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Morning briefing: We have a rain-free Gasparilla forecast, an early look at today's state budget pitches and fact-checking from last night's debate

After two days of steady rain, the clouds should part enough to let the sun poke through Friday, according to 10Weather WTSP. In fact, it could be a nice day with highs in the 60s and lows around 50. It may be warmer on Saturday, and cloudier, but so far rain is not in the forecast for Gasparilla.

• Did you stay up to watch the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses? If not, we have your morning-after water cooler summary. Want to know who got their story straight? Donald Trump might not have been there, but that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty to keep PolitiFact's fact-checkers busy.

• A U.N. official said Syrian peace talks will begin in Geneva as planned today despite an ongoing boycott by the main Syrian opposition group which continues to stay away pending assurances from the U.N. chief on the implementation of Security Council resolutions related to humanitarian issues.

• Paul Kantner, an original member of the 1960s rock group Jefferson Airplane who stayed with the San Francisco-based band through its transformation from hippies to hitmakers as the eventual leader of successor group Jefferson Starship, has died at age 74.

• It's a Gasparilla tradition not quite as old as dressing up as a pirate and trying to find a parking spot: losing cell phone service. That's what happens when more than 200,000 people crowd into downtown Saturday for the annual Gasparilla pirate invasion and parade. Turns out, it's hard to get service when more than 200,000 smartphone users are trying to call, text and figure out where they are. Sara DiNatale takes some time this morning to explain the problem, what Verizon Wireless and AT&T are trying to do about it — and to stay in touch without the marvels of technology.

• First, Gov. Rick Scott came out with his proposed $79.3 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Today, the Florida House and Florida Senate introduce their own proposed spending plans. And then comes the fun of sorting it all out. Follow later today to find out how the numbers add up — and where the governor and two legislative chambers are at odds.

• We'll have an update today on the case of Veronica Faulseit, co-founder of the St. Petersburg animal rescue All Creatures Great and Small. Last spring, authorities seized more than 50 dogs and cats, a rabbit, five raccoons, ducks, other birds and an opossum from her home, alleging that she wasn't providing proper care. Faulseit was arrested on an animal cruelty charge and prohibited from having any animals at all. Now, she's fighting the legal actions against her and wants to be able to run the sanctuary.

• Tonight we find out who will be Pasco County's teacher of the year. The Pasco Education Foundation will announce the decision during an event that begins at 7  .m. at the River Ridge High School Performing Arts Center. In addition, the event — rebranded as the Staff That Are Remarkable Awards — will recognize school-related personnel, administrators and noninstructional nonbargaining staffers. The teacher finalists are Donald Blake, an electrical teacher at Marchman Technical College; Daniel Bolt, a music teacher and chorus director at Wesley Chapel Elementary; and Jenna Ferry, a social studies teacher at Gulf High. Check out this evening for news of the winner.

• New home construction is booming in one particular part of Tampa Bay — southern Hillsborough County. Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin explains what's going on down there.

• Without incentive money from the state to help lure filmmakers to Tampa Bay, how do film officials from the bay area try to attract moviemakers here? Learn about their strategies from business reporter Justine Griffin, who was at Sundance this year. Her story will be available mid morning at

• Remember when, in an effort to lure businesses to Florida, the state tried a branding effort that featured a necktie? The marketing campaign didn't sit well with many women and bombed. This morning, a new campaign will be revealed. Look for a story around 11 a.m. at

• Opening today at Legoland in Winter Haven is the Lego Movie 4D, upping the ante on a new 12-minute 3D feature by adding wind, fog and water effects. We'll also tell you how you can save $15 off your admission ticket price.

Plan your weekend! We have lots of tips for navigating Gasparilla — and for avoiding it. But our critics also have recommendations for date night and things to do with the kids.

• They're the best hockey players on the planet. They're also fans. So, when he goes to play in this weekend's NHL All-Star Game, whose stick does Steven Stamkos hope he'll come home with? Beat writer Joe Smith has the scoop.

10Weather WTSP

[10Weather WTSP]

[10Weather WTSP]

Morning briefing: We have a rain-free Gasparilla forecast, an early look at today's state budget pitches and fact-checking from last night's debate 01/29/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2016 10:53am]
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  1. Small helicopter crashes into Odessa home


    ODESSA — Firefighters and sheriff's deputies were investigating Monday after a small helicopter crashed into the roof of a house in northwest Hillsborough County.

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]
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    TAMPA —Alex Kompothecras, cast member on MTV's reality show "Siesta Key," tells police he was punched in the face outside a bar in Tampa's SoHo district.

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EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
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    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks in August in Doral.
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    Lightning Strikes

    FORT LAUDERDALE — The Lightning made its biggest round of cuts Monday, with some of the big-named prospects heading out.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) looks on from the bench during a shift change at Lightning hockey training camp in Brandon on Monday (09/18/17). In background on right is Nikita Kucherov (86). DIRK SHADD   |   Times