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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Report: Lenny Curry to step down as RPOF chairman

Times-Union:

Lenny Curry, who is considering a run for Jacksonville mayor, will announce he is stepping down as chairman of the Florida Republican Party on Thursday, according to party officials with knowledge of the situation.

He will send a letter to Republican Party leadership Thursday, officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity since Curry hasn’t given his formal notice to party leaders.

Curry will stay on as chair through the end of May. He would not comment for the story Wednesday evening.

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Weatherford official portrait unveiled

 Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford shows off his new watch given to him be members of the House, Thursday, April 30, 2014, during his official portrait unveiling.

Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford shows off his new watch given to him be members of the House, Thursday, April 30, 2014, during his official portrait unveiling.

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House puts constitutional amendment on court appoints on ballot

Florida legislators took the final step to put an amendment on the November ballot Wednesday that asks voters to decide whether to give Florida’s governor new powers to make prospective appointments to the state Supreme Court.

The proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 1188, was approved by a 74-45 partisan vote in the Florida House following its Senate passage. The amendment will be the third one on the ballot and must be approved by at least 60 percent of voters on Election Day to become law.

Republicans defended the proposal and Democrats opposed it since it means that the next governor will have the power to pick three of the seven justices because of a fluke of timing that requires three of them to retire on the same day the next governor’s term ends, on Jan. 8, 2019. Unlike every recent election year in the last decade, this is the first time legislators have placed only one amendment on the ballot.

Justices are required to retire at age 70, but can continue to serve on the bench until the end of their six-year term. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — the court’s liberal wing — will all turn 70 some time during the next governor’s term, and their six-year terms will all end on the same day the new governor is inaugurated.

The state Constitution is unclear about whether the incoming or outgoing governor should make the appointment when the vacancy occurs on inauguration day. The proposal is designed to put some certainty into the law by giving governors a “prospective appointment” as part of the state’s merit selection system used for appellate courts.Full Story

Death Watch: Time is up for Weatherford's pension reform

Florida Senator Wilton Simpson, R- Trilby, answers questions from Senators on State pension reform, Wednesday, April 30, 2014.

SCOTT KEELER | TIMES

Florida Senator Wilton Simpson, R- Trilby, answers questions from Senators on State pension reform, Wednesday, April 30, 2014.

Before breaking for lunch, the Florida Senate voted 21-15 on Wednesday against considering a House bill that is one of Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's top priorities.

HB 7181 overhauls the state's pension system and Florida's 500 municipal pension plans. The Senate has those two issues, state pension reform vs. municipal pension reform, divided into two separate bills.

In the Senate, local pension reform is popular, and passed unanimously. The state pension reform, in SB 1114 sponsored by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is controversial. The state's $135 billion pension system is considered to be one of the most fiscally sound in the nation, so many senators say an overhaul isn't necessary. But Weatherford has made an overhaul of the state's pension system a chief priority.

The two bills were briefly merged in the Senate on Wednesday when President Don Gaetz asked quickly for an amendment that would substitute the Senate bill for the House merged version. After it passed on a voice vote, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, rushed to his microphone to ask for a reconsideration of the vote. …

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Divided House approves 75 mph speed limit on interstates

Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R- Lehigh Acres, is congratulated by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R- Hialeah, Wednesday, April 30, 2014 after Caldwell's bill passed in the Florida House on speed limits. The bill would raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 milked per hour on most interstate highways.

SCOTT KEELER | TIMES

Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R- Lehigh Acres, is congratulated by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R- Hialeah, Wednesday, April 30, 2014 after Caldwell's bill passed in the Florida House on speed limits. The bill would raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 milked per hour on most interstate highways.

By a 58-56 margin, the Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill that would raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour on most interstate highways. A supporter called for the vote to be reconsidered, but by the time Rep. Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood made the motion, the bill had already been sent back to the Senate, where it originated.

House Democrats were nearly united in opposition as 39 of 45 members of the House Democratic Caucus opposed the bill, along with 17 Republicans.

Under the bill (SB 392), the state Department of Transportation would have to determine whether 75 is the "safe and advisable" minimum speed on Florida's Turnpike, I-75, I-10, I-95, I-4 and the Suncoast Parkway. Florida would be the first urban state east of the Mississippi to allow drivers to travel at 75 miles per hour (a rural section of northern Maine has a 75 mph limit).

The bill passed the Senate on a 27-11 margin last week. …

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Rubio and Nelson split votes on minimum wage increase

A bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 failed moments ago in the U.S. Senate, with Republicans blocking the bill on procedural grounds.

