Sunburn for 3/10 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

THE WEEK AHEAD

Every legislative session opens with pomp. Then comes the grind. Lawmakers will spend much of the session’s second week doing the often-grinding work of moving bills through committees. The House, however, also will take up a high-profile package of bills aimed at strengthening laws dealing with sexual predators. Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, voters will go to the polls to pick a replacement for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in a special election that has drawn heavy national attention.

5 QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

1. David Jolly or Alex Sink? With the U.S. House really not up for grabs this election cycle, the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is all about bragging rights for the national parties. If Jolly wins, it will be seen as a repudiation of Obamacare. If Sink wins, it will represent the third significant victory in Tampa Bay for Democrats. 

2. Fundraising reports for state candidates are due on Monday. Which candidates will post impressive numbers? Keep an eye on the candidates in the handful of competitive primaries for the state House, like the races for District 5, 6, and 31.

3. By how many touchdowns does Eric Eisnaugle win on Tuesday? The bigger the margin of victory for the former state Representative, the louder the message will be to Eisnaugle’s rivals for House Speaker in 2021.

4. How hot will the seat be under Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity? Panuccio’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriation Subcommittee is Wednesday and he has come under scruity because of months of problems with a new unemployment-compensation computer system.

5. How big is the pie? On Wedensday, state economists will revise general-revenue estimates, an important step as lawmakers get ready to draw up a budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Lawmakers will use the revised estimates as they negotiate and approve a budget before the May 2 end of the legislative session.

PROGRAMMING NOTE

SaintPetersBlog and Sunburn will be transmitting from the capital Monday through Wednesday. If you would like to hear my unfiltered opinion on all things political, I am speaking to the 2014 class from Leadership St. Pete at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday in the Cabinet Room. Or if you just want to grab a cup of coffee, drop me a line.

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AT CPAC, MARCO RUBIO FINISHES DISTANT 7TH IN STRAW POLL via The Tampa Bay Times

An emerging storyline in politics is that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is making a comeback. But the message did not reach hard-core conservatives gathered this weekend outside Washington, D.C.

Rubio placed a distant seventh in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll on Saturday, a clear reminder of the hits Rubio took for helping write the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill. Last year, as the immigration debate was just beginning, Rubio came in second place.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was first with 31 percent of the vote by registered CPAC attendees, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at 11 percent. Dr. Ben Carson received 9 percent, followed by Gov. Chris Christie with 8 percent and former Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Scott Walker both received 7 percent. Rubio had 6 percent.

Rubio addressed the conference on Thursday and focused on foreign policy, a subject that has helped bring him new attention. He did not mention immigration, but it was on the mind of many conference-goers.

HAPPENING TODAY – RUBIO TO LAY OUT IDEAS FOR JUICING ECONOMY via The Wall Street Journal

(Rubio) is set to expand his portfolio in a speech on Monday, calling for an array of changes to U.S. economic policy. His move comes as part of a push within the GOP to beef up the party’s roster of ideas as it looks to the November midterm elections and beyond.

Rubio will use the Washington speech, hosted by Google and the Jack Kemp Foundation, to propose streamlining the federal regulatory review process for natural-gas pipelines, creating a system to monitor the impact of regulations, expanding access to the wireless spectrum and more closely coordinating research breakthroughs between the government and private businesses, among other things.

In an interview, Rubio said the speech is meant to advance discussions about the best way to expedite economic growth. The U.S. isn’t as competitive as it used to be, he said, blaming that loss of vitality on “our tax laws, our regulatory structure and our national debt.”

At a time when polls show many voters see the GOP as obstructionist and out of touch, Rubio—like potential 2016 GOP rivals Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—is promoting a governing agenda aimed at distancing the party from the tactics that led to last year’s government shutdown.

… (Rubio) is set to lay out at least 10 policy changes that he said would help boost the economy, including a repeal of the ban on crude-oil exports, a provision to allow businesses to immediately deduct investments from taxable income, and a stronger push to broker international trade agreements to open new markets to the “tens of thousands” of small U.S. businesses. Most of his proposals are likely to garner support from other conservatives.

… His planned speech notably omits any mention of immigration, even though many proponents see it as a gateway to economic growth. … Rubio said he won’t mention immigration because everyone knows his views on the matter, but critics argue he has dropped the issue to mollify the conservative base that will dominate the 2016 primary.

