Sunburn for 4/29 – 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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POLL SHOWS PROBLEMS FOR OBAMA, PERIL FOR SENATE DEMOCRATS via Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal

President Obama’s approval rating remains ominously weak among the constituencies that could tip the battle for control of the Senate in November, the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll has found.

Obama’s overall approval, standing at just 41 percent, remains near the lowest level ever recorded in the 20 Heartland Monitor Polls since April 2009. And only one in four adults say his actions are increasing economic opportunity for people like them, also among his worst showings in the polls. His numbers are especially meager among the non-college and older whites that dominate the electorate in the seven red-leaning states where Democrats must defend Senate seats in November.

The one solace for Democrats in the new poll is that Congress is even more unpopular than the president. Just 11 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Congress’s performance, while 80 percent disapproved. In the five times the Heartland Monitor has tested Congress’ rating since November 2012, only last November did it score more poorly, with just 9 percent approving and 84 percent disapproving.

Just 27 percent of those polled said they believed the country is moving in the right direction; 62 percent say they consider it off on the wrong track. That’s slightly better than the results last fall, but much gloomier than the assessment around Obama’s reelection in fall 2012. The racial gap on this question is huge: 41 percent of minorities say the country is moving in the right direction, but only about half as many whites (22 percent) agree. (Among whites without a college degree, just one in six see the country moving on the right track, only about half the level among whites with at least a four-year degree.)

In the latest poll, Obama also faces a formidable intensity gap that could foreshadow turnout challenges for Democrats: The share of adults who strongly disapprove of his performance (39 percent) is nearly double that of those who strongly approve (21 percent).

More troubling for Democrats still may be his especially precarious position with constituencies that loom large for the seven Democratic candidates trying to hold Senate seats in states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

BILL CLINTON TO SPEAK AT FLA. DEMS JEFFESON-JACKSON DINNER ON JUNE 28 via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Former President Bill Clinton, one of the Democratic Party’s most-popular figures, is headlining the Florida party’s Jefferson Jackson dinner June 28 at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.

Clinton’s appearance indicates how serious the Florida Democratic Party is in trying to compete with Gov. Rick Scott’s cash-raising juggernaut in 2014 — and it’s also a sign of the Clinton family’s interest in swing-state Florida as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mulls a 2016 presidential run.

A top Hillary Clinton ally, former campaign manager for President Obama’s re-election, is Jim Messina, who’s a top adviser to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

Florida’s Democratic party isn’t the only one enjoying the former president’s visit. Mr. Clinton will headline a Jefferson-Jackson dinner for Michigan’s Democratic party as well.

Tickets for the Florida event start at $225.

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BUSH ALUMNI TEST WHETHER FAMILY NAME IS LIABILITY IN 2016 via Michael Bender of Bloomberg

As a key player in George W. Bush’s administration, Ed Gillespie was a vocal supporter of Bush’s unsuccessful plan to revamp U.S. immigration law.

Gillespie is taking a different stance this year when it comes to an immigration plan backed by the former president’s brother, Jeb Bush. In campaigning for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, Gillespie has distanced himself from Bush’s plans for undocumented immigrants and for new education standards.

Gillespie, 52, is one of more than two dozen former Bush administration officials seeking state or federal offices this year in races from New York to Nebraska. How they embrace the Bush brand — running on it, or running away from it — could be an early market test for Jeb Bush, now considering his own presidential campaign.

The family brand is one of Jeb Bush’s biggest assets and biggest liabilities, as the younger brother of George W. Bush and son of ex-President George H.W. Bush.

How voters react, following a Bush presidency marked by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and growing federal budget deficits, may show how difficult the path to the Republican presidential nomination will be.

The public spotlight that was uncomfortable for his family at times in Florida, where he was governor from 1999 to 2007, would intensify in a national campaign. And his personal finances — he runs his own business consulting firm and serves on several corporate boards, including Tenet Healthcare Corp., the third largest U.S. hospital company — would be scrutinized.

