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Sunburn for 3.24.17 – Death penalty politics; Red-lighting RLCs; Mickey’s taxes; Bob Cortes says ‘no’

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Jim Rosica, and Scott Powers.

IF ARAMIS AYALA HAD BEEN IN DENVER, PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE SHRUGGED

In January, new Denver District Attorney Beth McCann reaffirmed her campaign promise on an extraordinary policy: There would be no death penalty cases in her district under her watch.

The reaction?

Virtually nothing.

“I think our community is a lot different from Orlando,” McCann said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.

Indeed, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala became a political pariah a week ago when she made a similar pronouncement for her Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, with most Republicans and a few Democrats blasting her and many calling for her ouster.

Nationally, the latest annual tracking poll by Gallup, in late 2016, found that 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty and 37 percent oppose. That’s the closest gap since Richard Nixon‘s first term as president, but still a solid majority in support. A Pew tracking poll shows identical trend lines, though a much tighter gap in 2016 – 49 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. But again, death penalty wins.

Yet region by region, state by state, sometimes even district by district, nothing suggests that the blowback Ayala is getting in Florida and Central Florida is at all common.

One key difference between Ayala and McCann – both Democrats – is that McCann campaigned on a no death penalty promise. But it wasn’t that hard for her to do. Two of three candidates took that position. There hasn’t been an execution in Colorado in 12 years, and statewide there are only three people on death row.

Even Aurora, Colo., movie theater mass murderer James Holmes – tried in the neighboring Arapahoe County – was given life without parole.

“I think it’s the climate in our state. In Denver, politically, the death penalty is not very popular,” McCann said. “So it’s a very different situation.”

Florida polling is all over the place. Polls by the Palm Beach Post and by Public Policy Polling both found majorities preferring life imprisonment without parole – Ayala’s position. But polls that have asked if people support the death penalty have shown majorities saying yes.

That leads Robert J. Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, a death penalty opposition group at Harvard, to argue that people do not support the death penalty as much as politicians.

The biggest indicator, Smith argues, is that the actual use of the death penalty has plummeted in the past two decades. At least in practice, prosecutors, judges, and, most importantly, juries, are just not that into it anymore, he suggested.

“In the 1990s, there were 315 death sentences in 1994 and 1996. Last year in America there were 30,” Smith said.

In Ayala’s circuit, under her predecessors Jeff Ashton and Lawson Lamar, there was one death sentence in Orange County and none in Osceola County between 2012 and 2016, Smith said.

“I think you’re going to see that politics is going to change… going to catch up to that,” he said.

— “This is about deception, not the death penalty” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

— “The unlikely movement that could finally kill the death penalty in the U.S.” via Hanna Kozlowska of Quartz

MANY OFFER SUPPORT FOR AYALA DECISION ON DEATH PENALTY via Valerie Boey of Fox 35 News – Christine Henderson of Equal Justice USA says, “We stand with you State Attorney Ayala.” Rev Dr. Russell L Meyer of Florida Council of Churches says, “Justice is not about taking life. Justice is about helping life deflourish.” Organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Justice USA and Florida Council of Churches, say Ayala was right not to seek the death penalty in the Markeith Loyd case. Investigators say Loyd killed his ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon, her unborn child and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. Meyer says, “We want to say to every other State Attorney in the state of Florida, be just as brave in the name of God.”

BLACK LAWMAKERS BASH RICK SCOTT FOR REMOVING ARAMIS AYALA FROM MARKEITH LOYD CASE via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – “Governor Scott’s hasty response to State Attorney Ayala’s announcement set a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters who carried her into office,” said Sen. Perry Thurston … chairman of the Black Caucus. “In this way, [his] order operates as little more than an unfettered and uninformed power grab by the governor’s office over a difference of opinion.” He asked Scott to rescind his order removing Ayala, the state’s first African-American state attorney. But the governor refused. “Governor Scott stands by his decision to assign State Attorney Brad King to prosecute Markeith Loyd after State Attorney Ayala refused to recuse herself,” Scott spokeswoman Kerri Wyland wrote in an email. “As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served.”

SEMINOLE CLERK EMPLOYEE FORCED OUT OVER ARAMIS AYALA ‘HUNG FROM A TREE’ COMMENTS via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel – A Seminole County Clerk of Courts employee resigned after posting on social media that Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree.” … “Maybe SHE should get the death penalty,” Stan McCullars, the office’s assistant finance director, wrote in Facebook comments beneath an Orlando Sentinel story about Ayala’s decision not to seek the death penalty in capital murder cases. Grant Maloy, the Seminole County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller requested McCullars’ resignation after an investigation, and McCullars agreed to step down. He had been on administrative leave with pay since Monday.

RICK SCOTT DOUBLES DOWN ON DECISION TO REMOVE AYALA FROM MARKEITH LOYD’S CASE via Jason Kelly and Field Sutton of WFTV 9 ABC – Scott said he’s committed to fighting for the death penalty in murder suspect Loyd‘s case. “What doesn’t make sense to me is, one, that you should always fully prosecute the law,” he said. “That’s what all of us expect out of our elected officials.” Scott said that Loyd’s case is so egregious that it demanded his intervention. “This case in particular, it’s just horrible,” he said. As for other cases, Scott said he’s still looking into his options.

