Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 15

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media Group, the state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: Walt Disney, the man who largely shaped modern Central Florida, went to a more magical kingdom on this day in 1966. The legendary entertainment visionary died just 10 days after his 65th birthday. Disney’s role establishing Central Florida as a hub of theme parks and other glitzy attractions began when he started quietly buying up undeveloped parcels in Orange and Osceola counties in the mid-1960s. By 1971, those 43 square miles of property had become Walt Disney World, firmly establishing the Orlando area as one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. In many ways, Walt Disney brought Florida – and society in general – closer to the future.

Now, on to the ‘burn…

PROGRAMMING NOTE

Michelle, Ella, and I are visiting the Big Apple Monday through Thursday, so Sunburn will be off until Friday.

OBAMA GETTING $1.1 T SPENDING BILL FROM CONGRESS via David Espo and Donna Cassata of the Associated Press

Congress cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill for President Barack Obama’s signature after a day of Senate intrigue capped by a failed, largely symbolic Republican challenge to the administration’s new immigration policy.

The vote was 56-40 in favor of the measure, which funds nearly the entire government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. It also charts a new course for selected shaky pension plans covering more than 1 million retirees, including the possibility of benefit cuts.

The Senate passed the bill on a day Democrats launched a drive to confirm two dozen of Obama’s stalled nominees to the federal bench and administration posts, before their majority expires at year’s end.

Several Republicans blamed tea party-backed Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for giving the outgoing majority party an opportunity to seek approval for presidential appointees, including some that are long-stalled.

It was Cruz who pushed the Senate to cast its first vote on the administration’s policy of suspending the threat of deportation for an estimated four million immigrants living in the country illegally. He lost his attempt Saturday night, 74-22, although Republican leaders have vowed to bring the issue back after the party takes control of the Senate in January.

“If you believe President Obama’s amnesty is unconstitutional, vote yes. If you believe President Obama’s amnesty is consistent with the Constitution, vote no,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rebutted instantly, saying Cruz was “wrong, wrong, wrong on several counts,” and even Republicans who oppose Obama’s policy abandoned the Texan.

The spending bill, which cleared the House, was the main item left on Congress’ year-end agenda, and exposed fissures within both political parties in both houses.

WHEN CONGRESS RETURNS, BILL NELSON WILL BE ISOLATED MAN via News-Press.com

When Congress returns in January, Bill Nelson will be an isolated man — at least geographically.

The mid-term defeats of several Southern Democratic senators, capped by the loss by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in a Louisiana runoff election, means Nelson will be the only Democratic senator from the Southeast in the 114th Congress. Put another way, the nearest states with a Democratic senator will be Missouri and Virginia.

“It saddens me that we lost such good senators in the South,” Nelson said, referring to Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Landrieu. “But that’s what happens when you get in these off-year presidential elections where a president is not popular. It’s happened with George Bush and Bill Clinton.”

When Nelson returns to the Senate in January, he will be the top Democrat on the panel with oversight of telecommunications, aviation and the insurance industry.

The three-term Floridian’s appointment as ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee was made official Friday.

Nelson also will remain a senior member of three other committees he serves on: Armed Services, Finance and Aging.

FLORIDA GOP UNLIKELY TO FLOUT RNC ORDERS ON 2016’S PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times

When it comes to picking the Republican nominee for president of the United States, the Florida GOP carved a special role for itself in the last two presidential campaigns: Self-entitled scofflaw.

Sunshine State Republican elected leaders, convinced that America’s biggest and most diverse battleground state should have an outsized voice in selecting the nominee, unapologetically blew up their national party’s carefully crafted primary schedules by setting Florida’s primary earlier than allowed in 2008 and 2012.

But for 2016, when former Gov. Jeb Bush and/or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio could be running to become the first Floridian ever nominated for president, the state GOP appears poised for a new role: compliant pussycat.

This time, no one is talking about ignoring the rules set forth by the Republican National Committee, at least so far. Party leaders are signaling they are content for Florida to share the spotlight with several other states on what is likely to be a “Super Tuesday” primary day on March 1, 2016.

The state GOP’s newfound deference to the RNC’s preferred primary calendar stems largely from the national party finally learning its lesson from Florida’s prior snubs. Rather than merely threaten to cut the number of convention delegates allotted to states that break the scheduling rules — something that drew shrugs in Florida — the RNC now vows rule-breaking states would lose nearly all their delegates.

Florida’s share of delegates would shrink from nearly 100 to 12 — which would give it only slightly more, say, than Guam in picking the 2016 Republican nominee. That would certainly be no help to Bush or Rubio.

