Sunburn for 3/21 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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

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OBAMA VISITS THE SUNSHINE STATE

Amid grappling with the crisis in Ukraine, President Barack Obama made a political excursion into midterm battleground Florida Thursday to address financial concerns facing women voters and raise money for Democrats.

During a speech at Orlando’s Valencia College, Obama called for better educational opportunities for women to help advance their careers. He took off for the event right after announcing additional sanctions against Russian officials, a public juggling of his duties as the country’s chief executive and Democratic Party leader.

With Obama and his health care law a political liability in some parts of the country, the president is trying to help his party’s effort by leading a debate on economic issues and bringing in campaign funds.

Florida has one of the country’s most competitive gubernatorial races with incumbent Gov. Rick Scott facing Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist. But Crist was not appearing publicly with Obama and only planned to see him at a private fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate would not say whether Obama would campaign publicly with Crist later in the campaign. “It’s well known that the president and Governor Crist are personal friends. He enjoys spending time with him – will today, and will in the future,” Cate said.

OBAMA’S LAMENT AT DEM. FUNDRAISER: ‘IN MIDTERMS, WE GET CLOBBERED’ via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

At the Pinecrest home of Alonzo Mourning, the basketball star’s wife, Tracy Mourning, introduced President Obama during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser on Thursday night. But she first told a story of how her mother, a cleaning woman, struggled to make sure she felt she had everything she needed.

“When those damned Republicans are in office, I’m struggling,” Tracy Mourning said her mother would tell her.

Obama spoke shortly after 8:30 p.m. and told the wealthy donors that they need to give back to the party and the community.

Obama said he and others succeeded because of their parents. But society helped as well.

… Obama said the good news is that the polls are on the side of Democrats when it comes to major issues like the minimum wage, early childhood education, raising the minimum wage, immigration reform.

“The challenge is that our politics in Washington have become so toxic that people just lose faith and finally they just say: ‘you know what? I’m not interested. I’m not going to bother. I’m not going to vote. And that’s especially true during the midterms,” he said.

In presidential elections, he said, young, women and minorities vote for a “more-representative cross section of America.”

“But in midterms, we get clobbered,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to get over that.”

GOP REAX: “It seems all President Obama has to offer Floridians on his way to another ritzy fundraiser are more words. The reality is, under Obama’s watch students are paying even more for higher education while women are facing higher levels of poverty and lower incomes as ObamaCare holds back economic growth. While candidates across the country run from President Obama, Charlie Crist embraces policies like ObamaCare that kill jobs, raise taxes, and hurt Floridians.” – RNC spokesman Michael Short

FORECAST SHOWS OBAMACARE BEATING ITS ENROLLMENT GOAL via Taegan Goddard’s WonkWire

Charles Gaba has been tracking the most up-to-date enrollment information and offering his own projections on his blog, ACAsignups.net. On the same day that he predicted the 5 million signups milestone, he accurately predicted that California would hit the 1 million mark.

His next big prediction: The final sign-up tally will hit 6.22 million.

RGA: ‘CHARLIE CRIST HAS FALLEN HEAD-OVER-HEELS IN LOVE WITH OBAMACARE’ via Kevin Derby of the Sunshine State News

The Republican Governors Association took aim at Crist for defending Obama’s health-care law. The RGA pointed to former state CFO Alex Sink’s loss to Republican David Jolly in last week’s special congressional election in Pinellas County, insisting her defense of the health-care law helped lead to her defeat.

“Nearly four years to the day since Obamacare passed, Charlie Crist has fallen head-over-heels in love with Obamacare, going so far as to say ‘God bless’ President Barack Obama for this odious law,” said Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the RGA on Thursday.

“As Alex Sink just learned the hard way, Floridians do not like Obamacare. Families and single parents don’t like losing their insurance plans. The elderly don’t like being cut out of Medicare Advantage. And no Floridian wants to hear there will be less jobs available to them in the future. Sorry, Charlie, once again you are on the wrong side of the voters.”

SPOTTED: AFSCME’s Joy Friedman and Tampa-based political consultant Carrie Henriquez on front-page of Charlie Crist’s revamped website.

