Sunburn for 4/22 – 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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JEB BUSH’S RUSH TO MAKE MONEY MAY BE HURDLE via Michal Barbaro of the New York Times

Bush left public office seven years ago with a net worth of $1.3 million and an unapologetic determination to expand his wealth, telling friends that his finances had suffered during his time in government.

But his efforts to capitalize on his résumé and reputation have thrust him into situations that may prove challenging to explain should he mount a Republican campaign for the White House. Records and interviews show, for example, that Mr. Bush participated in the fevered, last-ditch efforts to prop up Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street bank weighed down by toxic mortgage-backed securities. As a paid adviser to the company in the summer of 2008, he met with Carlos Slim Helú, a Mexican billionaire, as Lehman sought to persuade Mr. Slim to make a sizable investment in the firm, emails show.

… Bush sat on the board of Swisher Hygiene, a soap maker, at a time when, its executives acknowledged, their financial statements were unreliable and their accounting practices inadequate. That admission contributed to a plunge in stock price that has wiped out more than three-quarters of Swisher’s value and touched off a wave of shareholder lawsuits. Several have named Mr. Bush as a defendant, accusing him and fellow board members of insufficient oversight.

And in a stint that could complicate his appeal to conservatives, Mr. Bush serves as a paid director to Tenet Health Care, the giant hospital owner, which supported President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, aggressively encouraged Americans to sign up for insurance under the program and trumpeted the legislation as a boon to the company’s finances.

The path from public service to private riches is well trodden by politicians of both parties. But, even by that measure, Mr. Bush took an aggressive and expansive approach to making money.

… Bush declined to be interviewed. His spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, provided a statement: “Jeb Bush had a successful career in commercial real estate and business before serving as Florida’s governor. After eight rewarding years in public service leading the state, he is enjoying running his own business again.”

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CD 19 SPECIAL ELECTION IS TODAY!

The Republican voters of southwest Florida have either been entertained or appalled by the allegations made by the candidates seeking to replace their congressman, who resigned in January after being arrested for buying cocaine.

The campaign in the solidly GOP district to replace Trey Radel has been marred by allegations of connections to child sex offenders, questionable business dealings and negative attack ads.

The winner of Tuesday’s special election will still likely defeat a Democratic challenger in the June 24 general election.

There are four candidates on the GOP ballot: Lizbeth Benacquisto, a 46-year-old state senator; Curt Clawson, a 54-year-old former CEO of an aluminum wheel company; Michael Dreikorn, a 52-year-old aerospace and defense consultant; and Paige Kreegel, a 55-year-old physician.

Benacquisto has been endorsed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin — who called Benacquisto a fellow “mama grizzly” who will protect southwest Florida.

Clawson has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who called the former Purdue college basketball player “an outsider who will bring refreshing ideas to the halls of Congress.”

As of Friday, Clawson had raised the most money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics — Clawson has raised $2.8 million. Benacquisto has raised about $980,000, while Kreegel has raised $236,000 and Dreikorn, $17,000.

A total of $2.1 million has been spent by outside groups — largely on attack ads.

Voters in the district — which includes most of Lee County and part of Collier County — have been exposed to a barrage of negative television ads, with Benacquisto, Clawson and Kreegel attacking each other’s conservative credentials and background.

Other details about the candidates have emerged.

The Naples Daily News wrote about Clawson’s background as CEO for the company Hayes Lemmerz. A 33-year-old worker for an aluminum plant owned by Hayes Lemmerz died after an explosion. The paper found that the company, which was being run at the time by Clawson, had been cited for safety problems by Indiana state regulators. The company also laid off workers and shut down seven U.S. plants, the paper reported.

Clawson’s opponents have also tried to link him to a sex offender. Local media have reported that Clawson granted a man who pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted aggravated sexual abuse on a child a 30-day power of attorney to handle the mortgage for a home Clawson was purchasing in Utah.

Clawson’s campaign said Clawson didn’t know the man was a registered sex offender or that he had spent time in jail.

TV ADVERTISING IN DISTRICT 19 CONGRESSIONAL RACE TOPPED $2.67 MILLION IN SIX WEEKS via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of PoliticalFixFlorida.com

The advertisements have been airing steadily for months now.

They pop up during the morning news, your favorite Sunday night television show and, of course, during Sunday morning political talk shows. Even sporting events aren’t safe — at least one candidate ran political advertisements during March Madness.

Since the end of February, candidates and political action committees have spent more than $2.67 million on television advertising alone in advance of the District 19 special Republican primary.