JEB VS. MARCO PRIMARY CONTEST UNLIKELY via William March of the Tampa Tribune

Even though Bush and Marco Rubio are looking and sounding serious as potential 2016 presidential candidates, their closest associates in Florida say they don’t believe the two will run against each other.

By the time of the 2016 Florida presidential primary at the latest, if both are still interested, one probably will defer to the other, those associates say. Before that, however, both are likely to test the waters and their fundraising and political support.

In recent comments on the possibility of a Bush candidacy, Rubio has said he’ll make his decision without regard to who else is running. At the same time, high-level national Republican donors are urging urge Bush to enter the race.

Bush has acknowledged he’s considering a 2016 run. Since a decline in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ratings, blamed on the politically motivated shutdown of bridge traffic lanes, Republican campaign funders are widely reported viewing Bush as the candidate of the “mainstream,” business-oriented side of the GOP.

Rubio, meantime, has made staff moves recently that indicate a more serious attempt to develop his political base nationwide.

It’s been an up-and-down ride for both, however, as they’ve taken political stances that could alienate the party’s political base — both, for example, favoring immigration reform including a path to citizenship for illegals, and Bush in favor of the Common Core national education standards.

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JIM MESSINA TO CRIST BACKERS: IGNORE THE POLLS via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

Even as a Mason-Dixon poll released last week shows Gov. Scott and former Gov. Crist in a dead heat, Crist’s team is insisting the polls are meaningless. On Monday, the Crist camp showcased Democratic strategist Jim Messina, best known for his work guiding President Barack Obama’s successful campaigns, who let supporters know he expected this to be a tight contest.

“I’m going to tell you the same thing I said at least once a week during President Obama’s 2012 campaign,” Messina emailed Crist supporters on Monday. “Forget about the polls. One says we’re up, another says we’re down, a third says we’re tied — that crap is just noise. This race is going to come down to the wire. What will put us over the top is the grassroots organization we build together.

“You might see some crazy headlines over the next six months. Don’t get distracted by the horse race,” Messina added. “Just keep your head down and focus on the task at hand: electing a governor who will do the right thing for Floridians. The only thing that matters is how big we build this organization, and how effectively we can turn out the votes for the only poll that counts — the one on November 4th.”

REFUSAL TO DEBATE NAN RICH SHOWS CRIST ALREADY HAS UPPER HAND AMONG FLA. DEMS. via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Whether or not Charlie Crist and Nan Rich end up debating before their Democratic gubernatorial primary, the debate over whether they should face off illustrates Crist’s influence in his new party and the widespread assumption that he’ll be the Democratic nominee.

… The Democratic Executive Committees in Hillsborough and Duval counties have passed resolutions calling on Crist and Rich to debate and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch has said a debate would be “worthwhile.”

But other Democratic leaders have remained on the sidelines, which has the effect of helping Crist, while others have endorsed Crist’s argument that a Democratic debate would hinder efforts to topple Scott.

“This is an issue for the candidates to determine between them,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.

MEANWHILE ..JIM GREER SAYS IT’S FINALLY TIME TO TELL ALL ABOUT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OF FLORIDA SCANDAL via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times

Now, Jim Greer is ready to tell all.

The former leader of the state Republican Party, finishing the final stretch of an 18-month prison sentence for dipping into the GOP’s coffers, has a book ready to hit the shelves.

Fifteen months ago, Greer was the talk of the state. He was threatening to tell every dirty secret from every dark corner of Florida at his trial. He was bragging that the movers ought to be worried and the shakers should be shaking.

And then he inexplicably entered a guilty plea before the fun ever began. Greer went to prison, politicians went back to work and accountability went missing.

If Greer, 51, wants us to believe his soon-to-be-published stories of shenanigans and betrayals, then he needs to fully explain why he wasn’t willing to defend himself in a courtroom. And why he let those supposed scoundrels off the hook in 2013.

Does the book have the potential to damage Crist’s run for governor? Crist’s camp seemed so dismissive of Greer’s claims they didn’t even entertain the question.

My guess is the book will be a minor headache for Crist. There will be unflattering stories and maybe a shady insinuation. But, at this point, it’s hard to imagine any earth-shaking revelations. Especially when everyone else will be rushing to suggest that we consider the source.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will listen to Florida seniors about the impact of Medicare Advantage cuts, according to a release.