SPEAKER: SUSPEND PROSECUTOR WHO NIXES DEATH PENALTY via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – Richard Corcoran said that Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala was “violating the constitution” because she is not even considering the death penalty. Capital punishment is authorized under the Florida Constitution. Corcoran added that if Florida lawmakers had the power to impeach Ayala, they would already be doing so. Gov. Scott removed Ayala from a high-profile police murder case last week after she announced her decision against the death penalty. Ayala argues Scott has overstepped his bounds and filed a motion in response, asking a judge to let her present her argument in court.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce February jobs numbers at 10 a.m. at Bealls Inc. at E.R. Beall Center, 700 13 th Avenue East in Bradenton. From there, he’ll head to Pompano Beach where he’ll attend “A Rick Case Habitat Community” celebration at 12:30 p.m. at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church.

SPEAKER: SCOTT’S FOCUS ON ENTERPRISE FLORIDA IS MISDIRECTED via Florida Politics – Gov. Scott should spend less time talking about Enterprise Florida, and more seeking reform of the workers compensation system and assignment of benefits abuse, if he really cares about protecting jobs, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday.“We’re talking about a tremendous amount of bandwidth going to Enterprise Florida, going to Visit Florida,” Corcoran told reporters. … “If I was to give encouragement to the governor, I’d say: ‘Go keep traveling. Start talking about workers’ comp and assignment of benefits, which have far more effects than Enterprise/Visit Florida on jobs,” Corcoran said. “How can you just be silent on what really will hit jobs — really will cost people dramatic increases, homeowners and businesses? And he’s focused on $100 million that has little if not zero impact on jobs,” he said.

SHOT: “Carlos Beruff already playing calendar games with Constitution Revision Commission” via Peter Schorsch on Wednesday

CHASER: “…(W)hen you have such a once-in-20-year august body dealing with something that is of the highest impact, which is our Constitution, and you only have a limited number of members, 37, and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one-sixth, I don’t think that’s a good start,” Speaker Corcoran on Thursday.

SPEAKER MOVES EYEBALL WARS CLOSER TO HOUSE FLOOR; DOCS SAY OPTOMETRIST TESTIMONY ‘PATENTLY FALSE’ via Florida Politics – Florida’s “Eyeball Wars” between ophthalmologists and optometrists could soon be spilling onto the House floor … Speaker Corcoran removed HB 1037 — a controversial bill to allow optometrists to perform surgery, among other things — off the agenda of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee … one of 12 bills removed from Appropriations under Rule 7.18(c) because they had “no fiscal impact.” The move has raised the alarm of Adam Katz, president of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, who felt the appropriations hearing would represent his organization’s best shot at defeating the bill. In the bill’s earlier stop — the House Health Quality Subcommittee — testimony did not sit well with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which makes Corcoran’s procedural move even more disturbing. Dr. Mark Michels, board member of the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, pointed out several misleading and inaccurate accusation made during testimony from optometrists and their representatives. “I cannot stay silent when the process is used by others to perpetuate falsehoods, especially when those falsehoods could endanger patients.”

JOE NEGRON WOULD ‘PREFER’ TO USE GAMBLING MONEY IN BUDGET via Florida PoliticsSenate President Joe Negron wants to use gambling money sitting in the state’s treasury for spending next year, but said it won’t spell disaster if lawmakers can’t. The Stuart Republican, speaking to reporters after Thursday’s floor session, said he was “optimistic” that the Legislature will finally pass an omnibus gambling overhaul that includes a renewed blackjack agreement with the state’s Seminole Tribe. Despite ongoing litigation over its right to offer blackjack, the Tribe continues to pay gambling revenue share to the state, nearly $40 million for just the first two months of this year. That money (is) expected to total $306 million this year.  

NEGRON: ‘WE CAN STILL MOVE FORWARD’ ON RESERVOIR PROPOSAL via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Negron said his proposal for an Everglades water storage reservoir is making “tremendous progress” despite criticism from Marco Rubio whose backing would be key to gaining federal support. Negron’s proposal in Senate Bill 10 appears to be on life support after Rubio told the conservative Shark Tank blog that building the 60,000-acre reservoir would create “ghost towns” for farming communities. “I believe he is very committed to coming up with a solution to the issue,” Negron said. And he said he shares Rubio’s concerns about residents living south of the lake. “And as we are crafting this bill, we are certainly going to take those into account,” he said.

CUT TO CORPS COULD THROW COLD WATER ON EVERGLADES RESTORATION EFFORTS via Ledyard King of USA TODAY – Supporters of Everglades restoration are worried Trump’s proposal to slash $1 billion from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budget next year could derail hard-fought progress on Florida’s massive, decadeslong water project. As part of a budget outline … the White House proposed an array of cuts designed mainly to help pay for a military buildup and a border wall with Mexico without raising taxes. Among the proposals is a 16 percent reduction to the Corps of Engineers. Its funding would drop from $6 billion this year to $5 billion in 2018. The proposal doesn’t offer any more details on what projects it would recommend preserving or eliminating. The administration is not expected to release more information until at least May.

HOUSE VOTES TO BAR USE OF RED LIGHT CAMERAS TO MONITOR INTERSECTIONS via Florida Politics – The Florida House voted Thursday to ban the use of red-light cameras to enforce traffic laws in the state. The vote on final passage went 91-22. Supporters argued the cameras don’t save lives and have become money-makers for vendors, some of them located out of state. “It has become less about public safety and more about revenue,” said Larry Ahern, the Seminole Republican who presented the bill. … Although the cameras had their defenders. South Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters noted a more than 50 percent decrease in accidents at intersections.