That sum doesn’t include advertisements that may have aired on cable networks or on websites where viewers can stream television shows and movies, like Hulu.com.

“We’re in a new normal when it comes to congressional races,” said Sean Foreman, an associate professor of political science at Barry University in Miami Shores. “A million dollars used to be for an elite (race), but now you can expect several million dollars to be spent in a House race.”

MY PREDICTION is that Lizbeth Benacquisto will still be one of the best people in Florida politics no matter what happens on Tuesday.

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IN NOD TO CHANGING DEMOS, SCOTT CAMPAIGN AIRING EARLY SPANISH-LANGUAGE CAMPAIGN AD via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Gov. Scott airs his campaign’s first Spanish-language TV commercial, an earlier-than-usual Hispanic outreach effort that reflects Florida’s changing demographics as well as the depth of the Republican’s aggressive $6 million ad blitz .

No other Florida governor has advertised so heavily — especially in Spanish — nearly seven months before his election.

The ad’s title and message, “Oportunidad,” jibes with two English-language positive spots Scott began running in mid-March. It’s all about jobs, which have increased on his watch.

“Yo no soy un experto en la política pero yo sé el valor de un trabajo,” Scott, looking into the camera, says in the new commercial (“I’m not an expert in politics, but I know how valuable a job is”).

The rest of the 30-second ad, voiced-over by a woman, tells Scott’s rags-to-riches story.

THE DGA’S BIG MONEY FL INVESTMENT: $500,000 FOR CHARLIE CRIST via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

The Democratic Governor’s Association is all in for Crist, cutting a single $500,000 check that showed national Democrats believe the Florida Governor’s mansion is in their reach.

The donation is the largest contribution to Crist’s political committee, Charlie Crist for Florida. And it’s one of the largest given this campaign cycle.

“It’s just one more realization that Charlie is going to be the nominee,” Bob Poe, Crist’s fundraiser, told the Miami Herald. “This is probably the first installment from the DGA. And it’s not only their blessing of Charlie. But it’s the recognition that this is real. Charlie has proven himself time and again.”

Crist is ahead in the polls, but he trails Gov. Scott in fundraising.

Still, Crist has raised a noteworthy sum — $10.9 million for his campaign and political committee – since November.

Poe acknowledges the campaign will still be outspent by Scott, who wants to burn about $100 million. Crist hopes to have half that.

The DGA’s rival, the Republican Governor’s Association, dropped a single $2.5 million contribution on Scott in January.

CRIST OUTRAISING SCOTT AMONG SARASOTA DONORS via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Scott has a big fundraising advantage over Crist.

But in the early going it is a very different story in Sarasota and Manatee counties, where Crist has raised almost twice as much from locals for his campaign account than Scott has for his main campaign account.

The most recent campaign finance records show that Scott has raised $2.5 million overall in his main re-election campaign account. Crist has raised $2.3 million.

But overall in Sarasota and Manatee counties Crist has an early advantage over Scott among local donors. Crist has raised just over $118,000 from donors in the two counties, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Scott meanwhile is just under $61,000 for his main re-election account.

Just among donors who listed Sarasota as their mailing address, Crist had raised $78,000 for his campaign. Scott collected $23,191 from Sarasota donors.

SUN-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: CRIST SHOULD DEBATE RICH

“A debate with a smart liberal Democrat like Rich would give him a chance to prove his bona fides. It would give him the chance to show Florida Democrats he cares about their issues. And it would give him a chance to energize Democratic voters who may be inclined to skip the gubernatorial race, which coincides with the November mid-term congressional elections, when turnout is historically low.

“Crist also can show his concern for South Florida by showing some well-deserved respect to Rich, a senior stateswoman here.

“And remember, Crist has been competitively absent from the political scene since losing the U.S. Senate race to Marco Rubio in 2010. Debating Nan Rich, even if only once, would serve to sharpen his reflexes and better prepare him for the bare-knuckles debates he will face with incumbent Gov. Rick Scott after the primary.

“Charlie Crist does not need to debate Nan Rich to win the Democratic nomination for governor. And chances are, he won’t.

“But he should.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Crist will speak to the Capital Tiger Bay Club. Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee. 11:30 a.m.

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SCOTUS REJECTS RICK SCOTT’S REQUEST TO REVIEW DRUG TESTING DECISION via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Gov. Scott’s request that it review a lower court ruling that his drug testing policy for state employees was unconstitutional.

The decision was a victory for labor unions and their legal advocates.

