Sunburn for 2/5 — A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms. You need their team on your side during this Legislative session for media, grassroots and netroots support. Visit TuckerHall.com to read about their team and how they can help you.

OBAMA HEADS BACK TO THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL via the Los Angeles Times

Reelected and re-inaugurated, Obama is going back to one place he knows he can succeed: the campaign trail.

During a second term, presidents often head off on a tour of the country after their State of the Union assessment, seizing the high mark of their political capital to press their agenda. The clock is ticking with less than two years, maybe only months, before lame-duck status sidelines the chief executive.

Obama isn’t waiting. He’s running opinion leaders through the White House at a daily clip to build support for immigration reform and gun control, as well as his economic vision. And, more than any other president, he’s using his campaign’s grass-roots network to amplify his message in social media and email inboxes.

OBAMA BACKING OFF ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN? via the New York Times

Obama traveled to the nation’s heartland to press his case for tougher gun laws on Monday, even as evidence mounted in Washington that expanded background checks on gun sales may emerge as a legislative compromise in the bitterly divisive cultural debate.

At the event, Obama declared ‘universal background checks’ to be supported by the ‘vast majority of Americans’ and called for quick passage in Congress of legislation expanding their reach… But the president set a different political standard for a potential assault weapons ban, saying only that it “deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets.”

Politico notes Obama “lamented a key lesson he learned during his first term as president: That no legislation is done until the moment he affixes his signature — which leaves a lot of work left to do.”

RUBIO TO PARTICIPATE IN INAUGURAL BUZZFEED BREWS 

Rubio will participate in a discussion with BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith at the inaugural BuzzFeed Brews. The discussion launches a newsmaker speaker series where members of the BuzzFeed political team will interview Washington newsmakers in the nation’s capital.

BLOG POST OF THE DAY – “BILL NELSON NAMED ONE OF THE TOP TEN TOUGHEST POLITICIANS?”by Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

Certainly, everybody knows lists like this are offered as entertainment, meant to be a fluffy read during a long commute or on a lunch break, wherever and whenever we’re looking for a distraction. Still, when top-10 lists are found in a national mainstream-news medium of U.S. News’ repute and wide distribution, we expect the fluff to be based at least on a hint of objectivity, written by somebody who’s done a little research before wrapping up the story.

… It didn’t bother me particularly that eight of the 10 “tough” people described on the list were card-carrying liberals: Tammy Duckworth, Hillary Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Kyrsten Sinema, Mary Jo White, Rahm Emanuel and Tulsi Gabbard. Or that of the two Republicans included, one was can’t-be-ignored John McCain, Vietnam-era prisoner-of-war survivor, at the top of any sane person’s “tough” list; and Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, the “GOP rebel,” made the list for “slamming his own party’s leadership. …”

What bothered me most is that this list plunks Bill Nelson down right in the middle of it.

Bill Nelson, the highly skilled escapist, famous among the Washington press corps for ducking out and diving under cover before he has to take “tough” questions. That Bill Nelson.

GOP SLAMS PATRICK MURPHY FOR THANKING PAC’S AFTER CRITICIZING THEM by George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Campaigning as a fresh-faced outsider in 2012, Democratic congressional hopeful Patrick Murphy often slammed super PACs and the influence of big money in politics.

So Republicans pounced last week when newly sworn-in Rep. Murphy of Jupiter appeared in a testimonial video for House Majority PAC. The PAC is a Democratic organ that raised $35.8 million in 2011-12.

… “The thing about the House Majority PAC is, they know what it takes. They’re smarter, more efficient. Their ads on stem-cell research made a big difference in my campaign,” Murphy says in the new web video, which also features six other newly elected Democrats.

The National Republican Congressional Committee responded with a web video of its own that contrasted Murphy’s praise for House Majority PAC with a clip of him on the campaign trail calling the influence of super PACs “gross.”

TREY RADEL GETS CREDIT FOR OUTREACH via the Naples Daily News

He has one of the safest jobs in Congress, that of a Republican member of the House from a heavily Republican district.

