Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – April 2

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

When your issue needs public affairs communications support, the nation’s leading PR industry magazine knows the best place to turn in Florida: Sachs Media Group. The highly regarded publication O’Dwyer’s this week recognized Sachs Media as the state’s fastest growing integrated marketing, public relations and public affairs firm, leading the way with 21 percent growth last year. Sachs Media was O’Dwyer’s #1 firm in the Southeastern United States for Financial PR, as well as #1 for Environmental & Public Affairs PR and #2 in Florida for Healthcare PR. No matter what kind of communications services you need, Sachs Media has the team of experts to help you succeed.

MORE GOOD NEWS FROM SACHS MEDIA GROUP — MAC STIPANOVICH PARTNERS WITH SMG AS STRATEGIC COUNSEL ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS

J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich and Sachs Media Group (SMG) are joining forces to focus on select special projects and public affairs.

Stipanovich will consult on special public education initiatives with Sachs Media, working with selected clients who can most benefit from the experience of SMG’s public affairs team.

Stipanovich is a nationally renowned attorney and lobbyist recognized as one of the most insightful strategists in both the political and government realms. He has been a key advisor to several Florida governors, including serving as chief of staff to former Governor Bob Martinez.

Recognized as Florida’s dominant independent public relations firm, SMG recently has expanded to become a leading integrated marketing communications firm with diverse advertising, branding, digital and market research services.

“I’ve admired ‘Mac’ for a long time and over the years we have enjoyed swapping great stories about being in the middle of some of the most pivotal political events in our state’s modern history – and we’ve enjoyed working together,” said Sachs Media Group CEO Ron Sachs.

“Ron and his diverse, talented team have proven – time and again – that they have all of the right skills to deliver the most effective public affairs communications operation in Florida,” said Stipanovich. “I’m excited to be providing and trading counsel for some key clients and special projects.”

DAYS UNTIL Sine Die – 30; Special Election in SD 6, HD 17 & 24 – 4; Special Election in  HD 64 – 19: Jacksonville’s Mayoral Election – 47; Florida’s Presidential Primary: 348; Florida’s 2016 Primary Election: 516; Florida’s 2016 General Election: 586.

ON THIS DAY: It’s the 502nd anniversary of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León’s discovery of the place he called Florida, the land of flowers.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our good friend, spokesman extraordinaire Danny Kanner. We miss you, Danny! Also celebrating is Dave Aronberg’s soon-to-be-better-half, Lynn Lewis

OBAMA’S 55% DISAPPROVAL RATING NEARS HIS WORST MARK IN FLORIDA POLL via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Fifty-five percent of Florida voters disapprove of the way President Barack Obama is handling his job in a new Quinnipiac University poll – nearing Obama’s worst mark of 57 percent disapproval in the state in September 2011.

But voters approve, at least in concept, of Obama’s efforts to negotiate a settlement with Iran on nuclear weapons, with 63 percent supporting a deal that would lift some sanctions “in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.”

In the poll … Obama’s net approval rating is 14 points under water — the difference between the 41 percent of Floridians who approve of his performance and the 55 percent who disapprove. Two months ago, Obama was nearly even in Florida with 46 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval.

The new poll also finds that 61 percent of Florida voters say they want the next president to change direction from Obama’s policies, with only 32 percent saying they want a continuation of Obama’s policies.

On Iran, 66 percent of Florida voters say the regime’s nuclear program is a “major threat.” And while 63 percent support negotiations to restrict it, 62 percent say Iran is not capable of negotiating in good faith.

A majority of Florida voters — 55 percent — say a recent letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators was “not appropriate.” But 65 percent say any Iran deal should be subject to approval by the GOP-controlled Congress.

HOW THE Q-POLL PLAYED

Bradenton HeraldPresident Obama’s job approval dips in Florida – “More damning is that about five in eight voters say they want the new president to take the country in a different direction.” Sarasota Herald-TribuneObama’s approval ratings lower in Florida – “Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to have to distinguish herself from Obama if she does in fact run for president in 2016.” Palm Beach PostObama’s 55% disapproval rating nears his worst mark in Florida poll – “A majority of Florida voters — 55 percent — say a recent letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators was not appropriate.” Sunshine State NewsFlorida Disapproves of Obama, Wants Different Direction from Next President – “Obama gets lousy grades for his job performance, although they are not quite as low as they have been at times in his second term.” POLITICOSwing-state voters back Iran talks – “Voters in three key swing states say by margins of about 4-to-1 that they prefer negotiating with Iran … to intervening militarily.”

REPUBLICANS LIKE MARCO RUBIO, BUT SO FAR NOT IN A PRESIDENTIAL WAY, POLL SAYS via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Republican voters like Sen. Marco Rubio — but aren’t particularly enthused about him as a 2016 presidential candidate, a new national survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling says.

The poll also finds former Gov. Jeb Bush treading the waters of popularity within the GOP, with 39 percent of Republican voters viewing him favorably and 37 percent unfavorably.