The court’s action leaves in place an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Scott’s executive order making consent to suspicionless drug testing a condition of employment was unconstitutional. A judge said it violated workers’ Fourth Amendment rights, though he allowed for exceptions in “certain safety-sensitive categories of employees — for instance, employees who operate or pilot large vehicles, or law enforcement officers who carry firearms in the course of duty.”

Scott asked the U.S. Supreme Court in January to review that decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union and labor unions, which challenged Scott’s 2011 executive order covering some 85,000 employees, criticized the decision to appeal as futile and a waste of taxpayer money.

Scott’s executive order in 2011 required random drug testing of current state employees as well as a pre-testing of prospective job applicants in agencies under his control.

Scott faced a similar defeat Dec. 31, 2013, when a federal judge struck down a law requiring Florida cash welfare recipients first pass a drug test. It could constitute an illegal search and seizure, a judge said.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – FLORIDA LEADS NATION IN NEW JOB CREATION via Evan S. Benn of the Miami Herald

Miami-Dade and Broward counties each created 5,000 jobs in March, contributing to Florida’s nation-leading total of 22,900 new jobs, according to government data released Friday.

… The good news: Miami-Dade and Broward have added 57,900 jobs since March 2013, and the state is up 225,100 jobs from a year ago. Miami-Dade’s 32,900 newly added jobs since last March represents a 3.1 percent increase and is the second-largest gain in the state, behind Orange County (Orlando).

“Florida’s economic turnaround continued in March, with significant growth in private-sector jobs, high job demand, and an increasing employment reflecting renewed confidence among job seekers,” Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, said in a statement. “These positive trends are the result of sound economic policy in Florida.”

… Florida’s 22,900 new jobs in March were less than the 34,400 private-sector jobs added in February (revised from 33,400), the biggest one-month gain since October 2010. March was the 44th consecutive month of positive job growth after the state lost jobs for three straight years.

GOV. SCOTT ANNOUNCES $2.1 MILLION GRANT FOR APALACHICOLA BAY ASSISTANCE via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News

Gov. Scott announced the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has received a $2.1 million supplemental National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide training and other re-employment services to approximately 94 oystermen to prepare for careers in other industries.

Workers eligible for these services must have participated in the temporary jobs component of this emergency grant, which was provided in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.

The $2.1 million grant is separate from the funding previously received through FEMA’s Public Assistance Program as well as the $6.3 million in projects Gov. Scott announced in March that will be provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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SHOOTING DOWN THE CONSPIRACY THEORY ABOUT GOV. SCOTT AND SB 1400 Full blog post here

With two weeks left in the 2014 legislation session, conspiracy theories abound. In fact, this is the second one I’ve written about just today.

The latest? That Sen. Joe Negron is holding up legislation which would offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants just so Gov. Scott can swoop in at the end, convince enough senators to hear and pass SB 1400, and then get credit in this election year for coming to the rescue of a bill seen as pivotal to winning the support of non-Cuban Hispanic voters.

That sounds like a strategy cooked up by Wile E. Coyote.

First of all, a conspiracy like that would involve at least Scott, LG Carlos Lopez Cantera, gubernatorial Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth, Senate President Gaetz, House Speaker Weatherford, and Sens. Negron and Jack Latvala, as well as some of their staffs. It’s difficult to imagine all of those people keeping such an elaborate plan a secret.

Even if all of these lips could remain sealed, some of the conspirators’ would need to be either really good actors or have incredible poker faces. For example, Sen. Latvala said he was “shocked” by Negron’s maneuvering. Even if Latvala is feigning surprise, as would be necessary for this kind of conspiracy to work, it’s not like Jack Latvala to let himself look like he’s been caught with his pants down.

Also, if there is a conspiracy and Gaetz is in on it, why would he send a letter to his constituents and write an op-ed critical of SB 1400? Could he really be that disingenuous? I doubt it.

Rather, I believe those who tell me this is Don Gaetz’ final kiss-off to a governor he’s never really liked.

Again, there are a lot of conspiracy theories working their way through the capital right now. This Wile E. Coyote conspiracy theory about passing SB 1400 looks as stupid as strapping yourself to a rocket in order to catch The Road Runner.

MEANWHILE … LATVALA FILES THREE AMENDMENTS TO REVIVE DREAM’ER TUITION MEASURE via Matt Dixon of the PoliticalFix.com

The language is now a proposed amendment onto a bill, SB 1191, sponsored by state Sen. John Legg that deals with online learning at public universities; a large education-related bill, SB 950, authored by state Sen. Kelli Stargell another Legg bill, SB 1394, dealing with industry certifications that can be earned by high school students.