HOUSE VOTES TO STEER MOST BP OIL SPILL SETTLEMENT MONEY TO THE PANHANDLE via Florida Politics – The Florida House voted unanimously Thursday to direct two-thirds of the $400 million the state is due from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to the worst-affected counties in the Panhandle. HB 7077 requires 75 percent of all payments that Florida receives from the settlement agreement between the five gulf states and BP be transferred from the general fund to the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund. “This disaster took money out of the hands of families and hard-working small businesses in the Panhandle,” said Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who was one of a number of Panhandle House members who spoke in favor of the legislation. “I am excited today that we are now enduring this money will be put back in the hands of the people hurt most. The vote was 112-0.

RELIGION IN SCHOOL’ BILL MOVES PAST HOUSE EDUCATION COMMITTEE via Florida Politics – A bill that would allow school administrators to pray in public schools throughout the state if students initiate those prayers … HB 303 … unanimously passed the House Education Committee … The measure would violate the decades-old federal provision separating church and state, and may likely be challenged at some point. The only concern from members of the committee seemed to come from Rep. Rene Plasencia, who wondered if there was a provision to prevent “satanic” groups from being allowed to express their rights. Plasencia is a former teacher. Rep. Kimberly Daniels, co-sponsor of the bill, said it didn’t, but cited that six other states in the country had passed such measures without incidents involving so-called satanic groups.

VOTE-BY-MAIL BALLOTS FIX PASSES HOUSE via Florida Politics – A bill that would let voters fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted has passed the House of Representatives. The House approved the bill (HB 105), sponsored by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, by a unanimous vote of 113-0 on Thursday. It would require supervisors of elections and their staff to allow voters to turn in an affidavit to cure any signature discrepancies until 5 p.m. the day before an election. They would need to present a driver’s license or other state ID.

— “Bill banning teacher annual contract guarantees passes House education panel” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

— “Nursing education regulations sent to House floor” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

— “Wilton Simspon, Richard Corcoran tell PSC it is of ‘utmost importance’ residents get to express concerns during proceedings” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

HOW WAL-MART’S DECISION TO LEAVE MIDTOWN PLAYED INTO A DARRYL ROUSON VOTE via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – The Florida Senate’s vote on the so-called “whiskey to Wheaties” bill was a tight one, narrowly passing 21-17. One of those no votes, Sen. Darryl Rouson …  proves that all politics really are local. On Jan. 20, Rouson called a late-afternoon hearing at his downtown St. Pete office to try to change the minds of Wal-Mart officials who chose to close its Midtown store. That store has been a linchpin in efforts to redevelop the low-income, predominantly black community. A troubled lease agreement convinced Wal-Mart officials to leave its location at the Tangerine Plaza in January. When Rouson found out that Wal-Mart was leaving, he was so upset, he said he wanted to vandalize the store. Instead, he asked Wal-Mart to stay during that Jan. 20 meeting. No dice. Fast forward to Thursday, when big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart were asking to sell liquor on their shelves next to beer and wine … He also doesn’t think making it easier to consume whiskey would help his constituents. But that it was Wal-Mart who could potentially benefit? Rouson said that would be hard for him to defend back home after the grocery store left Midtown.

BILL WILL HELP FOSTER CHILDREN GET DRIVER’S LICENSES via The Associated Press – Children in foster care would get help obtaining a driver’s license and auto insurance under a bill unanimously passed by the Senate. The bill would make permanent a pilot program that began in 2014. The program reimburses foster parents or children for driver’s education, license fees and insurance. The idea is to help children in state care become more independent. The cost of the program is $800,000. A House bill has cleared three committees with unanimous votes and is ready for a vote by the full chamber.

FLORIDA COASTAL COMMUNITIES COULD SOON BAN PLASTIC BAGS via Ana Ceballos of The Associated Press – The Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation gave the measure its first-round approval … gifting a small victory to those who have fought for similar legislation to pass since 2013. The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Gary Farmer, said coastal communities with fewer than 100,000 residents would be eligible to establish pilot programs between January 2018 and June 2020 to regulate or prohibit the use of disposable bags in their municipalities. If passed, the law would not allow local governments to add special taxes or fees to plastic bags, and it would require officials to track data on the regulation’s impact.

‘SAFETY VALVE’ WANTED FOR MANDATORY-MINIMUM DRUG LAW via William Patrick of FloridaWatchdog.org – According to a new policy brief by the James Madison Institute …  there are 2,310 inmates serving mandatory minimum prison terms in Florida for hydrocodone and oxycodone trafficking offenses. Not all of them are in for selling pills. Florida’s tough drug laws, passed in 1999, were meant to punish drug dealers. But mandatory sentencing for hydrocodone and oxycodone — ranging from three years to life in prison — can be triggered by as few as 27 hydrocodone pills, or 14 oxycodone pills … Under the law, illegal possession of small amounts of the pills is considered drug trafficking. A safety valve provision would allow judges to exercise discretion when sentencing individuals in cases where Florida’s mandatory sentences don’t fit the crimes. “Safety valve legislation neither eliminates the underlying mandatory minimum sentencing law, nor does it require judges to sentence offenders below the minimum term. It is a narrowly tailored exception for certain offenders and under certain circumstances,” the brief says.

***Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Jason Brodeur are fighting to protect Florida’s small business owners by leveling the playing field for owners of franchise establishments. This will lead to more economic growth and jobs for our communities. Tell Sen. Latvala and Rep. Brodeur that you support them and learn how to help protect small businesses in Florida at ProtectFLBusiness.com.***

STATE SENATOR’S FRIENDS GOT $1M FROM FLORIDA, BUT THEIR FIRM FELL SHORT OF GOALS via Arek Sarkissian of the Naples Daily News – State Sen. Aaron Bean helped Florida Psychological Associates, based in Fernandina Beach, receive $1 million hidden in the Florida State University College of Medicine budget after one of his friends who own the business discussed ways the lawmaker could help promote and expand the project to other states, emails and records show. Records from the Florida Department of State show the psychological evaluation business is owned by longtime Bean friends John and Catherine Drew. The Drews billed FSU’s medical school $590,193 from July to February after completing 6 percent of the screenings it had promised in exchange for the state money. As of February, the project, which checks young people for early signs of mental illness, screened 241 schoolchildren. It should have completed 3,800, according to a copy of a contract Florida Psychological Associates CEO Catherine Drew signed with FSU. Despite that performance, a questionnaire Drew completed for the Senate, to receive another $1 million in next year’s budget, made no mention of delays.

MICKEY VS. THE TAX MAN: DISNEY, UNIVERSAL FIGHT TAX BILLS via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – To cut tax bills in the tens of millions of dollars, the specialists at Orlando’s famous theme parks have employed methods from the creative — placing cows on undeveloped land and claiming an agricultural exemption — to the traditional — negotiating or appealing to a county board. Over the past couple of years, however, such tactics aren’t quite doing the job: Property assessments and taxes have jumped — and so has the number of lawsuits the theme parks and other businesses have filed against Orange County’s property appraiser. That’s Rick Singh, who was re-elected to a second four-year term last fall despite the thousands of dollars in donations park officials gave his opponent. In lawsuits filed last year, the theme parks said Singh’s office had failed to use proper appraisal methodology. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts issued a statement describing increased assessments on some of its properties for 2015 as “unreasonable and unjustified” … they have spoken loudly with their wallets. Groups affiliated with all three companies gave $19,000 to Singh’s Republican opponent. Singh, a Democrat, got only $5,000 from the groups.

WITH HELP FROM INVESTOR-RICK SCOTT, SABAL TRAIL NATURAL GAS PIPELINE LOOKS TO OPEN IN JUNE via Joseph Mann of FloridaBulldog.org – The $3.2-billion project, called Sabal Trail Transmission LLC, is a joint venture among Houston-based Spectra Energy Partners, a major owner of pipelines and storage facilities that is now part of Enbridge Inc., a Canadian energy firm; NextEra Energy (parent of Florida Power & Light) and Duke Energy. FPL and Duke plan to use Sabal Trail’s natural gas to generate electricity in their Florida power plants. Construction on Florida’s third major gas pipeline, which will run about 516 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida when completed, began in September 2016. The line also has two gas compression plants, one at each end, and plans to build three more by 2021 … the governor owned a stake in one of the pipeline partners, Spectra Energy, and that he apparently still owns shares in the company through a blind trust.

***There are two gambling bills in the Florida Legislature. One holds the line; One is a massive expansion. WATCH to learn more.***

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

DAVID RICHARDSON ASKS GOV. TO USE EMERGENCY POWER TO TAKE CONTROL OF WOMEN’S PRISON IN GADSDEN COUNTY via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Warning that inmate health and safety is at risk at the state’s largest privately run women’s prison, Richardson asked Scott to use his emergency powers to replace the top officers and take state control of Gadsden Correctional Facility. In a letter … Richardson asked Scott “to direct the Florida Department of Corrections to install a temporary warden, chief of security, and other resources you deem necessary to restore order and reverse what I can only describe as a loss of institutional control.” Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat and retired forensic auditor, has been on a one-man mission to force change in Florida’s troubled prison system. After several surprise inspections in the last month with investigators from the Department of Corrections and the state’s Office of the Chief Inspector General, he concluded the Gadsden prison faces “significant inmate health and safety concerns” and management has repeatedly retaliated “against inmates for discussing matters with me.”

FIVE CHILDREN USED CANDLE FOR ‘LIGHT AND HEAT’ AFTER CHILD WELFARE WORKER IGNORED CALLS FOR HELP via Les Neuhaus of Florida Politics – A sub-contracted case manager with the Florida Department  of Children and Families was arrested for falsifying information in regard to the well-being of children living alone … Vanessa Arias, 33, was arrested for lying on safety reports. “The department has no tolerance for any individual compromising their integrity and, thereby, potentially jeopardizing the safety of a child,” said Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for DCF “We immediately investigated Ms. Arias upon receiving these allegations and referred this case to law enforcement soon after.” Arias is accused of knowingly stating erroneous information in records she had visited the home of five children in Kissimmee, roughly 22 miles south of Orlando, when in reality she had not, and further, didn’t return more than a dozen phone calls made from one of the children trying to notify her of their plight.

