Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 17

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

Today’s SachsFact is brought to you by the public affairs, integrated marketing and reputation management experts at Sachs Media Group: On this St. Patrick’s Day, we remember that Spanish explorers weren’t the only ones who came to “La Florida” in the 1500s –- they were frequently joined by Irish missionary priests, soldiers and eventually planters, traders, shop keepers and doctors. Three early Spanish governors were actually Irish military officers, and today the Census Bureau says one in nine Floridians is of Irish ancestry. With St. Patrick’s Day festivities in more than a half-dozen cities and Irish heritage clubs around the state, it’s more than just the flora that makes Florida so green!

A HISTORY OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY via The History Channel here.

FLORIDA POLITICOS ENJOYING A ST. PATTY’S BIRTHDAY: Conversa’s Kelsey Lehtomaa Frouge, St. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell, consumer advocate Sean Shaw, and Florida TaxWatch’s Rob Weissert.

TODAY’S GOVERNORS CLUB BUFFET FEATURES ST. PATTY’S FARE: Oyster Chowder, Dublin Sandwich Board with Chip, Irish Pub Salad, Cole Slaw & Potato Salad, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Baked Irish Salmon, Sheppard’s Pie, Irish Flag Vegetables, Champ Potatoes, Mini Desserts, Apple Crisp.

ADAMS STREET’ERS CAN CELEBRATE ST. PATRICK’S DAY with a FAPL-tini as the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, along with invited legislators and staff, get together at the Tallahassee Center (2nd floor conference center; above 101 and Mint Lounge) from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

DAYS UNTIL Sine Die: 46; the 2015 Election: 231; the 2016 Election: 601

DRIVING THE NAT’L CONVO — OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: 16.4M HAVE GAINED HEALTH INSURANCE via Julie Pace of The Associated Press

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell says 16.4 million people have gained insurance coverage as a result of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

Burwell announced the latest estimates Monday as the administration prepares to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the law’s signing on March 23.

Most of those gaining coverage — 14.1 million people — got their insurance after the law’s big expansion began at the end of 2013. The program offers subsidized private coverage for people who don’t have health insurance on the job, along with an expanded Medicaid program that many states have accepted.

Another 2.3 million people previously gained coverage. Those were young adults allowed to remain on a parent’s plan until age 26 under one of the law’s most popular provisions.

LEGISLATURE STRUGGLING TO BUILD BUDGET WITHOUT CLEAR DIRECTION ON HOSPITAL FUNDING via Christine Sexton of Florida Politics

Florida’s GOP legislative leaders remain at odds over how to solve the state’s $2 billion problem with its program to help out hospitals.

But as the House and Senate prepare to roll out competing versions of a new state budget  there’s no clear signs of the two chambers plan to deal with the potential loss of federal aid that helps fund the low-income pool program.

The House is taking the first steps. On Tuesday a budget committee will take up a bill that proposes completely eliminating the law that authorizes the program that provides money to help hospitals treat the poor and uninsured.

Rep. Matt Hudson, chairman of the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, downplayed the move, but noted that the federal government has already warned the state that it does not plan to extend the current program beyond this summer.

“Why have it on the books if you know it expires?” Hudson said. “We have a program that expires at the end of this (fiscal) year. We are actively negotiating what the new program will look like. Once we know what the new program looks like, we can legislate forward. Until then, I can’t legislate what I don’t have.”

The House’s actions, however, continues to put it on a potential collision course with the Senate, where leaders in that chamber have maintained that they will allow large cuts to the state’s hospitals.

On Monday speculation was swirling. One scenario had the House unveiling a budget with a LIP placeholder — and maintaining the program at current funding levels. Another scenario had the House releasing a budget that assumed local tax dollars but not matched by federal dollars.

The Senate unveils its plan Thursday, Sen. Rene Garcia told Florida Politics.

POLITIFACT FLORIDA: MEDICAID AND THE FLORIDA BUDGET via Amy Sherman of the Tampa Bay Times

After rejecting Medicaid expansion in 2013, the Florida Legislature is taking a serious look at it this session. The program pays for health insurance for the very poor.

Does Medicaid come close to eating up nearly one-third of the state budget and is it the state’s biggest expenditure?

Medicaid is a joint state and federal program intended to provide health insurance to the very poor. The 2010 Affordable Care Act encourages states to expand eligibility and agreed to pay 100 percent of the expansion for the first three years, dropping to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. Twenty-nine states adopted the expansion — six including Florida are considering it, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family

“For all funds, Medicaid is the largest program,” Amy Baker, the state’s chief economist, told PolitiFact Florida.

But education programs — including K-12 and higher education — have received on average slightly more than 52 percent of all state general revenue appropriations since 1997-98. The second-largest policy area is human services.

George Washington University health policy professor Leighton Ku said that as far as state-based fiscal burdens go, a better measure is to focus on how much of the state general fund goes to Medicaid. That level is about 20 percent of state general fund expenditures, he said. … “Thus, the actual ‘burden’ to state taxpayers is far less than 30 percent of their state tax dollars,” he said. “In terms of state/local expenditures, education costs are always much higher.”

