Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — March 24

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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: This week marks 450 years since the event that led directly to the founding of the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement: St. Augustine. Many Florida schoolchildren know that Spanish admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés came ashore in September 1565. But it was six months earlier, on March 20, that Avilés secured an asiento commissioning him to conquer La Florida on behalf of Spain. Once the city was established and fortified, Avilés’ position as Governor was secure – without a single expensive campaign ad!

Now, on to the ‘burn…

DAYS UNTIL Sine Die: 39; the 2015 Election: 225; Florida’s presidential primary: 357; the 2016 Election: 595

HAPPENING TONIGHT — Stephen Hayes of FOX News and The Weekly Standard, keynotes The James Madison Institute’s 2015 Annual Dinner with special guest Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The event will be held at the Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center. Limited tickets available. Click here to purchase.

HAPPY ELECTION DAY, JACKSONVILLE AND TAMPA Follow FloridaPolitics.com for election results.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our great friend, Glen Gilzean

AS FLORIDA GOVERNOR, JEB BUSH AGGRESSIVELY USED EXECUTIVE POWER via Michael Mishak of the Associated Press

Jeb Bush ended Florida’s affirmative action programs in 1999 with a flourish, issuing an executive order that he said would “transcend the tired debate” about racial preferences.

Some lawmakers grumbled about the first-year governor making such a move without consulting them, and two black legislators staged a 25-hour sit-in at his office to protest. Bush refused to budge.

Lawmakers would have to get used to it.

Bush was an aggressive chief executive throughout his tenure as Florida governor, pushing the limits of executive authority, bristling at legislative oversight and willing to work around the courts … as Bush draws closer to launching his campaign for president in 2016, he’s aggressively criticizing President Barack Obama’s own use of executive power, accusing him of “trampling on the Constitution.”

Until Bush’s election in 1998, the governor’s office in Florida had little relative power. But that same year, voters shrank the size of the state’s independently elected cabinet and gave the governor control over education and elections. Bush embraced the changes and, with the backing of a GOP-controlled Legislature, asserted himself in ways Tallahassee had not seen before.

Earning the nickname “Veto Corleone,” a pun on the main character in “The Godfather,” he cut a record number of legislators’ local projects from the state budget and demanded lawmakers clear special spending with him in advance.

Before the end of a blistering first year in which he won legislation to overhaul education, limit lawsuits and cut $1 billion in taxes, Bush signed his executive order on affirmative action. A Tampa Tribune cartoon depicted him as the Tasmanian Devil zigzagging through traffic.

DID ANY JEB FANS WATCH THE FINALE OF GLEE? via Ryan Ray of Florida Politics

The FOX musical comedy-drama ‘Glee’ dabbled in politics here and there, but never broke the fourth wall so directly than when it foretold an upcoming Bush presidency in its finale on Friday

In the show’s 121st and final episode events flash forward five years, finding Sue Sylvester (portrayed deftly by Jane Lynch throughout the show’s six-season run) as the vice-president in a third Bush administration.

MARCO RUBIO: TED CRUZ GAVE ME EARLY NOTICE OF PRESIDENTIAL RUN via Burgess Everett of POLITICO

Sen. Ted Cruz surprised many political observers by becoming the first official presidential candidate for 2016 … But not Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio … said he got a heads-up from his conservative colleague last week that the announcement was forthcoming, and Rubio praised Cruz … several times during a lengthy gaggle with Capitol Hill reporters …

But Rubio also pointed out that Cruz didn’t have as much to risk politically by announcing early, rather than taking his time to explore a campaign. Unlike Rubio, who must decide between running for president or Senate reelection in 2016, Cruz’s term doesn’t expire until 2018.

“I spoke to him last week and I never had any doubt that he was seriously exploring the opportunity of running. He politically doesn’t walk away from anything for doing it,” Rubio said. “He works real hard, obviously a very intelligent person, speaks well, has a good story to tell, has a lot of people he’s excited in the past.”

The senator declined to compare himself to Cruz, who was an outspoken opponent of the comprehensive immigration reform that Rubio helped write in 2013. Rubio has emerged as a leading Senate hawk on foreign policy, though Cruz has also made criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of foreign affairs a hallmark of his tenure.

Rubio did not say whether Cruz’s accelerated timetable would affect his decision whether to opt for a White House bid or run for the Senate and reiterated that he won’t seek both, a sharp contrast between him and Sen. Rand Paul … who is attempting to pursue both. But Rubio fired a preemptive shot at would-be successor Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Florida Democrat that announced he’d seek Rubio’s seat regardless of what the GOP senator does.

MEANWHILE … PLAN TO REPLACE FLORIDA’S “OBSOLETE” VOTER REGISTRATION SYSTEM SET FOR JULY via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner verified to the State Senate … that his office is working to “refresh” the state’s glitch-prone voter registration system by July, averting potential problems that could have threatened the 2016 presidential election cycle.