GIRL IN FACEBOOK LIVE HANGING WAS PRESCRIBED DRUG WITH SUICIDE WARNING via Carol Marbin Miller, David Neal and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – When a Miami psychologist examined Naika Venant in June 2015, she found a “depressed, angry and fearful young girl” who thought often about death and dying. “She expects people to abandon and betray her,” the psychologist wrote. Terilee Wunderman diagnosed Naika with “significant depression,” and post-traumatic stress disorder, and recommended that she see a specially trained therapist to mend her broken psyche. Wunderman also warned against filling the 12-year-old with pills, because the medication she was taking “sometimes can cause the side-effect of depression.” During the next 18 months, however, Naika’s doctors reached for the prescription pad again and again, increasing the dose of an ADHD medication, and adding another drug, Zoloft, records indicate. The antidepressant comes with a critical warning: an increased risk of suicide in children. Naika had been prescribed both drugs when she took her own life Jan. 22, hanging herself in the bathroom of her foster home while streaming the suicide on Facebook Live. The Zoloft dose had been doubled Dec. 8, records show.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). PIFF was formed in late 2010 with three charter members: Allstate and Castle Key Insurance Companies, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, and State Farm Insurance Companies, to create a dynamic, efficient, and competitive marketplace for personal insurance products for the benefit of all Floridians. PIFF charter members serve forty-five percent (45%) of the automobile insurance market and more than twenty percent (20%) of the homeowners’ property insurance market. The association is the leading voice for personal lines property and casualty insurers in Florida. Learn more.***

DAYS UNTIL: Major League Baseball Opening Day – 9; NFL Draft – 34; 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die (Maybe) – 41; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 41; FSU vs. Alabama football game – 162; Election Day 2017 – to 27; Star Wars: Episode VIII/The Last Jedi opens – 265; First Day of 2018 Legislative Session – 289.

INSIDER POLL: WILL CORCORAN RUN AGAINST SCOTT? FOR GOV? FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL? via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times – How do these folks see Corcoran‘s future? A whopping 74 percent expect the Land O’Lakes Republican to run for governor in 2018, 14 percent expect he will wind up running for attorney general, 6 percent said senator and 4 percent predicted he will run for Senate. And Scott? Conventional wisdom among Florida’s political elites is virtually unanimous. Ninety-nine percent of our Insiders expect the 64-year-old governor to run for the Senate seat now held by Bill Nelson, and only one in four expect he would face a serious challenger.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Former Rep. Gwen Graham will address the Escambia County Democrats at their annual dinner at 6 p.m. at Skopelos at New World, 600 S. Palafox Street in Pensacola.

BOB CORTES PASSES ON RUN FOR CONGRESS SAYING ‘NOW IS NOT THE TIME’ via Frank Torres of the Orlando Political Observer – Cortes announced that he would not be running for Florida’s 7th Congressional District in 2018, citing the work still needed to be done for the House 30 District he currently represents … Cortes slammed progressive politics that he says “over-promise and never deliver” and a big reason for the current troubles on the island of Puerto Rico, which has led to a major exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to Central Florida. Cortes doesn’t forget about incumbent Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy in his remarks adding … “She has shown an immediate inclination to fall in lockstep with her caucus leadership in Washington instead of truly representing the people that elected her.”

HAPPENING SATURDAY:

APPOINTEDAntonett Munchalfen and Michelino Nibaldi to the Florida Barbers’ Board.

APPOINTEDRonald Lieberman to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

REAPPOINTEDVijay “Vic” Narang to the Board of Commissioners, South Broward Hospital District.

NEW AND RENEWED LOBBY REGISTRATIONS

Jason Allison, Foley & Lardner: Cisco Systems

Brian Bautista, Impact GR: NRG Energy

Amy Bisceglia, The Rubin Group: Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority

Ron BookKelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: Gannett Media Group

Christopher Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: NRG Energy, Inc.

Kenneth Granger, Capital City Consulting: Pure Storage, Inc.

Cynthia Henderson, Cynergy Consulting: Multistate Assoc. Inc. o/b/o Consumer Technology Association

Ashley KalifehRon LaFace, Capital City Consulting: The Travelers Companies, Inc.

William RubinHeather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority

Matthew Sacco, The Rubin Group: Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority; Insikt, Inc.

Larry Williams, Larry Williams Consulting: Flourish Now

WEEKEND TV

Black Almanac with Dr. Ed James on WWSB, ABC 7 in Sarasota: Dr. Ed James will speak with Sarasota County Sherriff Tom Knight and Boys & Girls Clubs Youth of the Year Al-Muta Hawks about the concept of rightful policing.

Facing South Florida on CBS Miami: Host Jim DeFede will bring on former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush to talk about the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Guests on this week include 10 News’ Allison Kroph, FloridaPolitics.com’s Mitch Perry, Strategic Solutions of Tampa founder April Schiff and Tampa attorney and former Citizens Advisory Committee member Brian Willis.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Hosts Gary Yordon and Steve Vancore will chat with Bob McClure of Tallahassee-based think tank The James Madison Institute.

This Week in Jacksonville on Channel 4 WJXT: Host Kent Justice will talk with at-large Jacksonville City Council member Tommy Hazouri about pensions.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Jason Unger. Celebrating today is ace photog Brian Blanco, our friend Glen Gilzean, Karen Giorno, and Giancarlo Sopo. Early birthday wishes to two great women, Sara Clements and Brittany Dover.

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White House, in gamble, demands make-or-break health vote

Abandoning negotiations, President Donald Trump demanded a make-or-break vote on health care legislation in the House, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if Friday’s vote fails.

The risky move, part gamble and part threat, was presented to GOP lawmakers behind closed doors Thursday night after a long and intense day that saw a planned vote on the health care bill scrapped as the legislation remained short of votes amid cascading negotiations among conservative lawmakers, moderates and others.