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JEB BUSH SEEKS COMMON GROUND IN HIGHER EDUCATION via The Associated Press

Bush said Thursday the partisan divide isn’t as wide when it comes to improving the nation’s higher education system as it is in many other areas.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who like Bush is often mentioned as a potential 2016 president candidate, accepted Bush’s invitation to appear at a conference he is co-hosting on global higher education issues. It begins Monday in Irving, Texas.

“This isn’t a political conference,” Bush said in a telephone interview when asked why he invited Clinton.

“There’s a real consensus in our country that higher education is hugely important and if we can find ways to improve quality and lower costs and provide greater access in the United States and around the world, it’s hard to argue against that,” Bush said. “The question is, how do you do it?”

Bush said it’s good that at the federal level and in many states there are discussions about ways to improve higher education. He noted that among full-time college students, about 60 percent graduate within six years.

“Initiatives that focus on better outcomes and helping students get the courses they need to garner degrees of relevance quicker are a very good thing,” Bush said. “There’s no question about it.”

He said he hasn’t seen the specifics of a higher education ratings system under development by the Obama administration that could potentially use measures such as graduates’ salaries.

JEB’S JOURNEY: DOING WHAT IT TAKES, WHETHER RUNNING OR NOT via Mark Silva of Bloomberg

Bush is doing what someone running for president does. That doesn’t mean he is running for president.

The former two-term Florida governor is on the road this week and next raising money for fellow Republicans and touting his No. 1 issue.

Bush will wrap up a tour of Las Vegas with an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition, convening at the Venetian Resort and Hotel. Among the Republicans with eyes on 2016 addressing that RJC Spring leadership session March 28-30: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the keynote speaker at its gala dinner.

Think of all this as a command audition. Sheldon Adelson, billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino company and owner of the Venetian, invested $100 million of his own money in the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential and congressional candidates.

For now, Bush is doing just what he said he was going to do this year — helping the party’s 2014 candidates — as he has done in recent years past, a spokeswoman notes.

MORE JEB – HE LEADS 2016 GOP PRESIDENTIAL FIELD, UVA’S CENTER FOR POLITICS SAYS via Seth McLaughlin of the Washington Times

Bush now sits atop the leader board in the latest rankings of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Kyle Kondik and Larry Sabato said Bush, Walker, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Christie lead the Republican pack.

Bush, they said, leads the field thanks in large part to Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal in New Jersey, which has left the GOP establishment — including the Bush family itself — to consider other possible presidential standard-bearers.

“For all the sturm und drang regarding the Tea Party in the Republican nominating process, it’s going to be hard for someone who lacks widespread establishment support — like Sens. Rand Paul or Ted Cruz — to win the nomination,” they said. “Political science research indicates that endorsements from sitting officeholders and party leaders can be quite predictive of presidential nominees.”

“And that leads us to another reason to take a potential Bush candidacy seriously: The establishment loves him,” they said. Bush has not indicated whether he plans to run, but has refused to rule it out.

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DAVID JOLLY BLAMES WASHINGTON DISCORD ON GERRYMANDERING via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Did you know Larry King was still in action? Well he is, and he got an interview with Jolly.

In one exchange, that will be seen tonight on Ora.tv, Jolly talks about the negative effects of gerrymandering:

“I think one of the issues — why the divisions are so bad right now — speaks not so much to the Congress, but — once the Supreme Court allowed district lines to be drawn on political boundaries, we’ve created so many seats that are either super Republican or super Democrat. And therefore, we elect people that are either super Republicans or super Democrats. And so you get to Congress, and of course it’s going to be hard to find common ground. Look, everybody should bring their own convictions to Washington. I intend to do so. I told my colleagues that I respect them for doing so as well. We should at least be committed to finding areas where we can work together, and where we can’t, let’s be civil about it and continue the conversation.”

MY TAKE: I MISS YOU, SPECIAL ELECTION Full blog post here

When you’re involved with Special Election, it’s as if the whole world revolves around you.

By definition, Special Election is one conducted all by itself. There is no top-of-the-ballot, no down-ballot, there’s just you and your choice for U.S. representative.

Everyone else running in Primary Election or General Election looks on with envy because all of the attention is on Special Election. It’s like dancing in the middle of a grand ballroom.

Meanwhile, Chuck Todd mentions Special Election every day on MSNBC. The New York Times and the Washington Post dispatch their grizzled best to inform the rest of the world how this Special Election is a bellwether for everything else political.