“No one looks less presidential than the guy trying to look presidential,” said Joshua Karp, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party. “His standing had fallen so fast, so far, after he pushed for some kind of immigration reform in 2016.”

DRIVING THE NAT’L DISCUSSION – REPUBLICANS GAIN MOMENTUM IN CLOSE FIGHT FOR U.S. SENATE via John Whitesides of Reuters

Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, put Republican chances of a Senate takeover at 40 percent but said that could jump past 50 percent by November. ‘The Republicans are competitive in places I didn’t think they would be, but they still have some challenges,’ she said, citing the potential for divisive Republican primaries in Georgia, North Carolina and Iowa that could leave the party with weakened, ultraconservative candidates. 

FLA.’S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION PRESENTS A UNITED FRONT via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida’s delegation to Congress does not have the high-ranking leaders in the U.S. House like Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

But over the last month, the 27 House members from Florida have shown that, when they present a united front, they can overcome some serious political obstacles on key bills.

On both the farm bill, which included critical research funding for Florida’s citrus industry, and the flood insurance rate relief legislation, Florida members say their ability to stick together — regardless of partisan divides — made all the difference.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said the flood insurance issue presented problems to overcome among both Democrats and Republicans. Tea Party groups opposed the bill, a key House chairman fought it and some Democrats had political concerns. But the Democrats and Republicans from Florida’s delegation — the third-largest delegation in Congress — united to get the measure to the floor for a vote.

If just eight of the 27 members had voted no, the bill would have been in jeopardy. But with the unanimous front, the bill passed the House last Tuesday night.

If the bill becomes law, it would block dramatic flood insurance rate hikes on primary homeowners who sell their homes and protects homeowners from being placed into higher risk flood zones and paying higher premiums under new flood risk maps.

Buchanan said Florida showed it has some muscle when its delegation sticks together.

“It gives you some sense of how Congress should work,” Buchanan said of the members’ stance on issues important to their state.

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ELECTION EVE IN CD 13 SPECIAL ELECTION

CAMPAIGNS GO LOW PROFILE via Kate Bradshaw of the Tampa Tribune

Anyone hoping David Jolly or Alex Sink would be out shaking hands and kissing babies on the last day of the last full week before election day was probably disappointed.

The Republican and the Democrat, respectively, kept noticeably low profiles heading into the final weekend before the as-yet unnervingly close race is decided on Tuesday, though the nasty messages flying to and fro between the camps continue uninterrupted.

… The candidates may have laid low toward the end of the week, but given that so many people have already voted by mail or at an early voting site, Election Day may not be as big of a deal as it once was. Early voting ended at 5 p.m. on Sunday. 

GOP SURGE IN CD 13 GETS SURGIER 

With more than 119,000 ballots cast early or in the mail, the GOP holds a returned-ballot advantage of 4.06% — thereby reaching the magic number some observers believe the Republicans must be at by Election Day in order for them to win the seat.

According to the latest data — and this data reflects some cancelling out that does not show up in  Pinellas Supervisor of Elections’ raw numbers – 48,123 ballots from Republican voters have been returned as of Friday, while Democrats have turned in 43,526. Third-party or NPA voters have cast 21,503 ballots.

At this point, the GOP has increased its returned-ballot advantage by more than two points from a week ago. And it would appear, based on Friday’s returns, that the gap will only continue to increase. Of the approximately 3,200 ballots which were returned on Friday, 53% of them came from Republican voters, with just 29% coming from Democrats.

In other words, the GOP surge got surgier.

MUST-READ ANALYSIS BY CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY ON OUTSIDE SPENDING IN CD 13 RACE Full blog post here

More than two thirds of the roughly $12.5 million pumped into the CD 13 race n came from outside groups, according to an analysis of federal records by the Center for Public Integrity.

Two things make this movement interesting: in the past, outside groups rarely spent more money in an election than candidates. The other is that the “big picture” stakes in CD 13 are surprisingly low to warrant such attention. 

As for the stakes of the race, the outcome of CD 13 will not change the balance of power in the U.S. House. The only real effect is establishing party bragging rights leading up to the November midterms.

EMAIL BARRAGE:  “ALERT,” via David Jolly’s campaign; “Birds of a Feather,” “David Jolly Is a Lying Special Interest Lobbyist” via DCCC Press; “Do it,” via Charlie Justice; “A quick reminder,” “Nothing but regrets,” “Sorry to bother you, but it’s important,” via Alex Sink’s campaign; “Not good (horrible),” via House Majority PAC’s Andy Stone; “FL-13: Not so Jolly” via Emily’s List’s Marcy Stetch”

GIRARDI COLUMN: WELCOME END TO FREE-FOR-ALL DISTRICT 13 RACE via Steven Girardi of the Tampa Tribune

You have to wonder, has there ever been a year when so many people just couldn’t wait for March 11?