The language would apply to all undocumented students who attended Florida high school for three years. Supporters say they don’t want to punish students who were brought to the United States illegally at a very young age by their parents.

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THE AL LAWSON CONSPIRACY THEORY Full blog post here

One of the most divisive issues left to be settled during the final two weeks of the legislative session is whether to separate FAMU’s and Florida State’s engineering colleges.

Interim Provost Rodner Wright told reporters last week that Thrasher’s idea caught the university off guard, especially at a time when the school is setting up new leadership after the selection of President Elmira Mangum.

It’s the selection of Mangum that has led to a conspiracy theory about the engineering school.

Call it Al Lawson’s revenge.

The theory begins with Lawson applying in December to be president of FAMU.

Unfortunately for Lawson, he’s not interviewed for the job and he doesn’t make a list of semifinalists for the post. (Don’t think it didn’t hurt Lawson that the interviews for the job he wanted were conducted in a building named after him.)

On March 6, Lawson turns more than a few heads by registering to lobby for Florida State University.

Days later, Sen. John Thrasher reveals his plans to separate the two engineering schools.

Meanwhile, Lawson, who is credited with shepherding the original legislation that established the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, says proposing to split up the joint college shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the union has been unstable for both FAMU and FSU for nearly 20 years, reports Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Lawson said FAMU should be assertive in making its case that, if the engineering school is yielded to FSU, it must get written assurance from the Board of Governors that the body will provide support to both FAMU and FSU.

“I wouldn’t be opposed, if I was FAMU, to having its own engineering school, but with (the assurance) of resources,” Lawson said, pointing out successful engineering programs at both North Carolina A&T and Howard universities. “You don’t want to say I can’t operate without Florida State. It was never a successful marriage. Those problems have not gone away, and people have reached their limit.”

Lawson is also vouching for Thrasher.

“I have always trusted John Thrasher,” he said. “He’s always been a friend to FAMU.”

Let’s hope FAMU’s hiring of Elmira Mangum is worth it because it appears like it is about to lose its partnership with FSU over its snubbing of Al Lawson.

BOUSQUET COLUMN: TOUGH TIMES FOR VICTIMS IN FLORIDA’S CAPITOL 

Dozens of victims of gross negligence by the state, cities and counties will have to wait for justice at least one more year because the 2014 session will end without the Legislature doing its job.

When someone is abused, maimed or killed at the hands of government, they can’t collect more than $200,000 in damages, even when a jury awards more money or when the government admits wrongdoing. The doctrine of sovereign immunity is designed to protect governments — and taxpayers — from damage awards that could bankrupt them.

So it’s the Legislature’s job to consider the facts and pass claims bills to compensate victims and their families.

… Legislative leaders say the claims bill system is broken and won’t pass any claims bills. They can’t agree on how to fix things, making this a vivid and very sad illustration that what really matters in Tallahassee is what lawmakers don’t do, not what they do.

Senate President Gaetz is the Capitol’s most influential critic of the system, which he says is poisoned by arbitrariness and lobbyist influence.

“The claims bill process as it has occurred depends more on who the lobbyist is or how hard the biscuits were that morning than as a thoughtful, deliberate approach on the merits,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said he has asked for thoughtful ideas on how to fix the system, but no one has offered any. Lobbyists for claimants and their families have suggested some changes, such as a standing joint House-Senate committee whose only job is to consider claims bills, and to limit legislative review to cases that have been decided by juries or where government has admitted its wrongdoing and is willing to pay damages.

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NEWLY-MERGED HOUSE PENSION REFORM PROPOSAL DRAWS CONCERNS via Sascha Cordner of WFSU

A passionately-debated effort to overhaul the Florida Retirement System has now been merged with a widely-supported effort to fix local government pensions.  It’s part of an ongoing push by House Speaker Weatherford to get his state pension reform effort over the finish line. But, many spoke out against the now-merged House proposal.

Rep. Jim Boyd’s bill now combines two formerly separate proposals. One makes changes to the Florida Retirement System, and essentially incentivizes new employees to go into one of the less popular retirement options—which Weatherford says could save the state money.

That plan — similar to an effort that died in the Senate last year — closes the traditional pension plan to Senior Management and Elected Officials.

And, it changes the pension plan as the retirement default for those who haven’t made a selection within eight months. Instead, it shifts new employees hired after July 1 of next year into the other option known as the 401K-style investment plan. It also extends the amount of time it takes for those in the pension plan to receive their benefits from 8 to 10 years. Under that plan, it affects newly hired public employees. That includes not only state government workers, but teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

The House proposal now includes a separate bill, which aims to fix the troubled local government pension system that essentially affects police officers and firefighters who are under that local retirement system — different from the FRS.

