Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Sunburn for March 28 – Gov. Scott signs raft of bills; Big reads about HIV, Visit Florida; Fundraisers and appointments galore

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

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry, Ryan Ray, and Jim Rosica.

Good Monday morning. We hope that your Easter was filled with family, friends, and reflection about the true meaning of the holiday.

With Spring Break over, it’s almost time to pivot to campaign season. Candidate qualifying is quickly approaching, while the first major fundraising period of 2016 ends this week. So prepare for a last-second barrage of email pleas. Once the deadline passes, you can probably expect several candidates who have been waiting to get into the game to declare their intentions.

Still, there was a burst of legislative and state business on Friday, including an only-in-Florida performance by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. Let’s catch you up from what you may have missed while you were painting your Easter eggs.

ICYMI (IT WAS GOOD FRIDAY AFTER ALL) GOV. SCOTT SIGNS …

… MEDICAL MARIJUANA EXPANSION BILL INTO LAW via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – HB 307 would expand the state’s Right to Try Act to include medical marijuana … Terminally ill patients will now be able to use medical marijuana during their final days. Under the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Matt Gaetz, licensed dispensing organizations can grow and distribute medical marijuana derived from the whole plant — not just the low-THC products allowed under the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 — to terminal patients. It also creates new regulatory standards, gives assurances to the five nurseries that won licenses last year and paves the way for more dispensing organizations to get licenses in the future. The new law authorizes the state to approve three more dispensing organizations once 250,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry. It also calls for the state to give at least one of those new licenses to a farmer who is part of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association and is a member of the black farmers’ litigation group.

… ANTICORRUPTION BILL via Matt Reed and James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat – With no ceremony, Scott signed into law legislation that makes it easier for Florida prosecutors to bring cases and win convictions in cases of bribery, bid-rigging and official misconduct. “I’m really proud of it and glad it passed,” said House sponsor Ritch Workman … The law subjects public contractors for the first time to Florida statutes on bid tampering and official misconduct. And it removes the unusual burden on state prosecutors that they prove defendants not only committed crimes knowingly, but did so with corrupt thoughts or intent. That all but requires a confession, Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Phil Archer told lawmakers. Former statewide prosecutor William Shepherd, who led a grand jury in a special yearlong investigation of public corruption in 2010, said the new law will be good for business as well as government.

… LAW TO CUT FUNDING FOR ABORTION CLINICS via Liam Stack of The New York Times – State funding of abortion was already prohibited in Florida, but the law signed  also cut off funding for preventive services at clinics that also provide abortions. The law appeared to be aimed at Planned Parenthood, which said that it could mean the end of birth control, cancer screenings, tests for diseases and other services for thousands of low-income women in Florida. The organization said in a statement that it serves more than 67,000 patients in the state each year, and that many of them rely on public funding to pay for their health care. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the new law seemed “designed to rip health care away from those most at risk.” Scott … did not specifically comment on the abortion law, which has been controversial. In a news release, his office tersely said it “revises regulations for licensed abortion clinics.” The law also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or for the clinic to have a transfer agreement there.

.. A HOST OF HEALTH CARE RELATED BILLS INTO LAW via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – Florida will join the nurse licensure compact that allows registered nurses to work in different states without having to obtain additional licenses, under a bill Scott signed into law … the bill makes clear that Florida nurses can continue to obtain licenses that authorize them to practice in Florida only. Other health care bills Scott signed … SB 422, which requires insurance companies to provide coverage for opiod deterrent drugs; SB 586, which requires hospitals to notify physicians within a specified time frame upon the closing of their obstetrical department; HB 1241, which allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to order controlled substances; HB 1081, which dissolves the North Sumter County Hospital District; and HB 1071 which revises the charter for the South Broward Hospital District. Scott also signed HB 1335, which establishes in statutes a process for the Department of Elder Affairs to follow in creating and maintaining home and community based service wait lists … more than 6,000 Floridians who were on waiting lists died while on one of four wait lists for state programs.