And yet, thousands of Pinellas County residents, in particular those prone to vote, are eagerly anticipating March 11 with a sense of elation, if not weariness.

That’s because March 11— is Election Day and, by the grace and mercy of God, the end of the campaign for the District 13 U.S. House of Representatives seat — a two-month free-for-all of name calling and shin kicking not seen anywhere outside of a school yard during second-grade recess.

It has been 43 years since anyone besides C.W. Bill Young has occupied this esteemed office, which became available upon his death in October. If this is what we’ve been missing, another 43 years might be too soon.

In political campaigns, as in wars, the truth often is the first casualty. Reasonable and alert people expect as much. But even that provides no sense as to why this election spat between Sink and Jolly turned into mud wrestling.

It makes for great theater, of course, in a train-wreck sort of way. Unfortunately, it also cheats voters out of any serious discussion of issues that are more important to them than campaign image-makers believe.

And it cheats the highly-managed and orchestrated candidates out of a chance to show what they stand for, how they would lead, or who they really are. Sheesh, Oscar the Grouch and The Count had more sensible discussions on Sesame Street, and I believe they were puppets, too.

MEANWHILE … CD 19 CANDIDATES’ TACTICS INFLUENCED BY TREY RADEL via Betty Parker of News-Press.com

Even though former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel’s no longer in office, his influence in the April 22 special election primary — caused by his mid-term resignation — can be seen on TV every night.

Viewers may not even realize it, but leading Republican primary candidates for the post are using strategies designed at least in part to play to voters’ concerns after Radel’s departure following his arrest for cocaine.

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto’s backers say they want a known quality; someone who’s been through the fires of past elections and earned their trust. Curt Clawson’s supporters, meanwhile, say they’re sick of politicians in general, and want “the outsider” with a clean slate.

Paige Kreegel, a medical doctor, ran for the seat last time, and hasn’t been shy about expressing his disappointment with Radel. Kreegel has yet to air his own ads, although he said he expects one to start this weekend. “I peaked too soon in the last election, and I do not want to make that mistake again,” he said. He did one campaign mailing this week, and said voters can expect to hear more from him soon.

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RICK SCOTT’S AWFUL POLL NUMBERS MAKE FLORIDA REPUBLICANS QUEASY via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

On Tuesday, as Scott kicked off the Legislature’s 60-day lawmaking session, he gave the annual state of the state speech, a campaign-like preview filled with job-creation statistics.

But many of Scott’s fellow Republicans were paying attention to a different set of numbers: a raft of poll data-points that make the GOP queasy because it shows Democrat Charlie Crist has broad support across Florida right now. The highlights:

• 34 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to one business interest’s statewide survey. This margin is 12 points greater than Democrat Alex Sink’s in the 2010 governor’s race. If she had earned Crist’s poll numbers in just these two counties, Sink would have won.

• 10 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in another business interest’s statewide poll.

• 8 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in two other business interests’ statewide polls.

• 7 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a fourth business interest’s statewide poll.

• 6 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a poll of Republican-controlled state House districts across Florida.

• 4 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in North Florida, a Republican stronghold. The number is well within the poll’s error margin. But it’s a cumulative 17-point shift in favor of Democrats compared to 2010, and Sink would have won the governor’s race with this North Florida margin.

• 2 percentage points — the margin Scott beats Crist by in a poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts in North Florida. Again, it’s within the error margin. But again: If Sink had had this margin, she probably would have won the governor’s race.

• 1 percentage point — the margin Crist beats Scott by overall in that poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts. The poll was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

That last number — compared to the others — might initially look like a spot of good news for Scott.

But the state Senate Republican seats are, on the whole, strongly GOP-leaning compared to the rest of Florida.

On a generic-ballot test, likely voters favored an unnamed Republican Senate candidate by 8 percentage points. But when asked about Crist and Scott, the voters favored the Democrat by a point. That’s a 9-point shift in Crist’s favor.

Crist also has a better image than Scott overall, with 48 percent having a favorable impression of the Democrat and 39 percent an unfavorable impression in these Republican-held seats.

