Sunburn for 5/31 — 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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GEORGE W. BUSH ON RUBIO: HE’S ‘ARTICULATE’

Former President George W. Bush had some pretty non-descript praise for Sen. Marco Rubio Thursday.

“Rubio’s articulate. I met him once, maybe twice. My brother likes him, so I like him,” Bush said, according to the Huffington Post, at his third annual Warrior 100K, a three-day mountain bike ride that he hosts every year. 

The former president also commented on the current immigration reform battles, and cautioned his fellow Republicans to not try and fix the system simply to win votes.

>>>Sure he’s articulate, but what about “bright” and “clean”?

ROMNEY SEEKS TO REJOIN THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE via the Wall Street Journal  

More than half a year after his election loss, Mitt Romney is putting a tentative foot back onto the public stage. Romney said that he plans to re-emerge in ways that will “help shape national priorities.”

As a first step, the former Republican presidential nominee plans to welcome 200 friends and supporters to a three-day summit next week that he will host at a Utah mountain resort. He is considering writing a book and a series of opinion pieces, and has plans to campaign for 2014 candidates. But he is wary of overdoing it.

Said Romney: “I’m not going to be bothering the airwaves with a constant series of speeches.”

VULNERABLE DEMOCRATS’ 2014 PRESIDENT OBAMA PROBLEM by POLITICO’s James Hohmann

As Democrats try to keep their lock on the Senate next year, some of their most vulnerable incumbents have a problem with President Obama: They can’t win with him, but they probably can’t win without him, either. The party desperately needs African-American voters to vote in numbers approaching last year’s turnout. Embracing Obama and his divisive health care law would no doubt help – the legislation is popular with the Democratic base, particularly among minorities. But get too close to the president and Democrats on the 2014 ballot could alienate white swing voters who hold the key to the midterms, which inherently favor Republicans.

The problem is most acute for three Southern Democratic senators from states with large black populations that Obama lost in November: Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor. Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the Senate, and the red-state Democrats, who all voted for Obamacare, top the GOP’s target list. This same dynamic worries House Democrats …

Nationally in 2012, blacks voted at higher rates than whites for the first time. … 66.2 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots in 2012, up from 64.7 percent in 2008. … A year-and-a-half out from the election, Pryor is already feeling the vise tighten. Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group is airing radio and TV spots attacking the Arkansan for breaking with Obama on background checks for firearms purchases last month … The group announced it would target the state’s African-American community, ‘without which Mark Pryor doesn’t have a prayer of getting reelected,’ said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. On the other side, the conservative Club for Growth is already airing ads that describe Pryor as ‘Obama’s best ally in Arkansas.’ Obama lost the state by 24 points.

… Obamacare may be the thorniest issue for the three. The law is a big liability with white independent voters and may become more so as inevitable problems crop up with its implementation. But the president’s namesake is beloved by the black community.

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BILL MCCOLLUM SUGGESTS SCOTT COULD FACE PRIMARY

The former Attorney General, who lost the gubernatorial primary to Scott in 2010, thinks the Governor could face a primary himself, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody looks at it,” said McCollum. “I’m not planning to do it”

FLORIDA GOP URGES DEMS TO #FREENANRICH via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

The Florida Republican Party has stepped-up its pot-stirring in the Democratic Party kerfuffle over gubernatorial contender Nan Rich being denied a speaking spot at the upcoming Jefferson-Jackson dinner.

State GOP Chairman Lenny Curry sent letters Thursday to 13,000 South Florida Democrats urging them to mount a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #FreeNanRich.

Curry accused his Democratic counterpart, Allison Tant, of bowing to the wishes of big contributors who are uneasy with the liberal bent of the former state senator from Weston.

Curry also said that Tant is looking to head-off a potential Democratic primary challenge to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat gaining behind-the-scenes support from many party leaders.

GOVERNOR SIGNS BILLS GIVING TRAFFICKING VICTIMS PATH TO CLEAR RECORDS via Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida

Victims of human trafficking will soon have a legal path to expunge records of crimes they were forced to commit in Florida.

Gov. Scott on Thursday signed a pair of bills (HB 1325 and HB 1327) that take effect Jan. 1, creating a legal process for human-trafficking victims to get their criminal records expunged — typically for prostitution charges.

The process would only apply to crimes committed while the victims were being forced, threatened or coerced. 

“They need to have their criminal records expunged and removed so they can move on and have gainful employment,” said Robin Hassler Thompson, senior policy analyst at Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

The bills are part of the Legislature’s increasing efforts to combat human trafficking in Florida, the third most-common U.S. destination for traffickers. Lawmakers passed the first bill criminalizing human trafficking in 2004 and last year consolidated trafficking laws into one statute. They also increased the penalties.

The bills signed Thursday passed both chambers unanimously.

