Sunburn for 4/14 – 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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THE WEEK AHEAD

Call it the calm before the storm. Florida lawmakers will take the coming week off because of Passover and the Easter holidays. They will return to the Capitol on April 21 for two frantic weeks before the May 2 end of the legislative session. Relatively little will happen during the holiday week in state government and politics, though the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will tackle issues such as lionfish and alligators.

‘OBAMACARE’ UNDER ATTACK AS CONSERVATIVES EYE 2016 via Steve Peoples of the Associated Press

Republicans eyeing the 2016 White House race battered President Barack Obama’s health care law and nicked each other, auditioning before a high-profile gathering of conservatives that some political veterans said marked the campaign’s unofficial start.

A speaking program packed with potential presidential candidates weighed in on the House Republicans’ controversial budget, the party’s struggle with Hispanics, the GOP’s future and the upcoming midterm elections while taking turns on a conference room stage facing hundreds of conservative activists gathered in New Hampshire’s largest city.

But the Republican Party’s near-universal opposition to the president’s health care law dominated the conversation just days after Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius resigned after leading the rocky rollout of the program derided as “Obamacare.”

The summit comes as prospective presidential candidates begin to step up appearances in key states ahead of the 2016 presidential contest, even though New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary isn’t planned for another two years.

As potential presidential candidates jockey for position, the stakes are high for the November’s midterm elections, where Republicans are fighting to claim the Senate majority. The president’s health care law could figure prominently in November House and Senate contests across the country.

Conservatives also criticized another potential presidential contender who was not in attendance, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently suggested that many immigrants enter the United States illegally because of love for their families.

OBAMA, REPUBLICANS COMPETE FOR SUPPORT AMONG WOMEN via Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press

After months on the defensive over his health care law, a more combative President Obama has emerged to fight about gender politics, leading to an election-year competition with Republicans for support from women.

No single group will be more important to Democrats’ fortunes, say White House advisers, than unmarried women, who are likely to go Democratic — if they vote, and that’s far from certain when trust in Washington is low.

Republicans say they have learned important lessons from previous elections where women helped put Obama and other Democrats in office. This year, the GOP is promising an aggressive counterattack.

The Republican National Committee plans to a new initiative, “14 in ’14,” to recruit and train women under age 40 to help spread the party’s message in the final 14 weeks of the campaign.

Representatives from all the party committees — the RNC and those supporting GOP candidates for Senate, House, governors and state legislators — meet regularly to plan strategy and advise candidates.

They are encouraging candidates to include their wives and daughters in campaign ads, have women at their events and build a Facebook-like internal database of women willing to campaign on their behalf.

They say they are targeting older women, who are more likely to vote Republican than younger women, in part by highlighting cuts to Medicare Advantage plans that the Obama administration proposed and then reversed under pressure. They say they will continue to press the case that the health law has increased costs for some people and affected their health care plans.

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TED CRUZ FIRES UP NAPLES CROWD via Christina Cepero of the Fort Myers News-Press

Sporting his black ostrich Lucchese boots, one of Obamacare’s biggest opponents and a potential 2016 presidential candidate rallied a Naples crowd Friday night to fight for religious liberty.

“We are together called to service and called to action,” said U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, addressing nearly 350 students, staff and benefactors at Ave Maria School of Law’s A Faith and Reason Signature Event at the Hilton Naples, which raised $18,000, before expenses, for the school’s scholarship fund.

Attendees applauded often while he spoke, addressed him as “President Cruz” during the question-and-answer session and swarmed him afterward for handshakes and pictures.

“Religious liberty today, unfortunately, is very much under attack. It is under attack more than any time in the history of our nation,” said Cruz, 43.

He shared U.S. Supreme Court victories he worked on as Texas solicitor general including defending the Ten Commandments Monument at the Texas State Capitol, the Pledge of Allegiance’s “under God” words and the World War I veterans Mojave Memorial Cross.

He praised Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law for their lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act because the law requires employers to pay for contraceptives for their employees.

“Thank you to Ave Maria for standing up,” Cruz said. “I am hopeful, I am optimistic and I’m in prayer each and every day that the Supreme Court is going to do the right thing, is going to strike down this provision and is going to uphold the liberty of each and every American.”