… DENTAL CARVEOUT BILL INTO LAW, WITH A CAVEAT via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – Scott signed a bill that carves dental services out from the list of mandated benefits that HMOs must provide the poor and directs an arm of the Legislature to study the effectiveness of the dental care the HMOs provide. Scott also sent a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner along with the legislation — something that isn’t usually done. Letters are usually reserved for vetoes, or to explain why the governor took a certain action. In his letter, Scott touted the accomplishments of the Medicaid HMOs and said that if the study doesn’t show that care would improve outside of the mandatory Medicaid managed-care program, then he would “expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive” through the program. The legislation requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to implement a statewide prepaid dental health program for children and adults and begin enrollment by March 1, 2019, unless the Legislature changes the law during the 2017 session to require Medicaid HMOs to provide the dental care again. Shy of changing the law in 2017, the state would have to contract with at least two dental managed-care providers through a competitive procurement process to provide dental benefits.

… BILLS DEALING WITH BOATING ISSUES via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Florida has the most boats of any state with 914,535 … But boats that anchor in waterways near residential areas have raised concerns about waste disposal, privacy and noise. Scott signed HB 1051, which prohibits overnight anchoring in a portion of the Middle River in Broward County and Sunset Lake and portions of Biscayne Bay in Miami-Dade County … Also signed HB 7025, which prohibits vessels that are at risk of becoming derelict from anchoring on, mooring on or occupying state waters. But some observers see the bills as only a first step in dealing with the touchy issue of determining where boats should be allowed to anchor for days or sometimes weeks and months … the limited legislation this year showed how sensitive the issue can be.

— BIll allowing state workers to participate in deferred compensation program via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

— List of Department of Environmental Protection changes including water, phosphate and landfills” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools

— Scott vetoes bill to create Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority” via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will announce jobs at SquareTrade, a company opening a second U.S. location in Orlando. News conference begins 9:30 a.m. at 5900 Lake Ellenor Dr. in Orlando.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING — STATE’S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE DIPS BELOW 5 PERCENT via The Associated Press – … for the first time in eight years … unemployment in February was 4.9 percent, down 0.2 percent from the revised January rate of 5.1 percent. There were about 484,000 Floridians without jobs out of a labor force of 9,793,000. Monroe County had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.1 percent, followed by St. Johns County at 3.5 percent and Lafayette County at 3.9 percent. Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate at 7.8 percent, followed by Sumter County at 6.8 percent and Citrus County at 6.6 percent. The number of Florida jobs increased by about 5,900 in February and by more than 243,000 over the previous year.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ — STIFLING COMMUNICATION SUGGESTS THERE’S SOMETHING TO HIDE via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat – You can’t blame the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for wanting to throttle employee comments about Northwood Centre. The trouble is, governments lie — only when they have to, when the truth gets awkward — or selectively dispense facts. Remember, this is an administration that told environmental agency employees never to say “global warming” or “climate change.” We’re not talking about just a little odor or an annoying leak in the ceiling at Northwood. So far, 22 employees have filed suit against the landlords and management company, alleging that they have a wide range of ailments caused by working there. Obviously, we have a stake in this. Reporters want information and like to talk to as many people as possible. Sometimes we get it wrong, and some reporters are lazy or stupid, and some news staffs are stretched so thin they have to grab what they can get. So government agencies, or companies, want their public info people to decide what the media can get. It’s dismaying, not surprising that the state wants to control news about itself. But telling employees to stifle themselves suggests that DBPR sees this as an image problem instead of a health concern.

WHAT THE EIGHT YEARS SINCE THE RECESSION TORPEDOED FLORIDA’S STATE BUDGET TELL US ABOUT GOV. SCOTT’S PRIORITIES via Jeff Harrington, Don Morris and Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times – Scott vowed to make steep spending cuts upon taking office in 2011. With an assist from state lawmakers, he’s done just that in the past six years … despite those cuts and many more, the state budget climbed by $12 billion. What gives? Overall, the budget grew by 17 percent. That actually keeps pace with inflation and a state population that grew by 8 percent … Like many states, Florida delayed infrastructure projects during the recession. So it had to play catch-up. Perhaps the greatest priority of all? Privatization. Even though the Florida Department of Transportation has increased its construction budget by $2 billion, it has 1,000 fewer positions than it did in 2010. That means it’s increasingly the private sector, not public officials, who will provide planning and oversight of a $10.8 billion workload that will remake the state’s transportation grid for generations to come. Transportation — The DOT’s budget has climbed 55 percent to nearly $11 billion. Most of that increase is attributable to an unprecedented building boom, which includes more toll roads and toll lanes. Healthcare —Medicaid spending has an outsized impact, accounting for almost a third of the total state budget. Education — Although spending grew by 6 percent, education didn’t keep pace with growth. Its share of the overall budget dropped from 32 percent to 29 percent … school districts spent $1.3 billion in federal stimulus to prevent layoffs and keep pay rates stable. That money ran out. Corrections — Few areas of government spending felt a bigger crunch than the prison and criminal justice system, which saw its share of the budget shrink from 6.6 percent to 5.4 percent. Corrections Secretary Julie Jones attributes widespread problems to an under-trained and overworked staff, which shed 5,243 positions under Scott.