MARCO RUBIO MAKES STRONGEST INDICATION YET OF A WHITE HOUSE RUN IN 2016 via POLITICO

Through a conversation with about two dozen major donors, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is giving the strongest indication to date that he is considering a White House run in 2016.

Supporters who raised $200,000 for Rubio in the past met with the Miami Republican this week to discuss the pros and cons of a Senate versus a presidential campaign.

Their fundraising proficiency was “needed more now than ever,” Rubio said at a meeting in the W Hotel in Washington, D.C., sources told POLITICO.

Rubio expects to make a decision sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

“He was pretty forward leaning,” said one person who attended the meeting. “He basically said ‘if I can raise the money, I am going to potentially run.’ ”

Dinner guests included members of the Washington fundraising committee Rubio launched in the summer of 2013. POLITICO noted that heading the group is Scott Weaver and Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. Joe Wall of Goldman Sachs, former New York Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Paxon and Stephen Replogle of Cove Strategies are also members of the team.

Earlier, the group had “exceeded its aggregate” target for the 2014 election cycle, one source told POLITICO. Rubio expects to “aggressively front load the calendar” in 2015.

TEAM MARCO TO HOST POW-WOW ON SOUTH BEACH via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

The Rubio Victory Committee is emailing donors and supporters to attend the fourth annual “Team Marco” event Jan. 23 and 24 at the Delano Hotel on South Beach. The joint fundraising committee is divided between Rubio’s Senate campaign and his Reclaim America PAC.

Asked last week about his intentions, Rubio said, “I’m trying to figure that out.”

Will the potential candidacy of his former mentor, Gov. Jeb Bush, affect his decision to run for president or not? “No,” Rubio said, adding that “I consider him a friend.” They’re nearly neighbors. As the crow flies, Rubio and Bush live about two miles apart, in West Miami and Coral Gables, respectively.

NICARAGUA BANS RUBIO, ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN FROM TRAVEL OVER VENEZUELA SANCTIONS via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald

Nicaragua’s president says he is banning Rubio and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from traveling to the Central American country because, he says, he is protesting the Venezuala sanctions the Republican lawmakers helped pass in Congress, according to The Tico Times.

“Just like they [U.S. officials] have their lists, we can make our own lists in Latin America of those who shouldn’t enter our country,” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega told The Tico Times during a meeting with Venezuelan officials in his country.

… The sanctions, primarily aimed at Venezuelan officials and proxies involved with violently suppressing pro-democracy activists, would ban them from traveling or staying in the United States and would freeze any U.S. assets. President Obama plans to sign the legislation, S2142.

TWEET, TWEET: @marcorubio: Oh no! My summer vacation plans are ruined!

JEB BUSH STAKES OUT THE MIDDLE GROUND via Jonathan Martin of the New York Times

When Jeb Bush quietly  visited U.S. Sen. John McCain in his Capitol Hill office this fall, discussion turned to a subject of increasing interest to Bush: how to run for president without pandering to the party’s conservative base.

“I just said to him, ‘I think if you look back, despite the far right’s complaints, it is the centrist that wins the nomination,’ ” McCain said he told Bush.

In the past few weeks, Bush has moved toward a run for the White House. His family’s resistance has receded. His advisers are seeking staff. And the former governor is even slimming down, shedding about 15 pounds thanks to frequent swimming and personal training sessions after a knee operation last year.

But before pursuing the presidency, Bush, 61, is grappling with the central question of whether he can prevail in a grueling primary battle without shifting his positions or altering his persona to satisfy his party’s hard-liners. In conversations with donors, friends and advisers, he is discussing whether he can navigate, and avoid being tripped up by, the conservative Republican base.

Though he is deeply conservative on some issues such as taxes and abortion, in other ways, Mr. Bush — culturally and philosophically — is out of step with the grass-roots activists who now animate the party. He has pushed Republicans to find consensus with Democrats, especially on fiscal issues. He has pushed for an immigration overhaul that would include a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally, and he has championed the Common Core educational standards, two incendiary issues among Republican activists, many of whom oppose both.

The governor’s decision will have significant consequences for the Republican Party. If he goes forward with a campaign in which he avoids trying to appease the most conservative voters and wins the nomination as well as the presidency, it could reshape Republican politics for a generation. Should he take that approach and lose the nomination to a more aggressive conservative, however, it would send a powerful message that a more pragmatic approach has little appeal among the party’s primary voters.

BUSH DOESN’T HAVE A MITT ROMNEY PROBLEM via David Graham of The Atlantic

Everything old is new again this season: torture debates, war in Iraq, and that fruitcake your aunt “makes” every year. (It’s the same one, right?) So too with the Republican field for president in 2016: Two of the names at the top of the list right now are a Bush (Jeb, this time) and a Romney (the same one).

