Sunburn for 4/5 — 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 ENDORSES GAY MARRIAGE

Senator Bill Nelson has endorsed gay marriage, the latest in a string of lawmakers to change his position on the issue. 

“If we are endowed by our Creator with rights, then why shouldn’t those be attainable by Gays and Lesbians?” Nelson said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “Simply put, if The Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn’t, and I won’t.”

He added that he is adding his voice to those asking the Supreme Court “ to declare the law that prohibits gay marriage unconstitutional.”

TWEET, TWEET: @KevinCate: Your turn, Charlie and Alex. 

HILLARY SIGNS BOOK DEAL

Hillary Clinton inked a deal with Simon & Schuster to write a book “sharing key decisions and experiences as secretary of state,” CNN reports.

Clinton’s book doesn’t have a title yet, but will be released in 2014. Washington lawyer Robert Barnett represented her to publishers, though financial details of her book deal weren’t immediately available.

CASTOR VISITS CUBA, BUT US SHOULD PROCEED WITH CAUTION by contributor Karen Cyphers

US Rep Kathy Castor began her first visit to Cuba Wednesday in hopes of enhancing social and business ties for the Tampa Bay area, a trip motivated by indications of change from within Cuba, and the possibility that Secretary of State John Kerry may soon recommend the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Castor will be meeting with the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Energy, the Foreign Ministry, and the US Interests Section office.  She will share findings from this visit with Obama, Kerry and the Tampa Bay community.  Yet not everybody is keyed up about these efforts, and any recommendation to relax trade and travel restrictions — or to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, which it has been on since 1982 —  will certainly be met with opposition.

Many feel that, in the words of Mauricio Claver-Clarone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, “It would be an insult to the American people if Cuba were to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism based solely on assurances of change by a dictatorship that brutally represses its population, defies the rule of law, routinely foments anti-Americanism around the world with provocative anti-democratic rhetoric…” Claver-Clarone points to another timely failed example — North Korea — of where the US relied on a dictator’s assurances as justification for removing the country from the terrorism sponsors list.  In 2008, George W. Bush accepted the promises of the Kim family that North Korea would not support or engage terrorism; but any news channel this morning will reveal how well that has gone.

Indeed, in addition to its myriad domestic offenses, Cuba remains closely tied with Venezuela, Iran and Syria, and has a history of sharing information with rogue regimes.  The goals of local economic development should be weighed carefully against the overarching importance of human rights and domestic security.

MURPHY SAYS HE RAISED $550K DURING 1ST QUARTER by George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

The campaign of freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy says it collected more than $550,000 during the first quarter of 2013 for a race that is being targeted by the national GOP.

Murphy’s campaign says it has more than $650,000 in cash on hand for the 2014 race.

By comparison, former Republican Rep. Allen West, the prolific fundraiser Murphy narrowly defeated last year, raised $456,873 in his first quarter as a freshman in 2011.

The fundraising quarter ended Sunday and Federal Election Commission reports aren’t due until April 15, but Murphy’s campaign was eager to release its fundraising figure in a Wednesday press release.

NRCC TO COPY BUZZFEED’S SITE DESIGN via National Journal

The National Republican Congressional Committee is going to copy BuzzFeed in a website redesign.

The committee spent hours poring over BuzzFeed’s site map and layout, studying how readers arrived at its landing pages and bounced from one article to the next. Unsurprisingly, a ton of traffic came from social media — but a lot of it also seemed to come from the site’s sidebar, said Lansing. So the NRCC’s redesign includes a list of recent and popular posts.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ RAMPS UP LEADERSHIP PAC

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has brought on Lindsay Melander Schulte as the new executive director for the Florida Democrat’s DWS PAC.

Melander Schulte most recently served as national finance director of the DCCC. The move – was first laid out to downtowners late last month at a kitchen cabinet happy hour. POLITCO reports that longtime Wasserman Schultz aide Jason O’Malley spoke and gave a general overview of how things are going. Fundraiser Molly Allen was also there.

K Streeters in the room: Gordon Taylor of Ogilvy Government Relations; John Michael Gonzalez of Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart; Matt Gelman of Microsoft;Lee Friedman of NCTA; Stacey Bernards of Honeywell; Paul Thornell of Citigroup; among others.

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NEW TO THE TWITTERS: @ItsWorkingFL — billed as a daily ticker from Gov. Scott’s office reporting Florida economic news.