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— BIG READS — 

CRITICIZED FOR HIV SPIKE, FLORIDA TAKES HUNDREDS OF CASES OFF THE BOOKS via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times – State lawmakers blasted the state surgeon general in January for cutting staff and spending at a time when new HIV cases were spiking in Florida. A month later, the Florida Department of Health quietly revised its figures … lowered the number of new HIV cases logged in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613 — erasing one in four new infections from the rolls that year … The previous tally from 2014 represented a significant uptick as diagnoses nationwide were declining. It was enough to make Florida the national leader in new HIV cases, an embarrassing distinction for the state, Scott and the health department, and more importantly, a serious public health concern. The revised figures still represented an increase in new infections through 2014, but a small one …  Mara Gambineri, a health department spokeswoman, said the changes had nothing to do with the controversy. Instead, she said, they were routine adjustments intended to remove cases that had been included more than once. But experts say an adjustment that large raises questions, even accounting for duplicate cases.

LAWMAKERS OVERHAUL SYSTEM TO CREATE ‘NO WRONG DOOR’ TO MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times – After a series of fits and starts, Florida is finally on the brink of a historic overhaul to mental health and substance abuse treatment that supporters say will better equip the criminal justice system to handle mental illness. The goal is straightforward: A coordinated system of services for mental illness and substance abuse, so that no matter how someone enters the system, they get the immediate help they need, as well as follow-up services in the future. “There will be no wrong door,” said Rep. Kathleen Peters, one of the Legislature’s foremost advocates for mental health reform. To accomplish that, the Legislature passed bills requiring communities to work together, bringing to the table every group that has a role in mental health and substance abuse — health professionals, law enforcement, prisons and jails, juvenile justice agencies, courts and local charities. They also expanded options for courts to divert the mentally ill toward treatment and voted to let psychiatric nurses prescribe certain medications, addressing a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists. At the heart of the changes are Florida’s managing entities, which are nonprofits that oversee state contracts in each of seven regions of the state. Lawmakers tasked them to work with the counties in their areas to create a new system for evaluating people in need. That means creating locations in every part of the state to determine what kind of services people need — a sort of mental health emergency room to serve those in crisis, whether they recognize it themselves, are involuntarily committed under the Baker or Marchman Acts, or a police officer decides it’s best to bring them there instead of jail.

VISIT FLORIDA’S SPENDING WRAPPED IN SECRECY via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Taxpayers have paid thousands of dollars for Chinese and other foreign journalists to vacation in the Keys and unknown amounts of money on secret contracts for celebrities, race car drivers and soccer teams to promote the Sunshine State. Visit Florida, a public-private group that will get $78 million in state money next year, says its spending is legal and crucial to its mission to boost tourism, which has helped set records each of the past five years, including more than 100 million visitors in 2015. But the agency has little oversight from the state and has increasingly blocked its contracts from public scrutiny. A third-party accounting firm conducts a limited annual audit of Visit Florida. But it hasn’t been subjected to the in-depth government audits that other state agencies undergo each year. An Orlando Sentinel review of Visit Florida’s finances and spending in recent years found that … Visit Florida has $22.1 million in an account as of June 30 … spent $14,000 last fall for a vacation to Miami and the Keys for six Chinese journalists writing for travel publications in their country … Unlike most other state employees, Visit Florida staffers’ salaries are not publicly available online.