Put another way: Crist has a favorability index of +9.

Scott’s index: only +1.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat this: It’s awful,” said a top Florida Republican, one of a dozen who provided or confirmed with the Miami Herald the crosstabs, presentations or individual slices of the above-mentioned polls, six in all, which were taken in advance of the lawmaking session. The Herald agreed to protect sources; they fear retribution from the governor’s office and campaign, which freezes out those perceived as naysayers or who aren’t yes-men.

TWEET, TWEET: @JackLatvala: Have to wonder how poll results in R districts paid for by RPOF found their way to. @MarcACaputo

SCOTT CAMPAIGN TRANSFERS $27 MILLION WAR CHEST TO NEW TYPE OF CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE via Matt Dixon of PoliticalFixFlorida.com

A committee aligned with Gov. Rick Scott has transferred its massive $27 million war chest from one type of campaign committee to another that offers more options for political messaging.

Since 2010, Let’s Get to Work has been raising unlimited sums of campaign cash as a so-called “electioneering communication organization.”

Those are committees that can only fund advertisements (think television ads and mailers).

The committees, which many campaigns use, can coordinate directly with a candidate, but can’t use “express advocacy.” That means they can’t fund advertisements that use terms like “vote for/against” this candidate, or “elect” this candidate.

On March 6, the committee closed and shifted $27.3 million to a “political committee” that kept the Let’s Get to Work name.

A political committee also has another advantage over an ECO: It can write checks to the Republican Party of Florida, which can expressly advocate for Scott.

CHARLIE CRIST DEFENDS PREZ, BLASTS SCOTT via The Associated Press

(Over the weekend), Crist stuck to his support of President Barack’s health care overhaul, saying “it’s been great” for the state despite a difficult rollout.

In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” Crist said Obama has a “compassionate heart” and predicted the public would eventually embrace the health care law.

“At the end of the day this is going to be a very popular program because it’s doing the right thing for the people of our country and my state,” Crist said. “The president is a smart guy and he’s doing the right thing.”

During the interview Crist also acknowledged that Florida’s economy has improved under incumbent Gov. Rick Scott but he still said he could have done more to help Floridians. He also said that the economy was helped by his decision while governor to accept federal assistance that was part of the federal stimulus package that was passed in 2009.

The former Republican, who is trying to win back his old office as a Democrat, urged members of his new party to fully support Obama during the midterm elections. Crist said Obama was “leading and leading well.”

“I think that what they need to do is support him and support him strongly. He deserves it,” said Crist. “That will bring them home and unify them and I think that will make November very, very good for Democrats.”

CRIST FLEXES COMEDY CHOPS BEFORE HIGH-PROFILE CROWD IN WASHINGTON via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

We knew already that Charlie Crist could convincingly play a Republican or Democrat or independent, depending on the day.

We learned he can also be a darned good standup comic.

(Crist) was the dinner’s Democratic representative, Texas Sen. Ted. Cruz represented Republicans and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke for the White House before more than 600 guests, including Washington journalists, ambassadors, White House officials, military leaders and a few celebrities, such as Stephen Colbert and Martina Navratilova.

“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Why Charlie Crist?’ Simple: The Gridiron wanted someone of color,” quipped the ever-tanned St. Petersburg resident. “It’s an honor for me to have been invited to this legendary event, one that has such a great tradition. The Gridiron always pokes fun at candidates from both parties. You could have saved time and just invited me.”

Crist has showed off his skills as humorist before at Tallahassee’s annual Capitol Press Skits, but Saturday night was a far higher profile audience.

Crist even alluded to the old whispers that he might be gay.

“I admit to the rumor going around about me for years, for I did in fact have a relationship with a man — a loving relationship, a relationship that some people objected to…”

And up popped the now-famous picture of then-Republican Gov. Crist embracing President Obama.

PLAN WOULD ALLOW NEXT GOVERNOR TO PICK COURT MAJORITY via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida’s governor would have new powers to pack the state’s Supreme Court under a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow him to make prospective appointments to the bench even if a vacancy occurs the day the governor is leaving office.

Under the proposal by Sen. Tom Lee, the next governor could appoint the successors to three justices of the Florida Supreme Court who would have to retire on the same day the governor’s term ends, on Jan. 8, 2019. Justices are required to retire at age 70, but can continue to serve on the bench until the end of their six-year term.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — the court’s liberal wing — will all turn 70 sometime during the next governor’s term, and their six-year terms will all end on the same day as the new governor is inaugurated.