So there are two ways to look at Medicaid spending. The 30 percent figure is correct if you count both the state and federal dollars that go toward Medicaid, and it is the biggest expenditure. But if we only count state dollars, then education eats up a bigger piece of the budget. … It’s important to understand that the federal government contributes to Medicaid, so the statement is accurate but needs additional information. We rate this claim Mostly True.

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A COUPLE OF QUICK JEB READS

WHAT JEB BUSH IS LIKE IN PERSON via James Pindell of the Boston Globe

To be sure, Jeb wants to you to be impressed and charmed, but he is not going to go out of his way. He is not aloof either. He is fully in command of what is going on. I have struggled to articulate what he is actually like as a candidate ever since I left Iowa last weekend. The best I can come up with is this: Jeb Bush is zen. It helps that he isn’t afraid to just be himself.

SCOTT WALKER PAC: JEB BUSH IS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN RAISE MONEY via Erin McPike of CNN

Walker’s PAC, Our American Revival, provided CNN with a list of names of reliable Republican donors who have already committed to bundle funds for him or contribute significantly to a Super PAC that would be developed to support him should he run. … Walker is working to cast himself as a fresher and more conservative alternative who can appeal to both the mainstream and the party’s right flank. [He] has met with card-carrying members of the GOP’s well-heeled donor class in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

ACTUAL PRESS RELEASE — “The Russian judge gives Jeb 10 points for his backflips on immigration” via Mair Strategies

MEANWHILE … NEITHER MAJOR PARTY CRACKS 40% FAVORABILITY IN LATEST POLL via Lydia Saad of Gallup

Thirty-seven percent of Americans now view the Republican Party favorably and 39% view the Democratic Party favorably. This is the only time since Gallup began tracking the party’s images this way in 1992 that neither party has achieved at least 40% favorability from the public.

Except for a brief spike to 51% for the Democrats after Obama was re-elected in 2012, both parties’ ratings have registered below 50% since 2010. The descent to sub-40% ratings for both parties marks a new low in an already inauspicious trend.

Republicans’ favorable score is down from what Gallup recorded last fall, both before and after the 2014 midterm elections that resulted in the Republicans gaining seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and taking control of the U.S. Senate. Forty percent of Americans viewed the Republican Party favorably last September, and that rose to 42% just after the elections in November before falling in the current survey.

Whether the current dip to 37% represents a return to “normal” — 34% viewed the GOP favorably last spring — or reflects specific public concerns about the party’s performance since taking power this year, isn’t entirely clear. In any case, the current demographic patterns in favorability toward the GOP are roughly similar today to what they were in April 2014, after improving in most categories last fall.

Meanwhile, at 39%, Democrats’ current favorability is up slightly from the record-low 36% after the 2014 midterms, but is still among the lowest recorded for the party on this measure. By contrast, in the same poll Obama received a 49% favorable rating, up from 42% after the midterms.

For some time, numerous Gallup trends have been showing Americans largely displeased with government’s performance and leadership. Through it all, at least one political party was reviewed well, but now — perhaps because of the constant brinksmanship going on between Obama and the Republican Congress, but maybe for other reasons — both parties are floundering.

CHARLIE CRIST NOT SEEKING SENATE SEAT EYED BY FRIEND PATRICK MURPHY via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist won’t be running for U.S. Senate or any other office in 2016, he announced late today on his Facebook page.

That removes one potentially awkward Democratic primary obstacle for Rep. Patrick Murphy … a Crist friend who could announce his own bid for U.S. Senate next week.

Crist is a friend of the Murphy family who was an early supporter of Murphy’s 2012 congressional campaign.

Murphy’s father and mother contributed $3,000 apiece to Crist’s gubernatorial campaign last year and six businesses associated with the Murphy family’s Coastal Construction also chipped in $3,000 each. Murphy himself gave $1,000 to Crist’s gubernatorial campaign.

On top of that, Thomas P. Murphy Jr., the congressman’s father, gave $50,000 and Coastal Construction gave $25,000 to a pro-Crist PAC last year.

As Patrick Murphy has pondered the 2016 Senate race, Crist was among the people he talked with in recent weeks.

Murphy issued this statement … after Crist’s announcement: “Charlie Crist is a loyal Democrat and great public servant, as well as a close friend. I hope Charlie stays involved in public service so we can continue working together to strengthen the middle class across our great state.”

HOW IT PLAYED: CHARLIE CRIST WON’T RUN IN 2016

USA TODAY, Charlie Crist declines to run for Senate in Florida – “He included a link to the Florida Democratic Party’s website … members ‘stand for something — fairness, growing the middle class, and policies that strengthen future generations.’” Miami HeraldNo, Charlie Crist isn’t running for office in 2016 – “In a sign of Florida Democrats’ thin political bench, Crist’s name had been mentioned earlier this year as someone Democrats could look at if Republican Sen. Marco Rubio chooses to run for president and not seek reelection.” CNN Charlie Crist passes on yet another campaign – “His decision clears the way for a number of lesser-known Florida Democrats, who had perhaps been more serious than Crist about running, to move forward with their decisions.” Tampa Bay TimesI’m not running for any office in 2016 – “An even bigger crop of would-be Republican candidates is building, including some GOP members of Congress.” The HillCrist won’t run for Florida Senate – “Some Democrats in the state are pushing Rep. Patrick Murphy … to launch a bid. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz … Rep. Alan Grayson … are also considering their options.”