It’s heady stuff.

Like a celebrity wedding, millions of dollars are spent on Special Election without a moment’s regret. The answer to every request is “Yes” or, better yet, “More.”

The political consultants, already expecting to build a vacation home with the earnings from General Election, can now furnish said vacation home with the money they made during Special Election. The local television stations made enough on the ads to build some new, ungodly weather radar system, which is what television stations seem to do when they are flush with cash.

Everyone makes out. The print shops and the paid spokespersons. The staffers and the sign makers. The newspapers, with their expanded coverage and increased web traffic, and the websites, blinking with a blinding array of digital ads.

Social media buzzes, despite the fake outrage from some about “When will it all stop?!” Blogs blog, Facebook adds friends, and Twitter tweets. For a moment, Special Election was its own hashtag.

And then, as expected, the finite nature of Special Election reveals itself. The ballots are returned. The votes are cast. A winner is declared.

 The clock has struck midnight and Special Election has turned into a pumpkin. It’s all over.

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GOV. SCOTT TOUTS JOB AVAILABILITY IN FLORIDA via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News

Scott praised the availability of jobs in Florida — available job openings in Florida increased in February 2014 compared to the previous February by 9,727, or 3.6 percent, for a total of 278,717 openings.

These figures from Help Wanted Online are an all-time high in the data series, which began in May 2005.

Job postings in Florida also increased over the month compared to January 2014 by 8,204 openings or 3 percent.

According to the Help Wanted OnLine data series, online job demand was highest in the state’s large metro cities, led by Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Fort Lauderdale.

Among cities with the most openings, the highest percentage gain over the year was Sarasota with 36.4 percent growth.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – HERTZ HEADQUARTERS DRIVES FORWARD FASTER IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA via Margie Manning of the Tampa Bay Business Journal

Hertz Global Holdings Inc. has accelerated the pace at which it is moving people and hiring workers for its new headquarters in southwest Florida.

The changes are showing up in some of the numbers in the company’s financial filings.

The company now says it expects to spend $40 million to $45 million over two years to relocate to Estero, between Fort Myers and Naples. Those costs include employee relocation and severance, as well as associated costs, according to the company’s annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company already had spent about half of that, or $21.9 million, in the year ended Dec. 31, the filing said.

The cost of the move listed in SEC filings has grown steadily since Scott announced the move, and up to 700 jobs, in May. In a quarterly filing in August, Hertz said the estimated expenditures related to the relocation were $30 million to $35 million. That cost had risen to $35 million to $40 million by the next quarterly filing in November.

The relocation costs are separate from the cost of the headquarters building, which has been reported at $70 million. Hertz has purchased the land on which the building will sit, per an agreement with the state and Lee County, and intends to finance the construction of the headquarters structure by selling the land to the finance company, which will then become Hertz’ landlord, Broome said.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Scott will highlight “increases to early learning funding at All About Kids Preschool Learning Center,” according to a release. All About Kids, 4563 Pearl St. N., Jacksonville. 9:30 a.m.

SCOTT CHOSE FAMILIAR FACE TO MANAGE HIS $72 MILLION BLIND TRUST via Dan Christensen of the Broward Bulldog in the Miami Herald

Most Floridians have never heard of Alan Lee Bazaar. Yet as chief executive of the New York investment advisory firm that serves as trustee of Scott’s blind trust, Bazaar is the keeper of an important public trust for Florida’s citizens.

Bazaar and the company he runs, Hollow Brook Wealth Management, oversee Scott’s $72 million portfolio of stocks, bonds and other investments on the governor’s behalf. Their duty is to decide when to buy or sell the governor’s assets without telling him — in effect “blinding” Scott to his holdings and, by law, immunizing him from prohibited conflicts of interest.

Scott’s relationship with Bazaar is deeper than employer-employee, and he and his family’s financial ties to Hollow Brook go beyond the blind trust.

SEC records show that more than a decade ago the two men were members of a Delaware company that invested several million dollars in a small Deerfield Beach computer security company — an investment that later yielded tens of millions of dollars in returns.

Scott’s blind trust was created in 2011 to place a veil over Scott’s many financial assets and any transactions involving them. Under a state law enacted last year, the arrangement immunizes Scott from any prohibited conflicts of interest because those assets are considered to be outside Scott’s knowledge or control.