… That’s what makes Joshua Green and Miles Weiss’s Businessweek story this week so valuable: It gives a concrete reason why Bush might not want — or be able — to run, which is his growing private-equity network and the difficulty he’d face in extricating himself.

While it’s not the main focus of the piece, Businessweek’s headline posits that Bush “has a Mitt Romney problem,” and as former Rick Santorum adviser and Republican consultant John Brabender told the reporters, “Running as the second coming of Mitt Romney is not a credential that’s going to play anywhere, with Republicans or Democrats.” Bush also worked as an investment banker at Barclays previously.

A Bush spokesman told Green and Weiss: “There is nothing related to Governor Bush’s business interests that would hinder a run for president in any way should that be his decision.” In fact, the idea that there might be such a thing as “a Mitt Romney problem” for future Republican candidates is tough to believe. Romney’s struggles in 2012 had three major dimensions:

1. Timing: Romney had the misfortune to run at a time when job growth was strong enough that the fundamentals favored an Obama victory, but when memories of the recession were fresh enough that a career laying off workers in private equity was unpopular.

2. Opponent: Given that Obama had few personal ties to the corporate world, it was tough for Romney to try to turn around the president’s attacks. Assuming Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, that won’t be the case at all in 2016.

3. Messaging: Nor did Romney do himself any favors. From “corporations are people” to “I like being able to fire people,” Romney was drawn to gaffes that highlighted Obama’s narrative about him like a moth to a flame. His self-immolation in the form of his 47 percent remarks was spectacular.

It’s hard to see any of those playing out the same way in 2016. And besides, the finance question is already baked into public perceptions — as evidenced by the fact that Romney is running nearly 9 points ahead of any other Republican in HuffPost Pollster’s average.

THE MANY FACES OF JEB via Frank Bruni of the New York Times

As Bush seemingly leans toward a presidential run, many observers are casting him as a centrist. And there are indeed elements of his current message that suggest that if he won “the nomination as well as the presidency, it could reshape Republican politics for a generation,” as Jonathan Martin wrote in The Times late last week. But Martin noted other elements of Bush’s message and record as well, the ones that explain why a separate camp of observers look at him and see someone else. For instance, in Politico Magazine, the journalist S. V. Dáte observed that for him and others “who covered Jeb’s two terms in Tallahassee,” characterizations of Bush as a moderate are “mind-boggling.”

Just what kind of Republican is Jeb Bush? That question is being asked with increasing frequency. And the absence of a clear answer, coupled with the insistence on one, is instructive.

It speaks to the fact that most successful politicians aren’t fixed in one place forevermore. They’re the products of certain unwavering convictions and certain adaptations to circumstance, and the measures of each are different at different moments in their careers.

The futile tussle to define Bush also reflects the way ideological yardsticks change over time. Above all else, it exposes the poverty of our political vocabulary.

BUSH’S categorization as a moderate owes much to the passion he brings to the issues of immigration and education and his dissent from hard-line conservatives on both. These rebellions are meaningful.

So was his commentary from the sidelines of the 2012 presidential race. After a Republican primary debate in which all eight candidates said that they would refuse a budget deal that included $10 of reduced spending for every $1 in tax increases, he made clear that he didn’t agree with the pack. And he said that his party had drifted rightward enough that someone like Ronald Reagan would have difficulty finding a receptive home in it.

That assessment suggested one reason Bush is now deemed a centrist: The poles have moved.

But he learned between his 1994 defeat and 1998 victory to reach out to minorities and speak inclusively and hopefully. When he recently told an audience in Washington that a person had to be willing to lose the Republican primary to win the general election, he was in part alluding to that lesson, and he was telegraphing the tone that a Bush campaign would take. He was also signaling a suspicion of labels and boxes.

WHY BUSH IS RELEASING A GIANT BATCH OF E-MAILS FROM HIS YEARS AS GOVERNOR via Rick Klein and Michael Falcone of ABC News

Bush says he is planning to release 250,000 e-mails from his years as governor of Florida as well as a new e-book — perhaps the firmest indication to date he is moving toward a presidential run.

In the interview, which is on WPLG-TV, ABC’s Miami affiliate, Bush said he plans to “make up my mind in short order” about jumping into the 2016 race.

“One of the things I am going to do as I go through this process is release all of my e-mails and write an e-book, which has been kind of fun to go back and to think about this, and remind myself that if you run with big ideas and then you’re true to those ideas, and get a chance to serve and implement them and do it with passion and conviction, you can move the needle,” Bush told WPLG’s Glenna Milberg. “And that’s what we need right now in America.”

Bush said the e-mails would be made public early next year. He decided to release them, he said, in the interest of “transparency” and in order to “let people make up their mind.”