The aim is to restructure how insurance premium tax revenue is used to fund those retirement benefits. It’s a measure that’s been worked on for years, has received little opposition, and only a few “no” votes in either chamber this year.

But, Jim Tolley, the Florida Professional Firefighters’ President says he can’t support the proposal now that it includes the Florida Retirement System part — especially since lawmakers really aren’t sure about the fiscal feasibility of the changes since they’re using data from last year to advance the measure.

SENATE BUCKS ‘VINNY’ AND SHEDS ‘SHAKEDOWN’ LANGUAGE FROM ITS BEER GROWLER BILL via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

State lawmakers are backing off some controversial provisions of a beer bill likened to a mob-like shakedown of Florida’s exploding craft brew industry.

The bill, SB 1714 sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, has been pushed by beer distributors and retailers to further regulate Florida’s exploding craft breweries trying to expand and sell their own brews on premises and also in bottles or jugs known as growlers.

It cleared its final Senate committee after more than an hour of complaints from small brewers from around the state.

The bill would legalize 64-ounce “growler” jugs of beer to be filled in brewpubs, but would also subject larger craft brewers that make 2,000 kegs or more a year to the “three-tiered” regulatory system requiring beer-makers to sell their bottled or canned products through distributors.

Brewers that produce their own brew and want to sell it in bottles on site would have originally been required to pay distributors for that right — even without the beer leaving the premises. Under the changes, distributors would have to pick up the packaged beer and bring it back to the brewpub.

Breweries that sell fewer than 2,000 kegs — or 1,000 barrels — would still be exempt from going through distributors to sell their packaged beer, a limit beer brewers called “laughable” because it wouldn’t cover the cost of producing and packaging the beer.

That means brewers like Orlando Brewing Company, which produces twice as much as the limit, or Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery (which makes 78,000 kegs annually) would have to sell their bottled or packaged beers through distributors then buy them back to sell them in their stores.

WEAKER ETHICS BILL MOVES IN HOUSE, LIKELY PART OF HORSE TRADING via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

The House took up a high-priority Senate ethics bill for the first time and advanced its own weaker version — a sure sign of horse-trading between the two chambers in the session’s crucial final days.

The House State Affairs Committee passed a version of the ethics bill after removing the Senate’s stricter language and substituting its own on SB 846, which is sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala. The 33-page strike-all amendment, which some House members had not read, was offered by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, chair of the House ethics subcommittee, which did little of consequence this session. The original Senate bill was deliberated in the session’s first week, an indication that the House may not share the Senate’s enthusiasm for stronger ethics laws.

The House version strips out the so-called Ken Pruitt provision, which would prohibit local elected officials from also lobbying for profit. Pruitt, a former Senate president, is the elected property appraiser in St. Lucie County, who also maintains a Tallahassee lobbying practice. The House version also removes restrictions on post-employment lobbying by officials and board members of Enterprise Florida, and takes out the lobbyist registration and fee disclosure provisions from most special taxing districts (only the five water management district boards are in the House version).

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BUDGET TALKS OPEN WITH GAETZ CALLING FOR “BUSINESSLIKE SCHEDULE” via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

House Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gaetz kicked off budget negotiations between the two sides, predicting mostly smooth and swift-running talks toward completing a roughly $75 billion election-year spending plan.

The House and Senate have about a week to complete a process that usually takes at least twice that time. Gaetz said the Legislature’s absence last week for the Passover-Easter holidays will force a “very businesslike schedule” for the session’s homestretch.

The session is scheduled to end May 2. But because the constitution requires that the final budget proposal sit for 72 hours before a vote takes place.

A tax-and-fee cut package of $500 million, also sought by Gov. Rick Scott, has been agreed-on, although details of about $100 million worth of givebacks still must be settled. Public school dollars are close, with a per-pupil increase of about 3 percent likely.

But spending on dozens of hometown projects and big-ticket environmental proposals like Everglades restoration, waterway and springs cleanup loom as some of the biggest differences between the two sides.

The House and Senate approved dueling budgets earlier this month that now must be reconciled.  Both sides topped the $74.2 billion blueprint Gov. Rick Scott rolled out in January.

The Senate would spend $74.8 billion, while the House weighs in at $75.3 billion. Each would prove the largest spending plans in state history.