WILDLIFE OFFICIALS: FLORIDA BEARS ABUNDANT, TOTALING 4350 via Jennifer Kay of The Associated Press – Black bears in Florida surged by 60 percent over 14 years to 4,350 last summer, new data showed, providing what wildlife officials said were plenty of animals for the state’s controversial bear hunt last October. Florida black bears dwindled to just a few hundred in the 1970s but have rebounded under protections, while continued development has put them on a collision course with people. Wildlife officials cite increasing attacks, car accidents and nuisance calls involving bears … State officials approved the first bear hunt in 20 years for October, prompting protests at the time over management of one of Florida’s largest predators. Wildlife authorities argued that bears had become abundant, although that was before results of the most recent survey were released. No decision has been made on whether to continue allowing the hunting of Florida black bears, but data collected in the summer before the October hunt indicate the statewide population totaled 4,350 adult bears, said Thomas Eason, director of habitat and species conservation for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

THE VILLAGES IS FASTEST GROWING METRO AREA IN U.S. via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press – The retirement community in central Florida famous for its souped-up golf carts once again was the nation’s fastest-growing metro area, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the third year in a row that the community of 119,000 residents had gotten the title of “fastest-growing” with a growth rate of 4.3 percent from July 2014 to July 2015. Most of the growth came from retirees moving to the community located northwest of Orlando, and 99 percent of the migration was from people who already live in the United States, according to the census figures. Two Florida metro areas had among the nation’s the largest population gains in pure numbers, not rates. South Florida grew by more than 75,000 residents, and metro Orlando gained an extra 60,000 residents. They were respectfully the seventh and 10th biggest gains in the nation. In Orlando, more than a third of the migration growth came from outside the United States. In South Florida, all the migration growth came from outside the United States since the metro area actually lost U.S.-born residents.

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FROM THE WEEKEND — BERNIE SANDERS ROMPS IN WASHINGTON, ALASKA, HAWAII via Gabriel DeBenedetti of POLITICO – While the underdog’s West Coast wins are not nearly enough to trip up Clinton‘s path to the nomination, Sanders‘ wide margin of victory provides his campaign with a burst of momentum heading into a 10-day break before the next primary contest. The Vermont senator’s big victories are also typically followed by a considerable fundraising bump. Sanders was victorious in Washington state’s caucuses 72.7 percent to Clinton’s 27.1 percent and won Alaska’s caucuses by a landslide, defeating Clinton 81.6 percent to 18.4 percent. At 4 a.m. Sunday, with 87.8 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders was declared the winner in Hawaii, leading Clinton 70.6 percent to 29.2 percent. “Don’t let anybody tell you that Hillary Clinton is the strongest Democratic candidate to take on the Republicans. It is not true,” he said Friday, telling the Washington crowd that the state would lead the country to Sanders’ much-touted “political revolution.”

THE FINAL NUMBERS via AP: Alaska: Sanders 81.6%, Clinton 18.4% … Hawaii: Sanders 70.6%, Clinton 29.2% … Washington: Sanders 72.7%, Clinton 27.1%

JEFF ATWATER SAYS HE WON’T BE ENDORSING DONALD TRUMP “ANYTIME SOON” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – “I think I’ll be watching a little while longer,” the Palm Beach County Republican said before delivering a speech to the Sarasota Republican Club. During his speech Atwater said he is concerned with some of the “rhetoric” this election cycle. “We’re talking about things within our own party that are not outward looking,” he said afterward. “We’re fighting with each other” … when asked whether he’d vote Trump if he becomes the nominee Atwater said “absolutely.”

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: TRUMP IS THE MOST ‘MISOGYNISTIC CANDIDATE IN MODERN TIMES’ via Harper Neidig of The Hill – “This is an unprecedented political campaign for president, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said in a radio interview with John Catsimatidis. “We have a race unfolding on the other side that has been complete and utter chaos. You know, the Republicans have been criticizing Donald Trump and some suggesting he hijacked their party … Look, they made this bed, they’ve been willingly allowing the Tea Party extremists to take over their party, and so they have only themselves to blame with the likelihood of having a presumptive nominee like Donald Trump, who is the most extreme and vile, misogynistic candidate in modern times.”