At the end of it the president had had enough and was ready to vote and move on, whatever the result, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers.

“‘Negotiations are over, we’d like to vote tomorrow and let’s get this done for the American people.’ That was it,” Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said as he left the meeting, summarizing Mulvaney’s message to lawmakers.

“Let’s vote,” White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said as he walked out.

“For seven and a half years we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, then walked off without answering as reporters demanded to know whether the bill had the votes to pass.

The outcome of Friday’s vote was impossible to predict. Both conservative and moderate lawmakers had claimed the bill lacked votes after a long day of talks. But the White House appeared ready to gamble that the prospect of failing to repeal former President Barack Obama‘s health law, after seven years of promising to do exactly that, would force lawmakers into the “yes” column.

“It’s done tomorrow. Or ‘Obamacare’ stays,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a top Trump ally in the House.

Collins was among those predicting success Friday, but others didn’t hide their anxiety about the outcome.

Asked whether Republicans would be unified on Friday’s vote, freshman Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida said, “I sure hope so, or we’ll have the opportunity to watch a unified Democratic caucus impeach Donald Trump in two years when we lose the majority.”

Thursday’s maneuvers added up to high drama on Capitol Hill, but Friday promised even more suspense with the prospect of leadership putting a major bill on the floor uncertain about whether it would pass or fail.

The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the Obama statute had expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

The measure would also block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, another stumbling block for GOP moderates.

In a concession to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members have withheld support, the legislation would repeal requirements for insurers to cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care and substance abuse treatment.

The drama unfolded seven years to the day after Obama signed his landmark law, an anniversary GOP leaders meant to celebrate with a vote to undo the divisive legislation. “Obamacare” gave birth to the tea party movement and helped Republicans win and keep control of Congress and then take the White House.

Instead, as GOP leaders were forced to delay the vote Thursday, C-SPAN filled up the time playing footage of Obama signing the Affordable Care Act.

“In the final analysis, this bill falls short,” GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state said in a statement Thursday as she became the latest rank-and-file Republican, normally loyal to leadership, to declare her opposition. “The difficulties this bill would create for millions of children were left unaddressed,” she said, citing the unraveling of Medicaid.

In a danger sign for Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found that people disapprove of the GOP legislation by 56 percent to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided. Trump’s handling of health care was viewed unfavorably by 6 in 10.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who as speaker was Obama’s crucial lieutenant in passing the Democratic bill in the first place, couldn’t resist a dig at the GOP disarray.

“You may be a great negotiator,” she said of Trump. “Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”

Obama declared in a statement that “America is stronger” because of the current law and said Democrats must make sure “any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans.” Trump tweeted to supporters, “Go with our plan! Call your Rep & let them know.”

Unlike Obama and Pelosi when they passed Obamacare, the Republicans had failed to build an outside constituency or coalition to support their bill. Instead, medical professionals, doctors and hospitals — major employers in some districts — as well as the AARP and other influential consumer groups were nearly unanimously opposed. So were outside conservative groups who argued the bill didn’t go far enough. The Chamber of Commerce was in favor.

Moderates were given pause by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In an updated analysis Thursday, the CBO said late changes to the bill meant to win over reluctant lawmakers would cut beneficial deficit reduction in half, while failing to cover more people.

And, House members were mindful that the bill, even if passed by the House, faces a tough climb in the Senate.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Florida Speaker: Suspend prosecutor who nixes death penalty

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called on the governor to suspend a prosecutor for pledging to not seek the death penalty in any case while she is in office.

Corcoran said Thursday that Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala was “violating the constitution” because she is not even considering the death penalty. Capital punishment is authorized under the Florida Constitution. Corcoran added that if Florida lawmakers had the power to impeach Ayala, they would already be doing so.

Gov. Rick Scott removed Ayala from a high-profile police murder case last week after she announced her decision against the death penalty. Ayala argues Scott has overstepped his bounds and filed a motion in response, asking a judge to let her present her argument in court.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Marco Rubio, bipartisan Senate group call for U.S. help for starving North Africa

After a hearing on a humanitarian crisis with millions of lives at stake in northeast Africa, U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio joined a bipartisan group of senators Thursday asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene by leading an “urgent and comprehensive” diplomatic effort.

Rubio and eight other senators signed a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump‘s secretary of state saying that political obstacles in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are significantly to blame for humanitarian aid from getting in, and consequently millions of people now are starving to death.

“The scale and complexity of these crises might lead some to say the situation is hopeless,” states the senators’ letter to Tillerson. “We reject such a response as U.S. leadership can make an enormous difference, and we believe the Department of State can and should lead a diplomatic effort now to reduce the political barriers that are hindering the delivery of food to millions of starving people. The U.S. government has a strategic and moral imperative to do nothing less.”

Rubio was joined by Republicans Todd Young of Indiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Jeff Flake of Arizona; and Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Chris Coons of Delaware.

All of them including Rubio serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on the situation Wednesday. Rubio stated that he also received a briefing on the crisis from billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates earlier this week.

The senators’ letter suggests up to 20 million people are at risk of starving to death.

“The testimony of the witnesses underscored the urgent need for a ‘diplomatic surge’ in the next couple weeks to prevent millions of people from dying unnecessarily from starvation,” the letter opens. “Consistent with the national security interests of the United States and the compassion of the American people, we write to ask that the Department of State implement an urgent and comprehensive diplomatic effort to address political obstacles in each of these regions that are preventing humanitarian aid from being delivered to people who desperately need it.

