Sunburn for 4/3 — 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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BILL NELSON’S HUFFINGTON POST PROBLEM

If you visited the front page of the Huffington Post on Tuesday, you’d see that Florida Senator Bill Nelson has a major problem on his hands. 

Nelson is one of a handful of Democrats who do not endorse gay marriage. The others include other social conservatives from the party’s moderate wing, including Sens. Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Joe Manchin, and Mark Pryor.

But don’t look for Nelson or any others from this gang of seven to change their position anytime soon.

After the sudden flip of several Senate Democrats from opposition to endorsement of gay marriage this week, Alex Rogers notes, the stampede may have come to an end, leaving a handful of holdouts in states where opinion still lags the national trend.

As for Nelson, in a statement via email from a media spokesman to the Tampa Tribune‘s William March, Nelson said, “I’ve always stood up for civil rights and I support civil unions, but I believe the institution of marriage is between a man and a woman.”

SUPER PAC LAUNCHES TO URGE HILLARY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

A new super PAC founded to urge Hillary Clinton to run for president officially launched Tuesday, “complete with a new Web site to help the group ramp up its online fundraising operation,” the Washington Post reports.

RUBIO SLOWS DOWN IMMIGRATION DEBATE

Aides to Sen. Rubio told Roll Call that the senator “views a lengthy, traditional process that includes hearings, a healthy committee markup and an open floor debate during which senators can offer amendments as key to his ability to build and maintain conservative support for a comprehensive immigration rewrite. Rubio does not have a specific timetable in mind. But anything viewed as ‘rushed’ would violate promises he made to grass-roots conservatives and could cost his support, even if he is OK with the bill in principle.”

WHAT IS MARCO THINKING?

This morning’s must-read is from Mike Allen’s “Behind the Curtain” series in which the POLITICO reporter explains what exactly is Marco Rubio thinking.

“Rubio brought an immigration lawyer from Florida onto his Senate staff just to deal with the fine print

… There’s no chance that the base will be excited about a deal that’s been embraced by Obama and the Democrats in the gang. But Rubio is building in several insurance policies:

1) Behind the scenes, Rubio has been courting conservative leaders and talk-radio hosts, hoping they’ll give him leeway when he needs it. One of his arguments: There’s nothing conservative about having 11 million people in the country illegally. So far, he has been encouraged by what he has heard. In late January, when the Senate gang issued the framework that it is now filling in, Rubio did a tour of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and other conservative talkers, and got a surprisingly respectful – even favorable – response. On Easter Sunday, 36 minutes before the Sunday shows began, Rubio put out a statement saying reports of a final agreement were premature. He didn’t want the conservatives he has been courting to think he had cut a deal without consulting or informing them.

2) The proposal’s pathway to citizenship will be triggered by a rigorous set of metrics that … will take years for the U.S. to meet. …

3) Rubio advisers studied conservative objections to past immigration packages and found that a frequent complaint was that the measures had been too rushed. So Rubio has very publicly insisted on multiple hearings, and a wide-open debate and amendment process in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor. “In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret,” he said in Sunday’s statement. He wants buy-in from other Republican senators, and a big number on final passage, not a close vote. … Some Democratic officials are convinced it’s too late for Rubio to torpedo a deal. “There is so much of the policy figured out at this point, it would seem purely political to suddenly pick up and abandon the effort,” one aide said. But there are months of delicate maneuvering ahead, with lots of exit ramps.”

GWEN GRAHAM FILES FOR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 2 via the Tallahassee Democrat

As first reported on SaintPetersBlog, the daughter of former governor and senator Bob Graham has announced she’ll run for Congress in 2014. 

Gwen Graham, 50, said she’ll seek to challenge Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, who won his second term in Florida’s Congressional District 2 last November. Graham said Capitol Hill needs the same leadership that earned her Democrat father two terms as governor and 18 years as a U.S. senator.

“I want to be a different type of representative to find a common ground with Democrats and Republicans,’ said Graham, who will seek the Democratic nomination. “That’s the kind of leader my dad was.” 

Gwen Graham was born in Miami but moved into the Governor’s Mansion when her father, a former member of the state House and Senate, won the statewide seat in 1978. She graduated from Leon High School in 1980 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and her law degree from American University. She came back to Tallahassee to practice law and raise her three children, who also graduated from Leon High.

GWEN GRAHAM JOINS THE TWITTERS: Follow her at @GwenForCongress

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JIM GREER SPEAKS ONE LAST TIME BEFORE HEADING TO THE SLAMMER via Aaron Sharockman of the Tampa Bay Times

Before he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer maintained his innocence in a final interview with WTSP’s Mike Deeson.

