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The Daystarter: Why is a Florida for-profit prison company backing criminal justice reform?; freestanding ERs popping up in Tampa Bay; finger-pointing begins for Bucs

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Published Dec. 10, 2018

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.

• A day after powerful storms blew through the region, including a tornado touching down in Pasco County, we'll have mostly cloudy skies with a slight chance of showers near the coast, according to the National Weather Service. We'll have less humidity and cooler temperatures, with highs ranging from the upper 50s north of Tampa Bay to the upper 60s south.

• Here are the top things to do today in Tampa Bay.

• The best journalism in the bay area is all in one place. Check out all the Tampa Bay Times investigations and special reports.

• The famously deep-pocketed Gov. Rick Scott just dropped over $63.5 million of his own money on his successful 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. Any way you slice it, that's an eye-popping sum. But where does it rank among the most expensive self-funded campaigns in U.S. history? We did a quick dive to find out. Here are the top five most expensive self-funded runs for federal office ever:

• For the latest in Florida politics, make sure to check The Buzz.

• Bayfront Health is the latest hospital chain to open a freestanding emergency department — a 24-hour clinic that can address most routine emergency care, but one that's not attached to a hospital. Freestanding ERs have been popping up all over the country in recent years, including in Tampa Bay. But some critics warn that these centers are merely a money-making ploy, and the last wave of a defunct trend in the ever-evolving healthcare industry, Justine Griffin reports. Despite this, it looks like they are here to stay for the time being, which can be confusing for consumers. Their services range somewhere between a traditional hospital ER and an urgent care clinic.

• Why is a Florida for-profit prison company backing bipartisan criminal justice reform? GEO Group says reducing prison recidivism is in line with their missions. But the company is also well positioned to profit off a new-found interest in post-prison rehabilitation. On the surface, it's a curious position for leaders of a $4.8 billion industry enriched by tough-on-crime policies that swept millions of Americans into lengthy sentences over the past three decades.

• Lester Holt of NBC and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Company and former publisher of the New York Times, were honored over the weekend at the Poynter Institute's Bowtie Ball. They spoke with the Tampa Bay Times on the challenges they see journalists — and journalism — facing today.

• Almost two years after Clearwater approved the $50 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan concept, its City Council still cannot agree on what it should look like. It is supposed to be in final design stages now, but Council just kicked it back to consultants again to explore more options for the performance pavilion — should it be a park with a performance feature or a performance venue that doubles as a park? No one can agree. Read the story by Tracey McManus on how Clearwater's downtown redevelopment has stalled.

• Tampa police Officer Ryan Flannigan hoped his K-9 partner Chesney would get to enjoy retirement as a family pet, but it didn't turn out that way. Read Tony Marerro's story on the inseparable bond between a police dog and his owner/handler.

• Columnist Ernest Hooper is baffled by the backlash currently being directed at Baby, It's Cold Outside, a song from the 1940s that its critics charge is sexist and is currently being bumped from some holiday radio playlists. Hooper writes that Hip-hop's misogyny deserves more criticism than a holiday mainstay.

• Red Tide has mostly stayed away from Pinellas beaches the past several weeks, hitting other areas along the west coast instead. But by all reports, there aren't a lot of people at bay area beaches. Parking is easy, restaurants have open tables, and there's no wait at the bar. Read Caitlin Johnston's story on a Red Tide hangover that's good for visitors, not so much for businesses.

• Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen was known to stir things up, and a fiery letter bearing his signature sent to judges after his death has people talking. Except those who knew him best say whoever wrote this letter, it wasn't Cohen, who died in September from leukemia. Read Sue Carlton's column on a letter making the rounds of Pinellas-Pasco judges and attorneys.

Dancehall and Reggae star Buju Banton, who was convicted in a Tampa courtroom in 2011 on federal drug charges, was freed Friday from Georgia's private McMcRae Correctional Institute, a prison official told the Tampa Bay Times. Reports say he will soon return to Jamaica.

• For the latest education coverage, make sure to read The Gradebook. And check out the Gradebook podcast as education reporter Jeffrey Solochek leads a weekly discussion about Florida education.

• Check out the Times photo and video channels for the most compelling visuals.

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Read the Tampa Bay Times new online Sports page with the latest news about the Lightning, Bucs, Rays, Bulls, Gators, Noles and high school sports.

• After Tampa Bay played a solid first half on Sunday, jumping out to an 11-point lead over the Saints, New Orleans scored 25 unanswered points in the second half, defeating the Bucs 28-14 and clinching the NFC South.

• The latest Times coverage of the Bucs is just a click away at For the latest team news on @Twitter, follow beat writers Rick Stroud at @NFLSTROUD and Eduardo A. Encina at @EddieInTheYard.

• The Times can keep you up-to-date on the Lightning's quest for the Stanley Cup: Click here for the latest news throughout the season. For the latest updates on @Twitter, follow Lightning beat writers Diana C. Nearhos at @dianacnearhos and Nick Kelly at @_NickKelly.

• In Saturday's 7-1 blow out win over Colorado, Tampa Bay only allowed the league's top scorers Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen one combined goal. Read the story by Diana Nearhos, on how did the Lightning largely shut down one of the best lines in the league.

• To get the latest Rays' news from the Times this offseason, click here and follow baseball writer Marc Topkin on @Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Tampa native and former Rays manager Lou Piniella fell one vote short of election Sunday to Baseball's Hall of Fame. He received 11 of the 12 needed votes from the Hall's 16-member Today's Game Era committee, which considers players retired 15 or more years, managers, coaches and executives.

• Check out the Times coverage of Gator football all season long and keep up with college football beat writer Matt Baker on Twitter at @MBakerTBTimes.

• All the Bulls news you can use is right here from Times beat writer Joey Knight. Follow him on Twitter for the latest at @TBTimes_Bulls.

• Check out the latest episode of the Times sports podcast Sports Day Tampa Bay led by veteran sportswriter Rick Stroud.

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The Tampa Bay Times onine Arts and Entertainment page tells you everything you need to know about what to do, see, eat and experience around town.

• Put together a talent act and try your best for a spot on national television performing for the America's Got Talent auditions coming to Tampa today.

• It has been more than 20 years since Seinfeld writer Dan O'Keefe wrote the classic 1997 episode The Strike, featuring character Frank Costanza (played brilliantly by Jerry Stiller) and his made-up, anti-consumerism holiday Festivus. For the past two years, we've asked people to share their grievances and complaints, no matter how petty or minutiae-related, and we've published them. Submit your grievances here.

• Listen to our new podcast, Life of the Party, that keeps you caught up just enough to get by in small talk. Times staffers Stephanie Hayes and Brittany Volk will discuss what's going on, from celebrity news to movies and music, plus offbeat info that will make you the most interesting person in the room.

• Don't just write the right way — write the Lane way. Keep up with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Lane DeGregory's podcast, WriteLane, and learn about her approach to the craft of storytelling.

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Check out the Tampa Bay Times online Business page for the latest on the economy, jobs, real estate, retail and workplace culture.

• Seven of the 10 metro areas in the United States that have seen the biggest financial recovery in terms of underwater homes are in Florida. And Tampa Bay is one of those areas. Graham Brink writes that experts believe that should buffer the area somewhat when the next recession comes.

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The Tampa Bay Times online Opinion page has the latest editorials, columns and letters to the editor.