THE ‘MASSIVE GAME OF TELEPHONE’ THAT PRECEDED THE TED CRUZ TABLOID RUMORS via Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post – Rick Wilson got a call earlier this month from a reporter asking about a potentially explosive, campaign-ending piece of opposition research: a Cruz sex tape. Wilson is the type of plugged-in Republican consultant who reporters would expect to know if such a bombshell exists — and perhaps even when a campaign was ready to drop it. This time, he had no idea. But at the reporter’s request, Wilson contacted a journalist friend at a TV network to see if they’d had it. The TV journalist didn’t have the goods, but had heard another network did. “This became a massive game of telephone,” said Wilson, who recalled fielding calls from upward of 20 journalists in one day, hailing from major newspapers and networks. They all essentially wanted to know if the Texas senator, who frequently touts his Christian faith on the campaign trail, wasn’t so faithful to his wife. Though Wilson never named names, his tweets were taken, by some, as bolstering an unsubstantiated rumor circulating on social media, and promoted by a little-known political website, that Cruz had an affair with Katrina Pierson, a former adviser to the senator and current Trump national spokeswoman. Pierson even blamed Wilson and another Republican operative for spreading the rumor in a tweet on the morning of Florida’s primary — long before any mainstream outlets covered it. But Wilson insists he wasn’t the source of the Cruz infidelity rumors. “I never pushed the rumors because I’m an old hand at this business … When the opposition research is pitched to you as, ‘This is a silver bullet, this will end the campaign,’ it’s always bullshit.”

PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT “THE THING” WITH TED CRUZ FOR SOME TIME NOW via Gabrielle Bluestone of Gawker – The National Enquirer published a story claiming Cruz may have been involved in as many as five extramarital affairs. But the general allegations are nothing new. People have been talking publicly about, well, something involving Cruz for weeks. The conjecture so far has been just that—speculation in the absence of receipts. Still, people have repeatedly pointed to Katrina Pierson, a former Cruz aide and one of the women whose blurred-out photo appeared in the National Enquirer story. On Twitter, conservatives have been discussing the scandal, in vague (and sometimes less-vague) terms since March, using the hashtag #thething, which seems to have originated, or at least gained popularity, around March 11, with the Stop Trump Super PAC Twitter account and GOP strategist Rick Wilson … Those tweets, at least initially, suggested the existence of some sort of video. The only things about “The Thing” that people seem sure about are that 1) it involves former Cruz staffer and current Trump spokeswoman Pierson, and 2) the media’s been sitting on it. (“I hate getting scooped,” Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari tweeted early this morning after the Enquirer story dropped.)

SPOTTED: More Rick Wilson, interviewed by Ana-Marie Cox in the New York Times Magazinetalking about how his vicious descriptions of Trump and his supporters gained Wilson “lots of fans on the left” … What do you think it is about Trump that drives the conversation toward sexualized language? “I think it’s this: Trump is crude because he’s a genius at reality television. He understands that the masses are trained to want drama. These aren’t people who appreciate subtlety or rational discourse or, you know, arguments.” Who really thinks that Ted Cruz is the solution? “Mostly people named Ted Cruz.”

MEANWHILE … JOE BIDEN TO VISIT MIAMI, CAMPAIGN FOR PATRICK MURPHY via Kristen Clark of the Miami Herald  – Biden is expected to attend a lunchtime fundraiser with Murphy in Miami … Obama and Biden endorsed the congressman from Jupiter earlier this month in the competitive race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate next year. At the time, Murphy’s campaign simultaneously said Biden and Murphy would “campaign together” in Florida March 28. It’s unclear yet whether any public event will be held during Biden’s visit.

STATEWIDE TELEVISED U.S. SENATE CANDIDATES DEBATE SET FOR THIS FALL via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster of Florida Politics – Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association announced that the Republican and Democratic U.S. Senate nominees are expected to participate in statewide, televised debate this fall. “Decision 2016: Before You Vote” will take place at the Central Campus of Broward College in Davie and will air in October. Todd McDermott, the veteran WPBF 25 News anchor, will moderate the debate. The Hearst-owned ABC affiliate is the producing television station partner.

COURT CONSIDERS BID BY CORRINE BROWN TO THROW OUT MAP via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press – The Jacksonville Democrat maintains that the current map violates federal voting laws by diluting the voting rights of minorities. Judges hearing the case sounded skeptical and repeatedly pointed out that recent voting history shows that Brown‘s new district has supported black candidates. The three-judge panel did not rule, and said they wanted all additional evidence submitted by mid-April in order to quickly resolve the case. Qualifying for congressional candidates is in June. “It’s not about me winning,” Brown said during a news conference at a restaurant with her supporters. “It’s about the African-Americans having an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Brown has also maintained that the new district is skewed because it includes thousands of prisoners, many of them black, who cannot vote. She even held up a large sign to her supporters that read “25 Prisons.” [League of Women Voters attorney DavidKing told judges the inclusion of prisoners is irrelevant because the voting history data does not include prisoners since they are not allowed to vote.