HOUSE, SENATE BUDGETS DON’T SEE EYE-TO-EYE ON MEMBER-REQUESTED PROJECTS via Matt Dixon of the PoliticalFix.com

The House and Senate are roughly $30 million apart on lawmaker-requested projects as final negotiations begin Monday.

The Senate made its first offer to align with the House budget today, but includes no funding for roughly $26 million for projects included in the House plan. The House’s budget left out $30 for projects requested by members of the Senate.

It’s common for pet projects requested by lawmakers to be used as negotiating chips by both sides as final budget negotiations heat up. Overall, both chambers crafted $11.6 billion plans, with the Senate’s first offer roughly $40 million less than the House plan.

The biggest earmark fight is $10 million the House wants for SkyRise Miami, a 1,000 foot tower being proposed by a Miami developer.

Other earmarks funded by the House, but not the Senate include: $1.5 million for the airport in Lakeland, the hometown of House budget chief Seth McKeel, $200,000 for the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce, and $100,000 for the Ponder House in St. Petersburg.

Money in the House plan not included in the Senate’s spending blue-print include: $500,000 for the Fort Myers McCollum Hall, $1 million for Circus Sarasota, and $1 million for municipal docks in Wakulla County.

HAVE FUN: “Members should anticipate the House recessing from scheduled Floor session next week as necessary to allow time for conference meetings.  Conference committee members should also anticipate weekend, morning and evening meetings outside of our scheduled Floor session.” — Speaker Weatherford to House members in a memo outlining the tentative budget conference.

LEGISLATIVE PACE QUICKENS TUESDAY IN TALLAHASSEE Full blog post here

In a noticeably quicker legislative pace, more than 60 bills face the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, as they start a marathon session to consider bills on subjects including pension reform, the House’s tax-cut proposals and legalizing the strain of medical marijuana called “Charlotte’s Web.”

The House also meets in a mid-morning session to consider bills on a number of bills, including e-cigarette sales to minors, human trafficking and setting restrictions on lawsuits stemming from nursing home injuries, as well as a proposal expanding the powers of physician assistants to prescribe medications.

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CHRIS LATVALA FOR HD 67 TO HOLD FUNDRAISER APRIL 30 Full blog post here

The event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Rumba Island Bar & Grill in Clearwater.

Among those attending, include Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, past Clearwater Mayors Brian Aungst and Frank Hibbard, former state Rep. Jim Frishe, Clearwater City Council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito, Belleair Bluffs Commissioner Suzy Sofer and Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority Chair Ronnie Duncan.

Also supporting Latvala will be fellow Republican House hopefuls Chris Sprowls, the District 65 candidate facing Democrat Carl Zimmerman, and Bill Young II, who is vying for Dwight Dudley’s District 68 seat.

Rumba Island Bar & Grill is at 1800 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in Clearwater.

To RSVP, either email chrislatvala2014@gmail.com or call (727) 545-9566.

FORMER REP. PLAKON QUALIFIES FOR BALLOT BY PETITION Full blog post here

Longwood Republican Scott Plakon announced he is the first to qualify by petition for the House District 29 ballot.

Plakon, a former state representative who served in the House between 2008 and 2012, is running against first term Democratic Rep. Mike Clelland for the seat covering much of Seminole County, and the cities of Lake Mary, Longwood and parts of Sanford.

To qualify for the ballot by petition in HD 29, Plakon submitted 1,090 voter signatures, surpassing the required 1,036, or 1 percent of registered voters in the district.

WINTER PARK MAYOR KEN BRADLEY ENDORSES SCOTT STURGILL IN HD 30 Full blog post here

Citing a strong business background and community involvement, Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley formally announced his endorsement of Scott Sturgill for House District 30.

Sturgill, CEO of Durable Safety Products and served on the Seminole County Soil and Water Conservation District, wants to knock-off incumbent Democrat Karen Castor Dentel in 2014 for the seat covering parts of Seminole and Orange Counties. First, he must get past Bob Cortes in the Republican primary on August 26.

“Tallahassee needs business people like us instead of career politicians,” Bradley said in a statement. As a business owner, you know the importance of creating jobs and balancing a checkbook—not frivolously spending other’s money.

“Thank you for your willingness to serve our state and make a real difference creating jobs, keeping taxes low, improving our educational system and assuring we will be safe. I wholeheartedly endorse your campaign.”

GOP CANDIDATE SAYS HE DONATED TO PRO-OBAMACARE DEMOCRAT TO DEFEAT NONEXISTENT HEALTH LAW via Shadee Ashtari of the Huffington Post

Julio Gonzalez, a GOP candidate for House District 74, has come under fire by local Republican groups for a $500 contribution he made to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2008.

