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

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

***Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms.***

NEW SERIES: WHO ARE THE “BIGGEST BRAINS” IN FLORIDA POLITICS? 

In the past, SaintPetersBlog has featured the 30-under-30 Rising Stars of Florida politics, the “Best” Lobbyists in Tallahassee, and the 25 Most Powerful Politicians in Tampa Bay. In two weeks, we’re launching our next series: The Brightest Minds in Florida politics.

This week-long series will profile approximately 25 of the smartest people devoted to campaigns and elections. From veteran operators like The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Marian Johnson to up-and-comers like Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson, from Republicans such as Frank Terrafirma to Democrats like Steve Vancore, this will be the definitive list of the big thinkers in electoral politics.

Your nominations are welcomed and encouraged, but be warned: there is serious competition for one of the spots on this list. Being the hot young thing after winning a single legislative race doesn’t get one close to making the list. This is for the political consultants, analysts, creative types and operators who win election cycle after election cycle.

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WHY YOU SHOULD START BUYING MARCO RUBIO STOCK via Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post

If you think of the candidates in the 2016 presidential field as stocks (and we do), buying Marco Rubio right now is a smart investment.

There’s little doubt that you can buy Rubio stock low because of his involvement in passing a comprehensive immigration reform proposal through the Senate, a role that transformed him from hero to turncoat in the eyes of many conservative voters. And, his famous/infamous dry mouth incident when responding to President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union didn’t help things either.

But, consider this:

— Rubio’s outspokenness on the necessity of an aggressive foreign policy puts him squarely in line with where the GOP establishment sees itself — and sets up a stark contrast with the non-interventionism of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

 — Rubio is the most naturally talented candidate in the 2016 field, with the possible exception of Chris Christie. And, in a presidential race, charisma and natural ability matters — a lot.

— Aside from immigration, which will continue to be a problem for Rubio with some parts of the base, his record is decidedly conservative. (He was the 17th most conservative Senator, according to National Journal’s 2013 vote ratings.)

— He can likely raise the tens of millions he would need to be competitive in the first few states thanks to his national reputation among major contributors — built during his 2010 Senate bid — and his base in the donor-rich state of Florida.

Add it up and the path for Rubio to be one of the last men standing becomes not only clear but relatively plausible. (This all assumes former Gov. Jeb Bush chooses not to run. If Jeb runs, Marco won’t.)

The way we have been thinking of Rubio of late is like the 2013-2014 Kentucky men’s basketball team. The Wildcats started off the season ranked #1 in the country, a ranking almost exclusively based off of the talent the team had on paper. Once games started to be played, however, the team stumbled and even dropped out of the top 25 nationally. But, when the NCAA tournament came around, Kentucky’s talent — coupled with lessons learned from their up and down season — shone through. They made the championship game before losing to UCONN.

That story arc is one we could easily see Rubio taking.  He was widely seen as the frontrunner for 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 race. He had a VERY rough 2013 but has steadied himself of late. And that talent is still very much there.

GWEN GRAHAM AND THE RETURN OF OLD-STYLE, MODERATE SOUTHERNERS via Michael Mishak of the Associated Press

It’s not easy being a Democrat at the Worm Gruntin’ Festival.

The event, named for a popular method of coaxing worms above ground, takes place in Florida’s conservative Panhandle amid gator kabobs, fishhook earrings and a tent with venomous snakes.

But on a campaign stop, U.S. House candidate Gwen Graham had something going for her: her last name. Voter after voter recounted fond memories of her father, Bob, who towered over Florida politics for more than a quarter-century as governor and U.S. senator.

… Graham, who is following her father’s campaign tradition of spending days working alongside constituents, said, “I want to put aside the bickering. It should be public service, not politics.”

… But GOP loyalists predict … Graham will struggle to win over a midterm electorate expected to be older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years. “Family roots may be important,” said Southerland spokesman Matt McCullough, but voters want Graham “to start showing a little leadership in her own right.”

