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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

As beginning of the month approaches, calls get more desperate on unemployment benefits

It's nearly the first of the month, time to pay rent, utilities and other bills.

So it's perhaps not a coincidence that the pace of phone calls and emails to the Buzz has only quickened in recent days as people continue having problems accessing their unemployment benefits through Florida's newly revamped $63 million unemployment website, called CONNECT.

The stories are growing increasingly desperate and emotional as people fret over the prospect of being evicted, losing electricity, or not being able to eat.

"I'm out of money for rent, food and gas to get to job interviews," said Margaret Weatherly, of Largo, a laid off X-ray technician. "Can you imagine not being paid for four weeks?"

Compounding the worries for many people, is a deep cut to the food stamps program that is expected to kick in Friday.Full Story

Wasserman Schultz's Dear Sen. Rubio letter on a 'truer portrait of Obamacare'

Sen. Marco Rubio has encouraged constituents to send in stories about Obamacare. Today Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz did that, offering what she says is a "truer portrait of Obamacare."

Dear Senator Rubio,

On Thursday, you invited residents in our home state of Florida to share with you their Obamacare stories. Now, I know the stories you were hoping for were those detailing technical glitches and negative enrollment experiences but just this morning, I visited the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami where I met with numerous individuals excited that they will finally have access to quality, affordable health insurance. Here are just a few Obamacare stories that I thought you should see…

Jason Conner was raised by a single mother who cared for her three sons despite an income that was 100 percent below the poverty level. His family has not had health insurance for generations. Now 29, Jason is a small business owner, but he did not have insurance through his job. Because of a preexisting condition, he found that individual plans were astronomically expensive and offered little coverage: The minimum care would still cost him $1,200 per month. So when open enrollment began this month, Jason was delighted to discover that he could sign up for a platinum plan through the Marketplace for just $350 per month. He has even helped his brother sign up for coverage.

Miriam Romero, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, had gone years without coverage, a risky proposition for a woman who is now 61. Under the old health care system, she simply couldn’t afford it. But since the Health Insurance Marketplaces opened, she has signed up for a bronze plan and will now have quality care for just $136 per month.Full Story

Gov. Scott's executive order sets election dates for Young's seat

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order Thursday calling for a special election in Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District so voters can elect a replacement for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill   Young. The primary election will be Jan. 14, 2014, and the general election will be March 11, 2014. 

“This congressional district is entirely in Pinellas County and represents 75 percent of our voters,” Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said in a news release. “We appreciate Governor Scott issuing the Executive Order early and for approving the election schedule proposed by Gary Holland, Assistant Director of the Division of Elections. This schedule includes sufficient time for election preparation and allows time for us to mail ballots to our overseas and military voters 45 days prior to each election so they are not disenfranchised.”

Clark also will hold early voting preceding both elections, from Jan. 4-12 and from March 1-9. Early voting hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. …

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Poll shows support for destination casinos

Need evidence that the gaming debate is about to heat up?

On Thursday, the Tarrance Group released a poll showing that almost two-thirds of voters support legislation allowing a "limited number" destination casinos in Florida.

The group quickly fired back, linking the poll to the gambing giant Las Vegas Sands.

"So how did they get the results they wanted? Through carefully-crafted survey questions. After all, the casino bosses’ favorite trick is the sleight of hand. They’ve proven it once again with the wording of their poll," the group said in a press release of its own.

Here's the press release on the poll:

New Florida Poll Shows Voters Overwhelmingly Support Destination Resorts in State; Oppose Internet Gambling

TALLAHASSEE -- Almost two-thirds of Florida voters support the Florida Legislature establishing a limited number of "high-quality destination resort casinos" in the state to create new jobs and boost economic development, a new poll of Florida voters shows. The survey of 601 likely Florida voters, conducted by The Tarrance Group, also found that respondents have a decidedly negative view (67 percent) of Internet gambling in the state.  …

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State seeks millions to re-open prisons, camps it closed last year

It was only last year that Gov. Rick Scott's Department of Corrections trumpeted the news that it was shutting down several state prisons in a cost-cutting move.

