A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Lawmakers return to Tallahassee this week and get their first look at Gov. Rick Scott’s new proposed budget. They’ll hear from the governor’s staff and from agencies in a number of committees this week as they start to begin crafting their own spending plans.
It’s also back to the discussion of ethics and elections reforms, with a new proposal to raise campaign contribution limits on individuals and also continued discussion of the elections problems seen in Florida on Election Day.
A new issue is the beginning of a new discussion of the communications services tax. A couple of committees this week will begin looking at that tax, which communications companies say is problematic because it is different in several different jurisdictions. There’s also a look at a bill to return the tax on prepaid calling services to the regular 6 percent sales tax in the wake of a move by the state to begin collecting the higher CST on that service.
Also, both chambers look at bills prohibiting police from using drones, and a proposed death penalty abolition bill and a ban on texting while driving both get hearings.
The News Service of Florida has a full rundown of the week’s events here.
BOEHNER STEADIES GOP, REFRAMES DEFICIT DEBATE by Charles Babington of the Associated Press
House Speaker John Boehner has shored up his political clout after a shaky month, persuading his Republican caucus to pick its fights with Democrats more strategically. His impressive rebound, aided by face-the-facts confrontations with colleagues, helped the government avoid a potential default on its financial obligations – for three months, at least. It also reassured establishment Republicans who feared the House majority was becoming so unpredictable that it endangered the party. But the patched-up GOP solidarity and Boehner’s ability to pass bills without Democrats’ help are certain to be tested again. Surprising news this past week about a late-2012 economic slump might re-energize arguments over tax increases and impending spending cuts. An even bigger challenge will be the immigration overhaul proposals headed toward Congress.
POLL: AMERICANS SLIGHTLY MORE LIBERAL IN 2012
America has become a slightly more liberal and a slightly less conservative nation than it was in 2011 — based on residents’ self-reports of their ideology — but conservatives still outnumber both moderates and liberals, according to a new Gallup analysis. In all, more Americans identified as conservative than liberal in 2012, 38% to 23%, compared with 40% to 21% in 2011, a four-point swing in favor of liberals. The percentage of self-identified moderates remained unchanged, at 36%.
Meanwhile Alabama was the most conservative state in 2012, with 51% of residents identifying that way, followed by North Dakota and Wyoming with 49% each and Mississippi and Utah with 48% each. The District of Columbia was the most liberal, with 41% of residents identifying that way, followed by Massachusetts in a distant second with 31%, Oregon and Vermont with 29% each and a bunch of states clustered around 28% each.
FORMER DEFENSE SEC. ROBERT GATES TO SPEAK IN VERO BEACH ON MONDAY
Gates is the only secretary of defense to serve under two presidents. He was appointed by George W. Bush to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, with the Pentagon in disarray. Known for working across party lines, he helped reshape national security and signed off on a controversial plan to build a new missile shield in Europe.
On Monday, he is joining the Riverside Theatre’s Distinguished Lecturer Series for two lectures on foreign policy, the revolutions in the Middle East and defense strategies. More info and a Q&A here.
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GOP’S CHALLENGES IN FLORIDA by Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times
Between the Democrats’ overwhelming advantage among voters under 30 and minorities, in social media and grass roots campaigning, experts agreed, the Republican Party has to work on not just the nuts and bolts of campaigning but the underlying message that’s appealing to a shrinking segment of the electorate.
SCOTT’S BUDGET DRAWS MIXED REVIEWS FROM CHILD ADVOCATES via Margie Menzel
Governor Rick Scott’s “Florida Families First” budget recommendations are drawing a mixed reaction from children’s advocates – high praise from some, but frustration from others.
Educators were happy with Scott for recommending a $1.2 billion increase in spending for K-12 public schools and $2,500, across-the-board raises for teachers.
“We are very supportive and appreciative of the tangible commitment that Governor Scott is proposing for our schools which will benefit both students and teachers,” said St. Johns County schools Superintendent Joseph Joyner, in a statement released Friday by the governor’s office. “With his continued commitment to improving education in Florida, we can only expect to see even better things to come for St. Johns’ students and families.”