PUSHBACK: “How is it possible that he is spending the last week of session deceiving seniors with a known lie about a federal issue instead of working on in-state tuition, medicaid expansion, school funding, etc.??? I’ve known most of you all for like six years now. I’m honestly asking you. It’s like he’s a walking spam email of lies with an endless supply of taxpayer cash to forward himself around all day.” — Kevin Cate

EDITORIAL: GOOD PICK TO LEAD EMBATTLED DCF via the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott made a good choice in appointing Mike Carroll to take over the state’s embattled child welfare agency. An agency veteran and straight shooter, Carroll has the institutional history, contacts and people skills to steer the huge bureaucracy in a better direction. The governor should give him the flexibility he needs to be candid about the challenges and realistic about the reforms that are needed, and state lawmakers need to give the Department of Children and Families the extra resources it needs.

Scott announced in Jacksonville that Carroll would take over from interim secretary Esther Jacobo, who has been in charge since her predecessor, David Wilkins, resigned abruptly in July. That should end the uncertainty that comes from the revolving carousel of top-level leadership, at least until the November election. A 24-year agency veteran, Carroll has deep experience across the vast range of social services that the agency provides. As director of DCF for the Suncoast region, which includes the Tampa Bay area and Southwest Florida, he is widely admired by both public and private providers for his attention to detail, urgency and candor. Those are essential traits to foster in a large operation that is failing too many children.

Carroll will need to work quickly to address the systemic failures involved in the deaths of children who had been known to the department. In a series of recent reports, the Miami Herald has documented the deaths of at least 477 children who died after their families had prior contact with DCF. While Scott called for $40 million more for child welfare investigators, the Herald series revealed that the safety net is undermined by fundamental problems — large and poorly managed case loads, shortfalls in mental health and substance abuse programs, poor coordination between providers and inadequate support services for parents and caregivers.

EDITORIAL: SCOTT’S COMMITMENT TO CANCER RESEARCH COULD BE GAME-CHANGER via the Tampa Tribune

Earlier this year, it was an honor to host Gov. Scott at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute as he announced his groundbreaking proposal to invest $80 million in next year’s state budget for cancer research.

We believe this proposal, if approved, has the potential to bring Florida to the forefront of cancer research and treatment.

Cancer places a terrible burden on families in Florida, which ranks No. 2 in the country for cancer incidence and mortality. Scott understands not only how state investments in research have elevated Moffitt to a national leader, but also how further investments can continue to position us as a world-class cancer research institution.

We applaud the governor for his vision and commitment.

A critical component of the governor’s plan is increasing the number of Florida institutions that can attain the prestigious “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation by the National Cancer Institute. This honor is awarded only to cancer centers demonstrating excellence in laboratory, clinical and population-based research, as well as transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas. Comprehensive cancer centers also must be committed to public education and outreach. This designation is held by only 41 centers in the United States.

The governor’s support of cancer research is critical to fulfilling our mission of contributing to the prevention and cure of cancer. We urge the Florida Senate to support this forward-thinking proposal, which we believe will improve the lives of Floridians impacted by this terrible disease.

FOR SECOND YEAR, ENTERPRISE FLORIDA CAN’T SPEND ALL THE TAXPAYER CASH IT GETS via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Florida lawmakers are beefing up the cash for Gov. Scott to dole out to companies willing to relocate or create new jobs here.

But the governor’s jobs agencies in charge of closing those deals couldn’t spend more than half of the $45.5 million lawmakers gave them last year for corporate incentives.

The budget deal lawmakers negotiated over the weekend calls for giving Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity $71 million in incentive funding that can be awarded as tax credits, lump-sum cash payouts, or other types of rebates. But $16 million of that total will come from unspent cash the agency received this year.

And another $7.6 million appropriated to DEO last year is being swept back into general revenues because the agency, and the public-private Enterprise Florida Inc., which recruits businesses to Florida, couldn’t spend it.