JEB BUSH DRAWS BOOS FROM CONSERVATIVES via Alexandra Jaffe of The Hill

Speaking at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, a gathering of conservative activists and figures organized by Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United, billionaire Donald Trump said Bush’s recent comments on immigrants coming to the U.S. as an “act of love” were “out there.”

“You know, I heard Jeb Bush the other day,” he said, with quiet boos and angry murmurs erupting from the crowd at the mention of Bush’s name.

“And he was talking about people that come into this country illegally, they do it for love,” he continued, with the boos growing louder.

Trump added, to laughter from the crowd: “And I said, say it again I didn’t get — that’s one I’ve never heard before…I understand what he’s saying, but, you know, it’s out there.”

Bush drew considerable conservative backlash when he made the comments in a recent interview, but defended them at a Connecticut Republican Party dinner on Thursday, where he further urged “sensitivity to the immigrant experience.”

STAFF CHANGES IN RUBIOWORLD via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Sen. Rubio announced last week staff changes in his Senate office.

Cesar Conda, who has served as Rubio’s chief of staff since 2011, will join Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC as a senior adviser and remain a part-time adviser in the Senate office. Alberto Martinez, who has served as Rubio’s deputy chief of staff since 2013, will succeed Conda as chief of staff. Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director since 2011, will become deputy chief of staff.

“I’m proud of the work our entire team has done in developing and introducing our American Dream agenda, which provides solutions to the challenges and opportunities our people face, while also outlining a strong vision for America’s role in the world,” said Rubio.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, alongside several education leaders, will hold a media availability to “discuss the lack of state funding for maintaining public schools; over the last few years, taxpayer dollars have instead been diverted to charter schools,” according to a release. Wilson Middle School, 1005 W. Swann Ave., Tampa. 10:00 a.m.

GWEN GRAHAM TURNS IN STRONG FUNDRAISING QUARTER via Emily Cahn of Roll Call

Graham raised nearly half a million dollars in the first three months of the year for her congressional bid … the Democrat raised $485,000 in the first quarter and had $1.4 million in cash on hand at the end of March.

Graham is challenging GOP Rep. Steve Southerland II in Florida’s 2nd District, a top target for national Democrats. Southerland has yet to release his first-quarter numbers. He had $840,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31.

SPOTTED: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at her 30-year high school reunion.

WINNER OF THE WEEK IN FLA. POLITICS: DAVID JOLLY via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

“The rookie Republican U.S. representative for Pinellas County kept a campaign promise to vote against his leadership’s budget proposal; in a Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, three out of four said Alex Sink would be unwise to challenge Jolly again in November; and national Democrats have no strong plan B should Sink take a pass.”

MAIL-IN BALLOTS MIGHT BE THE REAL TURNOUT IN CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION Full blog post here

Although early voting in Florida’s 19th Congressional District began Saturday, early turnout shows more voters prefer the mailbox than the voting booth.

With a relatively firm stream of people arriving at various polling places, a total of 409 in-person votes were cast on the first day, in a turnout that Collier County election workers describe as somewhere between “skimpy” and “steady.”

However, the real turnout for CD19 could be through the U.S. mail.

By Sunday morning, Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards received 8,078 mail-in ballots. That is about 60 percent of the reported 13,500 total ballots sent out by her office.

In addition to the 409 early votes, there were also two provisional ballots.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington told reporters her office received 35,000 requests for primary mail-in ballots, with 58 percent returned so far, or about 20,150. Harrington added that she hopes for an overall turnout of 40-50 percent. As for in-person voting, Lee County has not yet posted figures.

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CAPUTO COLUMN: FLA. DEMOCRATS DECEPTIVE EDGE IN VOTER REGISTRATION 

In a state where a presidential election was famously decided by 537 ballots, Florida Democrats’ edge of 485,907 active voters over registered Republicans looks impressive at a glance.

But it isn’t.

In historical terms, it’s a bad sign for Democrats and Charlie Crist. And it’s great news for Republicans and Gov. Rick Scott.

The Democrats’ registration advantage hasn’t been this small since 2007. Perhaps more significantly, the gap is even smaller than it was in 2010 (591,809), when Republicans whipped Democrats at the ballot box.

You wouldn’t know the Democrats’ precarious position by looking at the public-opinion polls right now or by listening to Crist.

“I think we’re gonna do it,” Crist told state House Democrats in Tallahassee on Thursday. “And I think they know it.”

By “they,” Crist means Republicans. He used to be one of them (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat).