Last week, however, BrowardBulldog.org reported that the trust has been ineffective in preventing disclosures of the governor’s assets. Information about stock purchases and sales by the blind trust are a matter of public record elsewhere.

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VOUCHER MELTDOWN

BILL GALVANO PULLS CONTROVERSIAL VOUCHER BILL via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

The Senate sponsor of the controversial school voucher bill withdrew his proposal Thursday, significantly weakening its chances of becoming law this year.

Sen. Bill Galvano said he pulled the bill because there wasn’t enough time to develop accountability provisions that everybody could agree on.

“I thought it would be better if we took time and vetted it out,” Galvano said.

The House and Senate had clashed over requiring voucher recipients to take the state tests. Senate leaders, including Senate President Don Gaetz, were unwilling to pass a bill that did not include a testing requirement. But the House refused to add the language.

There is still a slim chance that the Senate could take up the House bill.

“You can never say that the Senate won’t take up a House bill or that the House won’t take up a Senate bill,” Gaetz said Thursday. “But when the sponsor of a bill asks to have the bill withdrawn from any further consideration by the Senate, that’s an indication that the sponsor has changed his mind about the prospects of the bill.”

Gaetz, a former schools superintendent, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“I had hoped that we would be able to do two things at the same time: expand the opportunity for low-income families to have more choice in education and at the same time bring financial and academic accountability to this program, the tax credit scholarship program,” he said. “Apparently we’re not going to be able to do that this session, but hope springs eternal.”

The president of the company that manages the tax credit scholarship program said he was not surprised.

“We knew that there was no agreement on the assessment piece,” Doug Tuthill said.

But Tuthill isn’t convinced the bill is dead, he said.

“There is still a bill moving in the House,” he said. “Weatherford hasn’t thrown in the towel yet.”

REAX via Weatherford: “It’s a shame. A terrible shame. Thousands of children seeking more opportunities for a better life will be denied. I cannot see any reason why we’d quit on these kids.”

LEGISLATURE PASSES CUT IN ANNUAL CAR FEES via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Millions of Florida motorists will soon start paying less to register their cars each year – although the savings won’t materialize for many drivers until next year.

The Florida Legislature on Thursday approved a $400 million cut in auto registration fees that was a top priority for Gov. Scott this year.

Most motorists in the state will save about $25 a year on registration fees, although the amount will vary based on the size and the weight of the car or truck. The fees were first raised back in 2009 when state legislators were grappling with a large budget gap caused by the downturn in the state’s economy.

Scott made the fee rollback a centerpiece of his pitch to legislators to use the state’s current budget surplus to cut taxes and fees by more than $500 million.

BIPARTISAN GAS PUMP ACCESSIBILITY LABEL BILL MOVES QUICKLY THROUGH LEGISLATURE Full blog post here

A bipartisan measure requiring gas pumps statewide to display accessibility information for people with disabilities is quickly making way through the Legislature.

HB 185 and SB 1184, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Danish and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, are patterned after a Hillsborough County ordinance that took effect in January 2012.

If passed, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will be required to confirm, during normal inspections that a blue accessibility decal is on each gas pump.

The decal must be a minimum of 15 square inches, with the international symbol of accessibility and the words “Call for Assistance,” and have the phone number for the station.

HB 185 passed its final committee stage in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee on Thursday; the next step is a consideration by the full House.

CYBER SECURITY BILL PROTECTING PERSONAL DATA PASSES SENATE COMMITTEE Full blog post here

A cyber security bill protecting personal information collected by government agencies unanimously passed the Florida Senate Oversight Committee.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability approved Senate Bill 782, sponsored by Brandes, which moves the state closer to a uniform approach to the security, collection, disposal and sharing of personal data.

SB 782 creates standardized data management, by regulating how information is processed by all government websites that collect, storing, disclosing, and ultimately disposing of personal identification information. The bill also defines personal identification information as data used to identify a specific individual.

Both agency and contractor websites will be required to reveal not only what information is collected, but also the basis for collecting the personal information. The bill also requires security measures to protect an individual’s identity.

HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE VOTES TO PASS HUDSON’S ALZHEIMER’S BILL

Two days after the national release of updated facts and figures on Alzheimer’s disease, the House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to pass HB 709, a bill to create a competitive research grant program for Alzheimer’s disease. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson, HB 709 aims to implement key recommendations of the Legislature’s Purple Ribbon Task Force. These include the creation of the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program within the Department of Health to fund research leading to the prevention or cure for this devastating disease. The bill further creates additional protections and resources for persons with special needs — specifically Alzheimer’s — during times of emergency.

The bill has one more committee stop in the House.

HOUSE PASSES IN-STATE TUITION FOR UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS BILL via Matt Dixon of PoliticalFixFlorida.com

By an 81-33 vote, the Florida House Thursday passed legislation offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

The bill is aimed to help students who were brought illegally to the United States at a young age by their parents.

Though the bill passed with bipartisan support, some Democrats were critical of an amendment added Wednesday that increased the number of years an eligible student must attend a Florida high school from three to four years.

That same amendment decreased from 15 percent to 6 percent the number of universities that can increase tuition without state approval. The Senate bill eliminates that so-called “differential tuition,” which gained the support of Scott. One of his top priorities is lowering tuition cost.

The in-state tuition bill has been a top priority for Weatherford. That vocal backing gave the plan a prominent ally it lacked in past year. Some version of the in-state tuition plan had been filed over the past decade.

SB 1400 the Senate version of the plan, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Latvala, narrowly escaped its first committee stop on a 5-4 vote. It has two remaining committee stops. Gaetz opposes the bill, but has said he would allow it to be heard in his chamber.

SENATE COMMITTEE POSTPONES RED LIGHT CAMERA REPEAL VOTE Full blog post here

A Senate committee became a speed bump in the push to repeal Florida’s red-light camera laws.

The bill reached the Transportation Committee with only 10 minutes left in the meeting, and a variety of speakers from across the state waiting to talk on both sides of the issue. Committee chair Brandes, sponsor of SB 144, decided to postpone the vote on until next Wednesday.

Neither the Senate red light motion nor the House version (HB 4009) has yet to be voted on by committees so far this term.

Most of Thursday’s meeting was to address a couple of bills by Latvala: SB 132 would create new specialty license plates for the Florida Sheriffs Association and Fallen Law Enforcement Officers. SB 1048 would change the way the Florida Department of Transportation makes money off wireless communications facilities on DOT-owned land while revising rules for outdoor advertising.

The committee passed both bills unanimously.

TWEET, TWEET:@fineout: Doesn’t appear that many House members are listening to @DwightDudleyFL 

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GOV. ASKEW TO BE LAID TO REST

A graveside service will be held for former Gov. Reubin Askew, who died last Thursday at age 85. The service will be open to the public. Bayview Memorial Park, 3351 Scenic Highway, Pensacola. 11:00 a.m. CST.

EDUCATION IN FLORIDA DRAMATICALLY IMPROVING… BUT FEW KNOW IT via Full blog post here

In 1998, my own graduation from high school was still fresh on my mind. But for many of my peers at the time, high school graduation had not happened. A startlingly high percentage of my freshman class never walked across the stage. In 1998, nearly half of Florida 4th graders were functionally illiterate.

But things have changed. Over the past 15 years — beginning with the launching of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan — Florida has reversed decades of decline in public education. Not just in some hypothetical ways, but in terms of measurable, comparable numbers. But oddly, very few people know it.

According to a recent survey, only 8 percent of Florida parents and 4 percent of Tampa Bay parents accurately report that Florida schools are above average compared to other states.

But here is the part that gets me: more than one-third of Florida parents think that our state’s education system has gotten worse. Quantifiably, this is far from true. In fact, on every metric available, Florida’s performance has improved relative to where we started — and relative to other states.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is setting out to change public misperceptions with the launch of the “Learn More, Go Further” campaign.

FLORIDA TAXWATCH CALLS FOR LIMITS ON TRUST FUND “SWEEPING” Full blog post here

Government watchdogs at Florida TaxWatch released a new report calling for limits to the legislative practice of “sweeping,” where lawmakers transfer trust funds to the state’s General Revenue as a way to balance budgets.

Trust funds are supposed to be money earmarked for certain projects, often tied to specific revenue sources.

The report — Putting the Trust Back in Trust Funds — says although they increase flexibility while budgeting, each bill that attempts to sweep funds should be passed separately.

