Sunburn for 5/10 — A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY this weekend to my dear friend, Alan Suskey — a committed family man; a fun-loving friend to many; an ambitious, self-made man; a patriot and veteran; and so many other qualities. We here in the ‘burg miss your bad haircut, ridiculous bow ties and, most important, dedication to making the community a better place. 

HIGH PRAISE: “I  find SUNBURN indispensable morning reading. Many , many thanks for sending it.” — Roger Stone, Jr.

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PPP: FL BACKS PATH-TO-CITIZENSHIP CANDIDATES 49%-29%; GOP VOTERS NOT SO MUCH via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Seven in 10 Hispanic voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a pro-pathway candidate, compared to 49 percent of African-Americans and 47 percent of non-Hispanic whites who feel that way, the survey from Public Policy Polling shows.

Overall, 49 percent of Florida voters overall said they’d back a pro-pathway candidate and 29 percent said they’d be less likely to do so.

But the poll also indicates that Florida congressional support for immigration reform is no sure thing due to Republican concerns with a pathway to citizenship. And Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation outnumber Democratic members by a 17-10 split.

Overall, though poll also indicated that large majorities of voters supported immigration-reform tenets because they believed it would keep communities safe and that they supported keeping families together, regardless of sexual orientation.

“We are glad to confirm that a great majority of Floridians support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” Kathy Bird-Caicedo, activist with the liberal-leaning Florida New Majority, which funded the PPP poll with Project New America.

RUBIO: GOP NOT TRYING TO ‘GUT’ IMMIGRATION REFORM via The Hill

Rubio, a co-author of the Senate’s immigration reform proposal, said Thursday that he did not believe his GOP colleagues were “trying to gut” the bill with a slew of amendments.

“I don’t think amendments are trying to gut it. I’ve read headlines that say that, I don’t understand it. That’s the way the process is supposed to work,” said Rubio on CBS’s “This Morning.”

His comments come as the Senate Judiciary panel on Thursday begins to markup the Gang of Eight’s bill and weigh more than 300 proposed changes which have been filed.  

Pro-immigration reform advocates fear that any of those amendments could shatter the bipartisan consensus and kill the bill.

Rubio, though, insisted that he welcomed the amendment process.

“What we’ve always worked on is a starting point,” he said of the immigration proposal.

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CRIST TO RAISE MONEY FOR GWEN GRAHAM via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist is set to headline a May 22 fundraising reception in Tampa for Gwen Graham, the Democratic challenger to Steve Southerland in CD 2 and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

Crist will join a Who’s Who of Tampa Democrats hosting the event at Stacy Frank’s home, including Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Kathy and Betty Castor, Jim Davis, Sandy Freedman, Pat Frank and more.

GROUP WANTS TO OUST ANDER CRENSHAW via the News Service of Florida

Rep. Ander Crenshaw has the epitome of what’s known as a safe seat in Congress. But that’s not deterring a group called Real Conservatives US, which says it’s launching an “Oust Ander Crenshaw” campaign – citing most recently his co-sponsorship of the bill calling for companies to collect taxes internet sales tax. Here’s more from their release: 

“Real Conservatives US is getting back to the basics of knocking on doors and engaging constitutional conservatives to challenge the establishment,” said Real Conservatives US Chairman Zack Whitson, “It is time for a change here in Northeast Florida and Real Conservatives US is going to lay the groundwork for our next Real Conservative Congressman in the 4th District.”

During Congressman Crenshaw’s twelve-year tenure in Washington, the national deficit has ballooned from $5.7 trillion to $16.79 trillion, as of today. Congressman Crenshaw has supported seven bills to increase the deficit for a total of $5.815 trillion. [The deficit increase from the fiscal cliff bill he supported in January 2013 will not be known until May 18, 2013.] Real Conservatives US believes less spending is the answer and Congressman Crenshaw’s record is clearly not conservative.

“Northeast Florida currently has two conservative trailblazers in Washington, Congressman Ron DeSantis and Congressman Ted Yoho. Congressman Crenshaw can’t seem to find his way down the conservative path. Real Conservatives US will find a vibrant leader for Northeast Florida to provide conservative reinforcements in Washington,” said Whitson.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make the final stop of his teacher pay raise victory tour celebrating $480 million for teacher pay raises. 8:45 a.m. Alexander Elementary School, Tampa.

BUDGET LANDS ON GOV’S DESK

it was only last Friday that lawmakers passed the $74.5 billion budget.