“They” don’t think they’re going to lose at all. There’s a reason for the Republican confidence: history.

Yes, the Republican base is proportionately shrinking. It’s growing whiter, while Florida gets browner. And it’s a problem for the GOP in presidential election years when young people and minorities cast ballots in bigger numbers.

But there’s one advantage to having a large bloc of white voters during a mid-term election: They vote far more often and in bigger proportions than minorities.

Also, because the GOP controls the state power structure (determined in mid-term election years) it’s able to raise far more money than Democrats. That’s why in the last fundraising quarter, announced late last week, Scott’s side was able to raise $17.1 million to Crist’s and the Democrats’ $6.1 million.

CHECK OUT: The redesigned website of the Florida Democratic Party here.

INSIDERS POLL: SCOTT VS. CRIST IS PURE TOSS-UP via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Insiders were evenly split on whether Crist or Scott prevails, with 51 percent predicting Scott and 49 percent Crist.

“For all the hubris in Scottworld, they still have a guy that less than 40 percent of Florida voters want to re-elect for governor,” a Democrat said. “The one-sided nature of the TV wars will go away by August, if not sooner, and when it does, absent some national trend, voters will be reminded why they like Crist and why they don’t like Scott.”

Another Republican said that “despite the ineptitude of Scott’s out-of-state campaign staff, there’s a lot to be said for a $4 million-to-zero TV ad blitz. By October, both candidates will have sky-high negatives, and the race will come down to voter enthusiasm, which favors Republicans during the off cycle.”

Republicans and Democrats alike are overwhelmingly confident in their nominee, though Democrats a tad more so. Eighty-four percent of the Democratic Insiders said Crist would win, while 80 percent of the Republicans predicted Scott.

“I don’t think Scott realizes how many people don’t trust him. Money will not buy this election,” said one Republican, predicting a Crist victory. “After the session and veto period, watch how many will jump to the other side.”

NICKENS COLUMN: THIS RACE IS ABOUT SCOTT’S RECORD, NOT OBAMA’S via the Tampa Bay Times

When politicians cannot run on their record, they change the subject.

That’s what Gov. Scott has been doing. It’s hard to win re-election by promoting how your administration has eroded environmental protections, suppressed voting, fouled up school accountability and teacher evaluations, starved higher education and failed to protect Floridians from higher rates for electricity and property insurance. Good luck boiling that down to a catchy bumper sticker.

Scott promotes himself as the jobs governor and takes credit for the recovering economy. But the state’s unemployment rate still stands at 6.2 percent, and much of the decline in the rate can be traced to more relatively low-paying service jobs and to so many discouraged jobless residents giving up on looking for work. The governor has promised hundreds of millions in tax breaks in return for new jobs, but most of those jobs have yet to be created. Voters also understand that any governor has little control over an economy driven by housing prices, the stock market and federal policy.

So now Scott is focusing on his opponent, and it’s not likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist. It’s President Obama. Scott lately sounds more like a tea party candidate eager to move to Washington than an incumbent governor trying to stay in Tallahassee. He also is unencumbered by the facts.

In television campaign ads, Scott attacks his favorite target, the Affordable Care Act. He says the law resulted in 300,000 Floridians losing their private insurance coverage. That is wrong. Florida Blue, which is a big contributor to Scott’s political committee, is the source of that number and confirms the ads are wrong. The 300,000 initially referred to the number of Florida Blue members whose policies didn’t appear to meet the new coverage standards. It turned out that only 40,000 members actually received a notice that their polices would not comply, and then Obama allowed those plans to remain in place through 2014. That hasn’t stopped Scott from continuing to air false ads.

THRASHER: DAVID RANCOURT DOESN’T COUNT AS GOP SUPPORTER OF CRIST via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

One of Crist’s better-known Tallahassee supporters is a Republican: David Rancourt, the former super-lobbyist and co-founder of the Southern Strategy Group lobbying firm, who wrote a $50,000 check to Crist’s campaign last November.

Rancourt and Crist go way back: Both devoted ‘Noles, they also were members of the same fraternity at Florida State University (Pi Kappa Alpha) and Rancourt managed Crist’s 2000 campaign for education commissioner, his first victorious statewide race. Rancourt is now managing partner of Land South, a Lakeland real estate investment company.