Since 2008, state legislators has swept more than $3.4 billion from trust funds, counting them as General Revenue funds  to balance the state budget. In the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, they proposed another $174.2 million in trust fund sweeps.

The TaxWatch report does recognize trust fund sweeps are sometimes needed to ensure essential services remain funded, compared to other, non-core services. However, before sweeping funds to distribute income evenly, the non-profit group recommends the Legislature should first consider the impact of the sweeps on all areas of the budget.

Requiring separate general bills for each trust fund sweep allows for greater input from legislators, testimony from affected parties, staff analysis, and an economic impact evaluation, where appropriate.

PHARMACY INDUSTRY APPLAUDS SENATE PASSAGE OF AUDIT REFORMS Full blog post here

A group of consumers, local businesses and pharmacists met at the Florida Capitol to highlight pending legislation establishing “clear guidelines” on pharmacy audits.

Pharmacy Choice and Access Now (PCAN), joined by legislators and industry representatives, held a press conference Thursday to praise the Senate Health Policy Committee and Senate Regulated Industries Committee for approving SB 702 and encouraging the House to pass companion bill HB 745.

The bills address a problem that has been steadily affecting the more than 2,700 pharmacies all across Florida. Pharmacy Benefit Managers routinely evaluate pharmacies to make certain claims are submitted and handled properly.

According to PCAN, those audits have become increasingly time-consuming, taking pharmacists away from patients.

SB 702 and HB 745 are an attempt to make “common-sense auditing standards” that include one-week advance notice before conducting an audit; audits requiring clinical or professional judgment be conducted by or in consultation with a pharmacist; and no penalties or financial recoupment for basic clerical, typographical, or computer errors.

REAPPOINTED: Richard Simpson to the Children’s Services Council of Charlotte County.

SPOTTED: Bollywood star Preity Zinta, along with other representatives from the International Indian Film Academy, in the Capitol to celebrate Tampa being chosen as the first U.S. site for the awards.

SLOWER LEGISLATIVE FRIDAY IN TALLAHASSEE AFTER A HECTIC WEEK Full blog post here

The Friday of a hectic week in Tallahassee brings a few less committee meetings, with neither chamber in session.

Three House committees meet Friday, to consider bills that include revising professional sporting events that are exempt from admissions tax, requiring drivers to move over when approaching sanitation or utility service vehicle performing service-related task on roadside and calling for the creation of an automated license plate recognition system and personal identifying information of individual.

Also on the House agenda are increased penalties for offenses against vulnerable persons and sexual offenses against students by authority figures and modifications to juvenile sentencing, requiring judges to consider specified factors before determining if life imprisonment is appropriate.

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CONSUMER GROUP ALLEGES WALGREENS MODEL BREAKS LAW via Steve Miller of the Associated Press

A union-backed advocacy group alleges in a complaint to the state’s Department of Health that Walgreens pharmacies in Florida are violating state law by allowing its pharmacists to sit at a table away from the actual pharmacy, allowing technicians to work without supervision.

The complaint comes as the Legislature moves to allow the state’s governing Board of Pharmacy to increase the pharmacist-to-technician ratio.

The retail watchdog arm of Change to Win, a consumer advocacy group, alleges that the Walgreens model called “Well Experience,” breaches state law that requires continued review and “ultimate supervision” of technicians by the pharmacist who delegates the tasks.

At a number of Walgreens stores, the pharmacist sits at a desk away from the pharmacy counter, talking with customers while observing the technicians via video screen.

The complaint, filed Wednesday, states that “while Florida law permits pharmacists to step away from the prescription area for specific reasons, such as to consult with patients, it stipulates that these activities must be “conducted in a manner consistent with the pharmacist’s responsibility to provide pharmacy services.”

SETTLEMENT FAVORS DUKE ENERGY IN TAX DISPUTE WITH CITRUS COUNTY via Drew Harwell of the Tampa Bay Times

Citrus County has thrown in the towel in its multimillion-dollar tax dispute with Duke Energy, settling a 15-month battle over unpaid taxes that forced the county into a budget crisis.

Duke, the rural county’s largest taxpayer, will drop its lawsuits against the county in exchange for lower property appraisals and tax bills.

Arguing Citrus had overvalued its power plant and other holdings, Duke paid only $41 million of its $96 million in county property taxes over the last two years. As part of a settlement, Duke will pay Citrus another $7.5 million.