Bush has long been well-known to be a prolific e-mailer, and an early adopter of technology.

“I was digital before digital was cool I guess,” he said in the interview, aired on “This Week in South Florida with Michael Putney.”

Bush offered a preview of what readers will find in the trove of e-mails: “There’s some funny ones, there’s some sad ones, there’s some serious ones.”

TWEET, TWEET: @MarcACaputo: One reason Michael Putney and @GlennaOn10 scored interview with Jeb is that he values serious reporters and/or reporting.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS — BUSH TO ADDRESS SOUTH CAROLINA COMMENCEMENT 

Bush is the keynote speaker at the University of South Carolina winter commencement starting 3:30 p.m. at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. Live stream here.

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WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING — ECONOMIC INDICATORS SHOW FLORIDA IS BACK, BUT NOT ALL IS ROSY via Jeff Harrington of the Tampa Bay Times

Remember way back in early 2007, before the Great Recession wrecked the party? That rosy era of percolating retail sales, rising consumer confidence and surging stocks.

At least by some economic measures . . . we’re back.

The latest dose of encouragement: The consumer sentiment index by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan zoomed up 5 points in mid-December to reach the highest point since February 2007. The news follows a robust 5 percent jump in retail sales in November compared to a year ago, aided by an early spree of holiday shopping.

Don’t break out the bubbly yet. This ever-so-sluggish recovery still has a long way to go.

At 6 percent, Florida’s unemployment is still too high to indicate a healthy economy, not too mention far higher than its incredible low of 3.3 percent during the 2006 construction boom. Wages are stagnant; home prices have yet to fully recover.

There are now more employed Floridians than ever (just more than 9 million), trumping the pre-recession peak (8.9 million).

Florida’s consumer confidence rose again in November to reach the highest point since March 2007.

The number of online job openings in Florida reached an all-time high last month with a total of 279,394 openings, according to figures from the Conference Board.

RICK SCOTT’S INAUGURATION LINES UP CORPORATE SPONSORS Full story here

Corporations are lining up to sponsor Gov. Rick Scott’s second-term inauguration, at least in part, announced the Republican Party of Florida on Friday.

Among the companies stepping up to help cover costs include Clewiston’s U.S. Sugar Corp. and insurer FCCI Services, Inc. of Sarasota, who each put up $25,000 this month. Calder Race Course from Miami-Dade County also donated $15,000, while Allstate Insurance Co., based in Northbrook, Ill., gave $5,000.

Scott’s inauguration is on Jan. 6.

Financing for the activities related to the event will come from contributions to the Republican Party, which plans to release names of donors every week. The festivities, known as Scott’s “Jobs Jamboree” tour, start with a series of barbecue celebrations.

On inauguration day, Scott will join a prayer breakfast before his swearing-in, followed by a small reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

GOV. SCOTT OKS EXTRA PAID HOLIDAY TO STATE WORKERS via the Associated Press

State workers are getting the day after Christmas off as a paid holiday.

For the fourth year in a row Gov. Scott has directed state offices to be closed an extra day. The last two years state workers got Christmas Eve off. In 2011, state employees received Dec. 23 off since Christmas Eve fell on a weekend.

In a memo sent Friday to the head of the Department of Management Services, Scott said he was closing state offices on Dec. 26 “in recognition of the hard work” of state employees.

In the past, state workers who perform essential functions still have to work. But state offices aren’t open.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist granted state workers both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve off with pay in 2008.

CHANCELLOR RANDY HANNA LEAVING FLORIDA DIVISION OF COLLEGES Full story here

According to an internal Department of Education email from Commissioner Pam Stewart, Chancellor Randy Hanna is leaving his post as head of the Division of Colleges. The governing body of the state colleges — as Florida’s community colleges were recently re-christened — has been led by Hanna for most of Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office.

The memo indicates that Hanna is leaving to pursue his ambition to become a college president. The Florida College System will begin its search to find a new Chancellor after January 1.

When Hanna, a graduate of University of Florida and Florida State University law school, was hired in November 2011 following a 30-year career as an attorney, he was touted for his skills in diplomacy and seen as a figure who united the many and variegated stakeholders involved in the politics of higher education.

He previously served as managing shareholder at Bryant Miller Olive in Tallahassee.

FLORIDA PRISON CHIEF WILL BE PAID TWICE BY TAXPAYERS, EARNING ABOUT $230,000 A YEAR via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

Gov. Scott’s choice to run Florida prisons, one of the toughest jobs in state government, will be receiving nearly $10,000 in monthly taxpayer-funded pension payments on top of her $160,000 annual state salary, according to state records.

Scott last week tapped Julie Jones, 57, to become the new secretary of the Department of Corrections eight months after she retired as head of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a post she had held since 2009.

