constitutional ban on gay marriage and back legislation that every environmental group in Florida reviled as gutting growth management?

The kind of Democrat who used to be a Republican struggling to tamp down backlash from the conservative GOP base, i.e., Charlie Crist.

If he could do it over, Crist would take back each of those stances, he said in a Political Connectionsinterview airing Sunday on Bay News 9. Never before has Crist stated so clearly that he took positions and actions he did not actually believe in to appease fellow Republicans while running against Marco Rubio in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

"When you're in a Republican primary — especially 2010, which was kind of the zenith I think of a very hard right turn, if you will — I really felt like a round hole in a square peg. It was difficult for me," Crist said in the interview airing Sunday at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. …

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Sweet victory for Bill Nelson

The Heat beat the Spurs, so Florida's senators won a bet with their Texas counterparts. On Thursday, Sen. Bill Nelson went to collect Blue Bell ice cream and Shiner beer from Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Sen. Marco Rubio did not attend. Had the Spurs won, the Florida lawmakers would have provided stone crabs and Bacardi. Nelson had a single bite of ice cream and didn't touch the beer, which was all right with the senate staffers.

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Gov. Scott signs bill to ban gun sales to mentally ill

Gov. Rick Scott signed a gun control bill Friday to close a loophole in firearm sales to some mentally ill people, a controversial measure that has divided gun rights activists.

In his bill signing statement, Scott assures conservative supporters he is a "strong supporter of the Second Amendment" and has "signed legislation protecting the privacy of firearm owners and stopping local governments from overreaching in the regulation of firearms."

As for his support of this bill, Scott states that "Reasonable parameters on firearm purchases must be set forth in state law to ensure public safety...

"Mental health and second amendment advocates worked together to produce this bill that does not affect persons voluntarily seeking mental  health exams or treatments but rather closes a loophole in current law that could potentially put firearms in the hands of dangerous, mentally ill individuals who are a threat to themselves or others as determined by a court."

Scott notes that "other states, such as Virginia and Mississippi, have passed similar laws to ensure the protections of their citizens and visitors."

The governor also commends "National Rifle Association Past President, Marion Hammer, and Representative (Barbara) Watson on their hard work to address a critical public safety issue following the all too frequent gun violence tragedies throughout our nation."

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Disclosure forms go digital, but are they any more transparent?

Like much of the rest of the ethics “reform” passed this year by state lawmakers, the new requirement to post financial disclosures online sounds like a major blow for transparency.

Residents for the first time are a mouse click away ( from getting financial disclosure forms for 16,307 public officials who must file with the Florida Commission on Ethics. Another 21,972 local officials must file online with their county supervisors of elections.

It’s a treasure trove of easily accessible financial information filed by folks like Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and the 160 members of the House and Senate that can only help provide more insight into the backgrounds of state leaders. …

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DEP to grease growth machine with bonuses for those quick to approve projects

In December, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection laid off 58 employees to cut costs. Several who were fired went public with allegations that the DEP is easing regulations on industrial plants and developers that could have far-ranging environmental consequences for years to come. And environmental groups are threatening to sue over lax water protections.

Yet on Friday, the seemingly embattled agency was held up as an example of good government by a legislative budget committee that awarded it permission to dole out more than $500,000 in bonuses.

Recipients will be “high-performing” employees who, among other things, were deemed to have improved customer service and reduced the time it takes to issue permits, a criteria that conservatives found refreshing and environmental advocates found vexing.

“Everywhere I go I hear my constituents tell me how efficient the agency is, whether they are for or against a permit,” said. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. “The agency is doing its job and this vote will award that efficiency.” …

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Conservative activists attack Common Core

FreedomWorks is gathering activists in Orlando tomorrow for "grassroots action training" on how to fight Common Core, the national education standards advocated by Jeb Bush and others.

In a news release, FreedomWorks calls it a "federal education takeover," reflecting a growing sentiment among conservatives. The standards, which have the support of President Obama, seek to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.".