The state constitution is unclear about whether the incoming or outgoing governor should make the appointment when the vacancy occurs on inauguration day. The proposal is designed to put some certainty into the law by giving governors a “prospective appointment” as part of the state’s merit selection system used for appellate courts.

If voters approve Lee’s amendment in November, Gov. Rick Scott, if reelected, or his successor will have the power to appoint a majority of the seven-member court, a legacy that could last for decades.

AHEAD IN POLLS, MEDICAL MARIJUANA POISED FOR AD-WAR WIN via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Medical marijuana is so popular in Florida that 78 percent of likely voters in Republican-controlled state Senate districts back the idea, according to a recent state GOP poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

The survey echoes two others last month that found medical-marijuana support ranging from 64 percent to 70 percent — results consistent with every major Florida public poll released in the past year.

And the favorable political environment for a proposed medical-marijuana constitutional amendment isn’t just limited to public opinion.

Well-funded organized opposition is lacking right now. And, in an ironic twist, the most high-profile opponent of medical marijuana — Gov. Rick Scott — could indirectly and unintentionally help the proposed amendment, strategists say.

To win reelection, Scott’s campaign is likely to trigger a mammoth $150 million TV ad war, which could reduce the supply of available commercial advertising time, drive up the price of commercials and therefore make it tougher for outgunned anti-drug crusaders to get out their message.

***Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 12, 2014, 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 and Governor Scott, to discuss  growing areas of the state’s $8 billion dollar space industry, and determine the best strategies for leveraging these markets for Florida’s benefit in the years ahead.***

AFTER OBJECTING A YEAR AGO, SEN. TOM LEE TRIES TO HELP DISNEY REWRITE TICKET-FRAUD LAWS via Jim Stratton of the Orlando Sentinel

Walt Disney World is trying again this year to toughen the state’s ticket-fraud laws, this time with the help of the lawmaker who killed the proposal last year as well as an influential Orlando Republican who will become Senate president next year.

State Sen. Tom Lee said his change of heart had nothing to do with a $10,000 donation from Disney to his political-action committee. Instead, he said he’s now confident that Disney lobbyists will work with him to address his concerns about the legislation.

Lee also said Orlando Republican Sen. Andy Gardiner, who will take over as Senate president after the November elections, asked him to shepherd the bill.

The Disney-backed bill would impose longer prison terms for people who commit ticket fraud. It also would expand ticket-fraud laws to ensure that they cover Disney World’s new MagicBands, the microchipped rubber bracelets that function as all-in-one park tickets, hotel-room keys and credit cards.

CRITICS: PROPOSAL UNDERMINES 2011 LAW ENCOURAGING LOCALS TO MAKE GROWTH DECISIONS via Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current

With four new members in 2013, the Martin County Commission set out to restore environmental protection policies that were changed by the former commission in 2009.

Two results are pending a legal challenge filed by agricultural landowners and two sections of HB 703, by Rep. Jimmy Patronis that would repeal some of those local policies.

The legislation would prohibit a Martin County requirement for supermajority votes on changes to some environmental protection and development policies and the county from rescinding urban zoning for properties that maintain an agricultural classification for tax purposes.

This is the fourth year in a row that Patronis has offered such wide-ranging legislation, and it’s often local governments who are the target. He told a House committee that his purpose is to “hold their feet to the fire” — to get negotiations going among groups that are at odds.

GAMING OVERHAUL COULD CRACK DOOR OPEN FOR INTERNET CAFES, ADULT ARCADES via Jenna Buzzacco Foerster of the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau

A year after the Florida Legislature approved sweeping legislation that led to the closing of Internet cafes and senior arcades across the state, some lawmakers are hoping tweaks to the law might help fix some of the unintended consequences.

Two Senate bills have been filed to address arcade games, such as those found at bowling alleys and Chuck E. Cheese, which might have gotten swept up in the frenzy to pass a bill shutting down so-called Internet cafes.

The first bill — proposed Senate committee bill 7052 — amends the portion of the law that deals with amusement games. The measure, which is part of a larger piece of legislation aimed at the state’s gaming system, defines an amusement game as something operated “only for bona fide entertainment of the general public.”

The measure allows players to use several different types of currency, including coins, tokens, cards or coupons, to operate the game. That’s a change from the measure passed last year, which said games should only be coin-operated.

The proposal also bumps up the amount a player can receive per round to $5.25 from 75 cents.