The approach offers Democrats a ray of hope in a midterm congressional election that could continue the party’s slide in the South, where President Barack Obama and national figures such as U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California are broadly unpopular.

… But GOP loyalists predict Nunn and Graham will struggle to win over a midterm electorate expected to be older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years. “Family roots may be important,” said Southerland spokesman Matt McCullough, but voters want Graham “to start showing a little leadership in her own right.”

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EPILOGUE…

FLORIDA REPUBLICANS USED SESSION FOR IMAGE MAKEOVER via Mary Ellen Klas and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

The Republican-led Legislature in a blue presidential state comes out of a 60-day session with an image makeover that leaders describe as compassionately conservative.

Policy shifts on immigration, marijuana and safety net spending reflected a party philosophy that moved closer to the middle on social issues — all of which poll well, even in conservative districts.

Yet Republicans are touting bipartisan support for the budget and a more moderate stance on some social issues as proof that they are listening to voters.

But for many Democrats, who supported the budget and helped to pass the tuition bill for undocumented immigrants, the GOP’s tack to the middle dwarfs the impact of the decision to withhold billions in federal money and keep 750,000 Floridians from getting health insurance.

For Gov. Scott, whose re-election has become the top priority of his Republican brethren, the image overhaul was an election-year success.

In addition to allowing the children of undocumented immigrations to pay in-state tuition, legislators did other things that had never before been top of their agenda. They eliminated the waiting list for disabled Floridians in critical need of care, raised the state contributions to historically black colleges, and even boosted child welfare programs by $73 million.

IN SESSION OUTCOMES, SIGNS OF THE SCOTT EVOLUTION via Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

… Yet it is a kinder, gentler Gov. Scott emerging from the 2014 session heading into the heart of his re-election campaign. On Thursday night, Scott mingled outside the House and Senate chambers with those students who have called themselves the “Dreamers.” They have occupied the Capitol in recent weeks, seeking state support for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students.

The messaging around his transformation continued in Scott’s 145-word post-session statement Friday, when he mentioned families five times and students three times while adding references to tuition, classrooms, education and children.

While Scott is not the most polished politician to lead Florida’s executive branch, he is a relentless messenger. And his accomplishments in the 2014 session may give him momentum to start closing the compassion gap in the coming months.

SCOTT’S OFFICE HAS POST-SESSION STAFF SHUFFLE via Matt Dixon of PoliticalFixFlorida.com

Gov. Scott’s campaign is beefing up again as two staffers from his office head to campaign world.

Brad Pipenbrink, the office’s external affairs director, will serve as the campaign’s political director.

Sam Verghese, chief of staff at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, will take his place.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz is also leaving his office to work in a similar role with the campaign.

She will be replaced by John Tupps, who is Scott’s current deputy communications director.

COMING SOON TO A CITY NEAR YOU: THE RICK SCOTT POST-SESSION TOUR via The Associated Press

Gov. Scott is hitting the campaign trail this week to tout tax and fee cuts approved by state legislators.

Scott plans to make appearances in eight cities to talk about the $500 million in cuts. The main centerpiece is a nearly $400 million rollback in auto registration fees that kicks in this fall.

Legislators also approved a three day back-to-school sales tax holiday as well as tax holidays for hurricane preparation supplies and energy efficient appliances.

Scott plans to hammer former Gov. Charlie Crist during the tour. Crist signed off on the auto fee increases in 2009. Crist has maintained he would have rolled them back sooner if was still governor.

Scott plans stops in Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, Miami, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Panama City, and Gainesville.

HERALD EDITORIAL: VICTORY NO SURE FOR SCOTT OR CRIST 

The Miami Herald editors write that the “Quinnipiac poll released last week showing Gov. Rick Scott trailing Charlie Crist by 10 points, 48 to 38, offers fresh evidence that Florida’s voters are far from happy with the state’s chief executive and may be ready to make a change.”