CARROLL SAYS SCOTT ASKED HER TO RESIGN via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press

Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said today she had no idea law enforcement was investigating a veterans charity accused of running illegal slot machine-style casinos until two agents walked into her office last month.

She was taking photos with people in her office on March 12 when she was told the agents wanted to speak to her. When the agents walked out about 20 minutes later, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff was waiting outside her office. He told her Scott wanted her to resign. She immediately said yes and called her husband to let him know.

“In my military time, when the commander in chief makes a demand or a request, you say ‘Aye, aye sir,’ and you march on. And that’s what I did,” the retired Navy officer told The Associated Press in her first comments about the investigation. “I thought it would be better to remove myself from being a distraction.”

… “While I was in office, I was not allowed to respond to any media attacks. I couldn’t give interviews, I couldn’t send out a press release, I couldn’t respond to it — just let it die away,” she said, adding that she felt that not responding created a perception something was wrong. “It was very frustrating, but again, I’m a team player. So therefore, if this is a directive, then I follow the directive.”

SCOTT’S OFFICE RESPONDS: “After Jennifer Carroll was questioned by law enforcement about her work for Allied Veterans, a company involved in a multi-state criminal conspiracy, our chief of staff and general counsel questioned her. She agreed to resign, acknowledging her involvement with Allied Veterans would be a distraction from the issues important to Florida families. Out of respect to her and her family, we are not commenting further about her discussions with our office or law enforcement, except to say that she made the right decision.”

RIDICULOUS NOTION OF THE DAY: @bsfarrington: Jennifer Carroll says people have asked her to run for governor. She says that won’t happen.

SPEAKER: SCOTT HASN’T TALKED WITH HIM ABOUT MEDICAID EXPANSION via the News Service of Florida

House Speaker Will Weatherfordsaid Thursday that Gov. cott has not “reached out” to him about expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. Scott drew national headlines in February, when he announced support for the expansion. But Weatherford and other House Republican leaders have largely vetoed the idea.

“I mean, I can only speak for myself,” Weatherford said. “They (the governor’s office) have not reached out directly to me about it. I don’t know if they’ve called other members of our chamber. Maybe they have.” House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said Democrats will continue pushing for the Medicaid expansion, which would provide health coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Floridians. When told about Scott not talking with Weatherford, Thurston said, “Well, then, the governor probably does need to work harder from his bully pulpit to make sure that it happens if he thinks it’s important. I can tell you this: We think it’s important.”

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AIF WEIGHS IN SUPPORTING THE SENATE PLAN TO IMPLEMENT DRG HOSPITAL FUNDING via contributor Karen Cyphers

The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) weighed in Thursday on the implementation of the diagnostic-related groups (DRG) model for Medicaid payments, voicing support for the  proposal forwarded by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and suggesting that this model will allow for a more equitable, efficient process in allocating public dollars for health care.

The Senate and House have developed different formulas for hospital reimbursement under DRG, with public and teaching hospitals favoring the House plan in hopes of avoiding what they fear will be deep funding cuts.  To the contrary, AIF President Tom Feeney stated that the Senate proposal would remedy costly disparities in payments between public and for-profit hospitals, and pointed out that unlike public hospitals, private tax-paying hospitals have weathered repeated funding cuts over the last three years.

“Why should taxpayers have to pay more for a procedure at one hospital than another?” Feeney said in a statement. “We believe this nationally-tested model will allow for a more measurable and transparent process for all.”

Both the House and Senate plans will permit funds to be available to train more Florida physicians in graduate medical education residency programs — an important measure that will mean more Florida-trained physicians remaining in state.

ALIMONY OVERHAUL CLEARS SENATE via the News Service of Florida

The Senate on Thursday approved a bill that will revamp the state’s alimony laws, with supporting saying it will give greater certainty to the amounts of alimony payments between former spouses. Senators voted 29-11 to approved the measure (SB 718), sponsored by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargel.

The bill, for example, ends the concept of permanent alimony and also creates standards for the award of alimony based on the lengths of marriages. Stargel said she has tried to create a “fair framework” with the bill. But Sen. Eleanor Sobel said she thinks the bill will have “bad, unintended consequences” and that it could create problems for women with children. The House version of the overhaul (HB 231) has cleared committees and is ready to go to the full House.