… But backers of early childhood education and an expansion of Medicaid were disappointed.
The governor’s proposed budget does not include a Medicaid expansion that was included in the federal Affordable Care Act, with Scott saying he had not made a decision about the issue. Karen Woodall, a lobbyist on children’s health issues, said expanding Medicaid would help provide economic security to families, an issue she called the most important for children.
LEDGER EDITORIAL: GOVERNOR’S PROPOSED BUDGET AN ACT OF SELF-PRESERVATION
“No matter the outcome, Scott will have gained political value by numerically defining policy shifts that are aimed at softening his record as a just-say-no slasher of state services. … Scott has learned that broad swaths of Florida’s voters place great importance on state services — education, for instance — on which he had been brutal during his first year in office, 2011.”
TRIBUNE EDITORIAL: SCOTT’S SOLID BUDGET BLUEPRINT
“Whether it is because of an improving economy, political concerns or a growing appreciation for his adopted state, Gov. Rick Scott now seems interested in dealing with the reality of Florida. … His proposed $74.2 billion budget would invest in many areas the state has neglected yet still would cut taxes and ensure Florida remains business friendly.”
LATVALA LIKES SCOTT
Check out state Sen. Jack Latvala on Political Connections on Bay News 9 from Sunday. He has nothing but positive things to say about Florida’s unpopular governor, and like most Republicans, dismisses the prospect of a GOP primary challenge for Scott.
“I like Rick Scott. I consider Rick Scott to be a friend of mine,” Latvala said in the interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. “People want to elect folks to political office who are newcomers, who aren’t career politicians. Well, he’s not a career politician, but if you elect people like that, you have to give them a little learning curve. I think he has learned, I think he is getting better all the time. There’s always the possibility that if his poll numbers don’t improve, someone could run against him, but I don’t see anybody beating him in a primary.”
>>>The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. board is scheduled to hold a one-hour teleconference.
>>>The Department of Corrections announces a drop in recidivism rates, that the agency says is saving Florida taxpayers millions.
>>>The Education Estimating Conference will review enrollment numbers for schools in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
>>>The Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns will release copies of its final report during a meeting convened by Attorney General Pam Bondi.
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GET YOUR CHECKBOOKS READY FOR SEVERAL FUNDRAISERS PLANNED THIS WEEK. Invites here.
JUDGE WILL NOT DELAY EARLY VOTING CASE via the News Service of Florida
A federal judge has refused the state’s request to delay a lawsuit challenging a controversial 2011 elections law that reduced the number of days of early voting.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner had sought to put the lawsuit on hold, saying the Legislature might make early-voting changes during this spring’s session that would resolve the issues. But plaintiffs in the case, led by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown opposed the delay. U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan issued an order that said Detzner’s hope that lawmakers will take care of the concerns about early voting is “too tenuous a basis” to issue a stay in the case. Also, Corrigan wrote that the case is at an early stage procedurally and that lawmakers would likely have the opportunity to act before he rules on the 2011 law.
“As plaintiffs correctly assert, it is uncertain whether the Florida Legislature will take any action concerning Florida’s early voting laws, whether that action will ultimately become law, and, if so, whether such amendments will address the matters at issue in the lawsuit,” Corrigan wrote.
TWO INCUMBENTS, TWO NEWCOMERS FILE TO RUN FOR LEGISLATURE IN 2014
The incumbents are Rep. Tom Goodson in District 50, and Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed in District 92. The newcomers are Eustis Republican Randy Glisson in District 31 and Pinellas Park Republican Joshua Simeon Black in District 68.
Glisson would seek to replace Rep. Bryan Nelson, an Apopka Republican who will face term limits in 2014, while Black would challenge Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.
Also filing papers recently was Fritz Jackson Seide, an Orlando Republican who would challenge Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, in Senate District 12.
Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Royal Palm Beach, filed papers to run in 2016 in Senate District 25.
Even further out, Venice Republican Doug Holder has taken the first step toward running in 2018 in Senate District 28.
***Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 6, 2013, to participate in Florida Space Day and share with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. During Space Day, industry leaders and other aerospace supporters will meet with House and Senate members, as well as the lieutenant governor, to discuss growing areas of the state’s $8 billion space industry, and determine the best strategies for leveraging these markets for Florida’s benefit in the years ahead.***
TIMES EDITORIAL: LEGISLATIVE LEADERS DRAW UP AMBITIOUS AGENDA
“Of course, it’s easy to be warm and fuzzy now. There haven’t been any tough votes yet, and sharing broad goals is not the same as endorsing specific legislation. Let’s see how it looks in late April, when there are just days left in the legislative session, priorities have yet to be passed and lawmakers are sniping at each other and chafing at the prospect of new ethics rules and fundraising restrictions.
“There also will be disappointments along the way. Gaetz and Weatherford will not repeal ‘stand your ground’ even though the abuses are clear. They are not likely to fix property insurance. They have yet to accept the expansion of Medicaid under the federal health care law, although it would surprise me if they decline it.
“But for now, there is reason to be encouraged about the direction in Tallahassee. Weatherford and Gaetz share an ambitious reform agenda, and they appear committed to leaving a lasting legacy.”
DETAILS ABOUT A NEW FIRST COAST LEGISLATIVE DELEGATION EMERGE, SKEPTICS REMAIN by Matt Dixon of the Florida Times Union
After much discussion, the creation of a new First Coast Legislative Delegation appears to be almost complete. The plan, though, has doubters.
A draft copy of the new delegation’s bylaws says it will be comprised of lawmakers from Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties, which would include 16-members. The idea of state lawmakers combining forces emerged after redistricting stripped Duval County of two House seats and a Senate seat.
“I think this is the right way to move forward,” said State Sen. Aaron Bean.
… While regional lawmakers loosely work together, currently the area’s only formal delegations are at the county-level. The potential that a county could lose its autonomy has some concerned.
“I spoke with Aaron before I even agreed to attend the meeting,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson. “My initial concern is that we preclude the idea that [the regional delegation] could make recommendations impacting the Duval delegation.”
LATVALA ON THE ISSUES, RIGHT, RIGHT, WRONG, AND VERY RIGHT. Full blog post here.
For the last two years, Latvala took up orbit as the dark star of the Florida Senate, obliterating the top priorities of President Mike Haridopolos and his conservative allies in the upper chamber. Concurrent with that, Latvala waged an internecine struggle for the Senate Presidency. His opponents, opposed to him to their very core, contend Latvala is out of the running after his surrogates lost a string of primary contests. Latvala was on the verge of being froze out by his ascendant adversaries.
That’s when a funny thing happened to Senator Latvala on the way to penalty box. He told those closest to him to stop worrying about the race for the Senate Presidency and just let him to his damn job.
Few are as good at being a legislator as Jack Latvala. On issue after issue, especially on those hitting close to home, Latvala is demonstrating why he is the de facto boss of Tampa Bay.
Of course, the boss isn’t always right. He’s just the boss. Right now, the boss is right on ethics reform, right on transportation, wrong on campaign finance reform and very right on a local issue concerning a controversial work release center.
LEGISLATIVE PREVIEWS via the News Service of Florida
The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee hears presentations on an Auditor General’s audit of the Okaloosa Tourist Development Council and a response from county officials and the annual audit of the Department of Lottery. The panel also hears a presentation from Governor’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel on state and local government accountability.
The Senate Select Committee on the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, chaired by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, holds a joint committee meeting with the House of Representatives Select Committee on PPACA, chaired by Rep. Richard Corcoran to discuss Florida’s options regarding health care exchanges. The state faces a choice on whether to remain in the default federal exchange, build a state exchange, or pursue a partnership exchange. Brian Webb of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners will testify and Florida Health Choices Chief Executive Officer Rose Naff and Florida Healthy Kids Corp. Executive Director Rich Robleto will outline current Florida insurance marketplaces. The committee will also take public testimony.
In the House
Voting reform will take center stage again when the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee meets to hear from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections before discussing what the panel might to do address the problems in the 2012 elections.