If Scott wants to turn those numbers around, he must at a minimum be aware of how he got into this fix. Part of it involves early blunders that plunged his approval rating to 29 percent at one point.

“Convincing voters that he can do better in serving all the voters of the state is Scott’s principal challenge, but this race is no sure thing for anyone.”

And why is Charlie Crist in the race if he was so eager to trade Tallahassee for Washington, D.C., in 2010, when he ran for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking reelection? Then he switched from Republican to Independent — and now he’s a Democrat! Is he interested more in governing or in getting even with old foes in the Republican Party?

Crist is closer to Florida’s political center than Scott, but he’s nowhere near closing the sale. He demands to debate Gov. Scott, but won’t offer the same courtesy to state Sen. Nan Rich, the other Democrat in the race, whose underfinanced campaign is a long shot. At last report, Crist had raised $7.7 million, compared to her relatively paltry $540,000.

That says a lot about the viability of her candidacy, or lack of it. Where Sen. Rich is dead right, though, is in attacking Crist’s unwillingness to debate her. Crist should quit dodging. What’s he afraid of?

Gov. Scott lost ground in the first part of this year despite spending about $7 million in campaign ads in the past two months. Clearly, he has a lot of work to do if he expects to regain the trust of Floridians by Election Day in November.

It’s far too early to place bets. Election Day is exactly half a year away, giving Scott time to get out of trouble. He is going to have the biggest campaign chest, and the race will almost surely tighten, but both he and his challengers have to show Florida’s voters that they won’t disappoint once in office. And it’s time for Floridians to start paying attention to the race.

MEANWHILE … WILL WEATHERFORD SAYS NO TO RPOF CHAIR GIG via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald 

Speaker Will Weatherford says he doesn’t want to become the Republican Party of Florida Chairman for now.

“Humbled by all the encouragement to run for RPOF chair but I have a higher calling right now…being a more present husband and father,” Weatherford said on Twitter.

Does that mean he’s definitely not running for the post?

“The answer to that is yes,” he said. “I’m worn out. We’re going to have our fourth baby in September and I have to man the fort.”

That makes the selection of Clay County GOP Chair Leslie Dougher more likely. She’s a favorite of Gov. Rick Scott’s inner circle. But some Republicans preferred Weatherford. With him gone, the reasons not to choose Dougher are few and far between for the GOP.

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5 BIGGEST QUESTIONS OF THE 2014 SESSION ANSWERED via Gary Fineout for his blog, The Fine Print

The session for the most part did live up to billing as an election-year offering designed to help Gov. Scott.

Here then are this year’s biggest questions answered:

1. Is this year’s gambling legislation the real deal, or is it all for show? It was pretty much just a show. The deep divides over gambling remained in force and halfway through the session both the House and Senate shut down any consideration of any serious legislation.

2. Will the Republican-controlled Legislature really approve in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants? Yes. The Florida House is poised on the final day of the session to pass the bill and send it to Scott. And Scott plans to sign the bill once it hits his desk.

3.  Testing vs. vouchers Well, this one (headed) down to the wire.

Concerns over testing prompted the Senate sponsor of this year’s bill to expand Florida’s private school voucher program to pull his bill from consideration. But the House then attached the bill that would offer vouchers to middle-income families to a bill that also deals with educational services for disabled children that is a top priority for Senate President-designate Andy Gardiner.

4. Could Rick Scott still have a tough session?

The answer was sort of.

Clearly the looming prospect of Scott’s re-election hung over the entire session. Controversial proposals were jettisoned repeatedly as it became apparent that legislative leaders had no intention of sending anything too polarizing to Scott’s desk.

But in other ways Scott fared well. He got most, if not all, of his tax cut package. His spending recommendations were not completely followed but he got a lot of what he asked for and the Senate gave a thumbs up to his appointments.