Rubio only gets single-digit support among Republican voters as a presidential candidate. But as he nears the expected April 13 launch of his presidential campaign, the PPP survey suggests he has ample room to build support. Rubio is viewed favorably by 55 percent of GOP voters — a higher percentage than anyone else in the Republican field.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is second at 54 percent favorability and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Florida Panhandle resident, gets a 53 percent favorable score.

Walker is the top choice of national Republicans for president, with 20 percent supporting him and 17 percent backing Bush. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz gets 16 percent and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach each get 10 percent. Rubio, at 6 percent, is tied with Huckabee for seventh place, just behind “Not Sure” at 8 percent.

FUNDRAISING IN CALI, BUSH ISSUES SOFTER BACKING OF INDIANA’S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LAW via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Bush has been fully drawn into the debate over Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, and he softened his endorsement while fundraising in California on Wednesday.

Stressing he wasn’t criticizing Gov. Mike Pence, Bush nonetheless said a “consensus-oriented approach” would have been better.

BUSH PRESSED PENSION OFFICIALS ON BEHALF OF DONOR’S FIRM via David Sirota, Andrew Perez and Matthew Cunningham-Cook of the International Business Times

Bush received the request from one of his campaign contributors, a man who made his living managing money: Could the then-governor of Florida make an introduction to state pension overseers? The donor was angling to gain some of the state’s investment for his private fund.

It was 2003, still a few years before regulators would begin prosecuting public officials for directing pension investment deals to political allies. Bush obliged, putting the donor, Jon Kislak, in touch with the Florida pension agency’s executive director. Then he followed up personally, according to emails reviewed by the International Business Times, ensuring that Kislak’s proposal was considered by state decision makers.

Here was a moment that at once underscored Jeb Bush’s personal attention to political allies and his embrace of the financial industry, which has delivered large donations to his campaigns. Email records show it was one of a series of such conversations Bush facilitated between pension staff and private companies at a time when his administration was shifting billions of dollars of state pension money — the retirement savings for teachers, firefighters and cops — into the control of financial firms.

Florida officials say Kislak’s firm was not among the beneficiaries of that shift. But verifying that assertion is virtually impossible for an ordinary citizen by dint of another hallmark of Bush’s governorship: At the same time that he entrusted Wall Street with Florida retirement money, he also championed legislation that placed the state’s pension portfolio behind a wall of secrecy.

The legislation, which Bush signed into law in 2006, shields key details of the state’s pension investments from Florida’s open records statutes. The exemption benefited the financial sector — the area of the economy that would ultimately employ Jeb Bush upon his leaving office. The law prevented pensioners, legislators and taxpayer groups from scrutinizing pension holdings or authenticating state officials’ statements about investments. It also impedes campaign finance watchdogs and political reporters from discovering whether Bush’s prospective 2016 presidential donors in the finance industry were the recipients of Florida pension deals.

HOW FLORIDA’S LATER, WINNER-TAKE-ALL PRIMARY IS BOTH RISKY AND REWARDING FOR BUSH via Adam Wollner of National Journal

Florida’s decision to hold its presidential primary in mid-March, rather than closer to the beginning of next year’s nominating contests, has altered more than the chronology of the 2016 calendar. It deprives Bush of an early state where he would begin as a strong front-runner, but instead sets up a winner-take-all battle for Florida’s treasure trove of delegates later.

The new date, March 15, is the earliest under the Republican Party’s rules that Florida can hold its primary and give all its delegates to the winner, a potential windfall for Bush, who currently holds a huge lead in the polls there. At the same time, the decision to move Florida deeper into the nominating contest ratchets up the pressure on Bush, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to notch an early win elsewhere.

Now, if Bush were to stumble through the first four primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) next February, Florida won’t be there as an immediate safety net. In the past two elections, Florida’s primary came right after the first four so-called “carve-out” states, but in 2016, the state’s primary will be held six weeks after the kickoff Iowa caucuses, an eternity in presidential politics.

Bush backers argue that his cash-rich campaign would be able to handle that eventuality. “Whatever potential downsides are there are far outweighed by the upside of a winner-take-all structure,” said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee-based lobbyist who is supporting Bush. The date change was backed by Republicans in the Florida Legislature and signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Scott in mid-March.

“I just don’t envision any scenario where the two Florida candidates are out of play by the time Florida rolls around,” Ballard continued. “And a winner-take-all win by either one of them, certainly with Jeb Bush’s financial wherewithal, would put a great deal of momentum back in anybody’s sails, but especially a guy like Jeb Bush.”

Other Bush supporters note that in the case of a drawn-out nomination fight, there is less need for the state to vote early.

VIN WEBER SIGNS ON WITH JEB BUSH via Robert Costa of Washington Post

Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman and top policy adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, is assisting Bush’s all-but-certain bid for the Republican presidential nomination, adding yet another high-powered strategist to the former Florida governor’s political circle.

Weber confirmed his move, as did a Bush aide, after several GOP officials said Weber was working behind the scenes to win Bush support among influential donors and conservative intellectuals.

“My message to conservatives has been: this is the conservative Bush,” Weber said in a phone interview. “I remember when his brother first ran — and he was a fine president. But at the time, most conservatives around the country said it’s too bad because Jeb is the real conservative in the family. I’m reminding my friends about those conversations.”