From a recent Washington Post story: "The (tea party) movement has a renewed sense of purpose and energy following revelations that many of its groups were improperly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, and members consider dismantling what some deride as “Obamacore” their newest cause. Unlike the health-care fight, though, organizers say the Common Core battle is winnable and could be a potential watershed moment." …

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Broward resident filed ethics complaint against senator for violating residency laws

A Broward Republican voter has filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, a Democrat, accusing her of leasing a Fort Lauderdale apartment to comply with the residency requirements of her district which stretches from Delray Beach to Fort Lauderdale.  Download Sachs.Ethics.Complaint 

Matthew G. Feiler, 32, filed the complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission accusing Sachs of violating state ethics laws, committing perjury for signing an oath of office paperwork claiming she lived in Broward County, and violating Article III, section 15 (c) of the Florida Constitution which requires legislators to live in the district they are representing.

Feiler, a registered Republican living in Tamarac, according to Broward County voter registration records,  cited a television news report by Bob Norman of Channel 10 news who obtained video footage from a private investigator showing Sachs arriving at night at the Boca Raton home she owns with her husband in Boca Raton and leaving the next morning. 

The report did not indicate who paid for the private investigator to stalk Sachs. Sachs was re-elected to the Senate in November after a bitter election battle against former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. 

Update: Sachs denied the allegations and attributed them to "partisan Republican attacks."

"Of course I live in my district,'' she said in a statement. "I love to call the 34th District home. Republicans have spent millions attacking me and those attacks unfortunately did not stop with the election.  But sadly, the Republicans' well-funded attacks against me are getting more and more personal, but the people in my district aren't buying it. And everyone I represent can be certain of this, too: I'm not going to take my eye off what's important for a single moment. I'm focused on my constituents and their needs." Full Story

Senate immigration bill dead in House, Ros-Lehtinen says

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stood in the back of the Senate yesterday as the immigration bill was passed with the help of her former intern, Marco Rubio.

But the veteran Republican from Miami knows the bill has a short shelf life. “I do understand that that bill is not going to move in the House,” she said today on CNN. “We’re hoping that any bill will pass in the House so that we can go into conference with the Senate and out of that conference report, it will be a balanced bill.”

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This day in CRISTory: "A conservative we can trust"

The Florida GOP's latest "This Day in CRISTory" installment features a Charlie Crist ad released during his Republican gubernatorial primary against Tom Gallagher:


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Fla Insider Poll: Gov Scott looking stronger; GOPers not overly worried about Crist

Florida’s political elite see Gov. Rick Scott as increasingly strong heading into a re-election campaign, but hardly a shoo-in. And veteran Florida Republican politicos appear not overly worried by the prospect of Charlie Crist as the Democratic nominee.

A new Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll of more than 120 of Florida’s most plugged-in political players finds them nearly evenly divided on whether Scott will win a second term, with 51 percent predicting Scott wins and 47 percent predicting he loses. Just two months ago, the Insider Poll found 60 percent expecting Scott to lose.

While more than seven in 10 Democrats still expect to retake the Governor’s Mansion in 2014, Republican optimism in Scott’s chances has climbed from just 53 percent of Republicans in April expecting him to win to 75 percent today. …

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Infographic details how citizens impact the legislative process

If a Florida citizen believes strongly about an issue, he or she should talk to elected officials in person in order to make the biggest impact, according to a recent survey of legislative aides by a Tallahassee-based firm.

Robo-calls have the least impact, according to the report by Kevin Cate Communications released today.

The "key takeaway," according to Kevin Cate himself: "Don’t walk into legislative session without real people, a compelling narrative, and data to show broad public support, especially if you are up against big money. And don’t discount the importance of newspapers and local TV – the vast majority of lawmakers consume news there everyday."

Some other interesting stats from the non-scientific poll (larger version of the infographic is after the jump):

Click here for the infographic. And in case you're curious, here's a link to the 2012 poll, which had similar results.

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Sun on Political Connections: Charlie Crist and marijuana

Potential gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9, talking about positions he took as Republican governor that he now regrets, potential Democratic primary rival Alex Sink, why he might want back the job he gave up in 2010, and how he is receptive to Florida legalizing marijuana for medical use. Also on Sunday's show is Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, talking about this week's Supreme Court decisions.

Political Connections airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9 in Tampa Bay.

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