This is two years in a row the state’s corporate recruitment effort under Scott hasn’t been able to spend all the money lawmakers budgeted.

Two years ago, Scott’s office was given $111 million in incentives, while last year it was cut to $45.5 million, although $26 million that went unspent from the past budget year was “carried over” into the current one.

Now, another $23.6 million in the fiscal year ending June 30 will apparently go unspent.

BY THE WAY … MANUFACTURING EQUIPMENT SALES TAX RELIEF TO TAKE EFFECT WEDNESDAY via The Florida Chamber

Florida will take a major step toward becoming more competitive this week when the sales tax on manufacturing and equipment is eliminated. The Legislature voted to eliminate the manufacturing equipment sales tax during the 2013 session – a top priority of the Florida Chamber and its partners at the Manufacturers Association of Florida, as well as Gov. Scott.

“It’s long overdue and we’re so excited to finally be at this point and applaud the Governor, the Florida Legislature and friends like the Florida Chamber for rallying around this manufacturing sales tax exemption which will really move Florida forward in the eyes of the whole nation and the world in manufacturing,” said Nancy Stephens, Executive Director of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, during an interview on The Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line.

SPECIAL SESSION ON GAMING COMPACT? IT’S TOAST via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate have all but rebuffed the governor’s offer to hold a special session in May after his deputies hinted that he was “getting close” to an agreement with the Seminole Tribe over the gaming compact that expires next year.

“It’s toast,’’ said one high-ranking Republican Monday, who noted that the governor’s failure to offer details led many of them to conclude that he gave the tribe what they wanted.

That perception may have repercussions for the governor as he tries to appeal to casino giants for campaign cash. Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson and Donald Trump have both been supporters of the governor in the past but have withheld sending his political committee any contributions since he has been engaged in negotations with the tribe.

By contrast, the Seminole Tribe has given the governor’s political committee $500,000 after he opened negotiations with them on renewing their monopoly on black jack and other banked card games at their casinos.

But for any agreement to become law, the legislature has to ratify it and by Monday, legislators and lobbyists interviewed by the Miami Herald, said it was clear that the governor not only couldn’t muster the votes for it in the Senate, which traditionally is more pro-gambling, but he also barely had 30 votes in the more conservative House.

Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera met privately with House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz last week in an effort to get a sense of the support for a session to ratify the governor’s pending deal. But many legislators interviewed over the weekend and on Monday said they believed that the governor’s move last week showed his hand.

Although the governor didn’t offer details, many lawmakers believed that he was close to an agreement that gave the tribe the exclusive ability to continue offering black jack and banked card games and possibly expand to craps and roulette. In return, they expected the governor to extract more money from the tribe each year but allow for little, if any, concession to approving destination resorts casinos in South Florida. They also expected the deal to deny any gaming expansion at the state’s parimutuels.

HOW TO KILL A BILL via Jeremy Wallce of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

As the Florida Legislature hits the homestretch of its 2014 session, only this much can be predicted with certainty: more bills will die than pass.

For much of the legislation still pending, the drama over the next week will be the many ways in which lawmakers will seek to keep their bills alive.

Some bills will be loved to death, some will board a train of doom and others will be done in by previously close allies.

Here are some of the subtle — and creative — ways members of the Legislature take out their colleagues’ bills: “Love them to death”; “Train of doom”; “Committee dance”; “The hijack”; “Technical death”; and “Clock it.”

HOUSE APPROVES FUNDING FOR ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH

The increase of Alzheimer’s disease rates in Florida led the House to unanimously approve HB 709, a bill that creates a new research program and sets standards for memory-disorder clinics.

Rep. Matt Hudson, the bill’s sponsor, called Alzheimer’s “a looming issue for our state and our nation.”

Named after Hudson’s grandparents, the “Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program” will help fund research at universities and research institutes into diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure of the debilitating disease.

The bill also requires the Department of Elder Affairs to establish minimum performance standards for other memory-disorder clinics.

HOUSE PASSES AMENDED FLOOD INSURANCE BILL

On the heels of the recent crisis over skyrocketing flood insurance rates, the Florida House approved a bill on Monday creating a marketplace for private insurers to write flood-insurance coverage statewide. SB 542 was approved in the House 98-11.