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ STILL WON’T SAY IF SHE’S THINKING OF RUNNING FOR SENATE via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald

Schultz … but was careful not to make any news regarding her potential interest in making a 2016 Senate run.

“My focus right now is on serving my constituents in the 23rd congressional district and chairing the Democratic National Committee to help elect the 45th president of the United States of America,” she said at Andover Academy in Plantation, where she held a news conference to call for child-resistant packaging for products containing liquid nicotine.

Wasserman Schultz is said to have been considering a Senate run if, as expected, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president and not for reelection. But talk about Wasserman Schultz’s interest waned after a public feud with Orlando trial attorney John Morgan over his push to legalize medical marijuana. Last month, Wasserman Schultz denied Morgan’s claim that her office had offered to support a tweaked medical pot constitutional amendment if Morgan stopped criticizing the congresswoman.

She said … that she has still not met or had any discussions with Morgan on the subject.

“I didn’t have any conversations with them to begin with,” she said.

WILLIAM SNYDER OPTS OUT OF RACE FOR MURPHY’S SEAT via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, seen by Republicans in Washington as a top prospect to run for the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional seat of Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, said … he’ll seek re-election instead in 2016.

With Murphy expected to announce next week that he’s running for U.S. Senate, Republicans and Democrats have been quietly maneuvering for Murphy’s congressional District 18 seat, a true swing district that elected Democrat Murphy twice despite a slight GOP registration edge.

Snyder, a three-term state House member before becoming sheriff in 2012, had not professed interest in running for Congress, but hadn’t shut the door on the possibility, either — until today.

“After thinking it through…I do not believe it would be in the best interest of the Sheriff’s Office for me to run for Congress. It can’t be about me. I believe I can better serve my community by remaining as sheriff,” Snyder told The Palm Beach Post.

PIC DU JOUR: TIME TO UPDATE YOUR TED DEUTCH FILE PHOTO via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

In case you missed it over the weekend, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch … got his head shaved to raise money for pediatric cancer research through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana wielded the razor at the Delray Arts Center.

According to his fundraising page, Deutch’s shavedown has raised more than $60,000 for cancer research.

DEMOCRAT ERIC LYNN LIKELY TO CHALLENGE DAVID JOLLY NEXT YEAR IN CD 13 RACE via Mitch Perry and Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics

Eric Lynn, a senior Obama administration adviser in the Defense Department, is strongly considering running for the Democratic nomination for Congress against GOP incumbent in District David Jolly next year, and could announce his candidacy soon. Lynn has roots in Pinellas, having graduated from St. Pete High School in 1996, and his family resides in the area.

“Eric Lynn is being heavily recruited by local, statewide and national Democrats,” says Pinellas County Democratic Party consultant Nick Janovsky, who worked on Alex Sink’s 2014 congressional campaign.

“I believe he is most in line with Pinellas voters, and if there’s a strong calling for him, he has to consider this heavily,” Janovsky adds.

“Pinellas Democrats and Independents are excited by the possibility of a candidate that understands their concerns,” says Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee chair Susan McGrath. “Eric has vast military intelligence having worked at the Pentagon. We would be excited by the potential should he and his family decide he run.”

There was a similar calling for Lynn a little less than a year ago by Democrats, as they ended up going into panic mode after Alex Sink opted not to run for the second time in eight months against Jolly in CD13.

Lynn considered entering the race at the time, but then announced last May that after much consideration, he would remain in Washington at the Department of Defense.

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RICK SCOTT UNLIKELY TO GET FULL SCHOOL FUNDING REQUEST via Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida

House budget writers unveiled an education spending plan … that would provide public schools with almost $47 less per student than Scott proposed, and a key senator said his chamber was also unlikely to meet the governor’s number when a Senate blueprint is released.

The two developments cast increasing doubt on one of Scott’s chief priorities only two weeks into the 60-day legislative session. … The difference would amount to almost $78.3 million less statewide than Scott’s proposal. … House funding would still be an increase of almost $215 a student, or $764.2 million overall, from the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

But lawmakers face hurdles in trying to meet Scott’s call for higher school spending and $673 million in tax cuts. For one thing, the nearly $77 billion budget Scott has recommended includes $2 billion in federal and local health-care funding that might not be available in the spending year that begins July 1, though state and federal officials are negotiating about the fate of the program.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott to visit Ellenton announce January’s jobs numbers. Press conference begins 10 a.m. at Feld Entertainment, 2001 US-301 in Ellenton.

DEO DEFENDS ‘NIGHTMARE’ UNEMPLOYMENT WEBSITE via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

Despite harsh reviews by the state’s auditor general, Florida’s $77 million unemployment website is working just fine, according to agency officials in charge of the project.

“Many of the audit findings are now stale,” Tom Clendenning, director of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s workforce services, told a joint legislative auditing committee. “The overwhelming majority of all the issues identified in the findings have been corrected.”

Asked to grade the new CONNECT website, Clendenning gave it a B+.

The audit of CONNECT, which serves a system of about 1 million claimants, covered a period between Feb. 24, 2014, and June 30, 2014, but was only released last month. It identified nine areas of concern that included problems with rampant fraud, technical glitches, delayed payments for thousands of jobless workers, and inaccurate claims that paid either too much or too little.