Gonzalez told conservative groups, including the Village Walk Republican Club and the Republican Club of South Sarasota County, that the contribution was a strategic ploy to defeat Obamacare.

However, his April 2008 donation to Wasserman Schultz, an avid Obamacare supporter who is now chair of the Democratic National Committee, predates the passage of the Affordable Care Act by more than two years.

Gonzalez told local Republican groups he made the donation to facilitate a meeting with Wasserman Schultz in which he could voice his concerns about Obamacare … Barack Obama did not clinch the Democratic nomination until June of 2008 … But in explanations to local Republican groups, Gonzalez paints a vivid picture of going toe-to-toe with Wasserman Schultz in a heated argument over Obamacare.

Gonzalez attempted to revamp his conservative credentials by calling Wasserman Schultz “horrible” and insisting that he “got into a fight with Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It was awesome.”

SEAN SHAW BREAKS $150K MARK IN FUNDRAISING FOR HD 61 RACE Full blog post here

Democratic hopeful Sean Shaw announced reaching a significant milestone with more than $150,000 in donations for his House District 61 campaign.

The Tampa attorney raised $159,719.77 to date, widening the gap as the fundraising frontrunner in the race to succeed term-limited Rep. Betty Reed. In addition, Shaw has nearly $106,000 cash-on-hand.

Shaw faces Tatiana Denson, Sharon Carter and Ed Narain in the heavily Democratic area that covers Seminole Heights, East Tampa, Ybor City and parts of West Tampa.

***Wage theft is a serious and growing problem in Florida. The Florida Legislature is now taking up dangerous bills to make it harder for victims to recover their rightful earnings. Tell your legislators to stand up for Florida’s workers vote AGAINST SB 926 and HB 957. Sign the petition today!***

BIG SPENDERS AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL via POLITICO Influence

It’s quarterly lobbying disclosure time. Reports will continue to trickle in until late tonight, but here’s an early snapshot of lobbying numbers. The biggest spender so far is the American Medical Association, which dropped $6.3 million on lobbying in the first quarter. That’s up 50 percent from the last quarter of 2013 – when the association spent $4.2 million on lobbying. Dow Chemical dropped $5.1 million on lobbying – up nearly 250 percent from the last quarter of 2013. The company has been embroiled in a major fight over liquefied natural gas exports – squaring off against energy companies that want access to foreign markets. Business Roundtable reported a $4.2 million quarter, while Boeing reported $3.8 million. FedEx reported $3.3 million in lobbying spending. All three companies are about on track with with their previous quarter spending. FedEx rival UPS,however, saw a significant bump in lobbying expenditures – going from $1.5 million in the final quarter of 2013 to $3 million in the first quarter of 2013.

Other companies and associations reporting over $1 million in lobbying expenditures: CTIA – The Wireless Association, the American Chemistry Council, the Koch Companies Public Sector, Novartis, General Dynamics, Eli Lilly and others. The Amalgamated Transit Union reports a surprising $5 million in lobbying spending, but representative for the labor group says that is an error. Its quarterly spending is, instead, $50,000.

FDOT AND SPORTS CELEBRITIES TO UNVEIL A STATEWIDE LITTER PREVENTION CAMPAIGN

The Florida Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, will officially launch and unveil elements of a new statewide, comprehensive anti-litter campaign, Roadside Litter Prevention Education Media Campaign (RLPE). Members of the Legislature, FDOT and FHWA representatives, state agency representatives, professional and collegiate sports figures, corporate partners and community organization leaders will be present.

The RLPE’s mission is to educate and encourage Florida’s motoring public to take a greater responsibility for helping the department maintain a litter-free roadside on the State Highway System, with the vision to promote Florida’s highways as valuable litter-free assets where the motoring public can enjoy the natural beauty of Florida’s landscape.

The RLPE unveiling takes place on Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the Courtyard of the State Capitol. The Capitol is located at 400 South Monroe Street. During the unveiling, the campaign’s slogan and brand will be revealed. For more information on the FDOT unveiling, contact Bernadette Morris with Sonshine Communications at (305) 948-8063, ext. 201.

JAMES MADISON INSTITUTE ANNUAL DINNER “LIVE FREE OR MOVE…TO FLORIDA” ON WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday, The James Madison Institute will host the 2014 JMI Annual Dinner “Live Free or Move…to Florida” featuring Wall Street Journal contributor and Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Stephen Moore and author of “How Money Walks” Travis Brown in a revealing presentation of their just-released book “Wealth of States.”