BROWN’S DEFIANCE IN THE FACE OF SCRUTINY IS NOTHING NEW via Mark Woods of the Florida Times-Union – This much is certain: Brown isn’t going quietly. There were rumors Brown was going to stand on the steps of a federal courthouse and announce that this was it. Faced with federal and congressional investigations, fighting a battle over redistricting, she wasn’t going to run for re-election. At age 69, she was going to step aside. Anybody who believed that hasn’t been paying attention to her 23 years in Congress. When facing all kinds of storms, Brown has surrounded herself with supporters and sandbags and prepared for a fight … you had the congresswoman who has said she’s the target of a “witch hunt” being led to the buses by a former city councilwoman who performs exorcisms. And that was just the start. Put it all together and, against the backdrop of the midday buffet, it was an hour that was part religious revival, part news conference and, at one point, part plea for cash to help with legal costs.

JOHN MICA DEFENDS USE OF CAMPAIGN MONEY TO PAY FOR HUNDREDS OF MEALS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – U.S. Rep. Mica likes taking constituents out to lunch (or breakfast, dinner or coffee). He also loves having his re-election campaign pay for it. The latter preference has Mica explaining why his re-election campaigns are paying for scores of “meals with constituents” tallying tens of thousands of dollars a year in food and drink, when other members of Congress rarely, if ever, do so. The campaign picks up the check for … lunch in Washington, back home in Winter Park, and also in places far from either Florida’s Congressional District 7 or Mica’s office, such as restaurants in New York, Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Carolinas. In an interview with FloridaPolitics.com, Mica not only refuted any allegations of wrongdoing, he argued that he handles such meals “more responsibly” than other members of Congress. Most members take such meals, but most typically use tax money, from official office expense accounts, rather than campaign money. Every meal involves meetings with constituents — residents or businesses from his district, Mica insisted. And every meal paid for by his campaign, he added, is one fewer meal paid for by taxpayers. “I think for 20 years we have not put constituent expenses on the tab of the taxpayer,” Mica said … “No one has ever questioned it except now … But the DNC is making a desperate attempt, trying to find something to complain about.”

HOUSE RACE A RESURGENCE FOR CHARLIE CRIST via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times – At first blush, it would seem the redrawn District 13 seat is Crist‘s for the taking. Some recent polls put him far ahead of his Democratic Party primary opponent, Eric Lynn. Crist has raised about $800,000 so far. And you have to suspect Crist has virtually universal name recognition. Still there are naysayers … And there is still the possibility former Republican St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker might enter the race … When asked about the opposition to his candidacy, Crist seemed to enter a nonplussed moment of Zen. “Everybody has a right to do what they want to do.” And one thing Crist did that has turned out to be fortuitous was become a Democrat, especially now that the Republican Party appears to be on the verge of being hijacked by the political equivalent of “Blazing Saddles'” Mongo. “I’m extremely comfortable as a Florida Democrat,” Crist said with a broad grin, suggesting not only was it a political move that suited his ambitions but that it spared him the indignity of trying to campaign in November 2016 as a down-ballot Republican with Donald Trump possibly leading the GOP ticket. Winning a congressional seat would revitalize a political career once filled with so much promise. But that was a Senate and a gubernatorial election eons ago. It is always difficult to measure ambition, especially for a man who thrives on the political dynamics of the public arena.

FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PARTY REVERSES POSITION, GIVES DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ CHALLENGER VOTER DATA via Kristen Clark and Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – A dispute over access to voter data in Wasserman Schultz’s congressional race is highlighting a divide between the Florida Democratic Party and its progressive caucus … It is a sign that Wasserman Schultz is facing a rare challenge for her South Florida seat where she has easily swatted away opponents in the past … the rift shows that party leaders want to protect her. The controversy stems from a decision by party leaders earlier this month to deny Wasserman Schultz’s challenger, Democrat Tim Canova, access to its voter database. Canova, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University and a Hollywood resident, has drawn national media attention for his uphill battle … He has tried to tap into discontent by some of those who question her leadership, taking money from corporate interests or policy positions including her opposition to the medical marijuana ballot initiative in 2014. In an “open letter” … the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida asked Wasserman Schultz to intervene to ensure Canova has a fair shot.