While confirming for thousands of jobless workers that their issues were not isolated, the audit raised concern among lawmakers. Clendenning tried to minimize those concerns Monday by saying the system was performing better than the prior system. Call center volume is lower. Caseloads are down.

Putting a happy face on the project is nothing new for Clendenning and others at the Department of Economic Opportunity.

When CONNECT launched in October 2013, DEO staff prematurely exchanged congratulatory emails even as there were widespread reports of system failure. It took weeks for DEO executive director Panuccio to acknowledge there were issues with the vendor, Deloitte Consulting. And it wasn’t until the federal government intervened early last year that payment of thousands of claims that weren’t getting processed because of glitches with CONNECT were made.

TWEET, TWEET: @GrayRohrer: In other words, DEO punished Deloitte more for delays before the system came online than after it was in place, causing delays for claimants

FLORIDA IN BAD SPOT ARGUING FEDS DON’T PLAY ROLE IN WATER DISPUTE, LAW PROF SAYS via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics

A legal dispute in the U.S. Supreme Court between Florida and Georgia over water can proceed without the involvement of federal government that operates dams on the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers, federal officials say.

That argument highlights how the water dispute between the states has changed. And if the argument holds true, then Florida is in a bad position for arguing its case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Robin Kundis Craig, a University of Utah water law professor.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. Those cases have focused on how the Corps controlled reservoirs and the amount of water flowing through dams and whether Georgia was permitted under federal law to take water from those federal reservoirs.

But the dispute took a dramatic change in direction in 2013 when Gov. Scott blamed Georgia for using too much water and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.

Florida said Georgia’s water use was harming fish and wildlife along the Apalachicola River and caused Apalachicola Bay’s oyster population to collapse. Alabama and the federal government were largely excluded from the case.

And Georgia responded in court that Florida’s own mismanagement allowed oysters to be over-harvested and caused the collapse, although University of Florida scientists disagree.

And now Georgia is arguing that the case cannot proceed because the federal government is a “required party” that was excluded from the case by Florida’s lawsuit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates a series of dams along the Chattahoochee River and the Jim Woodruff Dam along the state line where the Apalachicola River begins.

SEMINOLES FINANCE POLL THAT FINDS MAJORITY OF VOTERS WANT TO RENEW THE GAMING COMPACT via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

A new poll financed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida finds that voters like the level of gambling currently being offered … support the renewal of the gaming compact between the Tribe and the state.

The poll is a “screaming” statement about “where people see gaming. They like it the way it is. They fear having more of it,” said Adam Goodman, the poll’s media consultant in a teleconference with reporters.

A portion of the tribal compact expires in July and the Florida House has proposed a bill to end it and replace it with a massive expansion of gaming in South Florida. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, says it is considering not renewing the option of the compact that expires this year.

Does voter support for the status quo mean the Tribe agrees and will not attempt to expand gaming by negotiating additional games at its casinos? Not quite.

“The Tribe is not ruling out anything regarding the renegotiating of the compact or the extension of the table games provision of the compact,” said Gary Bitner, the Tribe’s spokesman.

BEER ‘GROWLERS’ BILL CLEARS ANOTHER COMMITTEE via James Rosica of the Tampa Bay Times

A Senate bill that would, among other things, legalize the half-gallon size of beer containers known as growlers cleared another committee. … The Commerce and Tourism committee approved the bill (SB 186) unanimously. It has already cleared the Regulated Industries panel and next must be OK’d by Fiscal Policy before it can go to the Senate floor.

One sticking point for the alcohol and drug abuse prevention community, however, remains allowances for public beer tastings. State Sen. Jack Latvala’s bill now has the support both of craft brewers and beer distributors aligned with Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors.

It allows brewers to move their own beer between their own facilities, for instance, from a brewhouse that doesn’t have a tasting room to one that does. … It requires beer from other brewers – known in the industry as “friendly taps” – to go through distributors, a key concession to gain the support of the state’s wholesalers.

The measure originally was intended to only permit the filling of 64-ounce growlers –- the size most favored by craft beer aficionados to take home draft beer. Previous efforts to legalize that size have failed, leaving Florida the last state that outlaws such growlers.

Latvala told the committee, however, that Regulated Industries chair Rob Bradley had asked him to add other provisions related to beer “to have everything in a comprehensive bill.”

Susan Pitman, spokesperson for the Florida Coalition Alliance, representing substance abuse prevention groups, suggested several changes, among them: Limiting beer samples to 3.5 ounces each; honoring local zoning laws if they would prohibit tastings in a certain area; and prohibiting outdoor tastings.

BILL ON GUNS, EMERGENCY EVACUATIONS GOES TO SENATE FLOOR via The Associated Press

A bill allowing gun owners without concealed weapon permits to take their guns along during emergency evacuations appears to have a good chance of passing this year.

The bill will go to the floor of the Florida Senate … after getting approval in all three of its required committee stops. A Senate committee killed it last year.

The state House passed the bill last year, and House committees have acted favorably on it this year.

Past opponents of the measure, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, back this year’s version after sponsors added stricter requirements, including a 48-hour time limit and a definition of evacuation. Last year, opponents mocked the bill, saying it would allow people to take their guns to a riot.