The holdout by Duke, which once funded 25 percent of Citrus’ property tax rolls, sparked a fiscal emergency in the rustic county of 140,000 about 65 miles north of St. Petersburg.

The county last year raised homeowners’ tax rate by 27 percent, costing a resident owning a $100,000 home about $13 a year. The plunge also opened a sudden chasm in public budgets: Citrus schools have in three years lost $10 million because of lower than anticipated tax revenue, school board records show.

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KATHLEEN PETERS CAN BREATHE SIGH OF RELIEF: LJ GOVONI SUSPENDS BID FOR HD 69 Full blog post here

Rep. Kathleen Peters can breathe a sigh of relief.

That’s because LJ Govoni, the Pinellas businessman who had already raised tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign for House District 69 — and could easily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars out of his bank account — is suspending his campaign.

Govoni entered the race for HD 69 after Peters joined the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Peters ended up losing to Jolly in a spirited GOP primary. Even though she ran for Congress, Peters did not have to give up her seat in the Florida House because state election law does not require candidates to resign-to-run for federal office.

With Peters running for re-election, Govoni faced a difficult decision: Leave the race or challenge an incumbent from his own party. Certainly Govoni would have given Peters all that she could handle, but running against an incumbent is not looked at favorably by party leaders.

NEIL COMBEE DRAWS AN OLD FOE AS HE SEEKS SECOND HOUSE TERM via Jeff Henderson of the Sunshine State News

As he readies to run for a second term in the Florida House, Neil Combee faces a familiar foe but should have no problem as he looks to extend his lengthy political career.

Combee might be a House freshman but he’s a longtime fixture in Polk County politics. Back in 1988, Combee won the first of four terms on the Polk County Commission. After that, he went on to serve seven years on the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Combee might only be 54 but he has spent more than half of his life in Polk County politics.

Still, Combee’s background helps him in the House where he is older and has more experience than most of his fellow freshmen. Combee sits on the Regulatory Affairs and State Affairs Committees and the Economic Development and Tourism, Government Operations, and the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittees. Not a bad draw for a freshman.

With more than $120,500 in his bank accounts and no Democratic opponent, Combee had little problem winning an open House seat in 2012. He ran off in the general election with 65 percent while Carol Castagnero, a grandmother and retired teacher who hates the FCAT, got 35 percent for her no-party-affiliation bid. Castagnero is back to run against Combee again but this time she’s a Democrat.

As of the end of February, Combee’s fundraising hasn’t been particularly impressive. By the end of February, Combee had spent more than $35,000 of the $53,300 he had raised so far for his campaign.

CIVIC ACTIVIST AND RADIO HOST SHAWNA VERCHER ANNOUNCES RUN FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 67 Full blog post here

Author, public speaker and activist Shawna Vercher announced she filed as a candidate for the State House District 67 seat currently held by term-limited Rep. Ed Hooper.

The host of a “non-partisan call-in” radio program featuring politics and current events broadcast through Genesis Communications, Vercher is running as a Democrat for the district covering much of North Pinellas County, including Clearwater and Largo.

“I filed to run for State House in District 67 to be a voice for Florida’s Families,” Vercher said in a Facebook post Wednesday evening. “This campaign will be about connecting with you, your families, friends, and neighbors, so that together we can build a better Florida.”

Vercher serves as president of the national civic advocacy group My America, an organization seeking to restore balance to the national political dialogue by “reclaiming patriotism and engaging American voters.”

Entering a crowded field in the HD 67 race, Vercher faces Stephen Sarnoff and Thomas Ryan in the Democratic primary. Running on the Republican side are Chris Latvala — son of state Sen. Jack Latvala — Christopher Shepard and Frederick Thompson.

Latvala already has a significant fundraising advantage in the race, with more than $154,000 in contributions to date.

RICHARD DENAPOLI TO HOLD VENICE MEET-AND-GREET ON MARCH 27 Full blog post here

The event begins 5:45 p.m.  at the “President’s Dining Room” of the Plantation Country Club in Venice. Admission is free.

Although there is no charge for the event, supporters can donate securely online at www.richardforflorida.com.