Upon retirement in April, Jones received a $621,980 lump sum payment as part of what’s known as the Deferred Retirement Option Program. Longtime state employees who want to enter the program agree to retire within five years and have their pension funds placed into an interest-earning account. Upon retirement, they get a lump sum payment before beginning to collect monthly pension benefits.

Employees in the program can later return to work for the state and collect both a salary and pension payments from taxpayers. In Jones’ case, she will begin collecting $9,730 in monthly pension payments in May 2015, on top of the more than $13,000 a month from her state salary, according to state records.

Jones said she did not plan to return to state government once leaving, but could not pass up Scott’s offer.

“I had opened an LLC, I wanted to do some consulting and travel,” Jones said of her retirement plans. “This was an unexpected call.”

FLORIDA TRIBES ARE REVIEWING NEW U.S. POLICY ON MARIJUANA via the Associated Press

It’s unclear what effect a new U.S. Justice Department policy regarding marijuana and Indian tribes will have in Florida.

The government announced this week that Indian tribes, which are considered sovereign nations, can grow and sell marijuana on their lands so long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug.

Florida has two federally recognized tribes, the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes.

The Justice Department’s announcement was “not on the Seminole Tribe’s radar,” tribe spokesperson Gary Bitner told The Miami Herald.

The Miccosukee Tribe has three reservation areas in South Florida. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has six reservations that total more than 90,000 acres.

Some advocates said the Justice Department’s announcement could give rise to a rich new business on reservations, not unlike the advent of casino gambling. However, many tribes oppose legalization, and only a handful have expressed any interest in the marijuana business.

The tribal policy is based on an August 2013 Justice Department announcement that the federal government wouldn’t intervene as long as pot legalization states tightly regulate the drug, keep it from children and criminal cartels and prevent sales to states that outlaw it, among other measures.

SHAKE UP AT THE OFFICE OF COMPASSIONATE USE; DIRECTOR REASSIGNED ON EVE OF DEADLINE TO APPEAL CHARLOTTE WEB’S RULING Full story here

Word is circulating in Tallahassee that Linda McMullen is no longer director of the Office of Compassionate Use and has been reassigned back to the Department of Health’s Prosecution Services Unit.

The move means the division charged with bringing medicinal marijuana to Florida is without a leader at a crucial time.

The Office of Compassionate Use was created to implement the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. It was to have constructed a regulatory framework for the cultivation, processing and dispensing of oil extracted from marijuana by Jan. 1, 2015.

The department’s first proposed rule for the Charlotte’s Web law was thrown out Nov. 14 by administrative law judge David Watkins. Today is the deadline for DOH to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

DOH has given no indication what its plans are other than to repeat this statement for the past month:

“The Department of Health will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses,” according to communication director Nathan Dunn.

STATE MISTAKES LEAD TO TRAGEDIES, BUT RELIEF OFTEN ELUSIVE via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Under state law, any government entity in Florida only has to pay $200,000 — the rest must be awarded by the Legislature. During the past session, 27 such claims were sent to the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. None was ever heard.

This year, 32 such bills have been filed, each representing a tragedy. The cases involve traffic accidents caused by government employees, medical malpractice, exonerated prisoners, and deaths and severe abuse under the watch of government agencies.

Melvin and Alma Colindres are trying for the third time to collect $2,550,000. The couple called Miami police on Dec. 12, 2006, to help with their severely autistic 18-year-old son, Kevin, who had reportedly hit several family members. Although the first officer to respond approached Kevin calmly and quietly, when backup officers arrived, they threw the man on the ground, handcuffed him, and placed weight on his back. Kevin asphyxiated, slipped into a coma, and died on Jan. 7, 2007.

For the second time, relatives of Victor and Nubia Barahona are trying to collect $3,750,000, the remaining portion of a settlement reached with the Department of Children and Families. The children’s adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, were charged with first-degree murder in 2011 after 10-year-old Nubia’s body was found in the back of a truck. Her brother, burned by chemicals, was found in the front seat. The twins’ aunt and uncle, Ana and Isidro Reyes, had fought for custody of them for five years.

During the last legislative session, then-Senate President Don Gaetz said the claims bill process needed reform. According to several Senate colleagues, because of this belief, Gaetz prevented any claims bills from being heard.

Whether these bills will be heard in the upcoming session is up to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner and incoming Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY — “Registration is LIVE! Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail’s Chipola Feather Fest”

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MONDAY  IS DEADLINE TO BUY  JAN. 1  HEALTH INSURANCE via Kelli Kennedy of the Associated Press

Floridians have until Monday to sign up for health insurance if they want coverage to take effect on Jan. 1, but experts warn most consumers are unaware of the deadline.