But now the prison system is asking for nearly $59 million next year so it can reopen two of those shuttered prisons, as well as a pair of re-entry centers and five work camps scattered throughout the state.

The shift is the result of a new forecast by the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference (CJEC), which says that despite a steady drop in the crime rate, new admissions to Florida's prisons are on the upswing, creating a need for more prison beds.The inmate population was at about 101,000 on Thursday.

Corrections officials are asking to re-open New River Correctional Institution in Raiford, part of the so-called Iron Triangle along with Florida State Prison and Union C.I. Also slated for re-opening is DeMilly Correctional in Polk City.

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Rick Scott campaign buying TV time to take on Crist

The Florida GOP found this logo


The Florida GOP found this logo

Rick Scott's Let's Get To Work political committee is either looking to fake out and intimidate Charlie Crist or is about to start pulverizing him after he announces, er - probably announces - his gubernatorial campaign. The Committee is buying up two weeks of air time, Nov. 4-17, for a spot called "Opportunist."

Meanwhile, the Florida GOP uncovered what appears to be Crist's new logo, above. We sort of like what one wag on Twitter asked after we tweeted the image: "Is he running for governor of a morning show?"

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Emily's List endorses Sink and completes sandbagging of Ehrlich

Emily's List today endorsed Alex Sink in the race to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

“Alex Sink has an outstanding record of public service and business leadership, and she’ll be ready to use her experience to fight for Florida in Congress from the day she takes office,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List. “Alex has a long history of doing business in Pinellas County and working to improve the community for women and working families, which is probably why voters are already so excited about her leadership. Alex won Pinellas County in her campaigns for both Chief Financial Officer and Governor. The EMILY’s List community – now more than two million members strong – is excited to have the opportunity to help Alex Sink become the first Democratic woman to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District.”

And with that the group fully discards Jessica Ehrlich, who ran against Young in 2012 and had long ago declared her intentions to take him on again, drawing notice (thought not an outright endorsement) from Emily's List. Yesterday, the group erased her from its website. 

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State receives 15,000 emails, online comments on Common Core

Thursday marks the final day to share your thoughts on the controversial Common Core State Standards.

The state Department of Education has been collecting emails and online comments since September, when Gov. Rick Scott called for more public feedback on the national benchmarks.

So far, the department has received almost 16,000 submissions, including a 74-page document from former state Board of Education member Roberto Martinez. (The file includes a 6-page letter and four attachments.)

Martinez, an attorney and parent, makes the case for the Common Core. He argues that students in Florida need more rigorous standards and higher expectations. "The CCSS are benchmarked to internationally competitive levels in English and math," he writes. "They are designed to ensure that our students are learning the best standards taught in the world today."

To leave your Common Core comment with the state Department of Education, visit

Download Martinez

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PolitiFact: Senator says texting has topped alcohol as the lead contributor of teen driving deaths

On the first day of Florida’s new texting-while-driving ban, state Sen. Maria Sachs, the Senate Democratic leader pro-tem, was already announcing a proposal to make the law tougher.

The new law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means an officer can’t ticket a motorist only for typing or reading messages while behind the wheel. Rather, the driver has to first commit another violation, like swerving or running a red light.

Sachs, of Delray Beach, has filed a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, which she argues will make it easier to enforce. The penalties -- $30 for a first violation -- will remain.

At a press conference with AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to announce her proposed changes, Sachs recited several somber statistics. PolitiFact checks this claim: "In 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths."

PolitiFact investigates Sachs' claim. 

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Rubio says bill to provide workplace protections for gays could result in 'frivolous lawsuits'

Sen. Marco Rubio opposes the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a spokeswoman says.

"He believes people’s qualifications, performance and honesty are the most important qualities by which they should be judged in the workplace. If you’re a good worker, that’s all that should matter," spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said. "This legislation goes far beyond protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and he is currently studying what kinds of burdens it could impose on small businesses, frivolous lawsuits that could result, and ensuring that religious freedoms under the First Amendment are protected."