Now, it’s Gov. Rick Scott’s turn. The 450-page document landed on Scott’s desk Thursday. He has until May 24 to sign it — and veto anything he doesn’t deem appropriate. 

CAN RICK SCOTT VETO TUITION INCREASE? via Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times

To veto the tuition increase, the governor will have to alter budget language that tells universities how much they will charge students per credit hour. Because he isn’t removing an actual line item of the budget, some have argued that Scott can’t legally veto tuition increases.

In 2007, then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a 5 percent tuition increase that lawmakers put in the budget. The same questions were raised then, but no one challenged him.

Scott’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, said he believes the governor has the legal authority to veto the tuition increase language because Crist did it already.

“Look, anything is subject to the veto pen,” Antonacci said. “In this case, Charlie Crist did it, so there’s precedent. It’s what lawyers like: the fact that somebody did it before. So I think it’s doable.”

UNIVERSITY LEADERS EXPECT SCOTT TO VETO THE INCREASES

Most expect Gov. Scott to veto the modest tuition increase when he signs the state budget into law in the coming weeks.

“He’s come out strongly against tuition increases and fee increases, and now will be a time to see if the governor stands by his word,” said Brian Goff, the outgoing student body president at the University of South Florida.

… In Jacksonville, University of North Florida President John Delaney said the school is moving forward with the expectation that tuition will not rise.

“At UNF, we are building next year’s budget under the assumption that the governor will veto the tuition increase,” he said via email. “However, we appreciate the Legislature’s recognition that after six years of cuts, the universities are desperate for revenue.”

VETO WATCH

>>>Some 750 emails – mostly cut-and-paste requests – have come in since May 1 urging Scott to “work with other elected leaders to bring about a special legislative session” on expanding health insurance coverage after attempts failed this spring.

>>>There is support for a $50 million St. Petersburg to Titusville Coast-to-Coast bicycle and pedestrian trail – seen as an economic enhancement for Central Florida – and for local historic preservation projects.

>>>Nothing compares to the clips unloaded on a measure (HB 1355) that would block firearms purchases by some people who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment. … (A)bout 4,000 emails on the topic have come in through the state’s Sunburst system this month. … Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the gun-rights groups, said those urging Scott to veto the bill are doing so based on “erroneous information.” … “It only applies to people with mental illnesses who are already in a mental health facility under a Baker Act petition and who have subsequently been diagnosed as being an imminent danger to self or others.” … Lee Williams, the Sarasota Herald Tribune‘s “gun writer” reported that the veto effort appears to be in part a push from “Gun Owners of America,” which sent out an email to members stating, “Don’t allow the healthcare industry to determine who can and cannot own firearms. Help our friends out in Florida by calling Governor Rick Scott to urge him to veto HB 1355.”

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CRIST COMES OUT FOR GAY MARRIAGE

In a message posted on his Facebook page, Crist described as “great news” a decision by Delaware officials to become the 11th state to allow same-sex marriage.

“I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here,” Crist said in the message, initially reported by the political site SaintPetersblog.

Crist hinted at the position in December, after becoming a registered Democrat. He said at the time that he regretted signing a petition in support of a 2008 ballot initiative that put a ban on same-sex marriage in the state Constitution.

The Republican Party of Florida blasted Crist after the December comments, sending out an email that said he was trying to have it “both ways.”

“Once again, Charlie Crist is showing he has two faces on any issue,” the GOP said in the December email. “When Charlie Crist wanted Republican (and Independent!) support, he took a strong, pro-family stance against legalizing gay marriage. But today, he flipped yet again.” 

HOW IT PLAYED

Washington Post, “CHARLIE CRIST ENDORSES GAY MARRIAGE – Another step in Charlie Crist’s political evolution is complete”… MSNBC, “NEW DEM CHARLIE CRIST BACKS GAY MARRIAGE – and so, the transformation is complete”… Tampa Bay Times, “CHARLIE CRIST: I SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE – Seems to us he still has some explaining to do about his position”…Huffington Post, “CHARLIE CRIST BACKS GAY MARRIAGE – announced on Facebook”… Orlando Sentinel, “SHOULD GAY MARRIAGE ACTIVISTS TRUST CRIST? – Talk about it!”… Miami Herald, “CHARLIE CRIST LISTENED TO MIAMI ACTIVIST JOSEPH FALK, RETURNED TO TAMPA AND POSTED GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORT – “We talked and he said, ‘I’m already there,’” Falk recalled.””