Following their presentation, Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford will join in a casual conversation to recapture the memorable moments of their leadership tenure.

The event will be held at the Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center in Tallahassee. The VIP reception starts at 6 p.m. and the program starts at 7 p.m. Tickets on sale now. Visit here for more information.

LAUREN’S KIDS’ FINAL MILE

Lauren Book, child sexual abuse survivor and nationally-recognized child protection advocate working to change Florida laws to better prevent abuse and help survivors to heal, will be in Tallahassee today to complete her fifth annual 1,500-mile journey across the state.

At noon, Book will attend the “Rally in Tally” at the Historic Florida Capitol Building.

Scheduled to attend are Gov. Scott, Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera, Florida Cabinet members, Senate President Gaetz, House Speaker Weatherford, Rep. Matt Gaetz and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters.

SPOTTED at tonight’s fundraiser for MavPAC: Senator Anitere Flores, Chris Dudley, Jose Gonzalez, Mike Grissom, Jesse Panuccio, Marc Reichelderfer, Monica Russell, Melissa Sellers, Ryan Tyson, and Marlene Williams.

***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, 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: SINE DIE 2014, RICK SCOTT, MATERNITY LEAVE AND KEY WEST TOMATOES

On Context Florida: Florida legislators, looking toward Sine Die of the 2014 session and upcoming re-election campaigns, have actually set the legislative bar so low that it is impossible for them to “fail,” writes Daniel Tilson. States cannot tax themselves into prosperity, according toStephen Moore and Travis H. Brown, authors of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States. Their research shows that Florida is enjoying an impressive economic growth and a relatively quick turnaround from the 2008 recession thanks largely to the smart, pro-growth tax policies of Gov. Rick Scott. Childcare is not an option for many working parents, but a necessity, whether they can afford it, says UCF women’s studies instructor Leandra Preston-Sidleris, who has the “luxury” of working full-time from home. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate that parents of newborns get paid leave. Linda Cunningham proved — through hard work and constant diligence — that a tomato can grow in Key West.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

NAPSTER BILLIONAIRE’S NEXT MISSION: CONQUER POLITICS via Alexander Burns and Alex Byers of Politico

By any standard, Sean Parker is a very cool donor. And this year, the 34-year-old co-founder of Napster is poised to bring his considerable fortune into the political world with fresh intensity, retaining advisers to bring new focus and sophistication to his political enterprises and preparing to make a significant investment in the 2014 election cycle.

If the exact direction of Parker’s new push into politics is still taking shape, he is already working actively to build new and stronger political relationships. He has met privately in recent months with some starkly different politicians, huddling with both Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning GOP presidential hopeful, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the populist progressive Democrat. He is eyeing a range of 2014 elections to get involved in and has spoken with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist about his party-switching comeback bid.

Parker will co-host a San Francisco fundraiser for state Attorney General Kamala Harris, along with Silicon Valley super-elites such as Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Laurene Powell Jobs and uber-investors Ron Conway, Marc Benioff and John Doerr.

On the operational side, Parker has hired Chris Garland, who recently stepped down as chief of staff to California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, to work in a political director role. The former Facebook president is conferring with national strategists about his political engagement. Among his advisers is Addisu Demissie, who managed New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s 2013 campaign and now heads up the West Coast office of the Messina Group, the consulting firm founded by President BObama’s 2012 campaign manager.

Parker’s allies say that his political goals remain broadly defined: Unlike other politically-inclined billionaires, such as the conservative Koch brothers and liberal environmentalist Tom Steyer, Parker hopes to avoid a purely partisan role as he ventures more deeply into politics.

Having donated almost exclusively to Democrats up to this point, Parker made a trip to Washington in December for the purpose of meeting quietly with Republican officeholders and strategists around town. He plans to donate to both sides starting this year, associates say, for the first time committing big sums to aid Republicans he views as credible deal-makers in a bitterly divided Congress.

At least for now, the Silicon Valley billionaire is primarily interested in fixing what he views as a broken political process, promoting voter engagement and supporting politicians who work across the aisle — all goals far easier to state than to accomplish.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Rep. Frank Artiles, the Florida Ports Council’s Doug Wheeler, and World Partnership’s Mary Ellen Upton.

VOTING IN TALLYMADNESS’ Final Four ends tonight. It’s Scott Ross vs. Jim Magill and Mark Delegal vs. Jon Johnson. Cast your ballot now!

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.