Now that Thrasher is chairman of Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign, he was asked what he thinks of his ex-partner Rancourt supporting Crist.

“Rancourt’s a long-time fraternity brother of his. That doesn’t count,” Thrasher said. Talking about Crist’s candidacy, he said,  “It ain’t going to work. It ain’t going to work. What’s going to work is that this governor, Gov. Scott, is creating jobs by the thousands every month.”

TWEETS OF THE WEEKEND: @FloridaGOP: Think that ball is deep in the rough? @CharlieCrist was really rough on Florida’s taxpayers. #Masters; @FloridaGOP: .@CharlieCrist failed to put Florida on the green. #Masters

BRACKETOLOGY: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera will attend today’s speech by Crist to the Forum Club in West Palm Beach, according to George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will meet with Hispanic business leaders with HBIF to discuss Florida’s economic turnaround, according to a release. National Entrepreneur Center, 3201 East Colonial Drive, Suite A-20, Orlando. 10 a.m.

PIC DU JOUR — Governor and First Lady Scott at the Easter Egg Hunt at the Governor’s Mansion. Pic here.

GOV. SCOTT’S NEGOTIATIONS WITH SEMINOLE TRIBE COULD BE BLUEPRINT FOR GAMING’S FUTURE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott, who made a career out of negotiating hospital mergers, is now applying his negotiating skills to a deal with the Seminole Tribe that could singlehandedly dictate the future of gaming in Florida.

Like any good negotiator, Scott is keeping his cards close to the vest and neither he nor the tribe is talking.

The tribe’s right to operate blackjack and other card games at five of its seven Florida casinos expires next year, and the tribe wants the compact to renew those games. But the agreement must be ratified by the Legislature, where pro-gaming Republicans have joined with pro-gaming Democrats to push for expanding gambling options at Florida’s pari-mutuels and to bring resort casinos to South Florida.

Many legislators say that to get the votes for a compact, the governor will have to find a way to help Florida’s gaming establishment compete with the tribe — or unify the anti-gambling lawmakers to support a compact that is close to status quo. For most of his term, the governor has not been an aggressive negotiator in the face of a divided Legislature.

No one expects Scott and the Seminole Tribe to complete a deal before the legislative session ends May 2, but some lawmakers say there’s a chance that the governor may be on track to announce a deal in the next month.

Under that scenario, the governor would call a special session to ratify the deal, presumably after he receives the state budget, and then would strategically use the power of his veto pen to help win approval from reluctant lawmakers. The most politically powerful time for a governor to have a special session is before he has issued his vetoes.

STATE OFFICIALS APPROVE EVERGLADES PLAN via The Associated Press

The process to get federal funding for long-planned Everglades restoration projects is underway, now that the state agency that oversees those projects has approved the $1.9 billion plan.

This week, the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board approved a resolution signing on as the local sponsor of the Central Everglades Planning Project. That’s a plan to redirect more water south of Lake Okeechobee into the central Everglades and south into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

The vote affirms the district’s ability to meet its financial responsibilities for the projects that will take more than a decade to complete. The costs are to be split evenly between the state and the federal government.

The plan is now being reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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GAMBLING MAY BE DEAD FOR THE SESSION BUT ITS SHORT LIFE WAS LUCRATIVE via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

The debate over gambling may be dead in the Legislature for this session, but its short life was very lucrative for legislative campaign coffers.

The Republican Party of Florida raised nearly three times as much as the Florida Democratic Party from gambling interests, as is usually the case, but to get there you have to exclude the $375,000 contribution to the Democrats from a global gaming company, Delaware North Corporation, that wanted to influence a local election.

Gambling interests gave the Republican Party of Florida $832,000 between Jan. 1 and March 30 and, not including the Delaware North money, gave Democrats $347,000. That includes $150,000 in checks to each of the parties from the Seminole Tribe — which also gave Gov. Scott’s political committee $500,000.

Gaming companies gave thousands to the political committees of legislative leaders as well, as new laws opened the door to unlimited contributions but greater transparency.

The biggest contributors among the gambling interests were represented by the lobbying firm of Ballard Partners, headed by Brian Ballard.

Two of those companies are Bayfront Development and Resorts World Miami, both owned by the Malaysian-based Genting which has invested heavily in bringing a resort casino to Florida. The companies gave $883,000 to political committees and parties this quarter, including $326,000 to the Republican Party and $90,000 to the Democrats, $225,000 to the governor and they cut several large checks to the political committees of key lawmakers.