POLITIFACT RULES CRIST’S STANCE A “FULL FLOP”

Looking back through his political career in Florida, we found that Crist’s opinion has traversed the spectrum. As a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006, Crist signed a petition to help get a gay marriage ban on the Florida ballot and said he supported “traditional marriage.”

While governor, he appeared to soften on the subject, saying he was a “live and let live” kind of person. But he voted for the ban nonetheless. As a Senate candidate, he stopped short of endorsing gay marriage, saying he supported civil unions that afforded the legal benefits of marriage.

Now, out of office but potentially eyeing a comeback, Crist has made his flip-flop complete, offering full-throated support for gay marriage.

That’s what we call a Full Flop.

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FIRM STARTED BY GAETZ ACCUSED OF MEDICARE FRAUD via the News Service of Florida

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the hospice company founded by Senate President Don Gaetz, accusing it of Medicare fraud, going back to when Gaetz was still with the firm. The lawsuit, filed May 2 in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City and reported Thursday by The Miami Herald, alleges that Vitas Hospice Services and Vitas Healthcare Corp. have misspent millions in taxpayer money collected from Medicare.

Gaetz sold the company in 2004 to current owner Chemed and no longer has any interest in the firm. But the suit alleges Chemed’s Vitas Health unit billed Medicare for services it didn’t provide since 2002. The suit alleges that “since at least 2002, Vitas, and since at least 2004 Chemed (after acquiring Vitas),submitted or caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare program by both: (a) billing Medicare for more costly crisis care services when certain patients did not need crisis care services or when Vitas, in fact, did not provide such services, or Vitas provided inappropriate medical care, and (b) admitting certain patients who were not eligible to receive hospice services (instead of curative care), because the patients did not have a life expectancy of six months or less if their illnesses ran their normal course,” the complaint says.

A spokeswoman for Gaetz told the Herald that the complaint involved matters “long after” he left the company. The company also vows to fight the suit.

LOBBYIST: SCOTT BEGGED WEATHERFORD TO PASS DOLPHINS STADIUM BILL via Sunshine State News

When Speaker Weatherford declined to bring the Sun Life Stadium taxpayer-funding bill up for a vote on the last day of session, he wasn’t simply thwarting the will of a few lawmakers, he was ignoring a personal plea by Gov.  Scott himself, according to the bill’s chief lobbyist.

“The governor was encouraging the speaker of the House to hear the bill,” Ron Book, one of the state’s most influential lobbyists, tells Sunshine State News of a rare visit Scott paid to Weatherford’s office on May 2, second-to-last day of session. “The governor was deeply involved in encouraging that the [Sun Life Stadium] legislation be heard in the closing days of the legislative session by the Florida House.”

Book’s revelation underscores what appears to be a growing divide between Weatherford and Scott.

REDISTRICTING BATTLE HEADS BACK TO COURT via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

A trio of lawsuits returned to the Florida Supreme Court, which forced lawmakers to redraw their state Senate districts last year after a brief, 30-day review of how they might perform in elections.

But the League of Women Voters, National Council of La Raza and other critics have argued since last year that the Legislature’s handiwork still intentionally preserves GOP majorities, in violation of the non-political requirements of the Fair Districts amendment to the state Constitution. They have sued in Leon County Circuit Court and have been seeking to gather evidence in emails and testimony of lawmakers to make their case.

But as thousands of emails gathered from both sides already show, partisan favoritism was foremost on everyone’s mind. Republicans worked with political consultants to attempt to stilt maps in their favor. Democratic consultants hired by Fair Districts backers wrote about drawing safe seats for Democrats, particularly U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

The legal question pending before the high court is whether it has already said its peace when it OK’d the second-version of the Senate districts in April 2012.

TRAUMA EXPERTS: CONFLICTS A THREAT TO SYSTEM via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida

When a team of experts came to Florida early this year, they found a trauma-care system that needed change. Parts of the overall structure of the system were outdated, the experts wrote in a report released this week. And in what they called “the most striking challenge,” various players in the hospital industry are in long-running battles about where trauma centers should be allowed to open.

The report calls for finding a “negotiated solution” to the conflicts, saying that the various parts of the industry need to accept a plan that would address issues such as determining the need for new trauma centers and how they should be distributed. Among the recommendations in the report, the team calls for dividing the state into seven regions for trauma-system planning, with regions mirroring those used by domestic-security task forces. The department in the past has used 19 smaller trauma-service areas, which became an issue in the legal challenges. Other potentially controversial recommendations include calling for changes in the way trauma centers are funded and considering the development of lower-level trauma centers than in the past.