In recent weeks, Weber said he and other Bush allies have been informally meeting with skeptical leaders on the right to talk through Bush’s gubernatorial record, touting his work on “educational choice and taxes and spending.” Their goal is to scrape away the notion that Bush is a political moderate — a notion that has become a barnacle on his potential candidacy.

During Romney’s campaigns for the White House in 2008 and 2012, Weber served as a senior policy hand, organizing meetings with think-tank specialists on foreign and domestic issues, and keeping tabs on conservative concerns.

JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY IN HUNT TO HOST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Jacksonville University could host one of the presidential debates in fall 2016, the school announced today.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the school was among more than a dozen sites across the country under consideration.

“We are humbled and honored to be considered as a host site and believe we are an ideal location, not only because Florida is a key state in national elections, but also because of our emerging role as a leader in public policy and discourse,” said JU President Tim Cost. “We’ve made an outstanding competitive bid highlighting our excellent facilities and resources, and are grateful to have very broad public, private and civic support.”

The Commission expects to announce final locations this fall.

THE OTHER RICK (PERRY) IS COMING TO FLORIDA via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the good buddy of Gov. Rick Scott and a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, will be the keynote speaker at the Okaloosa County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner next month. The event is May 12 at the Ramada Beach Plaza Resort in Fort Walton Beach. Party officials say they are not sure whether Scott will attend. Tickets start at $60 and $1,500 gets you into a VIP reception with Perry.

Perry is a frequent visitor to Florida and has campaigned in Jacksonville for mayoral hopeful Lenny Curry, a former state GOP chair.

GREAT READ (ABOUT SOMEONE I NEVER CARED ABOUT) — FLORIDA’S THIRD SENATOR, BOB MENENDEZ via Marc Caputo of POLITICO here.

2016 WATCH — Look for Patrick Murphy to report raising north of $1 mil during the first quarter of 2015, much of that in just the few days he’s been a Senate candidate.

2018 WATCH — IN AMBITIOUS SPEECH, BOB BUCKHORN HINTS AT BIGGET THINGS FOR TAMPA — AND HIMSELF via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Twenty-nine days after he was re-elected with just under 96 percent of the vote, Bob Buckhorn was sworn into office today in an elaborate ceremony that the mayor himself acknowledged seemed as much as a Christian church revival as a political event (though it also included words of wisdom from a rabbi and an imam as well).

Buckhorn officially takes office for a second term with the entire galaxy understanding that if things work out the way he wants, he won’t be ending his last days as mayor four years from now, but settling into observing his first legislative session as the governor of the state of Florida. And Buckhorn himself acknowledged those ambitions briefly toward the end of his 20-minute address.

“Because of what we’ve done for the last four years, we have earned the opportunity to define our future,” he said, a statement that certainly could be interpreted in more than one way.

“If we think globally, and not just regionally, that we can be the city that we can create, if we care less about who’s a Democrat, and who’s a Republican,  we can begin to reshape this state,” as the audience cheered. “It’s time for that foolishness to end. We deserve better, and this state deserves better, and this is a story that we can pass on to our children to write.”

That centrism is what Buckhorn has previously said is what will finally get a Democrat elected statewide in Florida, but his call for bipartisanship didn’t go down well with all Democrats. One noted local Democratic Party member was overheard at the City Council meeting that followed as saying, “Do you think Adam Putnam would say something like that?”

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#LIPOCALYPSE h/t to Brandon Larrabee for that one!

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUSPENDING HEALTH CARE TALKS via Gary Fineout of the Associated Press

Florida officials said late Wednesday that the federal government is suspending negotiations over the potential loss of more than $1 billion in money now flowing to the state’s hospitals.

The move comes at a critical time: The Florida Legislature is trying to finalize a new state budget between now and the end of the session on May 1. Senate Republicans have vowed that they will not vote for a budget if it requires large cuts to hospitals.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek said that federal officials are halting negotiations for at least two weeks because a top official is not available.

“This was sudden and disappointing news,” Dudek said in a statement. She added that the decision to discontinue negotiations now “is troubling and could signal the abrupt end of this federal healthcare program in Florida.”

Federal officials did not respond in detail to Dudek. But a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the federal government remains “in contact with the state.”

The fate of the hospital program, known as the “low-income pool” and which reimburses hospitals for treating the poor and uninsured, has become the major dividing point between the House and Senate this session.

Florida has a projected budget surplus of more than $1 billion. Federal officials warned the state last year they would not extend the hospital money beyond this year. That led the Senate to craft a replacement program that it wants the federal government to consider.

Senate Republicans have also pushed to offer health care coverage to 800,000 Floridians that would draw down federal money linked to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Senate President Andy Gardiner sent two state senators to Washington, D.C., this week to share with federal officials what the Senate is proposing.

But House Republicans, who are opposed to any expansion of Medicaid, have contended that the federal government could renew the hospital money without expanding Medicaid coverage.

BILL NELSON SAYS FLORIDA SHOULDN’T BE PLAYING CHICKEN WITH HEALTH CARE FOR THE POOR via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

“The day of reckoning is here,” said Nelson, who made a quick visit to the state Capitol.