Changes made by the House means the bill will have to return to the Senate for re-approval.

After tens of thousands of Floridians were threatened with massive rate increases in the federal National Flood Insurance Program, state lawmakers began looking for a way to expand private coverage.

Even though Congress addressed several of those concerns, state lawmakers continued to work on the issue.

The revised bill sets additional guidelines for flood-insurance policies, including coverage requirements and adjustment schedules for losses due to floods.

HOUSE PASSES BILL ALLOWING TEACHERS AND OTHERS TO CARRY GUNS ON SCHOOL GROUNDS via Jim Rosica of the Tampa Tribune

A parent, teacher or other public school employee could volunteer to carry a gun on campus as a “school safety designee” under a bill approved by the Florida House.

The bill (HB 753) permits superintendents, after school board approval, to appoint one or more trained individuals to carry a concealed firearm on school grounds.

The idea is to prevent on-campus shootings and other violent incidents, especially at schools that don’t have law enforcement on campus. The bill passed 71-44.

“The only thing that stops an active shooter is someone else who is armed,” said Republican Rep. Doc Renuart.

Opponents include Democratic Rep. Dwayne Taylor, who namechecked the loveable but bumbling deputy played by Don Knotts in the 1960s’ “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“No offense, but I just don’t want Barney Fife to get his one bullet out and try to protect our children,” Taylor said.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a companion bill (SB 968) has been held in committee since mid-March.

SENATE PASSES MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL

A strain of low-THC marijuana would be legal in Florida for medical use under a bill passed by the Senate.

The Senate on Monday voted 36-3 for the bill. The House has a similar bill waiting for approval.

It would allow doctors to prescribe a strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” that contains low amounts of THC, which causes users to feel high.

The marijuana does contain normal amounts of CBD, which is used to treat seizures. The marijuana would be converted into a liquid form for medical use.

It marks the first time a legislative chamber has approved medical marijuana in any form.

SENATE WATERS DOWN ITS BEER BILL via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

The Florida Senate further watered down a beer bill that has become a fight over control of the state’s growing 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.

The bill would legalize 64-ounce “growler” jugs of beer to be filled in brew pubs. But craft brewers have been up in arms this spring over the rest of the bill, which would have required breweries selling more than 2,000 kegs of beer a year to fall under the state’s Prohibition-era, “three-tiered” regulatory system requiring beer-makers to sell their bottled or canned products through distributors.

The debate has flustered lawmakers for weeks about why the Legislature was wading into a fight about adding regulation to a growth industry.

But Stargel said the growing businesses needed to operate under the same regulatory rules as larger companies, which were designed to limit over-supply of alcohol in cities. She won changes allowing larger craft brewers to sell up to 20 percent of their brewed product in bottles or cans to take home without going through distributors.

Breweries that produce fewer than 2,000 kegs could sell all their own packaged beer, and bigger breweries could sell 20 percent of their on-site production in sealed containers to go.

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.

TWEET, TWEET: @FLBrewersGuild: Senate continues to push unneeded restrictions on craft brewers. How does placing restrictions on growing business ‘help’ them grow?

SENATE VOTES TO KEEP TRAUMA CENTERS OPEN

The Florida Senate approved the bill ensuring continued operation of disputed HCA-run three trauma centers, although it is not clear how the Senate and House will agree on the contentious issue before Friday’s end of the legislative session.

At the last minute, Senators added the trauma center provision to SB 1354, another health-care bill, which then passed it by a 33-3 vote.

The House also included a similar trauma care proposal to HB 7113, an omnibus health-care bill that is substantially different from the Senate bill.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, the bill’s sponsor, said she is uncertain how trauma debate will eventually end, but will probably be one among the final issues resolved before the May 2 end of the session.

“We’ll decide on Friday,” Grimsley told reporters on Monday.