5. Will there be a libertarian wave during this year’s session?

Kind of, sort of. The Legislature is expected on its final day of session to pass a bill that would authorize the use of a strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” for medical purposes.

Many other pieces of legislation to loosen up on government regulation crashed and burned, whether it was getting rid of red light cameras or deregulating the sale of liquor in grocery stores.

And then there was the big cluster over craft breweries and whether or not they could sale certain sizes of beer known as growlers. The intense firefight between the big beer distributors and the craft breweries over what kind or regulation is needed has not been resolved and the bill is expected to die in the Florida House on the final day.

HOW SINE DIE PLAYED

Sun SentinelFlorida lawmakers wrap up 2014 session – passing bills to give discounted tuition to undocumented immigrants, medical marijuana to epileptic children, tax subsidies to sports stadium builders and an election-year package of tax cuts…  Bay News 9Florida Legislature approves record $77B budget, ends session – approving a record $77.1 billion state budget that increases money for everything from child welfare to schools to cleaning up water pollution… News Herald, Legislature approves budget and ends 2014 session – also passed a sweeping bill aimed at overhauling the child-welfare system… Miami Herald, Fla. Legislature votes to move 2016 session date – Florida’s constitution requires the session start in March in odd-numbered years but leaves it up to legislators to fix the date in even-numbered years… Tampa Bay Times, Florida Legislature adjourns 2014 session, approving medical marijuana strain and immigrant tuition – also overhauled child protection laws, allowed a noncitizen to practice law, banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors and set up a pecking order for sales tax rebates for sports stadiums… Orlando Sentinel,Lawmakers wrap up 2014 session – In a year with recovering state coffers, lawmakers approved a $77.1 billion budget that’s about $2.5 billion larger than the current fiscal year’s… Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Legislature shifts course as session ends – taking the nation’s fourth-largest state in a new direction when it comes to dealing with a large population of undocumented immigrants… The Florida Current, Scott gets tax cut package on session’s last day – passed a $105 million hodgepodge of tax cuts Friday, sending Gov. Rick Scott the last piece of his goal of $500 million in tax cuts this year… Gainesville Sun, Legislature passes record budget, adjourns – The budget, which takes effect July 1, reflects the fact that state finances have become flush again after the lean recession years and it shows in higher spending on schools, health care and a legion of projects in legislative districts.

TWEET, TWEET: @fineout: By the numbers: #Session2014 – lowest numbers of bill passed since @FLGovScott took office

MUST-READ: HOW WILL WEATHERFORD SAVED THE DREAM TUITION BILL via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Will Weatherford is a politician. And on Thursday, he misled — but in the rarest of ways.

Weatherford praised someone else (Gov. Scott, to be exact) for something he really deserves the greatest credit for: securing the passage of a controversial bill giving in-state college tuition rates to some Florida high school graduates who are undocumented immigrants.

“I have to say, the bill would never have passed the Florida Senate had the governor not engaged,” Weatherford said at an impromptu news conference with Scott and other politicians after the legislation passed.

However, it was Weatherford —not Scott, not anyone else in the Capitol rotunda —who most forcefully used his office to pressure the leaders of the Florida Senate to clear up a procedural impediment that stalled the legislation.

Weatherford employed the bluntest of political tools: a veiled threat to hold hostage the state’s $77.1 billion budget until the Senate un-stuck the bill.

“I will not have a budget on the desk,” Weatherford said in a phone call he placed Monday to the office of Senate President Gaetz, an opponent of the legislation.

Gaetz decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. The bill started moving. So did the budget, which was agreed upon, printed and placed on the desks of lawmakers.

After the tuition bill passed, Weatherford downplayed —but didn’t deny —his power play.

“The Senate was aware, and so was the governor, that I was willing to go to great lengths to make sure there was a vote — not that there was a guarantee of passage, but that this issue had its day on the floor of the Senate,” Weatherford told the Miami Herald.