Nelson’s blunt message – delivered to both House Speaker Crisafulli and Senate President Gardiner – wasn’t reflected by House Republicans in their debate about the budget.

Rep. Matt Hudson, the Naples Republican in charge of the House budget committee, said he had “faith” that the federal government would approve some sort of replacement program for the state’s low-income pool. The current program is due to expire this summer.

Nelson, however, said that House and Senate leaders shouldn’t be playing games when it comes to deciding health care funding that helps treat the state’s poor and uninsured. Nelson, again contradicting House Republicans, said the fate of the low-income pool program for hospitals is intertwined with the expansion of Medicaid.

“We shouldn’t be playing a game of chicken when we are talking about the health care  for over 1 million people in the state of Florida that do not have health care now,” Nelson told a group of reporters outside the Senate Chambers after he met with Gardiner.

DON’T FORGET THIS — FEDS GAVE “POSITIVE” FEEDBACK ON MEDICAID PROPOSAL, SENATOR SAYS via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times

State Sen. René García left Washington feeling “encouraged” by his conversations with federal health officials, he said.

He and Sen. Garrett Richter made the last-minute trip at the request of Senate President Andy Gardiner.

The two lawmakers met with representatives from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to discuss Florida’s Low Income Pool program.

García said he outlined a Senate proposal for a LIP replacement program, which would distribute the money more broadly than the current model does.

“I wanted to present our case as to why I think the LIP model that we have is something they can approve, and to try to get them to move on LIP so we can know what to do in the state of Florida as we go into budget conference,” he said.

The feedback, he said, was “very positive.”

SEN PREZ SAY IT’S TIME TO FIND COMMON GROUND via Christine Sexton of Florida Politics

Gardiner issued a plea to the House late Wednesday night after hearing news that the federal government has stopped negotiating with the state over the future of the Low Income Pool.

“The time has come to find common ground and present a unified solution that is best for Floridians,” Gardiner said in a release. “We hope others will join us at the table to discuss a way forward.”

But it appears he may be sitting at the table alone.

When asked whether common ground can be reached on health care, Speaker Crisafulli responded with an email that focused exclusively on the Low Income Pool.

“We agree the federal government should fulfill their obligation to Florida to fund the Low Income Pool and look forward to working together with the Governor and the Senate to complete the work our constituents sent us here to do.”

SENATE UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES $80.4 BILLION BUDGET, AWAITS HOUSE via Michael Van Sickler of the Miami Herald

Senators passed its $80.4 billion budget … by a 36-0 vote that showed a unified front in a looming showdown with the House. …

“We’ve been dealt a fairly difficult hand this session,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee.

The Senate’s proposed $35.2 billion health care budget includes $2.8 billion in federal money to pay for expanded health care coverage. The upper chamber has not proposed Medicaid expansion as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act, but rather the creation of a new state-run marketplace for private insurance. Beneficiaries would be required to either work or attend school, and pay small monthly premiums.

The budget plan also included $2.2 billion in federal and state to help hospitals that treat uninsured patients. Although the federal government has said it will not continue a program called the Low Income Pool, the Senate is hopeful a successor program will keep the federal money in place.

The Senate’s $30.9 billion education budget raises per-pupil spending by 3 percent to $7,123. It hikes spending on colleges and universities by $57 million and $72 million, respectively, and includes $420 million in financial aid.

In response to a spate of deaths and beatings in state prisons, the Senate increased the amount of spending with the Department of Corrections by $52 million, which includes $15 for maintenance and construction for older prisons and $16.4 million for additional staff. That amount is about $8 million more than what the House is providing in additional spending.

TWEET, TWEET: @JackLatvala: I thank my colleagues for their comments on the Senate floor today. The budget process should always be open to the public.

SENATE PUTS MORE LAND BUYING CASH IN ITS BUDGET via Isadora Rangel of Political Fix Florida

The Senate approved a measure to buy more conservation land … but not the sugar land activists say is needed to move Lake Okeechobee water south.

After a debate on the Senate floor on whether the state should own more land, the chamber approved a budget amendment that increases funding for the Florida Forever preservation land-acquisition program from $2 million to $35 million.

Supporters of the measure said that brings the budget closer to what 75 percent of voters had in mind when they approved Amendment 1 last year to buy, manage and restore land.

Although some Democrats said $35 million isn’t close enough to the $300 million Florida Forever used to receive per year until 2009, budget committee chairman Sen. Tom Lee … said it is a good start as the Senate and House negotiate the budget in the following weeks.

There’s no money, however, to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. south of Lake O to build reservoirs to move lake water into the Everglades and reduce discharges into the St. Lucie River. Environmentalists were hopeful the passage of Amendment 1 would motivate lawmakers to appropriate money for the purchase, which would cost least $350 million.

DESPITE BUDGET CONSTRAINTS, HOMETOWN PORK STILL POPULAR WITH FLORIDA LAWMAKERS via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

Through March 20, members of the Florida House requested $2.9 billion in a raft of requests chock full of hometown projects, even as lawmakers struggled to span a gap in the budget caused by the possible end of federal aid for the care of low-income patients.

House members alone made more than 1,000 line-item solicitations for next year, or about nine requests per member at an average per-project-cost of $2.8 million.