EYEBALL WARS END WITH COMPROMISE BILL HEADING TO GOVERNOR FOR SIGNATURE via contributor Karen Cyphers

The Florida Senate has approved legislation to allow optometrists to prescribed approved oral medications, bringing to an end what has become known over the past few decades as the “eyeball wars” between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

The bill, which passed off the Senate floor unanimously and now heads to Governor Scott for his signature, permits optometrists to prescribe 14 oral drugs such as antibiotics and anti-glaucoma drugs after completing a course and exam. Optometrists will not be permitted to prescribe controlled substances or perform surgery, and will be required to report adverse events just as ophthalmologists do.  The terms of this compromise are similar to those found in many of the other 47 states which permit some form of oral prescribing by optometrists, but whose laws vary in complex and unique ways.

Senate President Don Gaetz stated earlier this year his goal to end the eyeball wars; and Senator Eleanor Sobel, historically opposed to such measures, added that “after many years of negotiation, we finally have a bill that protects the patient.”

INTERNET CAFE BAN HEADS TO SCOTT’S DESK via the Associated Press

Internet Florida legislators voted overwhelmingly to ban storefront gaming operations, a quick response to a scandal that led to dozens of arrests and the lieutenant governor’s resignation.

The bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Scott, who said he will sign it. The operations, commonly called “Internet cafes,” sell customers time online at computer terminals that feature sweepstakes games that simulate slot machines.

The Senate approved the measure on a 36-4 vote today. The Florida House had already approved it.

A handful of legislators opposed the bill because they said it went too far and would result in the closure of senior arcades. The bill (HB 155) would prohibit the use of gift cards, which the arcades have used to pay winners.

PARENT TRIGGER BILL PASSES HOUSE via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel

The “parent trigger” bill was hotly debated this afternoon by the Florida House, which then passed the measure 68 to 51.

The bill aims to give parents more say in the fate of a failing school. But critics fear it will be a mechanism for turning public schools over to private (and for-profit) management companies. They also argue that Florida parents don’t want the measure.

“I reject your premise that parents do not have a voice,” said Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, speaking against the measure. “Not only do parents have a voice, they also have a seat at the table.”

The bill allows an end run around local school boards and proclaims “outside, for-profit companies as heroes,” added Rep. Karen Castor Dentel. ”It’s about misleading the public.”

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CLERKS APPEAR HEADED OUT OF STATE BUDGET via the News Service of Florida

It looks like the clerks of court might be out the state budget again, as lawmakers try to untangle themselves from what seems like an annual ritual of deciding how much to give to the state’s court system. Budget-writing committees in both the House and Senate approved measures that would largely remove the clerks from the state’s budget and allow them to run on the fees they charge, a system that was reversed in 2009 because of changes made during the foreclosure crisis.

There are differences between the House measure (HB 5301) and the Senate version (SB 7052) that will still have to be worked out in conference. But lawmakers say they want the annual saga of how to deal with clerks funding to end. “This is no way to run a court system,” said Sen. Joe Negron. “It’s not fair to the clerks. … They shouldn’t be having to have a bake sale to keep the courthouse running.”

NEW ON THE TWITTERS: @DanDawsonsShoes

PENSION BILLS READY FOR SENATE FLOOR

A pair of measures that would overhaul local pensions and their reporting systems passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on largely party-line votes, sending the bills to the Senate floor. Both measures passed over concerns from both local governments and the law enforcement and firefighter unions whose members would be effect.

One measure (SB 458) is a complex bill that would allow cities more leeway in how they use insurance premium taxes to pay for pension benefits, but less room to maneuver than under a new reinterpretation of the existing state law by the Department of Management Services. “Basically, in the final analysis, the bill doesn’t provide what we believe would be the level of flexibility that we would request the Legislature provide,” said Kraig Conn, a lobbyist for the League of Cities. The unions, though, fear that the measure provides too little protection for the benefits employees are currently offered. They also argue that dozens of cities have been able to negotiate for more sustainable benefits without any change in the law. “We want the reform to be reasonable and we want it to allow our cities and our firefighters to continue to work on these issues,” said Robert Suarez, vice president of Florida Professional Firefighters.

Both sides oppose the reporting bill (SB 534) because they believe it would paint the pension plans as much weaker than they really are. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who helped craft the bills, broke with his fellow Democrats to support the plans. 

SITDOWN WITH LIZBETH 

Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto sits down with Sach’s Media Group’s Alia Faraj-Johnson and talks about the state budget. 