SCOTT SIGNS 36 BILLS ON SCHOOLS, WATER, FREEMASONRY via Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida

Scott signed three dozen bills Thursday as he continues to work through legislation approved during the 2013 session, his office announced.

Scott did not release comments about the bill signings and didn’t issue any vetoes.

Included in the batch of bills Scott signed were several dealing with school safety. One measure (SB 284) allows private schools to be notified by first responders about emergencies and makes sure public schools spell out which agencies are supposed to contact them.

Another bill (HB 609) cracks down on “cyberbullying” in public schools by expanding what school districts are allowed to punish at school and when children are not at school — if the non-school bullying affects education.

Other education bills included one ordering the Department of Education to create uniform ID badges for some school contractors (HB 21); one creating a new third degree felony for posting certain obscene materials on school property (HB 113); and one toughening laws against convicted gang members trespassing on school property.

Scott also signed a measure (SB 1808) allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to set water quality standards in Florida after a years-long legal battle with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency. That battle about what are known as “numeric nutrient criteria” has been closely watched by business groups, local governments and environmentalists.

And he okayed a new law (HB 701) making it illegal to use state-issued EBT cards at strip clubs, liquor stores and gambling establishments, as well as a measure (HB 487) establishing a Freemasonry license plate, with proceeds going to the Masonic Home Endowment Fund, Inc.

PETITION DRIVE LAUNCHED FOR DOUG HOLDER AS LG via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Sarasota GOP chairman Joe Gruters announced a petition drive this week to push Scott to select state Rep. Doug Holder as his second-in-command. Gruters’ announcement came shortly after Scott left after speaking at an event in Venice Monday.

Gruters said Holder, an Osprey Republican, deserves serious consideration because he has strong support in the local community and is well-respected in GOP circles.

Gruters said he had already spoken to Scott about selecting Holder.

Holder said he was caught off guard by the gesture. He said he would be open to talking to Scott about the position but has not brought it up himself to Scott.

“What an unexpected surprise,” Holder said.

TWEET, TWEET: @SenChrisSmith: @SaintPetersblog The JOBS Governor sure seems to be having a hard time filling one.

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AIF VOTE ANALYSIS SUGGESTS SHIFT IN PRIORITIES by contributor Karen Cyphers

According to the Associated Industries of Florida analysis of more than 10,451 votes cast on 89 business-related bills, the gap between Democrat’s and Republican’s voting records decreased this year, from a difference of 26 points last year to 19 points in 2013. In 2001, the divide between parties was 48, with Republicans averaging at 97 percent and Democrats at 49. This growing congruence between parties may be due as much to changing AIF priorities as it is to an alignment on issues. Particularly in the area of health care, AIF has become a vocal proponent of expanded scope of practice for nurses and optometrists, and the expansion of public health care coverage for the uninsured — and both of these issues have historically been supported in greater number by Democrats.

In sum, 90 percent of 2013 votes were seen as wins for AIF — up from 88 percent last year, and 80 percent in 2009. However, considering the role of chamber leadership in agenda setting , only rough comparisons can be made between years. Votes can only be cast on bills which progress through the system. Therefore, missing from the AIF vote analysis is a measure of non-action on priority issues: i.e. bills that AIF would support but were never heard.  For example, an issue such as Medicaid expansion, which never had a hearing in the House, could be considered a de facto “no” vote by House leadership who prevented its movement.  Federal health care reform places considerable burden on businesses, leading AIF and other industry groups to look to the state for solutions that would prevent “double taxation” on employers. This is a huge issue that had no resolution in 2013.

“Employers are still shouldering the burden of indirect costs associated with paying for the health care of Florida’s uninsured,” said Tom Feeney, AIF president and CEO, who shared that health care coverage wasn’t the only area where AIF was left hanging.  “A watered-down property insurance bill and legislative inaction on right-sizing the Cat Fund leave Florida’s policyholders at risk.” Not one legislator earned a perfect 100 percent on AIF priority votes — but many came close.  The main kicker in scores for House Republicans seemed to be for voting “yes” on the Florida Health Choices program, HB 7169, a proposal which would not have provided enough expansion of health care coverage to meet AIF criteria.

JOE NEGRON TAKES A HIT IN AIF RANKINGS via the News Service of FLorida

Down near the bottom of AIF’s rankings was a big name: Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who could become Senate president in 2016.

AIF listed Negron as voting with it 83 percent of the time. That was fourth-lowest among all senators and substantially below the next-closest Republican, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, who was at 90 percent.

The only senators who scored lower than Negron were Miami Gardens Democrat Oscar Brayon, 80 percent; Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens, 79 percent; and Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner, 76 percent.

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AFTER GIVING JUDGE NEARLY 1,900 PAGES OF RECORDS, GOP FIRM WARNS OF “CHILLING EFFECT” via Matt Dixon of the Florida Times-Union

In documents filed in Leon County Court Thursday, prominent GOP consultant Pat Bainter argued there would be a “chilling effect” if nearly 1,900 pages of private documents were made public as part of redistricting lawsuit.