Florida's Senators split their vote, as is often the case. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio joined with all other Republicans except Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee in preventing the bill from advancing. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted with Democrats.

The vote was expected and Democrats are using the issue as a political statement for the upcoming elections.

Rubio was asked about the issue in a Univision interview yesterday: …

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Poll: Most Americans agree with Jeb's mom

Polling memo

NBC/WSJ poll

Polling memo

A new NBC/WSJ poll has bad news for Jeb Bush. Nearly 70 percent of people say they agree with his mom, former First Lady Barbara Bush, that other families should have a chance at the White House. "I think this is a great American country, and if we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office, that’s silly,” she said earlier this year on C-SPAN.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll found Jeb Bush near the front of a crowded presidential field, slightly behind Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee and getting double the support of Marco Rubio.

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Gov. Scott heads to Pensacola to view 'severe' Panhandle floods

Gov. Rick Scott headed to Pensacola Wednesday after torrential overnight rains caused severe flooding, closed schools, forced more than 200 people to flee their homes and resulted in the temporary closing of a stretch of I-10 in the Florida Panhandle.

Scott said up to 22 inches of rain fell in parts of the Panhandle, parts of which were under tornado watches. He declared a state of emergency in a 26-county region covering the Big Bend and Panhandle areas of the state. Three emergency shelters were opened as the vast, slow-moving weather system began moving toward the mid-Atlantic and the northeastern U.S.

"We have had severe weather in the Panhandle," Scott told reporters at a morning briefing in Tallahassee. "There's a lot of water on the ground. We're going to continue to see more flooding, and some flash flooding. Every family member needs to be careful. Don't drive into downed water." …

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Q-Poll: Crist leading Scott by 10

Charlie Crist leads Gov. Rick Scott by 10 percentage points in a new poll of Florida voters that also indicates a majority of voters view the former governor's party-switching in a favorable light.

The Quinnipiac University poll also indicates a majority of Florida voters -- by 55-41 percent -- say illegal immigrants who graduate from Florida high schools should be eligible for in-state tuition rates. Voters also support gay marriage by 56-39 percent. 

In the governor's race, the poll indicates Crist's 48-38 percent lead over Scott is reflected in three key areas: likability, trustworthiness and compassion.

Scott is spending at least $6.5 million in ads in two months, many of them negative, and might have already spent as much as $20 million, according to Crist's campaign.

"So far, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's television barrage apparently has had no impact on the race. The incumbent has not been able to reduce former Gov. Charlie Crist's lead. In fact, voters see Crist's party switch in a positive light and the incumbent's effort to tie Crist's support for Obamacare has not yet borne fruit," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement. …

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Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee

Florida legislative leaders hit the send budget on the 2014-15 state budget on Tuesday, giving lawmakers three days left in the session to review the $77.1 billion in spending plan before they take a vote on it late Friday.

That means the logjam of high-profile bills that were awaiting progress on the budget will now move. Many of them will get a hearing today, which makes for a busy day. Five things to watch are:

  • The Senate debates a bill, HB 851, to allow children of undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at Florida universities.
  • A proposal to open the school voucher program to additional students, SB 1512, will also be debated in Senate.
  • The House takes a final vote on SJR 1188, a constitutional amendment to let governors pick replacements for Supreme Court and appellate judges before their post is vacant.
  • The House is expected to take up a bill to allow for the legalization of medical cannabis, HB 843.
  • Gov. Rick Scott travels to Largo to meet hold a press conference on manufacturing with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

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Legislature's budget landed on desks at 8:35 P.M. Tuesday

It's going to be a very long final day in the 2014 legislative session Friday. Forget that end-of-session happy hour celebration. Or at least postpone it.

The conference report -- the fancy name for the compromise state budget (HB 5001) -- reached all 160 lawmakers' desks at 8:35 p.m. Tuesday, which started the mandatory 72-hour cooling-off period before the budget can be adopted by both chambers.

As a result, the 2014 session cannot end until at least 8:35 p.m. Friday. If things should go awry, the Senate president and House speaker will have to pass an emergency resolution if the session is to go past midnight Friday. Staff Director Joanne Leznoff of the House Appropriations Committee sent out the following email on Tuesday evening.

MEMORANDUM

To:  All Legislators, the Governor, Cabinet members, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Legislative Staff

From: Joanne Leznoff, Staff Director, House Appropriations Committee

Date: Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Subject: Distribution of Conference Committee Report on the General Appropriations Bill -- HB 5001 …

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UPDATED: Chris Christie campaign events with Rick Scott called off due to weather

UPDATE: The events were canceled because of severe rain and flooding in the Panhandle. Scott is on his way there.