“Mr. Yves Daccord, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday called the crisis ‘one of the most critical humanitarian issues to face mankind since the end of the Second World War.’ He warned that ‘we are at the brink of a humanitarian mega-crisis unprecedented in recent history,'” the letter states.

The senators’ letter details how governmental or nongovernmental actors in each of the regions have blocked or hindered humanitarian access, depriving people of food. But it suggests the U.S. Department of State can potentially address the man-made obstacles and spells out steps that should be taken to convince each country to open the flows of food.

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Rape kits delayed is justice denied, Part 3

Robert Sheridan Haar

In a few weeks or months, we will learn the name of the Volusia County woman who, in 1997, had the bad fortune to encounter one Robert Sheridan Haar.

Relying upon DNA evidence, police say Haar, 22 at the time, and two of his yet-unidentified predator pals abducted and gang raped her near Mud Lake in Daytona Beach.  She was 14 years old.

To her attackers, she was just a piece of meat, a nameless target of opportunity. Today, Haar sits in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting the paperwork necessary to bring him back to Volusia County, thanks to what turned up in the 20-year-old rape kit of a nameless, helpless victim whose attackers figured they’d never see again.

Haar and two sidekicks allegedly told the teenager she would be killed if she screamed or resisted. The trio dumped her in Port Orange the next morning, when they were done with her.

She’s not done with them. “Obviously, she was very emotional, she did recall the incident very well although it had been 20 years,” Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Thoman said in a news conference.  “She was definitely willing to pursue the case.”

Haar had managed to keep his DNA out of a law enforcement database until 2016, which is, coincidentally, the first time that the 19-year-old rape kit for this victim was submitted for testing.

Haar’s arrest comes as a reminder that he’s not the only person who might be decades overdue to face a grown woman with a prosecutor at her side and account for himself to the terrified child she used to be.

We can’t be reminded too often.

Florida’s public officials love to talk tough on crime, but they won’t cough up the chump change it would take to clear the backlog of rape kits gathering dust as perps remain free to gather new victims. The number of untested rape kits now stands, roughly, at 6444.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s a disgrace.

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Tampa Bay area to host 2019 Medal of Honor convention

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS) Thursday selected the Tampa Bay area as the host community for its 2019 Convention, honoring Medal of Honor recipients and their families.

This is the first time the weeklong event, taking place in October 2019, will be held in Tampa.

“Tampa Bay’s strong military tradition coupled with our outstanding vacation venues, cemented Tampa’s position as the host of this prestigious event,” said Ed Miyagishima, president and CEO of the 2019 Tampa Bay Medal of Honor Convention. “We’re humbled to be able to roll out the red carpet and the white sands of Tampa Bay to honor these outstanding individuals and their families as only this region can.”

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest and rarest military honor, bestowed by the president in the name of Congress on deserving members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.”

“We’re thrilled to select Tampa Bay as the host of the 2019 Convention,” said Medal of Honor Recipient and President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Thomas Kelley. “Tampa’s unique military footprint, coupled with its spectacular beaches and activities will serve as the ideal backdrop to honor and celebrate Medal of Honor recipients and their families.”

The Medal of Honor Convention, the annual gathering of Medal of Honor recipients, was created to honor the awardees and their families. Highlights of the week will include an official public welcome, reunion events, book signings, school events and autograph sessions, and the black-tie Gala.

“We recognize members of the military, veterans and their families as valued members of our community,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “We could not be more proud that Ronald Ray, a graduate of the University of Tampa, and Baldomero Lopez, Tampa native, are both recipients of the Medal of Honor and would be honored to celebrate their accomplishments as well as those of all of the other Medal of Honor recipient’s right here in Tampa.”

The Medal of Honor families will be special honorees during the convention. According to Miyagishima, “We will make sure that there are numerous family-friendly events. These are the individuals who have sacrificed and supported the Medal of Honor recipients over the years, so it is important that we express our gratitude and make it special for them, as well.”

In Tampa, an educational outreach campaign will be implemented in area schools to promote patriotism and character, special assets personified by the Medal of Honor. A special curriculum will be created for teachers to utilize throughout the area and guest speakers will be available to visit local schools.

“We are especially excited by the prospect of a lasting legacy for Tampa Bay in the form of a curriculum that can be used year after year to educate our students about the character attributes of Medal of Honor recipients,” said retired United States Army Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell, who serves as an adviser to the Convention and has served as the president of CMOHS. “As a culmination to the convention, we will select a local student to receive the newly-created Medal of Honor Scholarship and look forward to partnering with local schools for other exciting learning opportunities.”

Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base is expected to play a significant role during the convention. MacDill is currently home to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE), the 6th Air Mobility Wing and nearly 30 other tenant units.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society was formed in 1958 under President Dwight Eisenhower to protect, uphold and preserve the dignity and honor of the medal at all times and on all occasions. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Convention and general meeting, held annually at different host communities across the country, serves:

– To further the bond of brotherhood and camaraderie among all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

– To remember in reverence and respect those who received the Medal of Honor posthumously, and those who are now deceased.

– To foster patriotism and to inspire and stimulate our youth to become better citizens of our country.

– To recognize and award patriotic Americans who promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation was founded through their life’s work.