Projects ranged in size from $42.7 million for the dredging of Port St. Joe, $13 million for the Santa Rosa Courthouse, to $1.5 million for the Circus Arts Conservancy in Sarasota.

Tampa Bay-centered requests likely to move forward range from $1 million to renovate the Tampa Theater and $1 million for manatee care at Lowry Park Zoo to up to $150 million toward the University of South Florida’s medical education and research center in downtown Tampa.

Elsewhere in the bay area, lawmakers are seeking money for such diverse projects as a family study center, an ex-offender reentry program and even a high-speed ferry in Hillsborough County,

Less than 20 percent of the funds being sought were actually included in the $76.2 billion budget that the House will vote on Thursday. But that still means $544 million worth of member requests made it into next year’s House budget.

A PAY RAISE FOR STATE WORKERS? NOT SO MUCH via Michael Auslen of the Miami Herald

For state employees who saw some hope in a Democrat-backed budget amendment calling for a 3-percent raise — no such luck.

Before withdrawing the amendment, Rep. Alan Williams … urged his fellow lawmakers to find room for higher pay when the budget goes to conference committee with the Senate.

It’s not a surprise Williams would make this plea. His district in the capital city includes a massive number of state workers.

But what’s not a surprise is that he withdrew the amendment. He’d already done the same with two other budget amendments. And, Williams said, he knew the House wouldn’t put it in the appropriations bill.

“I know that we cannot move this amendment forward … We don’t have the proper vehicle to get this into the budget,” he said.

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BILL TO ALLOW GUNS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUFFERS MAJOR SETBACK via the Associated Press

Prospects are dim for a contentious bill that would allow designated individuals to carry guns in Florida public schools.

The Senate Committee on Pre-K-12 Education declined to vote on the bill this week. It’s one of the committees the bill was required to pass to reach the Senate floor, and it won’t meet again, potentially dooming the bill.

The bill would allow school districts to designate individuals with law enforcement or military experience, concealed weapons permits and other training to carry guns in schools. Committee Chairman John Legg, a Republican from Trinity, said he objects to what he called deputizing civilians to provide school security.

But bill sponsor Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said he hopes to find a way to bring the bill up for a Senate floor vote.

BILLS FOR DISABLED KIDS’ EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT PASS SENATE via the Associated Press

A package of bills moving through the Florida Legislature seeks to enhance the education and employment prospects for disabled children.

The bills, which passed the state Senate … have a powerful champion: State Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a child with Down syndrome.

One bill allows universities to set up courses of post-secondary study for the intellectually disabled. Another aims to increase employment of the disabled in state government and encourage it in private industry.

Another allows tax-free personal savings accounts to benefit disabled children as they grow older, and a fourth expands a state program to provide scholarships for disabled children to enroll in special education programs.

A package of similar bills is moving through the state House.

HOUSE PANEL VOTES TO URGE PRESIDENT & CONGRESS TO POTENTIALLY INCREASE SANCTIONS ON IRAN via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Talks to secure a preliminary accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear program continued in Lausanne, Switzerland, a day after negotiators extended the March 31 deadline.

There is tremendous pressure on the Obama administration, with members of Congress already prepared to denounce an agreement between the P+1 nations and Iran that has yet to be finalized.

A coalition of Republican lawmakers and some key Democrats in the Senate say they’re poised to impose additional sanctions on Iran, depending on the status of negotiations, something that the Obama administration does not support.

Weighing in on the issue … was the Florida Legislature – or at least one committee in the House.

The House Local & Federal Affairs Committee voted unanimously to support HB 1285, a memorial sponsored by Palm Beach County Republican Kevin Rader that calls on the president and Congress to pass and enforce a new set of economic sanctions against Iran if a deal on their nuclear program fails to come together.

Rader listed three reasons why he was presenting the memorial, beginning with the fact that he said for the past decade Iran has been trying to produce a nuclear weapon. “It’s been written about. It’s been talked about, and it’s something that I feel that we cannot allow to happen.” he said.

HOUSE PANEL MOVES TO SHIELD UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT APPLICANTS FROM SUNSHINE LAWS via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times

Despite unanimous public opposition, the House Education Committee has advanced a bill to exempt university and college president and provost searches from the state’s Sunshine laws.

HB 223 would keep all applicants for the high profile jobs private while search firms or committees narrow the group to a finalist pool. That group of finalists would then be made public for a 30-day review period before a final selection.

Rep. Bill Hager … called the measure a classic case of competing interests — open records vs. the goal of getting the “most awesome, most profound leaders for our universities.”

“We’ve heard praise for our existing presidents. I concur with that,” Hager said. “The opposite question is, who did not apply?”

Bill sponsor Rep. Neil Combee … suggested that the public nature of presidential searches scares off potential leaders who do not want to have their job hunting publicized.

ISLAMIC STATE GROUP CITED AS NEED FOR RECORDS EXEMPTION via the Associated Press

A State Representative is using the threat of the Islamic State group to advance a bill that could make it harder for people to find addresses and phone numbers of military service members, their spouses and children.