BILL WOULD REPEAL LAW THAT BANS SHACKING UP via The Associated Press

About 1 million Floridians are breaking state law by committing lewd and lascivious acts and a state senator doesn’t want them to be punished for it. … The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously agreed Monday when they approved state Sen. Eleanor Sobel’s bill to repeal a law that makes it illegal for unmarried men and women to live together.

Sobel said the law was enacted in 1868 and anyone breaking it could be fined $500 and sentenced to 60 days in jail. She also said times have changed, and the government shouldn’t interfere with the lives of consenting adults.

A House version of the bill also was approved … by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Republican state Rep. Charles Van Zant of Palatka voted against it, saying marriage was God’s first institution.

TWEET, TWEET: @MacStipanovich: A second committee has endorsed a tax cut that would save the average Florida family $43 a year.  I’m totally getting drunk tonight.

EQUALITY FLORIDA RALLYING MEMBERS TO OPPOSE FRANK ARTILES’ TRANSGENDER BILL via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Miami Republican Frank Artiles’ controversial bill that would criminalize bathroom use for transgender people moves to its second committee in the House … and LGBT activists are in Tallahassee right now trying to lobby legislators to vote against it.

HB 583 goes before the Government Operations Subcommittee … The legislation would make it illegal for the transgendered to enter sex-segregated facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, or dressing rooms. Critics say the bill would also compel businesses to discriminate against their own employees and customers, and invalidate nondiscrimination policies that already exist on the local level.

State Rep. Artiles says he proposed the bill in response to Miami’s new nondiscrimination ordinance, which broadly protects trans rights. According to Artiles, the Miami ordinance lets men legally enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms in order to assault them. He says his legislation is needed to prevent rapes, molestations, voyeurism and other crimes in bathrooms.

Legislators are being lobbied by dozens of members from Equality Florida … a contingent of whom they call “volunteer lobbyists” in Tallahassee this week for their Annual Lobby Days.

They’ve also issued a script that they’d like their members to use in calling up the 10 members of the Government Operations Subcommittee who will be voting on the bill … They also have listed House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House Majority Leader Dana Young among legislators to contact.

In discussing his support for the amendment that would repeal Florida’s ban on same-sex adoptions on the floor of the House last week, Artiles acknowledged that the bill has made international headlines, but he pushes back on the idea that his legislation is hateful.

“I’m not a homophobe. I’m not a transphobe. I’m a father,” Artiles said before voting for the bill.

HOUSE REJECTS EFFORT TO REPEAL NUCLEAR POWER FEE via  The Associated Press

State legislators are refusing to repeal a law that lets utility companies charge for future nuclear power plants. A House panel … rejected a proposal by St. Petersburg state Rep. Dwight Dudley to repeal the law.

Utilities normally cannot begin billing customers for construction costs or upgrades until generating facilities go into service. But a 2006 law carved out an exception to that policy for nuclear power.

Florida’s two largest power companies since that time have charged customers for nuclear power projects. But the fee has come under fire since Duke Energy Florida was allowed to collect it even after the company said it was halting plans to build a plant in Levy County.

Duke officials earlier this month asked regulators to drop the fee as early as this summer.

HALSEY BESHEARS SUPPORTS SMALL GOVERNMENT, EXCEPT WHEN HE DOESN’T via Florence Snyder of Florida Politics

State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Not From Panacea) supports small government, except when he doesn’t. … He’s all in for making a city out of Panacea, located in Wakulla County, inside his sprawling district, but an hour’s drive and a world away from where he lives and works.

Florida law requires approval from the Wakulla County Commission and from the Legislature before there can be a City of Panacea, where the locals can be taxed to pay for a council, a manager and other bureaucracy that Republicans generally think we need less of.

Beshears went before the House Local Government Affairs Subcommittee carrying water for Panacea Waterfront Partnership, a group of Wakulla County One Percenters who are making their third attempt to create a City of Panacea. They contend that a City would be eligible for state and federal grants that would otherwise be off limits.

Beshears wasn’t very specific about whose pockets such grants would come from, nor whose properties and businesses would benefit. Wakulla County residents who are not members of the One Percent, on the other hand, were very specific in describing the ways in which their taxes would go up and their mom-and-pop businesses would be damaged if incorporation advocates prevail. Subcommittee Chair Debbie Mayfield  thanked them for their testimony before kissing off their concerns.

Without discussion, the subcommittee unanimously blessed Beshears’ bill.

It’s one thing for the Legislature to defer to the wishes of a local lawmaker on a local issue. But the supine performance of Mayfield’s subcommittee was unsettling. You had the feeling that The Three Wise Men could have gone up against Beshears, and they’d have been blown off, too.

TWEET, TWEET: @HalseyBeshears: When did it become un-American to allow a small town the right to vote and determine their own fate?

PENSION REFORM? FUHGEDDABOUDIT via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

House Republicans clamored to overhaul the state pension fund for three straight years — before the governor backed away last spring as he was readying his re-election campaign.

Now, House Speaker Crisafulli … is the latest to run up the white flag — at least for this year.

A new actuarial study casts doubts about the level of savings the state could pocket by closing the traditional pension fund to new hires — forcing them, instead, into an 401(k)-styled investment account. While 2013 and 2014 studies promised billions in savings, the most recent review warns the change could actually increase state costs.