With Florida’s economy on the rebound and for the first time in about five years the state will be operating with a budget surplus, Florida’s Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto says they are still taking a cautious approach to crafting this year’s budget, “We are very focused on being fiscally responsible and in that we are projecting that we want our reserves to be $2.9 billion. We want to be in a very strong position to react in case of emergency.”

Benacquisto says the Senate supports the Governor’s efforts in making education funding a priority, “We put $480 million toward raises for instructional personnel, based on performance. Our budget includes individual debit cards for teachers so they can buy supplies for their classrooms,” she tells Faraj-Johnson. Benacquisto also responds to speculation about being a likely pick to be Florida’s next Lieutenant Governor. 

***TV host Lori Halbert is back in Tallahassee this week taping her second season final episodes of ‘Live with Lori, Political Food for Thought’. The one-of-a-kind Florida-based program, seen on FOX affiliate Sun Sports Network, is a cross between a political news show and a traditional cooking show, providing viewers an insider’s look at their elected lawmakers in a casual setting. Guests include Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant Richard, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry, Democrat Leader Pro Tempore Senator Maria Sachs, and State Representative Darryl Rouson.***

SPECIAL ELECTION FOR HOUSE DISTRICT 2

George Scaraborough decides not to run: “After prayerful consideration, it has become evident that my responsibilities at home and at work will prevent me from aggressively campaigning for the District 2 Seat in the Florida House of Representatives,” said Scarborough in a letter addressed to “Friends, Family and Neighbors.”

Jack Nobles becomes first candidate to file: Nobles turned in his paperwork in person this afternoon to the Florida Division of Elections. Advising Nobles’ campaign is a powerhouse team of GOP operatives which includes Chip Case and Andy Palmer of Capitol Solutions, Ryan Wiggins of Full Contact Strategies, and Rick Wilson of Intrepid Media.

Also officially filing: Scott Miller, David Radcliffe, both Republicans 

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APPOINTED: Walter Ketcham to the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (Reappointed). 

ATWATER FILLS VACANCY ON CITIZENS PROPERTY BOARD 

Juan Cocuy, the managing shareholder of a Wellington-based accounting, tax and business consulting firm, has been tabbed to fill the vacant seat on the Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s Board of Governors.

Cocuy, 54, is the appointment of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to replace Nancy Baily, who resigned earlier this year. Cocuy, a managing shareholder with Cocuy, Burns & Co., P.A., previously spent a decade as senior audit manager at Ernst & Young LLP. His term runs through July 31, 2014.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Jorge Chamizon, Floridian Partners: LKQ Corporation

Gus Corbella, Hayden Dempsey, Leslie Dughi, Greenberg Traurig: Organizational Development, Inc.; WorldCause Foundation, Inc.

Andreina Figueroa: Florida Amusement Association; Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Patti Hamilton: Southern Waste Systems; Sun Recycling

Janell Hendren: Florida Farm Bureau Federation (Federal)

Michael Huey, Todd Steibly, GrayRobinson: Winewood Park

Joe Mobley, Mark Pinto, The Fiorentino Group: St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office

Fatima Perez, Akerman Senterfitt: Algenol Biofuels Inc.

Sean Pittman: Florida Arcade and Bingo Association, Inc.

PITTMAN’S MAYORS’ LUNCH ON SATURDAY

The 11th annual Mayor’s Brunch saluting the Florida’s black state legislators is 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the eighth floor of the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee. The event, sponsored by the Pittman Law Group, is open to the public but RSVP is required.

VIDEO: Lauren Book “blessed” to have Ron Book as dad here.

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BILL ADAIR LEAVING POLITIFACT: He’ll become the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, a memo sent to Tampa Bay Times staffers Thursday says. Adair is also the Tampa Bay Times’ Washington Bureau Chief; Alex Leary will take over that job. 

FOR FIRST TIME, MAJORITY SUPPORTS LEGALIZING POT: A new Pew Research poll finds for the first time that a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana, 52% to 45%. “Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.”

PAC LAUNCHES TO SUPPORT BEARED CANDIDATES: A new political action committee launched this week to support bearded candidates from across the political spectrum, The Hill reports. Said spokesman Andy Shapero: “It’s been 125 years since our last bearded President, Benjamin Harrison, was elected. We’re hoping that with our support, bearded individuals will shrug off over a century of political irrelevance and start running for office again.”

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.