Weatherford’s move was an object lesson in leadership and legacy-building for the rising Republican star who leaves office this year due to term limits. He stuck his neck out early for legislation opposed by a significant segment of the GOP electorate, some of whom see the measure as “amnesty” and could hold it against him in some future primary.

SCHOOLS EMERGE AS BIG WINNER FROM FLORIDA LEGISLATURE’S SESSION via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times

Not long after the 2014 legislative session came to a close, Senate President Gaetz said it had been “a good year for education.”

Indeed, K-12 education came out a big winner.

Lawmakers simplified the complicated school grading formula. They created new scholarship accounts for children with special needs. And they directed a record-high $11 billion in state funding to the K-12 education system.

Democrats were also pleased with the results — for the most part.

They said Republicans had been forced to strike a balance between expanding school choice and appeasing public-school supporters.

“It’s an election year,” said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat. “That’s what it all boils down to.”

Funding for education, which had taken a hit in recent years, saw a positive change. The per-student funding level, $6,937, represents an increase of $176 from last year. But it still falls short of the $7,126 per student in 2007-08.

An additional $40 million was set aside for technology upgrades — a priority for both chambers.

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CRISAFULLI SAID SPRINGS BILL DIED BECAUSE IT WASN’T THE RIGHT APPROACH via Bruce Ritchie of the The Florida Current

In the end, there was too much opposition to a Senate springs bill for it to be brought up in the House, Rep. Steve Crisafulli said after the legislative session ended Friday.

SB 1576 passed the Senate 38-0 on Wednesday but died in House messages on Friday.

“It was a bill that kept working through the process,” Crisafulli told The Florida Current. “And quite honestly there was a lot of folks who didn’t see that as being the right approach for what is right for the future.”

Springs have turned green with algae because of increasing nitrogen in groundwater from a variety of sources, scientists say. SB 1576 would have required advanced sewage treatment and septic tanks in areas with polluted springs and would have tightened state laws to prevent groundwater overpumping.

The bill as filed on Feb. 28 provided an estimated $365 million per year for springs projects. But the recurring funding was stripped from the bill on April 22 and replaced with a one-time $30 million in the proposed 2014-15 state budget.

Business and industry groups said they support clean water but preferred to stick with the state’s approach to developing cleanup plans for springs. And the lack of funding in April drew open opposition from cities and counties who said they would be on the hook for cleanups without funding from the state.

Crisafulli said he is committed to a comprehensive approach on water statewide over the next two years.

“Not just the springs, not just the Everglades, not just the Indian River Lagoon but all water policy,” Crisafulli said. “That is the interest I have. That is the approach I will be taking.”

FILM INDUSTRY SUPPORTERS WON’T GIVE UP FIGHT FOR INCENTIVES via Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald

One bill that failed to make it across the finish line this year sought to expand the state’s entertainment industry tax incentive program.

The proposal was a top priority for both South Florida and Tampa Bay. Lawmakers from both regions argued it had the potential to pump millions of dollars into the state economy.

The Senate was considering a plan to add $300 million in tax credits over the next six years.

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. pitched a far more expansive proposal in the lower chamber. But it never managed to take off. Later, the House included a Qualified Television Loan Fund in its proposed tax cut package. The Senate eliminated the provision on the second-to-last day of session.

Film Florida President Leah Sokolowsky said she was disappointed in the outcome of the session.

“Beginning tomorrow, Film Florida will rededicate itself to educating our state’s policymakers on the positive economic impacts that the entertainment industry provides,” she said in a statement. “We will bring our message from the Panhandle to Key West that for every $1 the state invests in the entertainment industry, $5.60 is returned and infused back into our state’s economy.”

In other words, expect the bill to be back next year.

TRAUMA CENTER PROPOSAL FELL APART via Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times

What started as a plan to shield three disputed HCA trauma centers from legal action, and later added limits on sky-high trauma access fees, collapsed entirely as legislators failed to pass any trauma measure.