The House Local & Federal Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bill … It now goes to the full House.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’ bill (HB 185) would allow active and former military members to tell government agencies to keep private personal information that would otherwise be public record. It would also apply to spouses and children.

The bill originally applied only to members of special operations units, but Gaetz said he expanded the language because the Islamic State group posted names and addresses of 100 soldiers and urged sympathizers to kill them.

PAIN CLINIC REGS REMAIN INTACT UNDER BILL PASSED BY THE SENATE via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

Regulations for pain management clinics are set to expire in January, but the Florida Senate passed a bill on April 1 that would keep the requirements intact indefinitely.

Sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, SB 450, passed unanimously and without any debate or controversy. A companion bill, HB 4017, has cleared all the committees of reference and is on the House Calendar, awaiting action.

Florida had earned the reputation of being a pill mill state, a state known for prescription drug trafficking. As a result, between 2009 and 2012 the Florida Legislature passed a series of bills aimed at cracking down on pill mills, including among other things, requiring clinic registration and regulation.

According to the attorney general’s website, there has been a decrease in the number of pain management clinics, from 900-plus in 2010 to 367 as of January 2014. The number of prescription drug-related deaths also has dipped, from 2,710 in 2010 to 2,090 in 2012.

Former Sen. Mike Fasano championed the pill mill bills over the years and he recalled working closely with Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2011 on revamping the laws related to the establishment, management and operation of pain management clinics, including the regulations impacting physicians who practice medicine at pain management clinics.

The House, however, took a different approach to the pill mill problem at the time and initially proposed a bill that would have prohibited dispensing of controlled substances altogether. Without the dispensing, the House argued, pill mill registration wasn’t necessary.

DRY CLEANING, HAZARDOUS WASTE SITES AMONG THOSE FALLING THROUGH BUDGET CRACKS, GROUP SAYS via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics

With the focus on big-spending items in the House and Senate budgets this week, some smaller but important spending issues are going unnoticed.

For example, the proposed House and Senate budgets each contain $6.5 million for dry-cleaning sites and $3.5 million for cleaning up hazardous waste sites. But site cleanup professionals say more is needed.

“That (funding) doesn’t help with the dilemma or potential crisis we are facing,” said Phil Leary, a lobbyist for the Florida Ground Water Association. “It’s almost like they (legislators) don’t understand.”

The Legislature in 1994 established the Dry-cleaning Solvent Cleanup Program at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for cleaning up sites and groundwater.

Dry cleaners typically use a solvent called perchloroethylene to remove stains from garments. Perchloroethylene, which can increase the risk of cancer for those working around the chemical, is considered a hazardous waste, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

DEP said in 2013 that 139 dry-cleaning sites had been cleaned up. Another 1,284 were eligible under the program with work underway at 192.

The Legislature in 2008 appropriated $10.1 million for the program but the appropriation was reduced to $4 million for the following three years.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS TURN TO CRAFT BEER TO MAKE THEIR CLEAN WATER PITCH via Janelle Irwin of Florida Politics

The group Environment Florida put a new face on the fight for clean water – beer.

In order to draw increased attention to water quality issues facing Floridians, the group hosted a clean water forum at 3 Daughters Brewery in St. Pete … keynote speaker was Jim Leonard, chemist and lab director for the brewery.

Leonard pointed out how important water is to brewing beer. For every barrel of beer made, seven barrels of water are used. And that water needs to be just right.

“Hops and yeast can be shipped in …. the water is the only ingredient that can truly be called local,” Leonard said. “You really need to monitor the water source … We test the water on a regular basis.”

More than 100 people crowded the brewery to listen to Leonard present his truncated science of beer demonstration. But that meant they also got to hear from Jennifer Rubiello, field associate for Environment Florida.

“We all depend on fresh, clean water. Unfortunately, way too many of the rivers, lakes and streams that crisscross our whole entire state are not fully protected from development or pollution,” she said.

Rubiello is trying to rally support for tougher pollution standards for Florida’s waterways by closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act that allow industries like oil, sugar and agriculture to pollute waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule last year that would clarify standards under the Clean Water Act, but industries affected by that rule are pushing back.

WHAT ADAM PUTNAM’S OFFICE IS READING — USDA SENDING MORE MONEY TO FIGHT CITRUS GREENING via the Associated Press

Federal authorities are sending more money to help fight the citrus greening disease that is threatening Florida’s citrus industry.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack … said his agency was offering $23 million for further research on greening. He made the announcement during a visit to an Orlando market that sells a wide range of fresh produce.

The funding offer comes on top of another $23 million that was promised to research universities during the last fiscal year.

Citrus greening causes fruit to drop and weakens the health of citrus trees. The disease has caused Florida orange production to drop by more than half in the past decade. Most of Florida’s oranges are used for juice.

MOST IMPORTANT BILL EVER BANS EJECTED YOUTH COACHES FROM RETURNING via Janelle Irwin of Florida Politics

South Florida Senator Jeremy Ring is fed up with obnoxious coaches. So, he’s doing what any reasonable person in a position of authority would do; he’s using his influence in the Florida Legislature to get overly competitive coaches off their respective soccer and softball fields.

