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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bush dines with Bloomberg in New York

Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, attended a dinner with Michael Bloomberg last night in New York, a source confirms. Bush is on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies and he and the former mayor has long worked on education reform.

At the same time, the visit comes as Bush has gained considerable notice as a potential 2016 candidate, including a visit to see Sheldon Adelson on Thursday.

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Nugent's ballot petitions rejected by state; he'll pay qualifying fee

Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, says a screw-up by a campaign consulting firm resulted in his re-election petitions being rejected by the Florida Division of Elections and that he'll have to pay the $10,440 filing fee instead.

"The Florida Division of Elections has informed me that, despite written assurances of validity from my campaign vendor, Jamestown Associates, my petition cards are not in compliance with the formatting requirements established by the state," Nugent wrote in a statement released this afternoon. "While the petition cards had all of the appropriate fields and disclaimers, and voters had filled them out sufficiently, the shape of the cards and some other aesthetic formatting elements were not up to statute. …

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Anti-tea party GOP group hosting Amelia Island getaway

Conservative bloggers are sounding alarms about a moderate Republican group's retreat set for next weekend on Amelia Island.

The Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC event is reportedly attracting about two dozen Republican lawmakers, including high-ranking Reps. Eric Cantor, R-Va. and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Speaker John Boehner was "in talks" to attend but will not, the Daily Caller reported.

The PAC is an offshoot of the Main Street Partnership and was started by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-OH, to promote GOP candidates over more hard-line tea party rivals. 

"To make Washington work again, we need more – not fewer – elected officials who are willing to put partisan politics aside to work for the greater good," the group says on its website. "That’s where the Republican Main Street PAC comes in – we support Republican candidates who are committed to governing and to making Washington work again."

That's stirred significant backlash among tea party groups, who accuse LaTourette of being a RINO. The Florida getaway, to be held at the Ritz-Carlton, has lit up conservative blogs. …

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Rick Scott's new web ad

The Rick Scott campaign has a new ad, in both English and Spanish, touting the 540,000 jobs created under his watch.

And here's the Spanish version:

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Rep. Jeff Miller in hunt for top Intel Committee spot

Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, is vying to take over the Intelligence Committee following the surprise retirement announcement by Chairman Mike Rogers.

"The world continues to be a very dangerous place and if the Speaker placed the confidence in Congressman Miller to oversee the Intelligence Committee, he would give 110%," spokesman Dan McFaul said.

Miller, in his seventh term, has been a member the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since 2009, and is also chairman of the VA Committee. Florida, with Centcom being based in Tampa, might give Miller an advantage. But he'll face competition from several other Republicans, including Reps. Peter King of New York and Devin Nunes of Californi and Mike Pompeo of Kansas.

Rogers shook up Washington on Friday by announcing he would not seek re-election, and has taken a talk-radio job.

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Scott signs in-state tuition for military veterans

Gov. Rick Scott signed the first substantive bill of the session Monday, creating a program that will waive out-of-state tuition fees for military veterans.

The "Florida G.I. Bill" will also connect veterans to potential employers, and pump money into continuing education and industry certification programs for active service members.

Scott, who served in the Navy, said he hoped the legislation would make Florida "the most military-friendly state" in the nation.

The veterans proposal (HB 7015) won unanimous support in both chambers in March.

Lawmakers were particularly proud of the tuition waiver program, which is named in memory of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Under current law, veterans who are not Florida residents must pay out-of-state rates, which can be four times what residents pay.

The measure is expected to cost the state $11.7 million.

The new law also:

* Increases funding for the Educational Dollars for Duty program, which seeks to enhance the education level of Florida National Guard members.

* Creates Florida is for Veterans, Inc., a corporation tasked with promoting Florida to retired and recently separated service members. …

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Scott's trade missions now relying on corporate dollars and special interests

Via @ToluseO at Bloomberg

Months before Florida Crystals Corp. won a no-bid contract to farm sugar on state-owned land, its top lobbyist and president met with Governor Rick Scott in the home of King Juan Carlos of Spain.

They got access during a 2012 trade mission underwritten by corporations including the company, which is co-owner of the Domino Sugar brand. The trip, intended to recruit businesses to Florida, also provided a lobbying opportunity for those already in the state. After the meeting at the palace, Florida Crystals executives joined Scott at a reception they sponsored, featuring Spanish omelets and dry-cured ham.

Governors increasingly are using corporate money to fund their excursions, often from businesses that stand to benefit from state decisions. While taxpayers traditionally paid for trade missions, at least 15 states have started collecting donations to cover costs, including six since 2010. Scott, a 61-year-old Republican, has tapped the private money most often, making 10 overseas visits in the past three years, twice the pace of his predecessor, according to public records.

“It’s an opportunity that the vast majority of people and companies never get,” said Hayden Dempsey, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former aide to the governor who went on the Spain trip. Scott, he said, was “very accessible.”Full Story

Proposed PECO fix may be in peril

It’s become one of the perennial fights in the Florida Legislature.

In one corner: cash-strapped school systems with aging facilities and billions of dollars tied up in debt service.

In the other: charter schools looking to build and refurbish facilities of their own.

Both want dollars from the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) trust fund, an ever shrinking pot of money generated by a disappearing tax on cable TV and land-line telephones.

This year, the Senate, House and Gov. Rick Scott all want to split the K-12 portion between charter schools and traditional school districts. It’s a departure from recent years, when only charter schools landed the funds. The wrangling has already begun.