“Specifically, should this material be disclosed, retaliation from government officials or private parties that disagree with the opinions and strategies discussed in the material is highly probable and expected,” Bainter said in affidavit.

On Tuesday, Judge Terry Lewis order Bainter’s firm, Gainesville-based DataTargeting, to hand over more documents related to the redistricting lawsuit for a second time.

The firm gave Lewis 1,883 pages of documents, but also filed a motion dated May 30 trying to make sure they don’t see the light of day.

“Should DataTargeting be forced to disclose material reflection these internal deliberations, it would have to seriously reconsider its decision to participate in the legislative process,” the motion reads.

CITIZENS, CAT FUND TO WITHSTAND FIRST MAJOR STORM OF 2013 by Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida

Florida officials and insurance industry leaders hope for an eighth consecutive year without a major storm crashing on shore along the state’s Atlantic or gulf coasts.

But state insurance leaders are also finally expressing confidence in the fiscal strength of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which basically is a public pool that provides insurance for insurance companies.

At least, those officials are confident when the scenario is one major storm or a number of less-severe storm events impacting areas with relatively small populations.

“I don’t think anybody is claiming perfection at this point, but for the first time in a few years anyway the bonding capacity appears to be adequate to cover the claims in the fund,” said Dennis MacKee, spokesman for the State Board of Administration, which oversees the catastrophe fund.

Florida Insurance Council Executive Vice President Sam Miller said private insurers are also in fairly good shape, as long as a giant storm doesn’t cross a densely populated area.

“There are some storms we can handle and there are others we can’t,” Miller said. “We are in good shape for hopefully all that we will face, but if you have a one-in-100-year storm going into Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa Bay, it’s a whole different ball game.”

Similar sentiment was echoed by those who remain critical of Citizens.

Jay Neal, director of the advocacy group Florida Association for Insurance Reform, said the overall insurance market has been getting stronger, which is positive for property owners expecting to be covered after a storm.

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FLORIDA TAXWATCH ECONOMIC COMMENTARY SHOWS FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT POTENTIAL IN FLORIDA

Florida has ample opportunities for economic expansion by increasing Foreign Direct Investment according to this month’s Economic Commentary from the Florida TaxWatch Center for Competitive Florida. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a physical investment that a foreign company makes when they buy or open businesses in Florida. Florida ranks sixth in the nation in job creation by foreign-controlled companies due to the state’s business and natural climates and ability to connect to international trade markets.

Currently, approximately 239,500 Floridians are employed by FDI companies. Florida’s top foreign investors include the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Spain, and France. As the biggest purchasers of Florida exports, rapidly growing Latin American countries are notably missing from the list, indicating an expansion opportunity. View the Economic Commentary here.

FOLLOWING EXAMINATION, UNIVERSAL PROPERTY GETS HIT WITH STATE FINE via contributor Karen Cyphers

An insurance company delaying the paying of claims? No. Couldn’t be. Never. But in a breath of fresh air from Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, the second largest property insurer in the state has been hit with a fine of nearly $1.3 million for doing just that. Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Company has roughly 542,000 policyholders in the state, collecting more than $765 million each year in premiums. Only Citizens Property Insurance does more business in Florida than that.  This success was not built fully on customer satisfaction — or on compliance with state law. In a review by state regulators, Universal was unable to prove that it mailed out cancellation notices or notices of non-renewal on time, and was found to have unnecessarily delayed paying claims.

The order signed Thursday by insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty detailed these violations and others relating to how Universal handled complaints, rate filings, investments and financial transactions.  Meanwhile, property insurance clients remain largely stuck to ‘choose’ among similar, exclusion-laden policies that may, or may not, pay out when due.

NEWSMAKERS TALKS TO VISIT FLORIDA PRESIDENT WILL SECCOMBE Watch here

Seccombe sits down with Sachs Media Group’s Trimmel Gomes to discuss the state’s record-breaking tourism streak.

More people visited the state during the first three months of 2013 than in any year before. “We’re working off of two consecutive record years of Florida tourism. Last year we had 91.4 million visitors to the state of Florida. The first quarter of this year we had a record 26 million visitors, which is a number we never had before,” Seccombe tells Gomes. The first part of the year also marked a record for the number of Floridians employed in the tourism industry. “Huge momentum,” Seccombe said, “I think the hospitality and the travel and tourism industries have been the front edge of leading our state out of the Great Recession.”

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APPOINTED: Bridgette Mill, publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal,  to the St. Petersburg College District Board of Trustees

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to ’30 under 30′ rising star Keith Fernandez. Celebrating this weekend are reporter Jeff Burlew and PR pro Erica Villanueva.

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.