“Given the unexpected and puzzling report, we believe it is important to pause and understand what factors caused such a dramatic shift,” Crisafulli said … in a statement.

The House was already facing long odds with its proposed work on the Florida Retirement System — rejected by the Senate in earlier years, where opponents still have muscle. Crisafulli’s only real hope was using the FRS re-do as a bargaining chit in late-session deal making with the Senate.

Now, it looks like even that is off the table.

“THE LEGISLATURE INTENDS TO REVISE LAWS…” via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

After a few years without “shell bills,” those one-line placeholders appear to be making their triumphant return.

“The Legislature intends to revise laws relating to the Department of Transportation,” is the entirety of SB 7054.

That “transportation” bill was filed … by the full Senate Appropriations Committee, and will be heard by that committee.

Shell bills carve out a specific policy area that will be changed, but don’t offer any specifics until an amendment, sometimes hundreds of pages long, is filed to add meat to the bill.

They can be used to help a lawmaker meet the bill filing deadline while the actual language is still being crafted. They have been criticized in the past as a vehicle for quietly making sweeping policy changes with little oversight or transparency.

Over the past four or five years, Rules Committees in both the House and Senate tried to crack down on shell bills after some sessions that saw hundreds filed. … In order to combat the use of shell bills, lawmakers changed the rules to require amendments be filed 24 hours prior to the start of a committee hearing.

That means that at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, whatever transportation policy tweak/change/overhaul is being sought must be revealed…. Until that time, Senate Bill 7054 remains nothing but a 12-word placeholder.

HAPPENING TODAY — MONTHLY REVENUES UPDATED

The Revenue Estimating Conference will study updated monthly revenue estimates. Meeting begins 9 a.m. in Room 117 of the Knott Building.

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SURGE OF NO-PARTY-AFFILIATION VOTERS CONTINUES ACROSS FLORIDA via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

The trend of newly registered Florida voters rejecting both major political parties continues unabated as the combined total of voters known as NPAs (no party affiliation) and minor-party voters has surpassed the total of a major party in 11 counties.

The latest to join the list are two affluent, adjoining counties in Northeast Florida, Clay and St Johns, where Democrats are now in effect a third party.

The combination of unaffiliated and minor-party voters accounted for 26.6 percent of all Florida voters in January, according to the Division of Elections website. They now outnumber Democrats in six counties: Clay, Collier, Lee, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and St. Johns. They outnumber Republicans in five: Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola and Palm Beach.

Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are the three most populous counties in Florida. Three more counties are likely to join this anti-major party registration trend soon. They are Charlotte, Martin and Monroe, where in all three places nonpartisan voters are closing in on Democrats.

In Florida, unaffiliated voters are prohibited from voting in a party primary except in cases in which only one party fields a slate of candidates. The presence of a write-in candidate “closes” the primary to unaffiliated voters.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON SOLAR POWER CLOSE TO STATE SUPREME COURT REVIEW via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

It’s only the middle of March, but Floridians for Solar Choice, the political action committee pushing to get a solar-energy initiative on the ballot in 2015, are on the verge of having enough valid petition signatures to get a review by the Florida Supreme Court. The group submitted 66,493 valid petition signatures … just shy of the 68,314 needed to trigger court review.

If approved, the measure would open up the business of selling electricity from solar energy to the public in Florida.

The group also appeared to have met requirements for collecting enough signatures in various congressional districts. The high court must sign off on ballot wording before proposed constitutional amendments can go before voters.

The level of enthusiasm for the measure doesn’t surprise Tory Perfetti, the Florida director of Conservatives For Energy Freedom, a group that has been leading the way on the getting the measure before the voters next year.

Frustrated by the resistance of the investor-owned utilities who claim that solar doesn’t work in their business model in Florida, a coalition of conservative and progressive groups have rallied behind getting the constitutional amendment on the ballot this year. So far, they’ve had the resources to gather lots of signatures.

They still have a lot of work to do, though. The goal is to get to the 688,314 vetted signatures that they’ll ultimately need to get on the ballot, but they have still have more than 10 months to get there.

While Floridians for Solar Choice is primarily being funded by the progressive Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, it’s not just liberals pushing the measure, which is why it seems destined for success. In addition to Conservatives for Energy Freedom, other conservatives groups such as the Tea Party Network, the Christian Coalition, the Libertarian Party of Florida and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida back it as well.

Big business is also supportive in the form of the Florida Retail Federation.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition will host a press event to make a statement and release documents regarding the proposed constitutional amendment being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice. Event begins 11:30 a.m. at the Florida Press Center Conference Room, 336 E. College Avenue, Suite 100 in Tallahassee.

GREG STEUBE DEMONSTRATES HIS SENATE SERIOUSNESS via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

It did not take long for state Rep. Greg Steube to show his seriousness about running for the Florida Senate in 2016.

In just the last five days of February, the Sarasota Republican raised more than $93,000 to go from third in the so-called money primary to first in the still-developing field to potentially replace state Sen. Nancy Detert … considering running for the County Commission in 2016.

That $93,000 burst gives Steube nearly $102,000 in his main campaign account. Though it is currently in his House re-election campaign account, he can transfer that money to a Senate campaign account when, and if, that race becomes official, as long as donors don’t object.