One of the most high profile issues of the session fell prey to political maneuvering as the House attempted to amend it — and a bunch of unrelated issues — onto a bill that turned into such a train that House Speaker Weatherford chanted “choo-choo” as it came up in his chamber. The House approved the measure, but the Senate would not take it up as session drew to a close.

“The bill got too heavy and was in trouble as soon as the House decided to use a train instead of a stand-alone bill,” said Sen. Denise Grimsley, the Senate sponsor.

The failure to grandfather Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Ocala Regional Medical Center does not mean the facilities will be shut down anytime soon. But it almost guarantees that legal challenges from long-standing trauma centers that contend HCA was improperly granted state permission to open will continue.

The warring hospitals had come up with a compromise that could have ended many of the legal challenges if it had been adopted by the Senate after the House had agreed.

Lawmakers generally agreed on the basics: keeping the three centers open, creating a one-year $15,000 cap on access fees and instituting a one-year moratorium on new trauma centers.

The Senate wanted to create a trauma advisory council to come up with new rules for approving future centers, but wouldn’t guarantee that safety net hospitals would be represented. The Senate also wanted to restrict safety net hospitals from pursuing legal challenges in the future.

The House took its trauma center bill, HB 7113, and tacked on requirements that doctors consult the state’s prescription drug monitoring database, independence for highly trained nurses, limits on the Miami-Dade Health Trust and regulations for virtual doctor visits.

HB 7113 sunk under the weight of competing House and Senate proposals, only to be replaced by HB 7105 as the preferred trauma vehicle.

Rep. Jason Brodeur filed an amendment to HB 7105 late Friday, creating hope in the final hours that a deal had been struck. The measure was approved by the House 108-9, but the Senate never concurred. “When we’re getting down to the last couple of hours we’re trying to do the best job we can with all of the outstanding issues,” Brodeur said.

Safety net hospitals vehemently opposed part of Brodeur’s amendment that allowed post-operation surgical centers to keep patients for up to 24 hours.

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BLOG POST OF THE DAY: HOUSE BOYS CLUB CAN’T HIDE KATIE EDWARDS’ LIGHT via Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News

It’s the same lousy deal for a woman in the Florida House. Year after year the same. Doesn’t matter their party, women representatives seated in the lower chamber invariably fight for a meaningful role, take abuse and ultimately get ignored.

Did I see that just happen to Katie Edwards?

Observing the medical marijuana debateThursday on the House floor — when it came time to congratulate all parties who helped bring this once-unthinkable bill to the brink of victory — I heard bill sponsor Matt Gaetz lavish syrupy compliments on the “killer B’s of the Senate, Sens. (Rob) Bradley, (Aaron) Bean and (Jeff) Brandes.” I heard him thank Edwards for her research, Charles Van Zant for his drive, Cary Pigman for his competence, “every member of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee for their trust,” and Speaker Will Weatherford, Dennis Baxley and Steve Crisafulli for all kinds of support.

But research? Really? One or two anemic words, is that the best he could do?

On the other hand, Gaetz was more generous than Weatherford, who didn’t mention Edwards’ name at all. Though he did pay tribute to Gaetz’s “courage, leadership and maturity.”

Here’s how I see it: Edwards, a woman (strike 1), a Democrat (strike 2), only in her second year (foul-tip), nevertheless found a way to elevate the 2014 Legislature with passion, energy and intelligence. She was a lesson in what all legislators should be doing, given their privilege to serve in the state Capitol. And I don’t think the boys liked it much — I mean, they certainly weren’t looking for accomplishment.

Next to the families with sick children — Edwards was probably more responsible for the legislation in the House, where it originated, than any other member.

I know this because I remember the work she did after the 2013 legislative session, when her medical marijuana bill went nowhere. She was smart enough and determined enough to lean into research, look at studies, assess results and figure out how to get a bill heard. She had promised constituents answers.