Among them: $40,000 to the political committee of Rep. Jose Oliva; $40,000 to the political committee of Sen. Joe Negron; $25,000 to the political committee of Sen. Jack Latvala; $25,000 to the political committee for Rep. Richard Corcoran; and $20,000 to the political committee of Sen. Jeff Clemens.

Ballard also represents Palm Beach Kennel Club, owned by the Rooney family, which gave $159,000 this quarter to legislators and parties, including $100,000 to the RPOF and $15,000 to the Democratic Party. The company is holding out to get legislative approval for slot machines.

More than half of the Democrats’ money may not have been intended to influence Tallahassee politics as much as a local race. About $375,000 came from Delaware North Companies, a $3 billion global food service and hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. The company has developed video lottery terminals software and is part owner of Calder Race track. Ballard’s firm also represents Delaware North.

IN GOP-DOMINATED LEGISLATURE, BLACK LAWMAKERS CAUCUS STRUGGLES via Tia Mitchell and Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

When the last cocktail had been poured and the last guests floated away from the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators’ annual Scholarship Gala last month, thousands of dollars had flowed into the nonprofit foundation, courtesy of five-figure checks from a variety of special interests with stakes in pending legislation.

How much was raised at the March 21 gala, VIP reception for donors and “Scholarship Golf Tournament” that weekend? Lawmakers won’t say. They don’t have to.

How will the money be spent? They won’t say. They don’t have to.

But records of past years’ fundraising and interviews with caucus leaders indicate that less than 10 cents of every dollar raised actually goes to college scholarships for the students whose names were projected on large screens at the gala.

Legislators are prohibited from accepting contributions from lobbyists during regular sessions. But they can solicit lobbyists’ money for a charity: the black caucus foundation led by former legislators.

Records the caucus provided at the Times/Herald’s request indicate that the caucus foundation raised nearly $800,000 over the past three years. The caucus wouldn’t specify how much went to scholarships.

Rep. Alan Williams, the caucus chair, told the Times/Herald that each student likely received $500. With 117 recipients in the past three years, that means 7 percent of the foundation’s money went for scholarships.

LAWMAKERS MOVE TO TIGHTEN LOBBYING RULES, BUT EXEMPT THEMSELVES via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

Declaring themselves fighters for clean government, Florida senators voted unanimously to stop local elected officials from moonlighting as paid lobbyists who try to influence other government officials on behalf of their clients.

But they don’t want to apply the same standard to themselves.

The proposed law would allow state senators and state representatives to continue working as lobbyists representing paying clients seeking favors from county commissions and city, town and village governments — a practice that’s good for two South Florida legislators.

State Sen. Joe Abruzzo of Palm Beach County is a paid lobbyist on behalf of the Florida Panthers hockey team, which is seeking an $80 million bailout from the Broward County Commission. … When he’s not legislating, Abruzzo is the sole lobbyist working for AIM, which stands for Abruzzo Issues Management. He said he no longer works for the prominent Boca Raton law-lobbying firm Weiss, Handler & Cornwell, though the website still lists him as a “government relations and public policy consultant.” Abruzzo’s most recent state financial disclosure, filed in July, shows he was paid $87,500 by Weiss Handler in 2012.

State Rep. Joe Gibbons of southeast Broward. He’s lobbied city officials in Broward on behalf of paying clients. When he’s not working as a state representative, he’s a “public policy advisor” for Akerman, the prominent Florida law-lobbying firm. Gibbons’s most recent state financial disclosure form, filed in June, shows Akerman paid him $60,075 in 2012.

Abruzzo, who said he doesn’t lobby any municipal governments within the borders of his district, rejected the notion that state legislators’ power over local governments makes it difficult for local officials to resist their lobbying efforts on behalf of private clients.

“I have a self-moral standard, and I completely put up a wall and separate the two functions,” Abruzzo said, explaining that it would be “highly immoral” for a legislator to take an official action that could benefit one of his private clients.

ROMANO COLUMN: GUN BILLS CONTINUE TO SEE LITTLE RESISTANCE FROM LEGISLATURE

 if you’re a lawmaker looking to increase your legislative batting average, there is really only one issue that has a guarantee of safe passage:

Whip out a gun bill.