Gov. Chris Christie, chair of the Republican Governors Association, will campaign with Gov. Rick Scott at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Largo then attend a Scott/Republican Party of Florida fundraiser in Lakeland.

The first event will be at ConMed Corp., where the Republicans will "celebrate the elimination of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery & equipment," per a news release. ConMed makes "arthroscopy, orthopedic powered surgical onstruments and medical video systems that meet the endoscopic needs of today's arthroscopist and all other general surgeons."

The fundraiser is not open to the news media. Christie was last in Florida in January, just as his bridge scandal was blowing up.

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Florida springs protection?

Florida House lawmakers listen to debate on a highway speed bill, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in front of a mural painted by Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still in 2002 representing Florida's springs. The Senate will vote Wednesday on comprehensive springs legislation and the State budget, to be voted on Friday by lawmakers, includes $30 million for springs. "To me, it was always a given that we would protect our precious water resources in Florida," said Still. "If lawmakers don't protect these treasures, it would be a great shame." Still used Rainbow Springs, Homosassa Springs, Wakulla Springs, and Weeki Wachee Springs for the mural.

SCOTT KEELER | TIMES

Florida House lawmakers listen to debate on a highway speed bill, Tuesday, April 29, 2014, in front of a mural painted by Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still in 2002 representing Florida's springs. The Senate will vote Wednesday on comprehensive springs legislation and the State budget, to be voted on Friday by lawmakers, includes $30 million for springs. "To me, it was always a given that we would protect our precious water resources in Florida," said Still. "If lawmakers don't protect these treasures, it would be a great shame." Still used Rainbow Springs, Homosassa Springs, Wakulla Springs, and Weeki Wachee Springs for the mural.

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Senate growler bill likely to fall flat in House, says Rep. Dana Young

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, left, reacts on the Senate floor Tuesday after her SB 1714 passed the Senate. The bill allows microbreweries selling up to 2,000 kegs a year of their own brew to sell growlers of any size. But if they sell more than 2,000 kegs, they would be prohibited from selling their brew in sealed cans or bottles for home consumption directly from the microbrewery.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, left, reacts on the Senate floor Tuesday after her SB 1714 passed the Senate. The bill allows microbreweries selling up to 2,000 kegs a year of their own brew to sell growlers of any size. But if they sell more than 2,000 kegs, they would be prohibited from selling their brew in sealed cans or bottles for home consumption directly from the microbrewery.

The Florida Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow microbreweries to sell their products in popular half-gallon “growler” containers in exchange for more restrictions on how much they can sell, new rules backed by major beer distributors.

SB 1714 wouldn’t regulate any craft beer establishment selling fewer than 2,000 kegs a year. But microbreweries selling more than 2,000 kegs that exceed 20 percent of their sales in take-home consumption would have to sell their product to distributors, and then buy it back at marked up prices.

“It’s a terrible bill because it prevents the little guy from growing,” said Joey Redner, who founded Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. “We are putting caps on how big companies can get.”

But the measure is expected to fall flat in the House, which killed a similar bill last month.

“The fact that the Senate saw fit to pass a bad bill with no House companion could prove very problematic,” said House Majority Whip Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, an early supporter of craft breweries. “We’ll see how it plays out, but you can take that I’m smiling and all calm right now to mean that it’s going to work out.” …

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Alan Grayson seeks annulment, saying his wife was wed to another man

Orlando Sentinel:

When U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson married his wife, she was already wed to another man, according to a new court filing by the congressman’s lawyers, seeking an annulment on the basis of bigamy.

In new court paperwork filed in the couple’s divorce case last week, days before their 24th anniversary, Grayson, D-Florida, accuses Lolita Grayson of fraud, unjust enrichment and misrepresentation, among other claims.

He’s also suing for defamation, the new document states, stemming from a disturbance at their home in March. Lolita Grayson accused her husband of shoving her, but later dropped her petition for a domestic injunction.

Lolita Grayson's attorneys did not immediately respond to a call or emails seeking comment on Tuesday.
Alan Grayson's new filing, a counter-petition to her January divorce filing, states that when he met Lolita Grayson in 1985, she "represented herself as single in order to induce Mr. Grayson to marry her."

The paperwork refers to the couple's union as a "bigamous marriage." Lolita Grayson filed a false application for their marriage license, it says, asserting that she had been divorced since 1981. …

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