OUCH! SORRY, ANNETTE TADDEO: HISPANIC PAC JUST ENDORSED JOE GARCIA via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News – Even with the full weight of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee behind her, CD 26 candidate Taddeo continues to hear the boo birds … The Committee for Hispanic Causes (CHC) BOLD PAC came out with an endorsement for Garcia, the Democrat who held the seat from 2013 to 2015, before Republican Carlos Curbelo beat him. Garcia is challenging Taddeo in the Democratic primary. This has to be a major slap in the face for Taddeo … They’re calling it a “dual endorsement” … in all 15 years of its existence, the PAC has never endorsed two candidates in the same race … Which makes this a key endorsement for Garcia.

HOW MEDICAL MARIJUANA BACKERS PLAN TO WIN IN 2016 via Frank Gluck of News-Press.com – Voters this year will again consider whether Florida should join 23 states and legalize full-strength marijuana for medical use … This time, backers of the proposed constitutional amendment have the benefit of hindsight in crafting their message and a presidential race expected to draw heavy, and significantly younger, voter turnout. United for Care, the pro-medical marijuana group backed by wealthy Florida attorney John Morgan, has reworked the proposed amendment’s language to avoid critics’ earlier charges that the measure was too vague and open to abuse. Some key wording differences … It spells out requirements for parental consent … The measure attempts to better define what constitutes a “debilitating” illness qualifying for marijuana treatment … It explicitly states that this amendment would not immunize doctors from malpractice claims for negligent prescribing of marijuana … It addresses what critics called the “drug dealer loophole” by stating that the Florida Department of Health may limit how many qualifying patients a certified caregiver may assist using marijuana.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by the American Council of Life Insurers. In 2014 alone, life insurers proudly paid out more than $28 billion in life insurance benefits to Floridians, with close to 100 percent of all claims received by life insurers paid to beneficiaries. Additionally, life insurers help power Florida’s economy by investing approximately $266 billion in our state and generating approximately 144,000 Florida jobs. Learn more about the positive impact of the life insurance industry in Florida.***

RENE PLASENCIA USES POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE MONEY TO BUY SCHOOL BUS via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – Plasencia’s Commitment to Opportunity, Action and Community Health PC (COACH PC) spent $6,735 on Feb. 18 to purchase, at the Campus Auto Retail Service in Deland, what the PAC’s website called “capital.” Once the purchase was noticed on the PAC’s website, it had political activists and observers in Central Florida raising eyebrows and gossiping about whether “Coach P” Plasencia, an Orlando Republican, used PAC campaign money to buy a used car. “It’s a school bus,” Plasencia said …  A full-size school bus. Plasencia, a high school teacher and track coach before he was elected, said he intends to put an advertising wrap on it declaring “Coach P.” Then he intends to use it as a mobile campaign office, a mobile constituency outreach and services office, and to help out at social services and community events that might need a mobile office. Or a bus. “The lawyers said the only way we could do it is to purchase it through the PC,” Plasencia said. Coach P’s Magic Bus won’t be ready for its debut for a few weeks. Plasencia said he imagines the purchase should be fine with those who had donated to the PAC. After all, he said, PAC money can be spent on virtually anything.

— A BUSY WEEK AHEAD ON THE LOCAL CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

— Republican Kathleen Peters is holding a fundraiser Wednesday, March 30, for her re-election campaign in House District 69. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Edwards Group, 150 Second Ave. N., Suite 1600, in St. Petersburg. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or Katie@KBallardconsult.com.

— State Rep. Holly Raschein is holding a kickoff party Wednesday, March 30, for her re-election to House District 120. Hosted by Tolley & Hill, PLLC, the event begins 5:30 p.m. at 102411 Overseas Hwy. in Key Largo.

— Republican business executive Rebecca Smith is holding a fundraising reception Wednesday in support of her campaign for House District 60. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Tampa Garden Club, 2929 Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa. RSVP with Michelle Kazouris at Michelle@CorcoranFirm.com.

— Republican candidate Jackie Toledo will hold a fundraising reception Wednesday in her bid for House District 60. The event begins 5:30 p.m. at the Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, 3601 West Swann Ave. in Tampa.