“I think it shows my support in the community,” Steube said.

Former state Rep. Doug Holder, who also wants the Senate seat, said it shows no such thing, because Steube’s fundraiser was for his House race and not the Senate.

“It doesn’t mean they will support him in a run for the Senate,” the Venice Republican said.

Holder has raised $78,000 in his Florida Senate campaign account for 2018. Holder is raising for 2018 because there is technically no race for 2016 until — and unless — Detert opts to leave the Senate.

HAPPENING TONIGHT: Lenny Curry hosts a fundraiser to support his bid for Jacksonville mayor. Reception begins at 6 p.m., at the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront Hotel, Sawgrass Room, 1201 Riverplace Boulevard in Jacksonville. A spot on the host committee requires supporters to write or raise $2,500; suggested individual contribution $250 per person.

TAMPA RACE HIGHLIGHTS MURKY ROLE OF POLITICAL COMMITTEES via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Tribune

A picture of City Council candidate Jackie Toledo with a beaming smile that is a staple of her campaign mailers also appears on mailers paid for by Moving Tampa Forward, a mysterious political action committee behind attack advertisements on her rivals.

Campaign workers for her opponent, Guido Maniscalco, say that’s evidence there are ties between the committee and Toledo’s campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, a claim Toledo and Pedicini have repeatedly denied. By law, candidates cannot coordinate their campaigns with a PAC.

Moving Tampa Forward’s murky ownership is an example of how little scrutiny these committees receive.

Yet, PACs and election communications organizations, or ECOs, can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcomes of high-profile and local races. They are only subject to investigation if a formal complaint is filed with the Florida Elections Commission.

City council candidates are required to file monthly reports on contributions and spending. In the run-up to the election, the frequency increases to weekly. But PACs only file reports monthly; donors often are not known until after an election.

Bryan Farris, Maniscalco’s campaign manager, said Pedicini is using the PAC to conceal who is donating to help Toledo. He questioned why Moving Tampa Forward’s report fails to list any expenditures even though the committee has paid for at least five mailers.

Toledo said she has never heard of Smith, the one donor to Moving Tampa Forward. She said Pedicini assured her he is not connected with the group. Her initial contact with Pedicini’s firm, Strategic Image Management, was with Fred Piccolo.

But Toledo admitted that she considered firing Pedicini after reports linked him with the PAC and attack mailers but decided against it because she thought it would disrupt her campaign too close to the election. She said, however, she will not use Pedicini for future campaigns.

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APPOINTED: Arezou “Ari” Jolly to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

APPOINTED: Jose “Pepe” Cancio and Cliff Walters to the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority

APPOINTED: Cynthia “Cindy” Ross to the Polk State College District Board of Trustees.

APPOINTED: Randall Maggard to the Southwest Florida Water Management District

BUBBLED.IT OPENS VOTING FOR ONE NONPROFIT TO WIN $20K IN ADVOCACY Full story here

Three of Florida’s creative and advocacy leaders are asking the public to determine which of five worthy causes will win a stronger voice in Tallahassee.

Open voting has begun … in the inaugural Cause + Effect campaign, where one Orlando-area nonprofit will win $20,000 in free infographics, advocacy and marketing

The trio of companies are Bubbled.it, which specializes in infographics, known also as “issue visualization”; Prismatic, the Orlando-based branding and advertising group formerly known as FDG Creative; and Southern Strategy Group, Florida’s foremost lobbying firm.

Bubbled.it is an infographics studio in downtown Orlando co-founded by Kelly Cohen of Southern Strategy Group and Stephanie Darden of Prismatic. Among their clients are ICAMR, Clean the World and Red Light Management.

The top-five vote getters are Harbor House of Central Florida, the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, Nathaniel’s Hope, the Orange County Early Learning Coalition and the Orlando Repertory Theatre.

Final voting continues on the Bubbled.it website through April 10. The winner will be unveiled at private event May 13.

ERIN DALY BALLAS is the featured Tallahassee player in today’s chapter of the 4th Floor Files. Currently she serves as an associate on Jack and Kenya Cory’s Public Affairs Consultant’s team, where she began in 2008 as a legislative intern.

During the 2015 legislative session, Erin will advocate for a range of interests, including both the Florida and National Greyhound Associations, the City of Jacksonville Beach, Outward Bound Discovery, the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and American Elder Care. Here’s the file on Erin Daly Ballas.

PERSONNEL NOTE: FLORIDIAN PARTNERS ADDS FORMER DEPUTY INSURANCE COMMISSIONER RICHARD KOON TO TALLAHASSEE TEAM Full story here

Richard (Rich) Koon is joining Floridian Partners – bringing his 28 years of regulatory experience to the firm.

As the former deputy insurance commissioner for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, he had direct oversight of all regulated property and casualty insurance contracts and rates, as well as financial oversight of insurers. Koon led the property and casualty division through some of the most challenging insurance markets in Florida’s history, leading efforts to restore Florida’s once fragile residential property market to its best position in decades.

“Richard brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and we are thrilled to have him join our team,” said Charlie Dudley, managing partner of Floridian Partners. “Given the importance of insurance issues in Florida, across the United States and around the globe, Richard’s depth of experience as former deputy insurance commissioner in a mega state like Florida will be a tremendous asset to our clients in and outside of Florida.”