For more information, or to RSVP by email, contact RochelleCDudley@gmail.com. RSVPs are requested to prepare for hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

***CoreMessage is a full-service communications and issues advocacy firm with the experience, relationships and expertise to help you get your message out. Connected at the state capitol and throughout Florida, the CoreMessage team unites issues with advocates, messages with media and innovative solutions with traditional tactics to get results. Follow CoreMessage on Twitter and visit them on the Web at www.coremessage.com***

4TH FLOOR FILES: Not a lobbyist, Ryan Wiggins, the owner of and chief strategist at Full Contact Strategies, amplifies the efforts of those working inside and out of the Capitol. Here’s the file on Ryan.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: BRUCE BEACH, PROPERTY INSURANCE, TALLY VS. D.C. AND MISSING THE CD 13 ELECTION

On Context Florida: Pensacola’s Bruce Beach deserves to be more than just a dumping ground for waste and fill dirt, says Shannon Nickinson, but instead have a “useful future.” Although Florida property insurance market continues to make strides, Donovan Brown says there is still some work to do. Homeowner insurance rates are starting to stabilize, and may continue to do so for the near future, especially if storms continue to bypass Florida and fraud does not escalate.The differences between Washington D.C. and Tallahassee are considerable, says Ed Moore, not only in culture, but also in rhythm, processes and style. Florida’s 13th Congressional District special election was a “November-to-March affair to remember,” writes Peter Schorsch. It’s been more than a week since the election and life just hasn’t been the same since.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Keith Arnonld, Brett Bacot, Jim Magill, Linda Shelley, Mac Stipanovich, Fowler White Boggs: Hemophilia of Florida Pharmacy LLC

Carol Austin: Greater Tampa Association of REALTORS

Emily Buckley, The Moya Group: Charter Schools USA; Dosal Tobacco

Dean Cannon, Larry Cretul, Rheb Harbison, Cynthia Lorenzo, Capitol Insight: Kuder

Chris Carmody, Chris Dawson, Fred Leonhardt, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Partnership for Strong Families

Jorge Chamizo, Ana Cruz, Scott Ross, Floridian Partners: Ultrasonic Cavitation & Radio-Frequency Association

Rebecca DeLaRosa, The Moya Group: Gibraltar Development Partners, LLC

Hayden Dempsey, Greenberg Traurig: Wounded Warrior Project

Charles Dudley, Floridian Partners: Risk Management Associates, Inc.

Mark Flynn, Pathfinder Communications: Emerge USA

Jose Fuentes, Becker & Poliakoff: Village of Pinecrest

Sandra Harris, Thomas Panza, Panza, Maurer & Maynard: Resorts World Miami, LLC

Robert Hawken, Leath Consulting: National Association of Settlement Purchasers

Brecht Heuchan, The Labrador Company: Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, Inc.

Rhett O’Doski, Ryder Rudd, Sean Stafford, Advantage Consulting Team: Beer Industry of Florida, Inc.

Doug Tuthill: Step Up For Students

PERSONNEL NOTE: CONTRIBUTION LINK HIRES MOLLY COWERT

ContributionLink — the Tallahassee-based political consulting firm with a focus on research, campaign strategy and fundraising—announced the addition of Molly Cowart as a marketing specialist.

In a tweeted link to her bio page, Cowart brings “a variety of skills and knowledge” to ContributionLink’s growing team.

Cowart will communicate client messages through all social media outlets as well as assisting clients with “product solutions and service delivery.”

Cowart began her career serving on Republican Party of Florida’s Senate Campaigns, moving to work as legislative research assistant for both the Senate Majority Office and the Senate President’s Office. She graduated in 2012 from Florida State University with a degree in Spanish.

WEEKEND TV

Facing Florida with Mike Vasalinda: Remembering Gov. Reubin Askew

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Mike Fasano, Dr. Susan MacManus, Patrick Manteiga, and Jeremy Wallace

Political Connections on Tampa Bay’s BayNews 9: Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Political Connections on Orlando’s CF 13: Speaker Designate Steve Crisafulli

The Usual Suspects which airs on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Steve Vancore, Gary Yordon, and Marc Lamont Hill from Columbia University

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to to The Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart, uber lawyer Fran Haasch, and political consultant Mary Repper.

***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT MARTINI BAR in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails.  We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, and salads.  Mint Martini Bar is upscale and classy, and it’s the best place to enjoy live music and a good vibe. Friday’s featured lunch special is $8.99 Pizzas; Double Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m.***

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.