The second enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act has gone much smoother this year with no major meltdowns, but educating consumers is still a challenge. Many don’t know they can only buy health insurance both on and off the insurance exchange between Nov. 15 and Feb. 15 unless they have a major life change like getting married or finding a new job.

“The average consumer we’re speaking with doesn’t seem to know about the deadline. We’re certainly trying to get the word out, though it’s an uphill battle. We’re stressing to our navigators that right now, education is just as important as enrollment,” said Franco Ripple, spokesman for Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, South Florida’s largest health navigator group. Navigators help would-be customers find policies.

Many new consumers are also unaware that they could receive financial assistance to help pay their monthly premiums. Almost 1 million Floridians last year received a tax credit – more than 90 percent of those who enrolled.

The group is partnering with the nonprofit Enroll America to host events all week at various Miami Dade College campuses to target young, healthy adults. The health-care law also allows children to stay on their parent’s insurance until they turn 26.

For those signed up last year, coverage will renew automatically if they do nothing, but that may not produce the best result. The returning customers could miss out on lower-premium options and get stuck with outdated and possibly incorrect subsidies.

The majority of current enrollees, more than seven in 10, can find a lower premium plan at the same bronze, silver, gold or platinum level before tax credit by returning to shop, according to federal health officials.

And federal health officials noted that 85 percent of current Florida enrollees could obtain coverage for $100 or less after any applicable tax credits in 2015.

FLORIDA ACLU HEAD HOWARD SIMON ON THE POLICE, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND RESTORATION OF EX-FELON VOTING RIGHTS via Mitch Perry of SaintPetersBlog

The executive director of the ACLU of Florida for over 17 years was in Tampa as the featured guest speaker at the annual Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council awards breakfast at the DoubleTree Hotel in Westshore.

Simon said one of the chief reasons he accepted the invitation was learning that one of the honorees was former Tampa Democratic state legislator Helen Gordon Davis. “It’s a special honor,” he said about appearing on the program with Davis, 88, who attended the ceremony in a wheelchair. She was greeted throughout the morning by well-wishers who came to her table, where she was sitting next to former County Commissioner Jan Platt.

ACLU officials piled signature petitions on the dozens of tables assembled for the breakfast. They’re collecting signatures to try to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot calling for the automatic restoration of voting rights for individuals with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentence. The proposed constitutional amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. In addition to the ACLU, Faith in Florida and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition are also working on the proposal. They need to get well over 600,000 signatures turned in over the next year and a half to get a measure on the 2016 ballot, no easy task. But Simon says he’s confident the coalition can do it.

And he pushes back against what he calls “the mythology” that persists about who these new voters would be.

“For some reason people have fomented the public attitude that all we’re dealing with is a whole bunch of black Democrats,” he told SaintPetersBlog moments before he addressed the audience. “The best research from both the state and national think tanks that study correction issues – and I know this is going to be shocking to the stererotype that too many people in Florida have – there’s only about 39 percent of the former felon population in Florida that are African-American. …This is not a whole bunch of blacks – this is the insidious political mythology that has been created about this. Most former felons are not black.”

The ACLU has also been very involved in the litigation regarding same-sex marriage in Florida this year.

HCA GOES TOE TO TOE WITH FLA. REVENUE DEPARTMENT via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

The Florida Department of Revenue is in a legal battle with hospital giant HCA over claims it owes the state more than $10 million in back taxes.

HCA officials say they not only paid their tax bill from 2007-2009, but overpaid and have sought refunds. In 2012, the state rejected a $5 million refund request, and did the same in 2013 with a $4.2 million request.

Beyond a fight over the company’s tax bill, HCA attorneys also are asking a judge to require a rewrite of how the state taxes certain corporate investment income.

In 2011, the company sued the department over $843,173 in unpaid interest from its 1994 tax bill. The company paid its taxes that year, but a federal audit later determined it owed more. HCA and the state settled that case for an undisclosed amount.

The company in 1994 was known as Columbia/HCA and led by Gov. Rick Scott, who served as CEO before entering politics. A Medicare fraud scandal that led to a $1.7 billion fine forced Scott out of the company in 1997.

After its recent tax refund requests were rejected, HCA filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court asking for the income tax refunds and asking a judge to stop the state’s push to get them to pay additional taxes.

The state says the company owes $10.4 million, including $3 million in interest, from underpaid tax bills between 2007 and 2009. Interest continues to accrue at $1,428 a day.

DANE EAGLE ACQUIRES SOME BIG HOUSE ASSIGNMENTS via Betty Parker of News-Press.com

State Rep. Dane Eagle — just beginning his second term — scored big in House committee assignments announced this week.