The comments are similar to what Rubio, R-Fla., said earlier this year when the issue came up. But momentum is building in the Senate.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson recently became one of the last Democratic senators to back the legislation. On Wednesday Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the last Democratic holdout, announcing support. A group of moderate Republicans are also in favor of the legislation.

Even if it passes, the bill could not clear the House.



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Can Rubio help save Cuccinelli?

Sen. Marco Rubio will campaign with VA gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli in Warrenton and Culpeper on Monday as part of a last-minute push by the campaign to get out the Republican vote.

A report in Politico said Scott Walker and Ron Paul will also campaign for Cuccinelli, who is behind Democrat Terry McAullife in the polls.

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Weatherford and Gaetz challenging proposed medical marijuana amendment

The battle to get the medical marijuana issue to voters in 2014 has encountered one more challenge.

On Wednesday afternoon, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz submitted a notice of intent to file a brief to the Supreme Court as “interested persons” opposing the ballot initiative.

The legislative leaders said they weren't addressing the issue itself but the wording of the amendment, yet Weatherford said that if the amendment passes there will be "marijuana shops on every street corner."

Weatherford and Gaetz are in line with state Attorney General Pam Bondi, who on Oct. 24, sent the proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment to the Florida Supreme Court and asked for an opinion on the petition’s validity.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Dec. 5. Like Bondi, Weatherford and Gaetz charged the wording is misleading and ambiguous.

In a memo Gaetz wrote to all senators, he stated that “regardless of the subject matter or whether we personally support the proposed petition initiative, efforts to hide the ball or appeal to voters by using language that evokes emotional responses are not appropriate for ballot titles and summaries of proposed constitutional amendments. This is a lesson in checks and balances that the Legislature has, in recent years, often been reminded of the hard way.”Full Story

State and Pinellas agree on dates for election for Young's seat

Gov. Rick Scott's office agreed Wednesday on dates for a special election in Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District to elect a successor to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

The primary will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, and the general election will be held Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

A spokeswoman for Scott, Melissa Sellers, said the dates were agreed upon in talks between the state Division of Elections and Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. The entire congressional district is in Pinellas County, and 16 of the county's 24 cities and towns already have local elections scheduled for March 11.

The candidate qualifying period will begin at 8 a.m. on Nov. 18 and end at 12 noon on Nov. 19. A seven-day early voting period will be required before each election, from Jan. 4-11 and from March 1-8. The governor's office said Scott plans to issue an executive order Thursday to make it all official.

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OJ Simpson, behind bars, is still active voter in Miami-Dade

Amy Sherman reports:

Florida Division of Elections is looking into a report that one of the most famous felons with a Florida connection remains on the Miami-Dade voter rolls: O.J. Simpson.

Andrew Ladanowski, who has been on a mission to get Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes to reorganize voting precincts, recently investigated if convicted felons were having their voting rights removed as the state requires. Simpson was the first felon he could confirm that should not be on the list.

Ladanowski emailed us information he found in the voter database which shows that Orenthal J Simpson registered in July 2000, lives at 9450 SW 112Th St. Simpson is listed as “no party affiliation” and the data states “You are currently eligible to vote in Miami-Dade County.”

“I’m surprised that the entire country knows that O.J. is a convicted felon except for the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections,” said Ladanowski, a data Analyst and IT consultant at AddinSolutions who lost a bid for the Broward school board in  2012. …

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Rubio takes another swing at health care and is rejected

Sen. Marco Rubio, who says it's time to get "realistic" about immigration reform, just attempted the unrealistic.

The Florida Republican asked for unanimous consent, waiving normal debate procedure, so the Senate could take up his bill to delay the health care law's individual mandate until 6 months after the enrollment website is fixed.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., quickly objected, calling the move "inappropriate" and another attempt to undermine Obamcare.

Rubio knew he wouldn't get what he wanted but he capitalized on the move. His spokesman Alex Conant wrote on Twitter: "BREAKING: Senate Democrats object to @marcorubio motion to pass delay of Obamacare mandate until website is fixed."

Rubio is not the only lawmaker pushing for delays; some Democrats are as well. But the tactic today contradicted his new approach to immigration.

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