In the Senate
The Senate Gaming Committee continues to hear from the public on the idea of expanding gambling in the state. No bills are before the committee, which is largely tasked with studying the issue this year for possible action in 2014. In addition to public testimony, the committee hears presentations Monday from industry representatives on the impact of gaming on the economy.
LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUND
Several staff members who work for House and Senate members and committees have gotten on and off the staffing merry-go-round, according to the House of Representatives and Senate directories. Here’s who’s on and who’s off:
On: Michelle Morton as new staff director of The House Select Committee on Gaming.
Off and On: Legislative analyst Thabata Batchelor has left the House Health & Human Services Committee, while Rebecca Entress has joined the staff in the same capacity.
Off: Legislative assistant Matthew Alford has left the staff of Representative Linda Stewart.
On: Allison Hess as a legislative assistant in Senate President Don Gaetz’s office.
On: Christopher Lazo has joined the Senate Minority Office as a legislative analyst.
WILTON SIMPSON BILL WOULD BOOST NATURAL GAS CHOICES via the News Service of Florida
Two bills have been introduced that backers say will promote natural gas as a vehicle fuel and also set clear taxing guidelines, reports the News Service of Florida.
The bills, SB 560 and HB 579, would replace existing law that classifies natural gas as an alternative fuel exempt from many of the state’s fuel taxes. “This legislation will jump start the implementation of natural gas motor fuel in Florida and maximize its benefit through the implementation of a progressive tax structure and clearly outlined incentives,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. The measures have the support of a wide coalition of companies and industries from United States Sugar Corp. to the Florida beer industry.
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4TH FLOOR FILES TALKS TO BARNEY BISHOP about Steve Bousquet, frozen yogurt and JFK. Here’s the file on Barney.
CITIES, COUNTIES LOAD UP FOR SESSION
With lawmakers getting ready to take up issues such as possible changes in government pension systems, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties are building large lobbying teams for the upcoming session. As of Friday, 17 legislative lobbyists had registered for the Florida League of Cities and 13 were signed up for the Florida Association of Counties, according to state registration lists posted online. Other groups and companies that have reached double digits in lobbyists this week include the Florida Medical Association, with 13; Associated Industries of Florida, with 11; the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, with 11; The Florida Bar, with 11; American Traffic Solutions, Inc., with 10; the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, with 10; and TECO Energy, Inc., with 10.
DURELL PEADEN CHOSEN AS NEW CHAIR OF FLA. HEALTH CHOICES
Former state Senator Durell Peaden has been chosen as the new chairman of Florida Health Choices, which is planned as a new online marketplace for people to shop for health coverage. He was chosen Jan. 22 to succeed Aaron Bean as chairman of Florida Health Choices, which lawmakers approved in 2008 and could begin enrolling small-business owners and their employees early this year.
Bean stepped down after getting elected in November to the Senate. “We will miss Senator Bean’s leadership,” Peaden said in a statement posted on the Florida Health Choices website. “I look forward to continuing to work with our committed team to bring the health insurance marketplace to Floridians.”
STAFF CHANGES AT AUDUBON via The Florida Current
Environmental lobby Audubon Florida has made a couple of staff changes. Mary Jean Yon has been given a new title: legislative director. However, she will continue to lobby for the organization just as she has since 2011. In another development, Stephanie Kunkel has joined the Audubon legislative team for the 2013 session.
WELCOME TO THE TWITTERVERSE: Charlie Dudley, follow him at @Cfdlaw
***The PA Team of Jack and Keyna Cory and Erin Daly would like to congratulate their long term Client American Eldercare and their Grassroots Team for winning Florida’s contract for Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Program for Long-Term Care. The Delray Beach firm that specializes in caring for seniors in independent living in their homes as well as assisted living “is the only company that won contracts to enroll customers in every region of the state According to Health News Florida, The market is estimated to be worth about $3 billion.” The PA Team has represented American Eldercare and worked with their Grassroots Team for over 10 years. ***
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Senator Dwight Bullard.