“It’s intended to minimize the unintended consequences from last year that put unintended restrictions on Chuck E. Cheese, Dave & Buster’s, bowling alleys and things of that nature,” said state Sen. Garrett Richter, chairman of the state Senate gaming committee.

HOUSE COMMITTEE FILES BILL TO KEEP CURRENTLY OPERATING TRAUMA CARE CENTERS OPEN

The ongoing legal battles over trauma centers across the state have now made it to the Florida Legislature.

On Tuesday, a House subcommittee hears a bill ensuring the continued operation of the contested HCA-operated trauma centers in Manatee, Marion and Pasco Counties.

The Health Innovation Subcommittee filed the bill allowing trauma centers to remain open if they meet certain criteria, such as continuous operation for a 12-month period and the submission of an application for an inspection by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.

The clear intent of the bill is to allow currently operating trauma centers to remain open.

Trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County, Ocala Regional Medical Center in Marion County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County have been the subject of pending lawsuits, which threaten their continued operation.

Hospitals with long-standing trauma centers in Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Gainesville are challenging the approval of new facilities by the Department of Health, claiming that the rules used were invalid.

PROPOSED PLAN EXTENDS FLORIDA’S PUBLIC-RECORDS LAWS via Bill Cotterell for the News-Press

Government employees would be trained to comply with Florida’s public-records laws, and citizens asking to see official documents usually would not have to put their requests in writing, under a package of changes approved by a Senate committee.

“These are a lot of very good reforms that we’re excited about,” said Barbara Petersen, the long-time lobbyist for the First Amendment Foundation, after the quick and unanimous approval of a package by the Senate Government Operations Committee.

The panel struck from the plan a provision that would have allowed people to request public documents anywhere an agency is open for business. Petersen said, taken to an extreme, that might mean someone could ask a lifeguard at a municipal swimming pool to fetch records of the parks and recreation department.

The committee plan (SPB 7064) provides that requests for public information would not have to be submitted in writing, except when required by state law. It also spells out definitions of “confidential” and “exempt,” which are now contained only in case law rather than statute.

RED-LIGHT FIGHT IS BIG MONEY, BUT DOES IT IMPACT SAFETY? via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Florida lawmakers have been fighting over red-light cameras well before the Legislature authorized them in cities and counties in 2010. But despite numerous studies, the scientific literature on their safety-impact is problem-plagued.

Safety is at the center of this session’s fight, fueled by a report from the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which suggests wrecks have gone up but fatalities down at red-light camera intersections on state roads.

Come again? Yes, it’s complicated, and the report has major research-design holes (complicated by the fact that cities and counties haven’t turned over their data).

Some intersections showing the steepest reductions in crashes are in Cocoa, Winter Springs and Polk County, according to the Sentinel analysis of the Department of Transportation wreck data used in the state study. Meanwhile, those with the largest spikes are mostly in South Florida – Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and Miami, although Apopka also led the pack in more crashes.

What does that mean? You can’t say, because of problems with the data: most importantly, there is no treatment and control group — or in other words, intersections with cameras aren’t randomly sampled, nor are they compared to intersections without cameras.

***SUNBURN is sponsored in part by Floridian Partners, LLC, a statewide Public and Government Affairs firm with offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Ther firm’s success is measured by its clients’ success. Outreach and Public Advocacy; Strategic Issue and Campaign Development; Grassroots and Grasstops Coalition Building – Floridian Partners is a one-stop firm for clients needing assistance at all levels of government in Florida.***

AS POMP OF SESSION OPENING ENDS, “SAUSAGE-MAKING” OF LAW BEGINS Full blog post here

Now that the ceremony of opening the 2014 legislative session has passed, the “sausage-making” of Florida law begins.

Issues on Monday’s agenda: 9 a.m. — Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, program. 1:30 p.m. — Medicaid long-term expenditures; “base” education budget reviews. 2 p.m. – Supervision of sexual predators and sexual offenders, creating a “strike force” within the Attorney General’s Office to find and arrest predators and offenders. 2:30 p.m. — Clearing up Internet café laws.

At 4 p.m. — August back-to-school tax holiday; employees who could carry guns on school campuses; online voter-registration system and drop-offs of absentee ballots; and expanding physician residency programs.