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Albert Balido, Anfield Consulting: Loops Nursery and Greenhouses

Brady Benford, Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart: NorthStar Contracting Group

Christopher Dawson, GrayRobinson: National Association of Industrial & Office Properties; Orange County Library District; University of Central Florida Foundation; Volusia County Government; Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority; Reynolds Smith and Hills

Katy Fenton: Kyra Info Tech

William Flyge, Jr.: Citibank, NA

Nicholas Iarossi, Jennifer Gaviria, Christopher Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Florida International University Foundation

Lila Jaber, Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart: Hoerbiger Corporation of America

Jim Poole: Haven Hospice

Jerry McDaniel, Southern Strategy Group: Broward County; Golden Shoreline Limited Partnership

Teye Reeves, Floridian Partners: Continental Casualty Company d/b/a CNA

John Schillo: Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals Services

Jim Smith, Southern Strategy Group: Sogeti USA; United Insurance Holdings Corp. and its Subsidiaries

William Stander, Whisper: Church Mutual Insurance Company;

Trevor Theunissen: Uber Technologies

William Gregory Turbeville, Ballard Partners: Creative Choice Homes

Jason Unger, GrayRobinson: Accelerated Learning Solutions

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CONTEXT FLORIDA: SLOW LEARNERS, DANGEROUS IDEOLOGY, KING V. BURWELL AND PATIENT ACT

On Context Florida: Some governors are slow learners, says Lucy Morgan. Gov. Scott is beyond slow. He doesn’t learn. He doesn’t appear to care about public access to records, meetings and information traditionally available to Floridians. Christo-fundamentalist ideology is dangerous, says Julie Delegal. As a Christian, she was raised to respect the religious beliefs of others. Being respectful, however, cannot include standing by and indulging those who, wearing the guise of religion, deliberately peddle ignorance and bigotry. Orlando Vazquez believes the end of the Affordable Care Act would devastate small business owners. The Supreme Court recently heard an oral argument in King v. Burwell, a landmark case whose outcome threatens to take away the health coverage of millions of Americans. Gus Bilirakis believes in rewarding companies that improve medicines. That is why he is introducing the PATIENT Act, to provide increased incentives for innovators seeking to make existing medications better. Bilirakis wants to help bring friends, families and neighbors improved medicines – ones that have less-severe side effects or taken just once a day instead of several times.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

REASSURING READ — LATEST MANATEE COUNT BREAKS ALL-TIME RECORD WITH MORE THAN 6,000 via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times

Biologists tallied a record number of manatees this winter, counting more than 6,000 of them scattered around the state, according to numbers released this week.

During the February aerial survey, a team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 2,730 on the west coast, for a total of 6,063. That’s nearly 1,000 more than the previous record, set in 2010.

Every winter, biologists coordinated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg take to the skies over the state to fly around power plants and springs looking for manatees huddled together in warm water. The counts are notoriously unreliable, with one biologist comparing it to “counting popcorn while it pops.”

However, conditions were nearly ideal for this year’s count, state officials said.

“In many of the regions surveyed, warm, sunny weather caused manatees to rest at the water’s surface, which facilitated our efforts to count them in these areas,” state biologist Holly Edwards said. “Calm waters and high visibility also contributed to the high count.”

Biologists were particularly relieved about the high count after seeing a record number of manatees killed by cold and by Red Tide toxins in recent years, not to mention the mysterious deaths of more than 100 manatees in polluted Indian River Lagoon. … The statewide manatee death toll in 2013 topped 800 for the first time ever.

FUN READ — WHY REPUBLICANS CAN’T STOP EATING CHICK-FIL-A via Sarah Mimms of the National Journal with a h/t to Mike Allen of POLITICO

Tea-party members in the House nosh on original chicken sandwiches and waffle fries at the Heritage Foundation’s monthly “Conversations with Conservatives.” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a longtime Chick-fil-A aficionado, has the chain cater his birthday lunch party every year.

During late-night GOP strategy sessions in the Senate ahead of a potential government shutdown in December, Chick-fil-A was the hunger-reliever of choice.

And while Speaker John Boehner prefers a glass of red wine and Italian dishes served alfresco at Trattoria Alberto, his office has dropped hundreds on Chick-fil-A fare in the last few years … though Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says he’s never seen the speaker himself indulge.

The Republican National Committee has doubled its Chick-fil-A spending, while the National Republican Congressional Committee spends more than 10 times as much as it used to.

“They kinda got abused,” says Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, “and I guess some would like to support ’em.”

CLICK BAIT READ – TIM TEBOW WORKS OUT FOR EAGLES via The Associated Press

Tim Tebow worked out … for the Philadelphia Eagles, a person familiar with the session told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the workout was not made public.

Considering all the offseason moves made by coach Chip Kelly, maybe his taking a look at the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner with the huge following shouldn’t be a surprise.

Tebow has not been on an NFL team since the 2012 season. He was released by the Jets, and then attended training camp in the summer of 2013 with the Patriots, who cut him.

One of the most successful college quarterbacks at Florida, Tebow started 14 games for Denver over two years after being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft. He won one playoff game with the Broncos, who traded him for fourth-round pick when they signed Peyton Manning.

Tebow has been working in television as an analyst for the SEC Network and ESPN.

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.