There is some common ground: Both charter schools and school districts support a bill that would shift revenue from an existing tax on commercial energy consumption to the PECO fund.

But the bill may be a tough sell to Scott.

“The governor’s budget prioritizes K-12 education, without creating more debt or permanently earmarking general funds, limiting future flexibility,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a a statement. “For these reasons, we have concerns about the proposal.”

Read more here.

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Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

Hump week, the mid-point of the 2014 legislative session, is here, and not a moment too soon. But don’t think that the pace is slowing down on bills. Even though it’s a Monday, typically a travel day for lawmakers, a number of high profile bills will be considered.

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Super Pacs, with murky regulations and unlimited money, find down-ballot races

WASHINGTON — When Anthony Farhat set up a political committee backing Paige Kreegel, a congressional candidate in southwest Florida, he said he blocked Kreegel's number from his phone "to be overly cautious."

"I knew super PACs were being held under high scrutiny," Farhat said.

In the fast-evolving, big-money super PAC era, the airtight seal Farhat projects is generally accepted as rule of law. "My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the Big House," Mitt Romney once said.

Reality is quite different.

Under Federal Election Commission rules, Kreegel can still interact with Farhat and he can help the super PAC raise money. Two of Kreegel's friends donated more than $1 million, which is being used to attack his opponents in the Congressional District 19 GOP primary.

The maximum contribution had they given directly to Kreegel: $2,600. …

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Winner and loser of the week In Fla Politics

Good times!


Good times!

Sorry, no week for winners:

Loser of the week 1

Gov. Rick Scott. He lost co-finance chairman Mike Fernandez, who in resigning dumped a pile of dirty laundry about the internal operations of the campaign, while leveling the charge that campaign staffers faked Mexican accents on route to Chipotle. What Hispanic vote? The campaign denied that, but the damage was done; Democrats feasted all week.

Loser of the week 2

Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera. This is not what he signed up for: having to deflect questions about what a powerful Cuban-American businessman had to say about the alleged Mexican accent incident. "There's no validity that we can find to any of those comments, or what was written," he said. Even if that were the case, it's highly awkward for López-Cantera, who is supposed to help Scott with Hispanics.

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Report: Electric companies wield too much power in legislature

Update: Here's the report.

To understand the influence of Florida’s largest electric companies in Tallahassee, look no further than your monthly bill.

You won’t see a line item for the “nuclear cost recovery fee” that Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy collect each month for future construction of new nuclear power plants. That’s because legislators last year voted down an amendment that would have required them to disclose the fee to customers, something they knew the two companies didn’t want to do.

Lawmakers allowed utilities to collect the fee in 2006, and when the companies tamped down their plans to build new facilities and used the money for other needs, such as upgrading existing nuclear plants, legislators kept the fee in place despite complaints from consumer advocates. …

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State officials abruptly cancel talk by FSU professor Diane Roberts

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials have abruptly canceled a talk by a Florida State professor and writer who has been critical of the administration of Gov. Rick Scott.

Diane Roberts, who does commentary for National Public Radio and writes columns for various publications, was supposed to give a talk at the state-owned Mission San Luis on April 3.

Roberts planned to discuss Florida's environment and problems with the state's rivers, lakes and springs.

Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said an "internal decision" was made within the secretary's office to cancel the talk.

Lesser said that Roberts topic did not fit with agency programs such as historical resources. She said that Roberts has been asked to come back later to talk about "our mission and programs."

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Latvala works on pension compromise with Weatherford

Last year, Sen. Jack Latvala led the Senate insurrection that upended a massive overhaul of Florida’s pension system, which had been one of the top priorities of Florida Speaker Will Weatherford.

"I've been telling Will for two or three months that he didn't have the votes over here. Now he sees it, black and white,” Latvala said minutes after Weatherford’s bill died in the Senate, 22-18.

But this year, the two have been fast friends. Not only did they pose in a March 18 selfie -- with the chummy Twitter caption of “a winning combination” -- but Latvala is sponsoring SB 1400, which would allow undocumented immigrant students to pay cheaper tuition rates, a top priority of Weatherford’s.

That experience of working on the immigrant tuition bill brought the two closer together, Latvala said, subsequently providing an opening on the pension issue.

“The speaker is a reasonable man,” Latvala said. “I have been encouraging him to look in some other direction than what he’s been trying (on pension).”

How will the two come together on the pension issue? Well, it’s not exactly clear yet, but there were some big developments this week that will play into it. …

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House Democrats unite to fight voucher bill

A bill combining the proposed expansion of the school voucher program and the creation of education savings accounts for special-needs students moved forward on Friday, winning the support of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, called the vote "an important step toward providing more Florida students with more opportunities to receive a quality education."

"This scholarship program has allowed tens thousands of students to rise to their full potential, and more opportunities will mean a brighter future for more students," Fresen said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Senate as we continue to make the expansion of school choice for Florida's families a priority."

Fresen said the bill could be heard on the floor as early as next week.

Friday's party-lines vote did two things. First, it set the stage for a bitter partisan battle in House.

"There is no secret that our minority caucus did take a position to oppose this bill," said ranking Democratic member Rep. Dwayne Taylor, of Daytona Beach. "They only take those types of positions when they see troubling bills that they have some major concerns. This was one of them." …

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