— Republican MaryLynn Magar is holding a fundraising reception Thursday, March 31, for her re-election campaign to House District 82. Event begins 5:30 p.m. at J.J. Taylor Companies, Inc., 655 A1A in Jupiter. RSVP at info@MaryLynnMagar.com or Rosemary_Jones@JJTaylor.com.

— Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala is inviting friends and supporters for a fundraising event Friday, April 1, at the 4G ranch, 22501 FL-52 in Land O Lakes. A spot on Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee is $5,000, which offers a private VIP reception beginning 5:30 p.m. An invite to the general reception, which begins 6 p.m., is $1,000.

***LECRAE is heading back to school in 2016. The two-time Grammy® Award-winning hip-hop artist, known for his music message frequently at odds with his hip-hop peers, has fans buzzing with excitement at the announcement that he’ll be hitting the road in February 2016 for his HIGHER LEARNING TOUR including a Friday, April 8 show at Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. Joining Lecrae in Tallahassee will be DJ Promote and Swoope. Tickets are on sale now at TuckerCivicCenter.com!***

APPOINTED: Belvin Perry Jr. to the Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDMalcolm Dorman and Abdol Moabery to the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDDarleen CorsCarol Moore and Russell Priddy to the Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDMarc Sarnoff to the Florida International University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDPhilip DurHenry McCanceClifford “Cliff” Otto, and Mark Bostick to the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDWilfredo GonzalezKevin Hyde and Stephen Joost to the University of North Florida Board of Trustees.

APPOINTEDMichael CarrereJames Stikeleather and John Ramil to the University of South Florida Board of Trustees.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Diane Bean: ACT Aspire, LLC

Brett Fitzgerald:Snook and Gamefish Foundation

Carlos Muniz, McGuireWoods Consulting: MiMedx Group, Inc.

Veronica Wong: Moon Capital Management

Cameron Yarbrough, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: EPOC CNG

***Situated in the heart of Downtown Tallahassee, 101 Restaurant combines southern hospitality with big city style. Through Executive Chef Jason Bruner, 101 Restaurant adopted the Farm-to-Table approach where they use products from farmers and fishermen found within a 100-mile radius of their downtown restaurant. These locations include Quincy, Thomasville, Apalachicola, Panama City, and many others. The goal at 101 Restaurant is to give guests a fine dining experience in a luxurious, casual environment. Plus, if you stop by any day from 4:00pm to 7:30pm or 10:00pm to 12:30am, you can enjoy their Double Happy Hour! Call them today to make your reservation! (850) 391-1309.***

MAGIC KINGDOM TO STAY OPEN AS LATE AS TWO A.M FOR DISNEY AFTER HOURS via Jon Busdeker of WESH.com – The limited-time event, Disney After Hours, will allow guests to experience select rides and attractions at the Magic Kingdom for three extra hours after normal operating times. Admission … is $149 per guest … Ice cream novelties and beverages are also included with the cost of admission … Limited to only a select number of guests … not included with a regular ticket purchase to the Magic Kingdom … rides and attractions will be open during Disney After Hours: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad … Disney Princess Greetings at Princess Fairytale Hall … Peter Pan’s Flight … Seven Dwarfs Mine Train … Space Mountain. Disney After Hours is scheduled for 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. April 28 and May 5 and from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. April 14 and 21 and May 8, 12 and 19.

NEW GAME OF THRONES TRAILER DECLARES: ‘WE DESERVE DEATH… WE ALL DO’ via Dante D’Orazio of The Verge – Fortunately for rabid fans, the teaser does include new footage. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) shows he knows well the brutal reality of Westeros, asking rhetorically: “Are you afraid? You should be. You’re in the great game now. And the great game is terrifying.” If that weren’t foreboding enough, two other characters promise death is on the horizon. Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) of the Faceless Men promises: “One way or another, the gift will be given. One way or another, a face will be added to the Hall.” Meanwhile, The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) notes, cooly, that “We are sinful creatures. We deserve death… we all do.” Death will likely come from many angles in season six. This trailer gives us a spooky sihlouette of the leader of the White Walkers, The Night’s King. And winter is coming, as we all know. In addition, Daenerys is in the hands of the Dothraki — always a violent bunch. The bloodshed begins April 24.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY belatedly to GrayRobinson’s name partner and INFLUENCE 100 alum Charlie Gray, Joni James, and the one and only Bob Levy.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD: Kennedy Harrison Weatherford, the first child of Morgan and Drew Weatherford.

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.

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