The 1st District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear arguments next week in a dispute stemming from Department of Health decisions in 2011 to approve new trauma centers in Pasco, Manatee and Clay counties. Also, another case is pending at the appeals court about the opening of a Marion County trauma center.

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CHILDREN’S ADVOCATES GIVE LEGISLATIVE SESSION MIXED REVIEWS via News Service of Florida

Children’s advocates have mixed feelings about the 2013 legislative session. They lament the bills that failed to expand children’s access to health care or reform the juvenile justice system. They applaud groundbreaking legislation for youth in foster care. They’re optimistic about new developments in early learning, but say more are badly needed.  Ted Granger (Untied Way of Florida) rates the session a B-plus for children, pointing to new money for the Early Steps program for young children with developmental disabilities; the Healthy Families Florida program, which fights child abuse and neglect; the Healthy Start program for pregnant women and newborns; and the Guardian ad Litem program, which advocates for abused and neglected children. He also said programs that help homeless families got funding, which will necessarily help those children.

However, the 2013 session was a major disappointment for most juvenile-justice advocates. A bill that would have protected teens from abuse by staff in lock-ups run by the Department of Juvenile Justice passed the House unanimously but died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on the last day of session. Various other such bills never got a hearing (SB 660/HB 603; SB 1374/HB 1039; SB 506/HB 4021). Foster care was the only unqualified success of the session on which children’s advocates all agreed. Sen. Nancy Detert sponsored two bills that passed, heavily aided by the testimony of young adults about their lives.

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HD 2 CANDIDATE JACK NOBLES PULLS THE BANANA-IN-THE-TAILPIPE TRICK 

Nobles’ campaign (Ryan Wiggins and Rick Wilson are among those staffing it) offered a press release in which Nobles ‘apologized’ for overstating his rating from the National Rifle Association.

“Today, it came to my attention that my campaign sent out a piece of mail that claimed I had an A+ rating from the NRA,” the release from Nobles reads. “… I was awarded an A rating by the NRA, which is the highest rating a candidate who is not currently an elected official can receive from the organization.”

You see how Nobles worked that? By apologizing for his “mistake”, Nobles was able to get this blogger (and certainly other reporters to come) to amplify the intended message about Nobles receiving the highest rating a candidate who is not currently an elected official can receive.

In politics, this is referred to as the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick. Actually, not really, I just made that up. Like Nobles, I’m not above employing some clever marketing.

TWEET OF THE DAY: @JackLatvala: Are you ready for another one, world? Chris Latvala weighs House race in 2014 

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KARR HANGS A SHINGLE, LAUNCHES NEW FIRM

PR veteran Gary Karr has formed a new media, public relations and policy communications shop. Karr Strategic Communications will help companies, coalitions, trade associations and others in the policy and media spheres. Karr previously worked at the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdVaMed), where he served as vice president for public affairs. Before that, he worked as executive vice president at Edelman . He will remain with AdVaMed as an outside consultant. ‘For some time, I’ve had it in my head that one day I would run my own business, and it is now time to take that leap,’ he writes in an email to colleagues.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Jim Henry, Adams Street Advocates: KTR Publishing of Ybor, Inc.

Jayme O”Rourke: Volunteer Florida

Karen Petersen: American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

NEWSMAKERS SERIES Watch here

The heads of two of the state capital’s leading news organizations sit down with Ron Sachs to recap the just-ended 2013 session of the Florida Legislature. The review features David Royse, executive editor of the News Service of Florida, and Mary Ellen Klas, the Miami Herald’s capital bureau chief. 
 
The session ended without lawmakers agreeing on a plan to expand health insurance coverage under the federal law commonly referred to as Obamacare. Democrats are pressuring Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session to end the impasse, and Royse says the Governor may need to oblige. “I think there is a very good chance they (Legislature) will be back here in the fall. There is $50 billion from Washington on the table, and they’re going to hear a lot about it.”
 
Klas says Scott’s session victories, including securing pay increases for teachers, might boost what’s expected to be a tough re-election battle. “He eliminated some of the opposition against him. He tried to inoculate the teachers who campaigned against him, and I think he’s worked toward the middle. I think that is what’s going to help him,” Klas tells Sachs.  In their conversation Royse, Klas and Sachs discuss the Legislature’s swift ban on Internet cafés, elections and ethics reform, and more on “Florida NewsMakers.”

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY this weekend to Ashley Ligas and Alison Berke Morano.

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.