HOW THE TAMPA BAY TIMES IS FRAMING IT: “Time running short for legislative fix to trauma center dispute

WATCH – PASCO RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT ON TRAUMA CENTER ISSUE Full story here

 
Voices ranging from HCA to the Safety Net Alliance to local police and fire officials have all been heard on the ongoing “trauma drama.”
But now some Pasco County residents are speaking out, asking legislators to protect their local trauma center, Bayonet Point.
They are all business owners, including a hardware store, a gas station and a dinner theatre, and they all cite having a trauma center nearby as a lifesaver.
Will lawmakers pay attention to some everyday people over the TV ads and lobbyists in this final week? Remains to be seen, but their letters can be read on the New Port Richey Patch blog.

LAWMAKERS HAVEN’T GIVEN UP ON UBER BILL via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

Two Tampa Bay lawmakers are making a last-minute push to help the app-based luxury car service Uber.

Uber operates in Jacksonville, but has been blocked by local governments in other cities.

In response, Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Jamie Grant proposed legislation that would let Uber and similar companies win approval directly from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The bills (SB 1618/HB 1389) were scaled back during the session. Now, they would enable Uber to operate in Tampa by limiting the power of the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. No other government bodies would be affected.

Brandes and Grant held a press conference Monday in hopes of building momentum. The lawmakers were joined by Uber driver Eric Barney, who drove his black Escalade from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Barney’s trunk was stuffed with 13,000 pro-Uber petitions.

Grant acknowledged that the bill has a complicated path forward. Since the Senate version is stalled in committee, Grant will likely need to amend the Uber language onto a separate transportation bill.

Opponents aren’t likely to back down. They say Uber should have to play by the same rules as traditional cabs.

PIC DU JOUR: The unveiling of Senate President Don Gaetz’s official portrait here.

LEGISLATORS FACE ON TUESDAY: BUDGETS, SPEED LIMITS, SPORTS FACILITIES AND TICKET FRAUD Full blog post here

On Tuesday, final budget negotiations are due on lawmakers’ desks, and the mandatory 72-hour “cooling off period” kicks in. If all goes as planned, the full legislature will vote on the budget before the Sine Die adjournment on Friday May 2.

Of course, there is other legislative business. In the House, the issues include speed limits, the “Anti-Foreign Law” bill and increased penalties for selling fraudulent tickets to entertainment venues.

For senators, they will consider the process for sports facilities to ask for state money, which includes the high-profile amendment withholding funds from Major League Baseball facilities until the league changes its policy on Cuban ballplayers. Also on the agenda is a bill increasing oversight on “compounding” pharmacies.

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CAPS OFF TO FLORIDA

With graduation season starting up, here is some good news for Florida students: our state has the 5th lowest ratio of college seniors graduating with debt, and has among the lowest average dollar amount of these loans, too.

The Washington Post reported on data from across the U.S., showing that the average 4-year college graduate carries $29,400 in loans. This is a 6 percent jump from 2008. Overall, the share of college graduates with loan debt increased from 68 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012.

In Florida, however, 51 percent of college seniors graduate with loans, with an average debt of $22,873.

This is a testament to Florida’s efforts to keep tuition low and restrict it from rising as quickly as elsewhere.

With a week left of session, lawmakers are poised to boost these trends by lowering the cap on annual college-tuition increases from 15 percent to 6 percent. The 15 percent maximum increase was placed in law in 2007, and the Board of Governors used this option to the max several times since then. Capping an increase at a max of 6 percent will surely help Florida keep student debt levels low.

Other tuition-related measures are also making their way through the process: one would permit in-state fees for children of illegal immigrants who attend and graduate from Florida high schools, and another would do the same for veterans who move to Florida for their education.

ORLANDO RANKS NO. 8 ON LIST OF BEST CITIES FOR JOBS IN 2014

The greater Orlando area ranks No. 8 on the Forbes list of “The Best Big Cities for Jobs 2014.”

To generate this list, Forbes looked at all 398 metropolitan statistical areas (i.e. “cities”) on a range of indicators derived from employment data from November 2002 through January 2014. Looking at the region’s recent growth trends, mid-term growth, and long-term growth, Forbes defined each city’s “momentum.” Regions were also broken down by size, since regional economies differ due to their scale.

In this analysis, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area is the only one in Florida to be in the top 15.