“People will always say, ‘If you are so innocent, why didn’t you go to trial?’ And I understand that,” said Greer, who pleaded guilty in February to charges he stole money from the state Republican Party.

In the interview, which aired this week, Greer told Deeson that friends helped him pay attorney fees and restitution to the Republican Party of Florida. He said he was given no money or promised anything in exchange for his plea.

Greer also said he is planning on writing a book behind bars. The title: Dirty Laundry.

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BILL WOULD CHANGE OVERTIME RULES FOR MILITARY SPOUSES

Military spouses won’t have to work overtime during their husband or wife’s deployment unless they feel like it — if a bill in the Florida Legislature becomes law. The bill also would give military spouses four days of unpaid leave if their husband or wife is deployed so they could attend to matters relating to the deployment.

CRAFT LIQUOR SALES GOES QUICKER WITH TWO BOTTLE MAXIMUM 

It’s getting closer to happy hour for approximately 20 small craft liquor distillers in Florida. The Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee on Tuesday backed a plan to allow small distillers, those producing less than 75,000 gallons of the giggle juice to sell one or two bottles per customer from the souvenir shop. The souvenir shop requirement was added so the liquor can’t be consumed on site. The measure (SB 642) by Sen. Alan Hays is promoted to help independent businesses similar to small wineries and microbreweries.

The committee visit went down smoother than the House version (HB 347), which had to be revamped after the Florida Retail Association and lobbyists for distributors argued the initial proposal of allowing the sale of up to 24 bottles would sidestep distributors and retailers. But because of that new bottle limit, the House measure is further up the legislative road, having cleared its second round Tuesday morning with unanimous support from the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart the sponsor of the House measure, said the bill supports “Florida manufacturing, Florida tourism, Florida small business, Florida agriculture,” as many of the distillers use Florida grains, citrus and sugars. Renuart’s bill has one more stop, Regulatory Affairs, before reaching the House floor.

DOLPHINS BILL GETS MAKEOVER, TIES IN OTHER SPORTS TEAMS by Tolu Olorunnipa of the Miami Herald

The Miami Dolphins’ push to get taxpayers to pitch in millions of dollars for its stadium renovation has taken on a new form, with a major amendment in the Florida Senate.

The amendment, filed Tuesday morning by Sen. Andy Gardiner would basically force sports teams to compete for the kind of multimillion-dollar tax breaks the state has been awarding for years.

As a number of teams have asked lawmakers for new tax breaks this year, the new Dolphins bill would make them compete for the money by proving they would create jobs and economic development in the state. The amendment, in effect, lumps in the Dolphins’ proposal (SB 306) with those of other teams seeking tax breaks.

The Department of Economic Opportunity would have a pot of about $15 million per year, and could award sports teams up to $3 million in tax breaks annually. Teams would be ranked based on how much of an economic benefit they could bring to the state, including the impact of major events like Super Bowls and other championship games.

The amendment, which passed unanimously, also includes “clawbacks” that would require teams to pay back much of the money they received if they leave the state.

The amendment does not affect the portion of SB 306 relating to local hotel taxes.

SENATE’S ELECTION REFORM BILL PASSES COMMUNITY AFFAIRS CMTE.

Bill sponsor Senator Jack Latvala said, “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. The Florida Senate is committed to protecting this absolute right and ensuring that every Floridian has an opportunity to participate in a fair electoral process.” 

The elections reform bill takes into account recommendations from the Secretary of State and Florida’s Supervisors of Elections, and puts in place a number of changes that give local administrators additional flexibility. This bill gives local Supervisors of Elections the discretion to begin early voting up to five days earlier, and includes the option to hold early voting on the Sunday before the election. Under the bill, Supervisors will have an expanded list of eligible early voting sites that includes stadiums and convention centers and the ability to add any one non-standard site as needed to accommodate voters. Each county is also required to provide at least as many early voting sites as were operated during the 2012 general election. This proposal further protects voters by requiring elections supervisors to notify voters who submit unsigned absentee ballots, giving voters an opportunity to rectify the issue. 

“Our goal with this bill is to increase access for voters while giving elections supervisors the tools necessary to run elections in an open and efficient manner,” said Senator Latvala. “These are the reforms we need to ensure the best voting experience possible.”

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INTERNET CAFES’ LOSS MAY BE PARIMUTUELS’ GAIN via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald 

As the Florida Senate appears ready to outlaw the electronic slot machine games offered by Internet cafes, adult arcades and maquinita operators in Florida, there is talk that the machines will be resurrected next year.