I also know because at a March 31 forum, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz gave prime co-sponsor Edwards the lion’s share of the credit. Was that just a moment of weakness, I wonder?

“Rep. Edwards can be annoyingly persistent,” Gaetz said, explaining why he came to sponsor the House CBD medical marijuana bill. “She pestered me with emails every day for about three months.”

Certainly Edwards needed Gaetz’s heft to pull it off and appeal to House Republicans. And without a doubt Gaetz brought himself up to warp speed on cannabidiol, masterfully so, taking the bill on the “slow and cautious walk” he promised. But without Edwards, without her passion and pushiness and refusal to give up, he wouldn’t be savoring this virtual victory lap now.

There’s something about the boys in the Florida House. Run down the list of women representatives. See for yourself how many — with the exception of Speaker Pro Tempore Marti Coley — have positions of real responsibility. A handful. It’s a time-honored thing — a culture of gender discrimination that doesn’t exist in the Senate.

… Funny how a woman can languish for years in the House, then go to the Senate and shine. Same woman, different side of the building.

The House does pick a token woman to favor year after year. But in the end, when the boys get together, they make sure the plums stay locked up in the club safe.

ROMANO COLUMN: VOUCHER EXPANSION DOUBLES DOWN ON SEPARATE BUT UNEQUAL SCHOOLS 

Lawmakers are obsessively fanatical about accountability in public schools, and yet disturbingly unconcerned about accountability in private schools.

Students, teachers and administrators are seemingly held captive by standardized tests in public schools, and yet tax revenues flow into private schools with few checks and balances and virtually no oversight.

Vouchers were sold as a way for poverty-level students to attend private schools with public funds, but legislation passed Friday will dramatically expand the program into middle-class territory.

You cannot have over-the-top dependency on standardized tests in public schools, and under-the-rug disregard when it comes to private schools. Not if you plan on funneling more and more taxpayer funds toward those private schools.

Florida has micromanaged public education to the point of absurdity. The state’s entire educational experience, including curriculum, revolves around the results of a handful of standardized tests that are far from infallible. These exams are so danged important, legislators even insist that profoundly disabled children are not always exempt.

That plays right into the Jeb Bush-mindset of creating a separate-but-unequal educational choice system that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.

TIMES EDITORIAL: LEGISLATURE IGNORED THE BIG ISSUES 

They created a state poet laureate, honored the Florida State University football champions and snapped selfies with soccer star David Beckham. They opened the flood insurance market, closed public records and got tougher on sexual predators. They loosened gun laws, tightened abortion restrictions and raised the highway speed limit.

The Florida Legislature’s annual session that ended Friday night will not be remembered as ambitious or visionary. Efforts to tackle big issues such as gambling and public employee pension reform collapsed. Other broad public policy concerns such as tax reform, renewable energy and water resources once again were ignored. Those are all issues that a more engaged governor and a more enlightened Legislature will have to tackle for Florida to prosper in the 21st century.

Instead, the Republican-led Legislature focused on appealing to conservative voters and avoiding controversy in a year when unpopular Gov. Scott is seeking re-election. The governor won his $500 million in tax breaks, including the repeal of motor vehicle fee increases signed into law during the economic recession by his predecessor and likely November opponent, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. He is expected to sign into law protections for firing warning shots that were endorsed by the National Rifle Association and new restrictions on abortion sought by abortion rights opponents. With more than $1.2 billion in additional revenue, the governor also will be able to boast about a $77 billion budget that will finally increase per student spending above where it was when he took office.

… While lawmakers left Tallahassee without creating major controversy, there remains a permanent stain on this Legislature. For two years, Weatherford and a handful of other Republican leaders refused to accept billions in federal Medicaid expansion money to help pay for health coverage for a million uninsured Floridians. The House refused to accept a workable Senate plan last year, and a similar proposal failed to receive even a hearing this year. The powerful economic and moral arguments fell on deaf ears, and voters should hold those lawmakers seeking re-election accountable for their indefensible indifference.