Orlando boasted about 1.1 million jobs in 2013 — representing job growth of 3.3 percent that year, and job growth of 4.7 percent since 2008.

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BRAD DRAKE QUALIFIES FOR BALLOT BY PETITION IN HD 5 RACE

Brad Drake announced he has qualified by petition for the House District 5 race.

The former Republican state representative submitted 1,021 valid petition signatures, exceeding the 997 signatures required to meet the requirements for the 2014 ballot.

In a statement released on Monday, Drake said most of the signatures came from Walton County, the region containing more than half the district’s Republican electorate.

HD 5 is considered a safe GOP seat, where Gov. Scott took 61% of the vote in 2010.

ED NARAIN TO HOLD OFFICAL CAMPAIGN KICKOFF TONIGHT FOR HD 61 SEAT

Democrat Ed Narain is holding a Campaign Kickoff for his House District 61 bid. The event is from 5:30-8 p.m. in The Open Café, located at 3222 N. 34 Street in Tampa. To RSVP, email events@edforflorida.com or call (813) 336-1913.

JESSICA EHRLICH WON’T CHALLENGE DAVID JOLLY IN CD 13

Democrat Jessica Ehrlich will not challenge Republican David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Ehrlich announced her decision Monday afternoon.

“After careful consideration, I have decided to not run for Congress at this time,” Ehrlich said in a statement first shared with POLITICO. “New and exciting opportunities have come my way which will help me better serve my neighbors, the voters of the 13th, and all Floridians. I would like to thank all those who reached out to me encouraging me to run for their unwavering support and know that we will continue to fight together for a brighter future.”

Those new and exciting opportunities likely include appearing as a commentator on FOX News, something this blog noticed Ehrlich was doing more frequently in recent months.

Ehrlich ran in 2012 against the late Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, holding him under 60 percent for the first time since 1992, notes Steven Shephard of POLITICO. Ehrlich launched another campaign last year, but Democrats recruited the well-funded Alex Sink after Young passed away. Jolly defeated Sink by a 2-point margin on March 11.

Maybe now, the “Ehrlich for Congress” sign which still hangs outside of Ehlrich’s old campaign office can come down.

***Uber, the ground-breaking on-demand transportation app, is ready to expand in the Sunshine State. But politics is getting in the way of progress. To date, more than 100,000 Florida residents and visitors have opened the Uber app, only to find their transportation needs can’t be met. Moreover, Uber serves as a job generator and economic stimulator wherever it operates; its 2013 economic impact in Chicago was $46 million. In Florida, Uber could create tens of thousands of jobs. The time is now for modern transportation options. Let’s not leave Florida standing at the curb. Sign the petition here.***

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Chris Carmody, Chris Dawson, Fred Leonhardt, Robert Stuart, GrayRobinson: Business Enterprise Credit Union, Inc.

Jon Costello, Gary Rutledge: Town of Jupiter Island

Fred Karlinsky, Colodny Fass Talenfeld Karlinsky Abate & Webb: Safepoint Insurance Company

Holly Snow: Amgen

SPOTTED: Lobbyist Jack Cory in this profile by WLRN-Miami – “A Day In The Life of a Tallahassee Lobbyist.” Key takeaway: “In the final stretches of session, Cory’s starting his days with four shots of espresso before dawn.”

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT WHEN ONE OF BRIAN BALLARD’S CLIENTS CAMPAIGNS AGAINST ONE OF BRIAN BALLARD’S CLIENTS

David Beckham’s quest to build a soccer-specific stadium at the Miami seaport for his MLS expansion team is not being welcomed by his prospective neighbors, reports Sports Illustrated.

Royal Caribbean and its allies at PortMiami have continued to go on the offensive to voice their opposition to Beckham and his ownership group building a stadium at the sought-after location. After taking out a full-page ad in the Miami Heralda couple of weeks ago, the Miami Seaport Alliance released a YouTube video to hammer home its point — that a stadium at PortMiami won’t fly.