Still, newly elected Trey Radel of Fort Myers is going the extra mile to connect with constituents by conducting a series of town-hall meetings and other public appearances and interviews from one end of District 19 to the other.

Radel, as a former TV and radio personality, is comfortable with crowds.

His predecessor, Connie Mack IV, did not do this.

Although we suspect we know what Radel will say and what his audiences will tell him, his approach is refreshing.

***The Tampa Bay Public Leadership Institute is a non-partisan leadership development program that asks participants to explore the possibility of public leadership in the future (without requiring a commitment to run for office) and learn now about the political process, leadership and public policy, while networking with leaders.  Applications for the next class will soon be accepted. Click here for more information.***

FOR CHARLIE CRIST, IT’S THE LULL BEFORE THE STORM by Jeff Henderson of Sunshine State News

Charlie Crist, the once and certainly hoping-to-be-future governor of Florida, is riding high at the moment, dreaming of a return to Tallahassee — but he’s about to draw fire from both the left and the right.

… (Manyy) Diaz appears very likely to enter the fray and he and (Nan) Rich will certainly remind Democratic primary voters about Crist’s past, including his strong conservative stances on a number of issues. Expect Crist’s Democratic opponents to jog the memory of liberal primary voters that Crist has previously been pro-life on abortion and an opponent of expanded rights for same-sex couples.

… As he runs for office yet again, Crist is riding high for the moment. But he’s pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory before. With more than a year and a half until Election Day, his leads in the Democratic primary and in the general election should not be taken for granted.

JIM GREER TRIAL RAISES HOPE, FEARS AMONG REPUBLICANS by Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times

Some think Gov. Rick Scott would like a drawn-out drama just in case something falls on former Gov. Charlie Crist, a potential 2014 opponent who hired Greer and is listed as a witness for both sides. Scott is about the only Republican in town who had nothing to do with the party before he was elected in 2010 and it’s likely he’s never met Greer.

Republicans running the party these days hate Greer and don’t appear to have any culpability in the accusations against him of fraud, money laundering and grand theft. They also hate Crist for hiring Greer and switching parties. So they don’t have much to lose if the trial gets ugly.

Some Republicans, particularly lobbyists who are entangled in the drama as witnesses, just want it all to end.

***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. ***

AARP POLL: FLORIDA 50+ VOTERS SAY YES TO BAN ON TEXTING WHILE DRIVING, NO TO NUKE-COST RECOVERY FEE

A new AARP Florida survey shows that Florida voters age 50 or older give overwhelming, bipartisan support for a state law banning the dangerous practice of texting while driving.  Nearly nine out of 10 Florida voters 50+, including large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents, strongly support a texting-while-driving ban.  

The survey also shows bipartisan support among 50+ voters for beefed-up state long-term care services to help older people remain in their homes and communities and higher quality-of-care standards for Florida nursing homes.  Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independent Florida voters also favor requiring Internet-based retailers to collect and send in the same state sales tax that Florida-based stores already collect. 

However, the AARP survey shows that older Floridians  aren’t convinced that utility companies ought to be able to charge consumers fees up front to build nuclear power plants, as is currently allowed by state law.  Florida voters 50+ who say they strongly oppose advance nuclear cost-recovery fees outnumber those who strongly support such fees by more than eight to one. 

EDITORIAL OF THE DAY: CLOSE CRYSTAL RIVER NUKE PLANT via the Tampa Bay Times

“It’s time for Duke Energy to acknowledge that the broken Crystal River nuclear plant is not worth fixing and announce plans to permanently shut it down. The cost of the repairs is too high, and even if the fixes worked it would be years before the plant generated power again. This is an expensive debacle for Duke Energy customers, but it would be better to spend their money on a new natural gas power plant than on trying to repair a 36-year-old nuclear plant that has not produced power since 2009.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will be visiting UF Law today for a conversation expected to cover a number of issues, including proportionality in sentencing, the Justice’s proposal for an amendment of the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, and the Justice’s criminal law jurisprudence. The discussion will be facilitated by a panel of UF Law faculty members. It will be held in the Marcia Whitney Schott Courtyard from 12:30 – 1:45 p.m. 