… “As long as they’re regulated in the pari-mutuel facilities that’s something for us to talk about. I’ve always said if we are going to allow any expansion of gaming – which I’m not really for – the existing authorized, legitimate are where we should do it,” he said. 

Las Vegas-style slot machines are currently only allowed in the six parimutuel faciliites Miami Dade and Broward but in 2011 Thrasher proposed an amendment to a bill in the final hours of the legislative session that would have allowed the Jacksonsville greyhound track in his district to operate an electronic versions, known as video lottery terminals. The amendment nearly derailed the end of session, but it didn’t pass.

Now, Thrasher says, when the Florida Legislature returns next year to take a comprehensive look at the state’s gambling laws, the issue should return. The House and Senate have set up select committees to study gaming regulation and come up with a proposal next year. The Senate committee is chaired by Sen. Garrett Richter and the House’s is chaired by Rep. Rob Schenck.

“I suspect that when Sen. Richter does his deal next year that some of the pari-mutuels will come in and say ‘let us do it’ because we’re paying taxes – a high rate of taxes,” he said.

LAS VEGAS SANDS URGES LAWMAKERS TO LET ‘DESTINATION CASINOS’ GO BIG IN FLORIDA via Anne Smith of Sunshine State News

A Las Vegas Sands Corp. representative told lawmakers they should expand gaming in the state by providing incentives for destination-resort developers to “go big.”

Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist for the world’s largest destination-resort company, told the House Select Committee on Gaming Tuesday that they should create a tax rate that allows destination casinos to do it right – on a large scale.

“A lower tax obviously leads to increased capital investment and more job opportunities and more competition among bidders in deciding what to build, what type of iconic structure and amenities to build,” he said.

“What we would encourage this committee to look at, and the Legislature as a whole, is providing a tax rate that provides incentive to go big, to build an iconic structure that not just caters to locals or to regionals around Florida but will convince people to travel to Florida from out of state and out of country in order to see and visit and spend their money in the economy here.”

SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE LIKELY DONE FOR SESSION via The Gradebook

Any bill assigned to the Florida Senate Education Committee that hasn’t already been heard is most likely dead for the legislative session.

Committee chairman John Legg said hat Senate president Don Gaetz has not scheduled any more meetings for the committee and is not expected to do so.

“All the bills that have been passed are the only ones that are in play” unless the Senate waives its rules or expands upon bills already in the hopper, Legg said.

Gaetz “was serious when he said we have launched enough education rockets in the air over the past few years,” Legg said. “He just pulled the tarp over the launch pad for 2013.”

That strands legislation such as Sen. Jeff Brandes’ push for micro credits (SB 968), Sen. Kelli Stargel’s effort to reform the FHSAA (SB 1164) and Sen. Dwight Bullard’s proposal to create a statewide K-12 education commission (SB 992), among other ideas.

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INSURANCE AGENTS CONTINUE PUSH FOR NEW MUTUAL INSURER INCENTIVE PROGRAM

The Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies (LAAIA) and the Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) are urging lawmakers today to support a new mutual insurer incentive program.  If approved by the Florida Legislature, the program would allow startup mutual insurance companies to participate in a surplus note program to aid in the depopulation efforts of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.  This provision is contained in Senate Bill 1770 and will be voted on in the Senate Appropriations Committee today. 

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Brian Ballard, Matthew Forrest, Ballard Partners: Keiser College

Edgar Castro, Southern Strategy: ZipCar

Teresa Eichner: Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5-30 (Jacksonville)

Brince Manning, JAX Chamber

TORONTO BLUE JAYS HIRE BALLARD PARTNERS

The Toronto Blue Jays, reportedly exploring relocating its Spring Training facilities from Dunedin, have retained uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, state registration forms show.

The Blue Jays’ lease at Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin is set to expire in 2017, according to a report by The Globe and Mail, and Blue Jays officials are using that time frame to explore new spring training locations. 

“We’ve been in Dunedin from the beginning [in 1977] and it hasn’t impeded us from being successful,” said Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. “Having said that, it’s not an ideal situation from the player-development perspective, with the separate complexes.”

The Globe and Mail report said possible new locations include Naples, Vero Beach, Fort Myers, Palm City, Daytona Beach or even Pasco County. 

Dunedin city officials, concerned about the possibility of the Blue Jays leaving town, recently discussed planning a trip to Canada to help strengthen ties with the franchise.

This is the second MLB club in as many months to hire Ballard Partners to advocate for them.

“The Blue Jays are interested in creating a vibrant Spring Training environment,” said Ballard. “We look forward to being part of that process.”

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to GOP activist Billy Schmidt.

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.