According to PoliticalFix Florida, Ring decided to sponsor the “Athletic Coaches” bill after noticing a flurry of ill-tempered girls’ softball coaches in his home district.

The bill would apply to all youth sports ages 12 and under. It would require any coach who is ejected from a game to be suspended from their coaching gig for the remainder of the season.

Another presumably irritated spectator, Shevrin Jones, is sponsoring the bill in the House.

This is very useful legislation and has already cleared two Senate committees because, obviously, it would be burdening local Little Leagues and soccer clubs to have them make and enforce their own rules. It’s a matter clearly better understood by politicians in Tallahassee because many of them coach softball and see rambunctious coaches.

IN JOE NEGRON-JACK LATVALA BATTLE, NO PLANS TO CALL A SENATE GOP CAUCUS via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

In the unresolved battle between Republican Sens. Joe Negron and Jack Latvala for future control of the Florida Senate, Negron supporters have been whispering about an upcoming GOP caucus with the goal of designating Negron as president for the 2016-2018 cycle.

They say the only holdup is next week’s special election in Northeast Florida, when voters will elect the replacement for former Sen. John Thrasher, the president of FSU. That election likely will return the Senate GOP caucus to its full complement of 26 members.

But a caucus vote is not imminent. Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano … (says) based on Senate tradition, it would be premature to hold a caucus now to designate Senate President Andy Gardiner’s successor.

“I have not made that decision yet,” Galvano said. “If we were to call a caucus, it would be something that I would discuss with the president (Gardiner). Traditionally, the way it works in the Senate, caucuses for the succeeding term for Senate president take place in December.”

Two of the past three designations were in December. Gardiner was crowned on Dec. 10, 2013. Sen. Don Gaetz was designated on Sept. 19, 2011. Former Senate President Mike Haridopolos was chosen on Dec. 8, 2009.

MY TAKE: MIDWAY THROUGH 2015 SESSION, FLORIDA JUSTICE ASSOCIATION EMERGING AS EARLY WINNER Full story here

Who would have guessed on primary night 2014 that the Florida Justice Association would look so formidable at halftime of this year’s Legislative Session?

After playing and losing in a handful of Republican primaries that night, the FJA continued to take a political battering last cycle.

They doubled down on Charlie Crist‘s close-but-no-cigar challenge to Scott, Amendment 2 failed to garner the 60 percent of the vote necessary to become enshrined in the state constitution and six largely lawyer-friendly House Democrats bit the dust in November.

Despite those troubles, FJA has quickly shaken off the dust and put together an impressive first month of Session.

It has played successful defense so far when it comes to the all-important issue of Big Tobacco liability, as well as pro-insurance legislation that would restrict access to the courts for folks looking to claim damages from insurers.

The advocates’ advocacy group is even playing a little offense, actively supporting Sen. David Simmons‘ bill to require transportation network companies to carry insurance, resolving ambiguities in that ever-fluid industry.

Not a bad half-Session’s work for a group supposedly at the end of its rope.

LEGISLATIVE SCHEDULE HIGHLIGHTS

HOUSE BUDGET SESSION 

A House floor session will likely will finalize its proposed $76.2 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1. Session begins 11 a.m. in the House chamber.

SENATE BUDGET SESSION 

The Senate will also hold its floor session to vote on its proposed $80.4 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Session starts 2 p.m. in the Senate chamber.

OTHER SCHEDULED LEGISLATIVE MEETINGS:

8 a.m.:

>>> House Economic Affairs Committee meets in Reed Hall of the House Office Building.

>>> House Judiciary Committee meets in Room 404 of the House Office Building.

>>> House State Affairs Committee meets in Morris Hall of the House Office Building.

9 a.m.:

>>> Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 412 of the Knott Building.

>>> Senate Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 301 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets in Room 401 of the Senate Office Building.

11:30 a.m.:

>>> Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meets in Room 301 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> Senate Fiscal Policy Committee meets in Room 412 of the Knott Building.

>>> Senate Rules Committee meets in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building.

>>> Senate Transportation Committee meets in Room 37 of the Senate Office Building.

***Smith, Bryan & Myers is an all-inclusive governmental relations firm located in Tallahassee. For more than three decades, SBM has been working with our clients to deliver their priorities through strategic and effective government relations consulting that has led us to become one of Tallahassee’s premier governmental relations firms today.***

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

William Rubin, Melissa Akeson, Heather Turnbull, The Rubin Group: Canopy Grow, LLC; Village of Indian Creek

John Ariale: Autism Speaks

Mike Corcoran, Jeff Johnston, Matt Blair, Amanda Stewart, Corcoran & Johnston: Guardianship of Carl Abbott; Sunrise Mills; Turnberry Associates

Jorge Chamizo: Floridian Partners: Dealer Consulting Services

Chris Finkbeiner, The Rubin Group: Associated Industries

Paul Hawkes: Neal Communities

Frank Mayernick, Tracy Mayernick, Jodi Lea Stevens, The Mayernick Group: EPIC Behavioral Healthcare

Tim Meenan, Joy Ryan, Joe Salzverg, Meenan PA: Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, Florida Service Agreement Association; Teladoc

Marc Reichelderfer: Landmarc Strategies: Motorola Solutions, Inc.