ELECTION REPORT CALLS FOR FLEXIBILITY by Mike Vasalinda of the Capitol News Service

Flexibility is the watchword of a twelve page report detailing fixes to improve elections presented to the Governor and state lawmakers today.The report calls for more days of early voting, more locations to vote early, and a shorter ballot.

Voters in some counties were still in line in the early morning hours on a day after the election. Delays and counting thousands of last minute absentee ballots once again made Florida the laughing stock of the nation when it couldn’t declare a winner until Friday.

A 12 page report details what went wrong. It calls for 14 not eight days of early voting, with supervisors deciding when and where people early vote.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner detailed the recommendations before a House Committee on Monday. “Voter confidence must be restored”, says Detzner.

EMAILS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT FLORIDA REDISTRICTING by Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

New documents are raising questions about whether Florida legislators ignored rules intended to prevent political parties and incumbents from influencing the once-a-decade process of redistricting.

Emails show that top Republican Party of Florida officials met in late 2010 to “brainstorm” redistricting with political consultants and legislative employees involved in drawing new districts for Congress and the Legislature.

That was just a few weeks after voters overwhelmingly adopted the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments that set new standards for redistricting and were intended to remove partisanship from the politically charged job of creating new maps.

… But what has emerged is a batch of documents that consist mainly of emails between Florida political consultants – including some who were getting paid by the Republican Party. The emails show how the consultants routinely traded redistricting information, and how it would potentially affect Republican incumbents.

FEDS GIVE GO-AHEAD FOR MEDICAID MANAGED CARE PLAN by Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Herald-Tribune

Gov. Rick Scott said on Monday that the federal government has approved Florida’s plan to move its long-term care Medicaid patients into a managed care system.

This decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deals with a “waiver” impacting Floridians who receive home- and community-care services through the Medicaid program. It is designed to treat elderly patients while keeping them out of nursing homes.

However, the state is still waiting for a federal decision on a second Medicaid waiver that would allow Florida to move the bulk of its other Medicaid recipients into a statewide managed care program. It would expand a pilot program that has been conducted in the Jacksonville area and Broward County.

Scott and other Florida officials say increasing the use of managed care in the Medicaid system will yield a significant cost savings. Critics question whether patients will receive the same level of care in a managed-care system.

PORT STRIKE AVERTED via The News Service of Florida

Dock workers and port operators at Atlantic and Gulf ports reached a tentative six-year deal over the weekend on a new contract for longshoremen, averting a strike that could have halted loading and unloading at ports up and down the coast and crippled trade. The deal was announced by a mediator, who said it was still up to ratification by both sides, but that they agreed in principle. The International Longshoremen’s Association had threatened to strike over issues in the contract. Gov. Rick Scott had pushed for the parties to reach an agreement and had urged the federal government to prevent a strike. Shipping through Florida’s ports accounts for 550,000 direct and indirect jobs and $66 billion in economic activity, according to figures compiled by the Florida Ports Council. 

Q & A WITH JESSE PANUCCIO here, including:

Q: The Department of Economic Opportunity is 16 months old and has had a lot of turnover in leadership positions. How do you see your role as executive director and what are some of your goals for the agency?

A: “The number one goal – if you look at what this agency does, it does have a few varying functions made up of a few legacy agencies – but the common theme with everything this agency does, it allocates or is a pass-through for large amounts of taxpayer funds. So it’s important that we’re transparent, accountable and efficient in every single program, whether its reemployment assistance, economic incentives, local community development grants, workforce grants –in every one of those we need to make sure the program is as accountable as possible and is doing exactly what the legislature set out in policy. So that’s how we’re going to approach every single program.”

TECO SEEKS $135 MILLION RATE HIKE via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida

President Gordon Gillette acknowledged that “there is never a good time to seek rate relief and that our customers are also feeling the effects of a difficult economy.”

“We have made every effort to avoid seeking a rate increase, but now must request an adjustment to the company’s base rates and various charges to continue fulfilling our obligation to serve and to meet our customers’ needs and expectations for safe, reliable and adequate electric service,” Gillette wrote.