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Rene Flowers, Frank Peterman endorse Corey Givens Jr. for St. Pete City Council

Corey Givens Jr. has earned endorsements of two former St. Petersburg City Council members in his bid for District 6 on the St. Pete Council.

Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers and former Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Rev. Frank Peterman are both backing Givens in his second run for public office.

According to a statement released Thursday, Givens thanked Flowers for her support. Flowers defeated Givens in 2012 for the County School Board District 7 seat.

“Corey is the strongest voice for District 6. Millennials are making moves and taking action,” Flowers said. “His candidacy comes at a time when our country needs unity the most.”

Flowers, who introduced Givens at his campaign kickoff in January, added: “As the City of St. Petersburg continues to transition into a place where innovative ideas are welcomed, persons from all walks of life are valued, and opportunities for growth are prevalent, I believe that we are in need of a representative who shares the same core values. Corey Givens has demonstrated over time that his volunteer efforts are not to glamorize himself, but rather to elevate his community. Join me in assuring that he is given the opportunity to not just speak about it, but be about it!”

Re-elected to the School Board in 2014, Flowers also represented District 7 on the St. Pete City Council for two terms, from 1998-2006.

“I’ve watched Corey grow up and mature over the years. Like many of us, he’s human and has made his mistakes. But more importantly, he’s shown that he has the skill set and compassion needed to serve a culturally diverse area such as District 6,” Peterman said.

Peterman, pastor of The Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church, had served on the District 6 seat from 1997-2000. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives from 2000-2008, representing South St. Petersburg.

Flowers and Peterman will also co-host a birthday celebration reception for Givens Tuesday, April 11, at The Chattaway, 358 22nd Ave. S in St. Petersburg. The event is from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

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American Bridge slams Mario Diaz-Balart for ‘selling out’ to support GOP health care plan

With just hours left before Congress’ vote on the American Health Care Act, President Donald Trump and GOP House leadership are doing whatever it takes to get the 216 votes necessary for passage of the bill.

In the case of Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, could change in U.S. policy toward Cuba implemented under the Obama administration be the catalyst to lock in his support?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart sought assurances from White House officials that the president would maintain his campaign pledge to reverse Obama’s recognition of diplomatic ties with the Raul Castro-led Cuban government.

Diaz-Balart supported the health care plan in the Budget Committee last week, which narrowly passed on a 19-17 vote. A White House official said there was no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

The bill has already been changed to get additional GOP support.

The Times reported in that same story that New York Republican Claudia Tenney said she was likely to support the bill after House leaders added a section that would shift Medicaid costs from New York’s counties to the state government.

The horse trading brings back memories of when the shoe was on the other foot eight years ago, when Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were doing everything in their power to get enough buy-in from Senate Democrats to back the Affordable Care Act in late 2009.

First, there was the $300 million increase for Medicaid in Louisiana designed to win the vote of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in what was derisively referred to as the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Next came the infamous “Cornhusker kickback” to get Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson’s vote. That involved giving Nebraska a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion. That meant federal taxpayers would have had to kick in an additional $45 million in the first decade (a provision ultimately removed from the bill).

There was also “Gator-aide,” the label given to the request from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson for the Senate version of the ACA. That included a formula for protecting certain Medicare Advantage enrollees from facing what could be billions in cuts. The formula would only apply to five states, most notably Florida, where 800,000 of the state’s 1 million Medicare Advantage enrollees would be exempted from cuts.

Referring to the Times story, Shripal Shah, vice president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, took a swipe at Diaz-Balart.

Shah said: “No matter what his justification, here are the facts: Congressman DiazBalart is selling out millions of Americans in order to cut billions in taxes for a few millionaires, and this bill might not have even be alive today had it not been for his vote in committee. The White House may have been able to buy his vote, but the public is going to hold him accountable.”

A request for comment from Diaz-Balart was not immediately returned.

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Rays won’t get their first choice in search for a new stadium

For Stuart Sternberg, finding a new stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays hasn’t proven as easily as just identifying his preferred site.

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said in Port Charlotte Thursday. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4. It’s like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1. The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.

“We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we’re working and trying to find out what will be next best.”

Sternberg wouldn’t say where his choice would have been, or if it was in Tampa or St. Petersburg.

How optimistic is Sternberg?

“It’s unknown at this point,” he said.

Sternberg said in February he expected conclusion by August, but said Thursday it could take until the end of the year.

“Nobody wants this process to move quicker than we do,” he said. “Because the sooner we are able to get something done the quicker we’re able to ramp up our revenues and know where our future’s going to be for the next set of generations to come, but it’s an important process and we’re not doing this in a vacuum. We’re working with various cities on both sides of the bay, we’re working with the different counties on both sides of the bay, we’re working with MLB to a point as well, landowners sometimes in some cases. It’s a complicated process.”

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Vote-by-mail ballots fix passes House

A bill that would let voters fix mismatching signatures on their vote-by-mail ballots so they can be counted has passed the House of Representatives.

The House approved the bill (HB 105), sponsored by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, by a unanimous vote of 113-0 on Thursday.

It would require supervisors of elections and their staff to allow voters to turn in an affidavit to cure any signature discrepancies until 5 p.m. the day before an election. They would need to present a driver’s license or other state ID.

A Senate companion has not yet had a hearing.

It would help older voters who have “arthritis or other physical disabilities” and younger voters who may have signed their voter registration cards “carelessly,” Cruz has said.

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