The details are never important. It could be about the concealment of guns or the economics of guns. It could be about guns for hunting or protection. Even the need to address guns made out of a breakfast pastry is a topic we’re willing to address.

The current session has seen at least 12 gun bills introduced between the Senate and House, and every single one seems to have Tallahassee’s rubber stamp of approval.

I may have missed a raised hand here or there, but it looks like these bills have moved on with about 81 percent of the vote in committee and floor votes. Not a single one has died.

Should you be alarmed by that? Yes and no.

TWEET SENDING SHUDDERS THROUGH THE 4TH FLOOR: @richardcorcoran: Agreed. Now where is the outcry over hospital surgery fees which are far worse. Ed: Stand with patients, not profits

TWEET, TWEET: @Ramba: They have #Uber in Augusta but not in Orlando? Get with it Florida!

WITH LAGOON LEGISLATION PENDING, REP. MAGAR RETURNS DONATIONvia Isadora Rangel of the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau

Because of pending legislation to help the Indian River Lagoon, state Rep. MaryLynn Magar returned $2,000 the sugar industry donated to her re-election campaign, she said.

U.S. Sugar Corp. affiliate Southern Gardens gave the money to Magar in January, when she was recovering from a stroke and could not keep track of the money she received.

She said that at the time, a Senate select committee led by state Sen. Negron was looking at funding short-term lagoon projects and she did not want to accept money from groups involved in water issues.

The Senate and the House will begin negotiating in the coming weeks how much money they will give to those projects. The Senate has proposed $224.8 million over the next three years and the House has proposed $32.8 million less

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NEGRON: BUDGET CONFERENCE MEETINGS TO BEGIN ON APRIL 21 via the Florida Current

Sen. Negron, the Senate’s chief budget writer, told the Senate he expects budget conference committees to begin meeting on April 21 after a holiday break next week.

The House version of the 2014-15 state budget is $75.3 billion, slightly larger than the $74.9 billion Senate spending plan.

Negron said there won’t be a meeting before noon on April 21 to allow senators on conference committees to travel to Tallahassee. He is chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“But we anticipate there could be an initial conference meeting sometime in the afternoon of Monday the 21st,” he said. “So we’ll continue to work on allocations. It’s our expectation we will begin the formal conference process early on the week of the 21st.”

RECORD BUDGET PLANS INCLUDE LITTLE TO EASE BACKLOG OF ELDERLY, DISABLED NEEDING CARE via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Despite a year of plenty for state lawmakers, with overall spending almost certain to hit record levels, relatively meager increases proposed for elderly and disabled programs do little to scale back the massive backlog of Floridians seeking aid.

The state’s waiting lists for elderly long-term health services, community care, Alzheimer’s Disease assistance and help for people with disabilities would shrink by only modest percentages, despite a $1.2 billion surplus of state revenue fueling rival $75 billion House and Senate budget proposals.

… With the nation’s largest number of people over age 65, Florida has a 9,000-person waiting list for community care services that help keep the elderly in their homes. Advocates say the number of people seeking services could actually be more than three times that.

But in its budget, House is looking to take 751 people off the waiting list; the Senate would add 601 Floridians for care.

Either way, less than 10 percent of those seeking coverage will gain services.

… (T)he 20,000-person waiting list for the state’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities would be rolled back by about 6 percent. But only the 1,260 clients considered in “intensive need” would gain services with a proposed $20 million in new spending.

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ALL-STAR LINE-UP OF LOBBYISTS WIN THEIR WAY INTO SWEET 16 OF TALLYMADNESS

Looking at the 16 lobbyists who have made it all the way to the Sweet 16 of TallyMadness – the online voting competition to determine Florida’s “best” lobbyist — it’s difficult to find a weak link. In fact, every one of the lobbyists still dancin’ would make a great addition to either side of any contentious issue.

#1 seed Jon Johnson and his partner, #4 seed Travis Blanton, made their way into the quarterfinals with Johnson knocking off perennial powerhouse Jeff Hartley and Blanton edging Adams Street fave Claudia Davant. Blanton now faces his toughest challenge, going up against the other remaining #1 seed, Nick Iarossi, who handled Jennifer Green in the second round.

#1 seed Ron Book was upset in the second round by #8 Jim Magill, who was rumored to have picked up the tab for all those at the Governors Club who voted his way. Magill’s next opponent is Mercer Fearington, who knocked-off co-defending champ Ron LaFace.