Only about a half-dozen of the 35 or so sophomore legislators were tapped as chairs, and Eagle was among them. He’ll lead the House Energy and Utilities subcommittee, taking on a new field of expertise since he did not sit on that committee in his first term.

He said he was surprised, honored and excited when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — who decides all chairs and committee assignments — called to let him know about his new responsibilities. “I’ll be doing a lot of important work for Florida and Southwest Florida,” he said.

Eagle is also on the Rulemaking Oversight and Repeal subcommittee, where he’ll be vice chairman, and Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee, Government Operations Appropriations subcommittee and Regulatory Affairs committee.

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, also entering her second term, won a seat on the Education Appropriations subcommittee — a crucial role for Southwest Florida’s schools and colleges; the full Economic Affairs committee; Business and Professional Regulation subcommittee; Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee; and Rulemaking Oversight and Repeal subcommittee.

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, in his second term, has assignments including the Finance and Tax committee, where he’ll be vice chair; and the Children, Families and Seniors subcommittee; Energy and Utilities subcommittee; Higher Education subcommittee; and Regulatory Affairs committee.

Committee assignments are important because that dictates where members have the most involvement, input and expertise. Chairs are influential because they can decide which bills are heard before their committee and when, or doom a bill to death by refusing to hear it.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY DELEGATION TO MEET 

The Escambia County legislative delegation prepares for the 2015 session with a public meeting starting at 5 p.m. at the Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio, 1000 College Blvd. in Pensacola.

PALM BEACH DELEGATION TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARING, DISCUSS BILLS 

In preparation for the 2015 legislative session, the Palm Beach County delegation will discuss local bills at a public hearing starting at 2 p.m. at the Children’s Services Council, 2300 High Ridge Road in Boynton Beach.

***Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, LLC, is a full-service consulting firm located just steps from the Capitol. The firm specializes in the development and implementation of successful advocacy strategies highly personalized for each client. Team Liberty is comprised of professionals with a track record of successful coalition-building, grassroots efforts and team coordination. The combination of a strong commitment to clients and practical government and private sector experience is why Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits alike choose Liberty Partners of Tallahassee.***

HEARING that a major statewide association recently polled the Senate District 6 special election: It pegged the race at Doc Renuart up 12 over Travis Hutson. The question in this race now is whether that lead can hold in the face of Hutson’s massive cash-on-hand advantage.

QUALIFYING PERIOD BEGINS FOR HD 64 SPECIAL ELECTION

Qualifying begins at 8 a.m. in the special election for House District 64, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Qualifying ends at noon Tuesday.

State Rep. James Grant received 59.5 percent of the vote in November, but the House disallowed the results due to a court battle focusing on a write-in candidate. In October, the First District Court of Appeal overturned a lower-court ruling saying candidate Daniel John Matthews was ineligible to run for the seat.

LESLIE DOUGHER ON WHY SHE’S THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR RPOF CHAIR via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

In the final video installment on the race for chair of the Florida Republican Party, Leslie Dougher explains why she should be re-elected. She certainly has the bonafides.

After being elected earlier this year (Lenny Curry departed to run for mayor of Jacksonville), the Republicans had a monster year in Florida, securing the Governor’s Mansion for another four years, sweeping the Cabinet, and picking up a super majority in the Florida House.

But while she’s won the endorsement from Gov. Rick Scott, in the two-minute video Dougher cites a “unique” background in corporate human resources, banking development and real estate as well as her grassroots experience through two presidential and “a couple” of governor’s races in her “dominant Republican” Clay County.

“I understand the needs … of running a state headquarters,” she said. “I understand all the needs and tools and wants that a chairman needs.”

Dougher added that the RPOF goal  is “paint Florida red” for 2016.

The party’s grass-roots members, who argue the party needs to move away from its top-down-management style, are challenging Dougher.

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, former state Rep. Kurt Kelly of Ocala, and Martin County Republican State Committeeman Eric Miller have already made their case for why they should be elected RPOF chairman. The election is next month.

MEET THE NEXT (MAYBE) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE FLORIDA GOP … Full story here

Tampa attorney Daniel Alvarez is the top choice of Gov. Rick Scott and his Chief of Staff Melissa Sellers to become the next executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, according to several sources close to the administration, the Florida GOP, and Alvarez.

Alvarez served as the Hispanic political director for Scott’s re-election campaign and was a trusted advance staffer during the governor’s numerous visits to the Tampa Bay area. Alvarez is reportedly close to Sellers, who, since becoming Scott’s chief adviser, has placed key allies in important positions inside the administration and at the party.

My sources say that Alvarez has already met with outgoing Executive Director Justin Johnson to plan a path forward for the state party.