Ryder Rudd, Advantage Consulting Team: Evans Properties

SOUTHERN STRATEGY GROUP LANDS SHORT-TERM RENTALS GIANT AIRBNB via Ryan Ray of Florida Politics

Though ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are getting most of the ink these days, you’d be a fool to sleep on the short-term rental aspect of the new so-called sharing economy, where companies like industry leader Airbnb are challenging zoning rules, raising the ire of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and raising questions about fundamental property rights.

Such a complex issue will require a big lift on the influence side, and Airbnb is hiring up top-shelf lobbying talent to meet the challenge.

To help shepherd them through the process in the Florida Capitol, they’ve enlisted Southern Strategy Group, Airbnb public affairs director Christipher Nulty confirmed.

“We’re working with leaders across the globe on clear, fair laws that make it easy for people to share their homes while contributing to their communities,” Nulty said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to continuing our productive conversations with lawmakers in Florida.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes told Florida Politics before session that he plans to introduce a bill allowing short-term rentals statewide as soon as Uber legislation clears, probably this year, though nothing is certain in today’s budget-preoccupied Tallahassee climate.

Airbnb is included in Sen. David Simmons‘ sharing-economy insurance bill – SB 1298 – which would require short-term rental companies to carry personal injury and property damage insurance for up to $1 million, something the company says it voluntarily includes among its policies.

SPOTTED as the only non-elected official to make Sunshine State New’s list of “movers and shakers over the last five years” (SSN’s words) Peter Schorsch “As the mainstream media continue to lose influence and readers, nontraditional outlets have made gains at their expense. No media enterprise in Florida has gained as much steam over the last five years as Schorsch’s Saint PetersBlog. Often insightful, occasionally infuriating, almost always informative and entertaining, Schorsch — in the literal sense, not a “politician” obvious for inclusion in this series but a most political non-politico nevertheless — has made his site a must-read for political class Floridians. His hard work and ability to take advantage of opportunities to expand over the last five years have paid off significantly.”

CONTEXT FLORIDA: TALLY TAKEAWAY, BUDGETS, CHILDREN IN CRISIS AND AMENDMENT 1

On Context Florida The ideological fissure that cleaves the Republican Party nationwide will be on display in Tallahassee as the legislative leadership labors to bring the state budget in for a landing, says Jack StevensonMelody Bowdon offers some practical ways everyone can advocate for children, including those encountering a child allowing them to feel and express their emotions. She also notes the importance of “learning the system and speaking up if something doesn’t look or feel right.” Dan Peterson, director of the Orlando-based Center for Property Rights at the James Madison Institute, says that buying more land is not the first priority of Amendment 1. On the other hand, Karl Wickstrom believes the state should use Amendment 1 to buy land and take on Big Sugar.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

MIAMI HERALD “INNOCENTS LOST” SERIES WINS WORTH BINGHAM PRIZE FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

The Miami Herald’s meticulously researched and reported “Innocents Lost” series, which examines the deaths of hundreds of children in Florida, has won the 2014 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism.

The Herald’s I-Team explored how 477 children died over a six-year period, victims not only of abusive or neglectful caregivers but also of a flawed Florida child welfare system. The deaths occurred as Florida reduced the number of children in foster care at the same time it cut services for troubled families.

The series was the result of a year’s worth of reporting and multiple lawsuits to obtain state death records. The Herald documented how the state repeatedly left children with violent or drug-addicted caregivers, asked to sign unenforceable “safety plans.” The newspaper also reported on efforts by Florida’s Department of Children & Families and the Department of Health to manipulate child fatality data and to block the state’s release of the details of child deaths.

Lead reporters were staff writers Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch. Other Herald staffers who contributed to the series were Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas; data visualization specialist Lazaro Gamio; photographer and videographer Emily Michot; artist/page designer Ana Lense Larrauri and page designer Kara Dapena.

After the publication of the series, the reporters continued to update their online database, which now includes the stories of about 535 young victims. The Herald also hosted a town hall meeting to allow stakeholders, including judges, social workers, parents and teachers, to discuss their concerns.

The Herald’s reports have led to a number of important reforms to state law and policy: The Florida Legislature allocated nearly $50 million to improve child protection services and began the most comprehensive revision of child welfare statutes in its history. Lawmakers also required the child welfare agency to build and maintain a transparency website that lists all child deaths in the state. Additionally, a law established a child welfare institute at Florida State University’s social work department to offer guidance on policy and practice, and created a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to investigate child deaths quickly.

TWEET, TWEET: @KHaughney: Shout out to my friend and former bureau partner @adeslatte for defending his dissertation today. He’s going to be a great professor!

TODAY’S GOVS CLUB BUFFET: Italian Seafood Chowder, Antipasti Flatbread Sandwich Board, Caprese Salad Bar, Balsamic Chicken Caprese, Sicilian Flank Steak with Rosemary, Garlic, Sun Dried Tomato Sauce & Capers, Tri-Colored Cheese Tortellini with Mushroom Alfredo Sauce, Fried Calamari, Italian Vegetables, Provencal Roasted Potatoes, Assorted Mini Desserts

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.