Fearington isn’t the only Souther Strategy Group’er who crashed the Sweet 16. The firm’s managing partner, Chris Dudley, put away Allison Carvajal in a spirited match-up. Carvajal’s partner at Ramba Consulting, David Ramba, lost to former Speaker of the House Dean Cannon in the match-up which drew the most votes. In an interesting twist of fate, Cannon now faces off against one of his firmmates from Capitol Insight, Richard Reeves, who defeated Amy Christian.

Cannon and Reeves’ colleague Alan Suskey continues his Cinderella performance in TallyMadness. The #16 seed defeated Slater Bayliss in the second round. Other Cinderellas still in the Big Dance include #10 seed Scott Ross and #14 seed Monica Rodriguez, who is looking to repeat her championship run from 2013.

Voting in the Sweet 16 of TallyMadness ends at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

TWEET, TWEET: @MatthewHunter30: Iarossi vs. Blanton is certainly the best dressed sweet 16.

MUST-READ STORY –GOOGLE’S POWER PLAY: HOW THE ONCE-HESITANT INTERNET GIANT MASTERED THE LOBBYING GAME via Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold of the Washington Post

The rise of Google as a top-tier Washington player fully captures the arc of change in the influence business. Nine years ago, the company opened a one-man lobbying shop, disdainful of the capital’s pay-to-play culture. Since then, Google has soared to near the top of the city’s lobbying ranks, placing second only to General Electric in corporate lobbying expenditures in 2012 and fifth place in 2013. The company gives money to nearly 140 business trade groups, advocacy organizations and think tanks … That’s double the number of groups Google funded four years ago.

This summer, Google will move to a new Capitol Hill office, doubling its Washington space to 55,000 square feet … Google’s increasingly muscular Washington presence matches its expanded needs and ambitions as it has fended off a series of executive and legislative-branch threats to regulate its activities and well-funded challenges by its corporate rivals.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

David Ash, DLA Consulting LLC: Bay Haven Academies; Imagine Schools; Orlando Science Schools; River City Science Academy; Student Leadership Academy

Paul Bradshaw, David Browning, Chris Dudley, Jerry McDaniel, Jim Smith, Southern Strategy Group: RPAC Racing, LLC

Michael Corcoran, Michael Cantens, Jeff Johnston, Amanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Indian Trail Improvement District

Kim Case, Holland & Knight: Victoria McCullough

Nicole Fried, Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb PA: Fairness in Taxation

David Ramba, Allison Carvajal, Ramba Consulting: Florida Association of Managing Entities

Tim Meenan, Joy Ryan, Meenan PA: Life is Energy Scholarship Foundation, Inc.

Steve Schale, Schale Technologies: Uber Technologies

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Florican, Inc.

***Do you need some “Success Insurance” for Session?  Add some clout to your lobbying team and contact former Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp. Having served both in the Executive Office of the Governor and in the Florida Legislature, he has an in-depth understanding of how the legislative process works behind the scenes. Since leaving public office in January of 2011, he has used his knowledge and experience in state government to help a wide range of clients successfully pursue their goals and objectives.  Don’t take success for granted.  You can reach Governor Kottkamp at Lgjdk1@aol.com.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: CRAFT BEER, ABORTIONS, CORPORATE WELFARE AND JEB BUSH

On Context Florida: When it comes to the craft beer industry in Florida, Fort Walton Beach Tea Party founder Henry Kelley points out a disturbing trend: cronyism is trumping good policy as normally pro-business, anti-regulation legislators are pressured by major distributors (like Budweiser) into using the law to hamper local competition.  Celebrating the decline in abortions in America, former state Senator John Grant believes that as long as Western civilization embraces “fetal homicide” on demand, we will “continue to sink further into the mire of moral relativism and societal decline.” As elected officials quietly construct and perpetuate a corporate welfare scheme, Daniel Tilson thinks Floridians have resigned themselves to a system that “is what it is.” While Jeb Bush considers a White House run in 2016, Florida Board of Governors member Alan Levine shares a few “random thoughts” on how the former governor is able to bring the type of leadership needed in America.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to Fred Piccolo, Todd Pressman and Reps Jimmy Patronis, Joe Saunders, and Elaine Schwartz. Celebrating today is 6th Judicial candidate Ken Lark.

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.