An Army veteran, Alvarez, Sr. is a first-generation American born and raised in Florida. His family escaped communist Cuba seeking freedom and opportunity in the United States.

Alvarez is the founder and managing member of The Alvarez Legal Group, PL. 
(That’s right, a personal injury attorney is in line to be the ED of the Florida GOP!)

Alvarez’s name only popped onto my radar screen within the last two days, but, judging from the quality of the individuals making unsolicited calls of support to me, the dude is quietly, extraordinarily connected.

Alvarez’s selection as ED may not be without controversy. Some of the same sources who are singing his praises tell me that current Florida GOP chair Leslie Dougher was, at first, not consulted about Alvarez’s hiring. However, Dougher’s camp vehemently denies that she was bypassed and points out that she has the support of Scott and a solid working relationship with Sellers.

LEADERSHIP LANDSCAPE VERY MUCH IN FLUX via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Sarasota and Manatee counties could be on the cusp of a major political shakeup in 2015.

State Sen. Nancy Detert confirmed that she is at least considering the prospect of running for the Sarasota County Commission in 2016 when current Commissioner Christine Robinson will be blocked from running again because of term limits.

“It’s something I’m considering,” Detert said.

If Detert were to run, she’d have to leave her District 28 Senate seat early, opening it up to a battle that could draw a number of candidates. Detert was unopposed in her re-election this year and has a term that runs until 2018.

Former state Rep. Doug Holder has already announced he will run for Detert’s seat whenever she leaves office. And state Rep. Greg Steube has also been telling key GOP leaders that he’s weighing running for the seat should it open. Steube represents most of East Manatee, including all of Lakewood Ranch in the Florida House.

State Rep. Ray Pilon, former Sarasota County commissioner Nora Patterson and former state Sen. Pat Neal are also part of a field of candidates that have shown interest in the Senate seat in the past and could be in the mix.

If Pilon and Steube were to run for the Senate, it would have a domino effect by opening their House seats up to strong competition, too.

FACEBOOK STATUS OF THE DAY via Skylar Zander — Merry Christmas from the Governor’s Mansion, second time this week. I think this means we should move in. ‪#‎Christmas‬

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Marty Fiorentino, Thomas Griffin, The Fiorentino Group: Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens

Thomas Griffin, Joe Mobley, The Fiorentino Group: Florida Brownfields Association, Inc.

***Things will be great when you’re downtown at 101 RESTAURANT and MINT Lounge in Tallahassee. 101 Restaurant has been voted the best meal in the Capitol City featuring steaks, seafood, and specialty cocktails. We offer $8.99 lunch specials all week long that include pastas, pizzas, burgers, wraps and salads. Mint Lounge is upscale and classy, and it’s the best place to enjoy live music and a good vibe. — $8.99 lunch specials; If you are not served in 15 minutes or less, your meal is on us! — Double Happy Hour 4:00-7:00 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. — Holiday gift card special, Buy $100 get $30 for FREE.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: TWO AMERICAS, LIVING WAGE, CIA TORTURE AND SCHOOL CHOICE

On Context Florida: The real legacy of Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland, says Shannon Nickinson, is that there are Two Americas we must somehow bind together. Megan Baker talks of a recent report from the Alliance for a Just Society called “Equity in the Balance,” which examined the percentage of women and people of color who do not earn a living wage. Staggering percentages of full-time workers are not making ends meet and cannot support a family. The latest fodder for American detractors is the sordid tale of CIA prisoner torture and secret U.S.-run prisons, says Marc Yacht.  Although there are defenders of such actions and a lot of hair-splitting as to whether one would call water-boarding or other heinous acts torture, such prisoner treatment goes against America’s fundamental human rights policies. If Florida lawmakers are such “school choice” advocates, Jac VerSteeg believes they should give public schools the same choices enjoyed by the private voucher schools.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

CLEVELAND BABY BORN AT 10:11, 12/13/14 via the Associated Press

Baby Hazel was born at just the right minute: 10:11 on 12/13/14.

Seven-pound, 14-ounce Hazel Grace was born to Leisha Campbell and Shawn Zimmerman at Cleveland’s Fairview Hospital. Her family already knew she’d be born on the special date. They didn’t know she’d get the minute right, too.

“Everyone is telling us we should play the lottery,” Campbell said. “We feel this is a lucky day and are excited to get family photos with Santa.”

Saturday’s Dec. 13, 2014, represented the last sequential calendar date for at least 20 years, if you count Jan. 2, 2034, or 89 years if you choose to wait for Jan. 2, 2103.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to state Rep. David Santiago, and in advance to the following while Sunburn is on vacation, state Rep. Holly Raschein, Carol Dover, and our great friend Stephanie Smith.

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.