The six-page notice is the first step in a months-long process of seeking PSC approval. Tampa Electric expects to file a detailed rate proposal in April, and regulators will later hold hearings and examine company financial and technical information.

In a news release, the utility said residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month would see their bills grow by about $11 if the proposal is approved. The total monthly bills for such customers would increase to about $113.

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INTERNET SWEEPSTAKES CAFES MAKE PITCH TO SENATE PANEL by Gray Rohrer of the Florida Current

A representative for Internet sweepstakes cafes, which sell Internet time and offer slot-like video game promotions, urged the Senate Gaming Committee Monday to impose regulations on their operations, rather than ban them outright.

“To eliminate, to get rid of all the 1,000 Internet cafes in the state of Florida, and you’d be left with loss. Loss of jobs, loss of tax revenues, loss of commercial leased space, loss of local revenue streams and donations to the community,” said Laurie Lee, lawyer for International Internet Technologies, a company that makes software used by Internet sweepstakes cafes.

The cafes have been a source of consternation for lawmakers in recent years. Bills to regulate or ban them have failed to make it through the Legislature, leaving local governments to craft their own ordinances, several of which are being challenged in court.

Social conservatives see the locales as seedy attractions for crime, but the café operators say they are a legitimate source of entertainment and not technically “gambling” since they operate under Florida’s game promotion laws. Sen. Andy Gardiner took exception to that view.

“I’m not an attorney so I look at this a little bit differently. People are drawn to your location for something. I’m not sure its drawn for access to the Internet,” Gardiner told Lee. “Everybody else in this room tends to think what you provide is gambling.”

LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE PREVIEWS via the News Service of Florida

In the House

The House Economic Affairs Committee discusses the past, hearing about the expected economic impacts of the coming celebration of the 500th anniversary of Florida’s European discovery, and then talks about the future with reports on job growth. 

House Judiciary takes up bills related to open parties (HB 5), landlords and tenants (HB 77) and another (HB 15) banning protests that have the intent to disrupt funerals. Current law bans protests that actually do disturb funerals but the measure before the committee would prohibit even trying to disturb the ceremony. 

The House Appropriations Committee hears from a presentation from Gov. Rick Scott’s staff on the governor’s proposed spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Scott is pitching a $74.2 billion budget that increases education spending by $1.2 billion and would allow all manufacturers to claim the sales-tax exemption on equipment. 

In the Senate

More early voting: Tuesday brings the first committee hearing for several pieces of legislation affecting the voting process. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee hears a bill (SB 80) by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, that would add early voting days, expand possible early voting sites, and would once again allow voters who move to change their address and vote by regular ballot in their new precinct; a measure (SB 176) by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, that would add one day to early voting and would allow elections supervisors to extend early-voting hours; a bill (SB 234) by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, that would automatically register voters when they get a driver’s license; a proposal (SJR 254) by Clemens limiting the number of constitutional amendments the Legislature could send to voters for each election; and a bill (SB 388) by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, that would overhaul new rules on third-party voter registration groups, once again allow voters who move to change their address and vote by regular ballot in their new precinct, get rid of a provision allowing the full text of a constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot and add time to early voting. The committee does not expect to vote on the measures. The panel also hears from Secretary of State Ken Detzner on problems arising on Election Day last year.

Sports stadiums, aquariums, econ development: The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee takes up a bill (SB 306) that would allow local option tourist development taxes to be used to pay the debt service on “professional sport franchise renovation facilities,” defined as stadiums seeking to upgrade that have been the home to a team for at least 20 years. The bill could help the Miami Dolphins get Sun Life Stadium renovated. The committee also considers legislation (SB 336) to let certain aquariums get local tourist development tax dollars and a bill (SB 406) by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, that would set up periodic reviews of all the state’s economic incentive efforts.  That bill creates a program in the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research to review incentives and their return on investment. Another bill (SB 316) before the committee would bolster the state’s ability to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. 

Ethics training: The Senate will hold a training session on ethics policies for members. 

MedMal issues: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from stakeholders in what is expected to be an upcoming battle over medical malpractice insurance and negligence. The panel will hear testimony on a litany of med-mal issues from negligence and ex parte communications  to arbitration and access to legal counsel following the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling in Hasan v. Garvar. 