RALLY TO TAKE AIM AT ‘STAND YOUR GROUND’

Civil-rights activist Al Sharpton is expected to lead a march and rally today in Tallahassee to protest Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law. The march will start at 9:30 a.m. at the Donald L.Tucker Civic Center and end at the Capitol for the rally. The National Action Network, a group founded by Sharpton, says on its website that the event is also expected to include the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two teens who were shot to death in cases that helped spur a national debate about “stand your ground” laws.

LEGISLATIVE STAFFING MERRY-GO-ROUNDh/t to The Florida Current

Off: Robert Vaughn has departed the staff of Rep. Katie Edwards.

On: Matthew Cohenhas joined Edwards’ staff as a legislative assistant.

Off: Michael Finn is no longer the district secretary for Rep. Carlos Trujillo.

On: Kenneth Price has joined Trujillo’s staff as district secretary.

SPOTTED: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, speaking at CPAC — “We must protect this experiment which as become the greatest county in the world.” Pic here.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MONEY COURSE MO?

The buzz around Tally is that House Ed Committee Chair Representative Marlene O’Toole is holding up a no-brainer early in the session.

The “Money Course” requires all high school students to take a half-credit course on financial literacy. The concept has been supported by The Florida Chamber, Speaker Will Weatherford, CFO Jeff Atwater (who sits on the board of the Florida Council on Economic Education and is pushing the bill), and seemingly the rest of leadership.

No word on why O’Toole, who represents the Villages, may be opposed.

Can’t be cost – the state already said it would be cheap to implement. (via AP)

What’s the deal, Marlene? Why has the Money Course lost it’s mo?.

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APPOINTED:  James Lane to the Board of Accountancy.

(RE)APPOINTED: Sarah Walton to the Environmental Regulation Commission

AIF SUBMITS 24K PETITIONS SUPPORTING KEYSTONE PIPELINE Full blog post here

Associated Industries of Florida joined the Consumer Energy Alliance in presenting 24,283 public comments from Florida residents supporting the creation of the controversial oil pipeline. If approved, Keystone XL could circulate as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Steele City, Nebraska, Wood River and Patoka, Illinois, and the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Keystone XL Pipeline received approval from Canada’s National Energy Board in 2010, but the plan is waiting on a Presidential Permit from the U.S. Department of State — expected to arrive within the next few days — because it crosses an international border.

AIF and other pipeline supporters believe the U.S. should push for continued energy independence, citing outside forces like winter weather and the continual disruption in foreign hotspots like Venezuela, Ukraine and the Middle East, which result in price spikes.

Those who signed the petition assert that technological advances will make the 2,151-mile pipeline the safest ever built in the United States, by utilizing 59 safety measures beyond what is required by federal law. Construction will help create more than 42,000 jobs nationwide and 9,000 construction jobs building the pipeline, with $20 billion in new economic development.

FLORIDA NEWSMAKERS

On this week’s “Florida NewsMakers” program produced by Sachs Media Group, Senate President Pro Tempore Garrett Richter sits down with Trimmel Gomes to discuss the opening of the 2014 legislative session.

Noting the Senate’s swift passage of bills to strengthen sexual predator laws, Richter said, “As part of the work plan that both the (Senate) President and the (House) Speaker defined for this session, the first item on that work plan was to protect Florida’s vulnerable citizens – the young, the elderly and disabled – so we went right to work,” the Naples Republican said.

Because of a looming deadline for a new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Richter – who is also chair of the Senate’s Gaming Committee – says overhauling the state’s gambling laws is a top priority. “We’ve got some components of this compact that need to be renegotiated, so what better time to take a look and address this patchwork of regulations that has developed and expanded over the years with inconsistencies and inaccuracies.”

Richter also discusses the need for additional litigation reform, along with new efforts to make Florida the most military-friendly state through the Florida GI bill.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: MARCH 13 FUNDRAISER FOR JEB’S FOUNDATION FOR FLORIDA’S FUTURE Full blog post here

Jeb Bush hosts a number of loyal supporters in a fundraising reception for the Foundation for Florida’s Future organization and promoting “Florida A+ Plan,” the former governor’s educational legacy.

The event is March 13 beginning with a 2 p.m. VIP function at the Library of the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee, and a general reception starting 2:30 p.m. in the Club’s Plantation Room.

Honorary co-chairs are Speaker Will Weatherford, Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli, Bush’s former Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings and educators Donna and Jimmie Callaway.

A spot at the general reception will set donors back $1,000, a host position at the VIP function is $5,000, and $10,000 will provide the donor “co-chair” status.