TWEET, TWEET: @RepAmandaMurphy: FL session may be over, but many issues left unresolved. Nuke recovery fee, seminole compact, & Medicaid expansion to name a few.

***The RSA team produces results for its clients through its extensive knowledge of the legislative process, longstanding relationships with elected officials and community leaders and strong work ethic. RSA is a full service consulting firm specializing in community and government affairs, fundraising & event planning.  RSA clients receive personal attention and commitment from a team of seasoned lobbyists, led by Ron Pierce.   Learn how we can help your business, visit www.rsaconsultingllc.com.***

DOC STAMP LOOPHOLE KEEPS MILLIONS IN TAXES FROM STATE’S COFFERS via Josh Salman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

A handful of Southwest Florida’s wealthiest residents and business owners have legally skirted millions of dollars in documentary stamp taxes — levied on all deeds that change hands in Florida — through a loophole in the collections system.

And the practice continues to this day.

Principals in at least nine real estate deals in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties — a combined $170.6 million in transactions — avoided paying documentary, or “doc,” stamps through a technique colloquially referred to as a “drop and swap.”

Those local deals alone would have brought the state close to $1.21 million since 2006, according to a Herald-Tribune review of official property records.

Statewide, and especially in larger metro areas like Miami and Orlando, the practice could have cost Florida tens of millions of dollars during that same time period, the newspaper’s analysis shows.

Sellers tuck real estate into a shell company — typically a limited liability corporation — that usually has no other assets, then transfer ownership of the company to a third-party buyer.

Because the buyer is technically acquiring company shares, no doc stamps are required under Florida law.

Despite the legislation to close the loophole, the practice of drop-and-swap continues, though perhaps not as much as prior to 2009, when the law took effect. It is unclear, however, whether the practice continues because the law was ineffective or because government officials are not strictly enforcing it.

***SUNBURN is sponsored in part by Floridian Partners, LLC, a statewide Public and Government Affairs firm with offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Their firm’s success is measured by its clients’ success. Outreach and Public Advocacy; Strategic Issue and Campaign Development; Grassroots and Grasstops Coalition Building – Floridian Partners is a one-stop firm for clients needing assistance at all levels of government in Florida.***

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Travis Blanton, Melanie Brown, Jon Johnson, Johnson & Blanton: Navient

Giovanni Casanova: Florida Hospital

Kim Case, Mark Delegal, Holland & Knight: Performant Financial Corporation

Michael Corcoran, Corcoran & Johnston: The Rubin Group

CONTEXT FLORIDA: DEATH PENALTY, SESSION WINNERS & LOSERS, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS AND REPEALING OBAMACARE

On Context Florida: The state of Oklahoma botched Clayton Lockett’s execution attempt so badly that it had to be interrupted shortly before a heart attack completed what needles and drugs failed to accomplish. Martin Dyckman asks why the United States persists in putting people to death by any means. Peter Schorsch puts the last 60 days in perspective by naming the winners and losers in the 2014 legislative session, such as thrill-seeking recreationalists, Florida students and teachers, gaming interests, and Sen. Jack Latvala. Trend analyst and author Stephen Goldstein wonders if Floridians, especially voters, are as dumb as the state’s Tea Party-Republican-dominated elected officials think they are. The only reasonable solution to fix Obamacare to repeal it, says former state Sen. John Grant, something that he hopes will happen after an election or two.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

PERSONNEL NOTE – DEP GETS NEW PRESS SEC via The Florida Current

Tiffany Cowie has been named press secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. She came over from the Department of Education where she was a public information officer and previously was a reporter at WTVY in Dothan, Alabama.

PIC DU JOUR via Joe York: Team AT&T working the phones on Sine Die here.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to one of the best and the brightest in Florida politics, former Senator and State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

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.