Prepaid cell phones aren’t just for Baltimore drug dealers trying to avoid wire taps anymore. A whole lot of people are using “prepaid calling arrangements,” from kids whose parents don’t want to run up unexpectedly astronomical bills, to low-income people who don’t want a contract with a cell phone company. In fact, prepaid wireless accounts have been growing in recent years and most mobile carriers are marketing them heavily. A bill up Tuesday in the Senate Communications Committee deals with the tax on prepaid calling arrangements. The tax on purchases of prepaid calling cards used to be 6 percent, just like the normal sales tax. But last year, the Department of Revenue looked at the issue again – nowadays prepaid calling arrangements often involve not cards, but phones themselves, and people can use the prepaid arrangements to text, video chat and so on. That, the DOR says, is essentially a communications service – and as such should be subject to a higher communications services tax, which is much higher. And the department wants to apply the new policy retroactively. The bill (SB 290) by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, seeks to reverse that, and make it clear that prepaid calling services should be taxed at 6 percent. 

Confirmations: Board of Governors appointee Matt Carter and several university trustees appointees are before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday for confirmation votes. 

SUN SENTINEL EDITORIAL: LET DOCTORS ASK ABOUT GUNS

“Florida doctors who have challenged the state law say they are promoting safety. No matter what lawmakers want to say, this is not a step toward the nanny state, or turning doctors into snitches. Instead, allowing doctors to ask questions about guns in the house is a step towards common sense. … Docs vs. Glocks needs to be overturned permanently.”

***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.***

4TH FLOOR FILES talks to Chris Carmody of GrayRobinson. His clients include Associated Builders & Contractors of Florida, Darden Restaurants, and the Orlando Magic. Here’s the file on Chris.

GUNSTER LAW FIRM MOVES INTO ORLANDO MARKET, WILL EXPAND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS BUSINESS

Gunster law firm is expanding into the Orlando area with the addition of four attorneys and government consultants to establish the firm’s eleventh statewide office. The newest Gunster office is located downtown and opens with Tico Perez, Derek Bruce, Jeff Jonasen and Don Madden as the firm’s most recent hires.

“Orlando has been a key piece to Gunster’s statewide strategy as we implement our vision to be Florida’s law firm for business,” said H. William Perry, Gunster’s managing shareholder. “This is an ideal opportunity to introduce our full-service firm into the Orlando market by joining with a team which brings a balance of diverse clients and strong community involvement. This expansion solidly places us at the crossroads for business in Florida and provides our clients with better statewide coverage.”

The attorneys and consultants are joining Gunster from Perez, Bruce & Jonasen, LLP, an Orlando-based law firm which represents clients in major industry sectors including manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, healthcare and waste management. The group also operates Edge Public Affairs, a public policy consulting firm affiliated with the Perez, Bruce & Jonasen firm in Orlando. As part of Gunster’s newest office, the team will continue to serve clients based primarily in central Florida, as well as private sector and not-for-profit entities from across Florida and out of state. The areas of focus in the Orlando office will initially be government affairs, as well as corporate and land use law.

WELCOME BACK RECEPTION tonight for State Senators at the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee beginning at 6 p.m.

YOU’RE INVITED to a fundraiser for two Republican State Representatives attempting to return to Tallahassee is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Eric Eisnaugle and Scott Plakon are hoping to come back to Tallahassee after the former sat out the 2012 election cycle, while the latter was defeated in one of the most-high profile legislative races. The event at the Governor’s Club will be hosted by Speaker Will Weatherford, Speaker Designates Steve Crisafulli and Richard Corcoran and Representative Jose Oliva. Invite here.

***Today’s SUNBURN is also sponsored by Ron Sachs Communication. Ron Sachs Communications provides its clients with a competitive advantage built on strategic relationships, dynamic creativity and smart and aggressive communications strategies that generate superior results. If you want to win, you’ll want to have Ron Sachs Communications on your side. www.RonSachs.com***

CONGRATS to Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson, and GOP strategist Brian Hughes on their engagement. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Clay Ingram.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.