RSVPs are through Gretchen Picotte by email at GP@PoliticalCapitalFlorida.com or call at (407) 849-1112. More information is available at www.aFloridaPromise.org.

NEW FLORIDA STATE LICENSE PLATE WON’T BE COMING SOON via Gray Rohrer of the Florida Current

Florida State University has been considering a redesign of its specialty license plate for two and a half years, but drivers looking to sport their Seminole spirit won’t be seeing the new plate any time soon.

FSU will present a survey on Facebook featuring seven redesign options, and use the results as part of its process to pick a new plate design.

That process, however, could take up to 10 months before the new plate is available to drivers.

Right now, it would cost FSU nearly $26,000 to purchase the existing stock of plates, according to the DHSMV. But the school is waiting before pushing the new design in hopes the existing stock will dwindle.

The FSU plate is the second-highest selling specialty plate in the state, selling 64,270 in 2013. The University of Florida’s plate was the most popular last year, with 94,701 units sold. The fee for the plate is $25, in addition to the fee for a regular license plate. The proceeds go to FSU student scholarships.

NUMBER OF FLA. SPRING BREAKERS EXPECTED TO CRUSH RECORDS THIS YEAR via Gawker

Though Florida’s spring break hotspots evolve, with some cities dropping off students’ radar and others popping back on, statewide tourism continues to grow during January, February and March. Out-of-state visitors during those months have increased from 19.4 million in 2000 to an all-time high of 26.3 million last year, Visit Florida data shows. That’s a 36 percent jump.

And 2014’s first quarter is on track to shatter that record, said Paul Phipps, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing corporation.

“This is going to be a very good year for spring break because of the weather that the Northeast has experienced for several months. There’s pent-up demand, and it’s the opportunity to go south and have a good time,” Phipps said.

The unusually cold winter is also pulling tourists to Florida from southern “drive markets” such as Birmingham, Ala., Nashville and Atlanta, Phipps said.

“They’ve had winters like they haven’t had in a long time. We’ve really been the beneficiary of that,” he said.

Travelocity online booking data ranks the Orlando area — including Brevard County — as the United States’ second most-popular spring break destination between March 1 and April 15.

South Florida heads the top 10 list for the third consecutive year, while Fort Myers ranks fourth and Tampa-St. Petersburg eighth.

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CHRIS LATVALA KEEPS MOMENTUM WITH $154K FOR HD 67 RUN Full blog post here

Chris Latvala is keeping his strong funding momentum going, as the Florida House District 67 hopeful posts another $18,850 in February.

The Largo Republican collected an impressive $154,160 to date in his attempt to replace term-limited GOP State Rep. Ed Hooper for the area covering northeast Pinellas County. Latvala previously served as Hooper’s legislative aide.

In addition to the groundswell of support from government relations and healthcare groups, a number of gambling interests have each donated $500 in February, including Gulfstream Park, GPRA Thoroughbred Training Center, and the Southern Florida Greyhound Association. The Tampa Bay Greyhound Association also gave $400.

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BRYANT MILLER OLIVE PULLS IN BATTERY OF NEW TECH CLIENTS

The law offices of Bryant Miller Olive has offices throughout Florida — in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee — and in Atlanta and D.C. It is BMO’s governmental consulting practice area, however, that is most notably growing. As noted on Wednesday, the firm grew by one man but by two decades in terms of institutional knowledge with the addition of Foyt Ralston to its lobbying team. Ralston previously served as Florida’s chief information officer and as chief of staff to the State Technology Office.

Ralston joins Cari Roth, chair of the BMO governmental consulting practice, along with Emily Nance, Fred Springer, and Susan Churuti. With Ralston aboard, a new battery of technology clients has come aboard, too. As of Friday, new tech clients on BMO’s roster include Computer Sciences Corporation, Datapath Tower, and Inovia Consulting Group. The firm works with Americas gateway Logistics Center and AT&T as well, and registered a new client in the Florida Association of Restoration Specialists.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to lobbyist Shawn Foster.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Bradley Burleson, Greg Turbeville, Ballard Partners: Adecco Group North America

Christopher Dawson, GrayRobinson: Associated Builders & Contracts of Florida

Angela Dempsey, Fred Dickinson, Susan McKinley, Dutko Poole McKinley: Motorola

Richard Jernigan: Community & Economic Development Council

Al Lawson, Lawson & Associates: Florida State University Board of Trustees

Jamie Miller, Rober Shave: Charlotte County Airport Authority

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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.