Using the new Miami Marlins baseball stadium as a reference point, the ad implores decision makers to not make another stadium mistake in Southern Florida, beginning its statement by issuing the warning, “Before we get stuck with another stadium deal here in Miami…”

Where this gets really awkward is not just for Miamians, but for uber lobbyist Brian Ballard.

That’s because Ballard represents Cruise Lines International Associationthe official trade organization of the cruise industry of North America, as well as Miami Beckham United, LLC, the holding company for Beckham’s soccer club. 

Cruise Lines International Association is not directly involved in the debate over the Miami soccer club, but its members include several of the cruise lines opposed to Beckham Stadium.

Of course, when you have a client list as long as Ballard’s, there are bound to be these types of conflicts.

TWEET, TWEET: @BrewsterBevis: Last week of session. Time to break out my “closer” suits.

***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.***

AMAZON SALES COULD DROP IN FLORIDA WHEN SALES TAX TAKES EFFECT MAY 1 via Susan Thurston of the Tampa Bay Times

On Thursday, Amazon will start collecting sales tax on purchases made in Florida. That means the cost of a lot of products sold on Amazon will go up 7 percent for most Tampa Bay shoppers.

The change comes because Amazon is opening fulfillment centers in Hillsborough and Polk counties for distributing goods. That’s enough to create a physical presence for Amazon in Florida, which under state law requires the retailer to collect sales tax.

The tax revenue is expected to generate about $75 million a year for the state and help brick-and-mortar stores better compete against the world’s largest retailer, which did nearly $20 billion in sales last quarter. For years, small business owners have complained that Amazon and other online retailers have had a competitive advantage because their customers don’t pay sales tax.

Will deal seekers simply find other tax-free alternatives on the Web? Will the additional 7 percent prompt would-be online shoppers to instead visit local stores?

A report out this month sheds some light. Researchers at Ohio State University found that Amazon’s sales dropped in places where the sales tax was introduced. Households reduced their spending on Amazon by about 10 percent in states with the tax, compared with households in states without the tax. For expensive purchases — where sales tax can really push up the cost — sales fell by 24 percent.

But the report, titled The Amazon Tax, also found that brick-and-mortar stores didn’t see huge gains after Amazon started collecting the tax. Just a modest 2 percent boost in sales.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: CHARTER SCHOOLS, ACCOUNTABILITY, CRAFT BEER REGS AND FEA

On Context Florida: Sen. Kelli Stargel tries to clear up many of the misconceptions over Senate Bill 1714, the amendment she filed for proposed changes in regulations of the craft beer industry. The bill has been clouded by “promulgating misinformation” by a small, yet vocal faction of the beer industry. Charter school proponents argue that they offer families more choices to educate their children, says Marc Yacht, but a lack of accountability has undermined confidence in many charter schools, leading 252 to close in 2013. These closings harm students, parents and public school funding. William Mattox notes that those calling for “accountability” when expanding the state’s school-choice voucher program could learn a lesson from the example set by Mary McLeod Bethune. The battle over District Judge Mark Walker dismissed part of a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association, which challenged a 2011 law that tied teacher evaluations to student performance. Judge Walker ruled in precisely the way a conservative judge would expect to rule, writes Bob Sparks, except that Barack Obama appointed him in 2012.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

CONTRIBUTION LINK TO HOLD FOOD DRIVE FROM WEDNESDAY TO SINE DIE Full blog post here

While the  legislative budget “cools off” on the desks of lawmakers, Tallahassee-based political consulting firm Contribution Link hopes to collect at least 200 pounds of food this week.

Collecting 200 pounds of food to aid local homeless individuals is not the only challenge; the true test is if it can be done between April 3 and Friday — Sine Die of the 2014 legislative session.

Anyone interested in dropping off food items can stop by the Contribution Link Tallahassee location at 118 E. Sixth Avenue where there will be collection boxes set just outside offices’ open garage door. Any food product will be accepted — canned or non-canned, perishable or not.

The drive is in cooperation with the Big Bend Homeless Coalition, and Contribution Link wants to raise enough donations in the final three days of the session to help stock the BBHC food pantry with healthy food for all ages.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sen. John Legg and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce’s Travis Norton.

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.