Detzner said his office has already ordered the new computer hardware and expects it delivered next month. He said his office is on course to have the new voter system up and operating by July.

Two weeks ago, the Herald-Tribune reported that statewide county supervisors of elections have become increasingly vocal about their concerns over the current Florida Voter Registration System, which has been prone to crashing – sometimes for days at a time. The voting system is a statewide database used to check in voters to ensure their eligibility to cast a ballot.

If the system crashes during an election, the state does not have an adequate back plan and could be left to force thousands of eligible voters to cast provisional ballots.

After repeatedly seeking a solution to the glitches, the state’s supervisors of elections sent a stern warning letter to Detzner in late February. It was their second letter since the start of 2015.

At his confirmation hearing for re-appointment, Detzner said his office was already making efforts to modernize the system prior to the November 2014 election … repeated failures of the system from November through February have largely been contained of late. He said over the last 3 to 4 weeks there have been “few, very few issues.”

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PATRICK MURPHY SAYS CHARLIE CRIST HINTED HE WOULDN’T RUN, BUT HE LEARNED ABOUT DWS DECISION FROM CNN via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald

Patrick Murphy’s prospects on the Democratic side recently improved when Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and former Gov. Charlie Crist announced that they would not seek the seat. But Murphy could face a challenge from U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, who is popular with progressives.

Murphy said that the decisions by Wasserman Schultz and Crist not to run was not a factor in his final decision to jump into the race. Murphy said Wasserman Schultz didn’t give him a heads up that she decided not to run.

But Murphy said that Crist, a longtime friend, had hinted to Murphy that he wouldn’t run. When CBS 4’s Jim DeFede asked Wasserman Schultz in an interview about Murphy, she didn’t promote him.

“My support will go to whoever wins what I expect to be a robust primary,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday. “We have a deep bench and a lot of wonderful Democrats who I know will step forward. Ultimately whoever our standard bearer is will be the person I support.”

DeFede responded that the Democrats have been criticized for not having a deep bench — noting that Murphy is a 31-year-old two-term congressman.

“That’s who seems to be stepping forward at the moment,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding that other Democrats could step forward such as mayors including Bob Buckhorn in Tampa, Buddy Dyer in Orlando or Alvin Brown in Jacksonville.

FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS WANTS ALAN GRAYSON TO RUN FOR SENATE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

While … Murphy is gathering statewide attention … the liberal wing of the Democratic Party isn’t part of the cheering section for the two-term Congressman.

The Progressive Democratic Caucus announced … the results of a survey they recently took in which Orlando area Congressman Alan Grayson was their pick to become the party’s 2016 nominee, taking 63 percent of the vote in an informal survey. Other Democrats receiving a “significant number of votes” including Miami state Senator Dwight Bullard, Tampa-area Congresswoman Kathy Castor, and Congressman Ted Deutch, who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

“Leadership matters, especially now when issues such as climate change and income inequality are affecting Florida voters,” Progressive Caucus chair Susan Smith said in a press release. “As this vote indicates, Progressives are clearly looking for a bold champion who will inspire and engage voters. We can’t afford to run former Republicans or corporate Democrats who consider themselves “centrists” but who are really “Republican lite.” If we do that, we lose.”

When asked for comment, Smith said that neither Murphy nor Tallahassee area Congresswoman Gwen Graham fit the qualifications of what progressives are looking for in a candidate.

Although conventional wisdom has it that Murphy’s centrism will trump Grayson’s fire liberalism in a general election, the dynamics in a Democratic Party primary will be quite different. Although the progressive caucus got no traction backing Nan Rich for governor last year, Alan Grayson is independently wealthy and has a nationwide group of donors.

TAMPA BAY DEMOCRATS REACT TO PATRICK MURPHY’S ANNOUNCEMENT FOR SENATE via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Though he’s hardly a household name in the Tampa Bay area, Democrats in the region are reacting with high praise for Murphy…

“I’m a very excited Floridian. I think he’ll be great for the state, and the Democratic Party and the U.S. Senate,” says Tampa based lobbyist and Democratic Party fundraiser Justin Day, who is friendly with Murphy. “He’s the real deal. He’s young, energetic, thoughtful, and most importantly, bipartisan, which the Senate could use a lot more of that.”

“I know him and could not think of a better candidate,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told Florida Politics early Monday. “I think he is positioned perfectly to compete in all areas of the state, and to bring a common sense, mainstream approach to the Senate.”

It’s not surprising to hear the Mayor extoll Murphy’s virtues. The two seem to share a similar philosophy of being centrist Democrats whose appeal transcends party politics.

“I think his background and voting record, his attractiveness as a moderate campaign, is good for our party,” says Tampa Democratic strategist Ana Cruz. “Republicans love to beat up Democrats that we are (big) spenders, that’s the one knock that they have on us…but that’s not the case, and so Patrick really plays into that fiscal moderate candidate that I think will very attractive to Florida voters.”

Murphy is a former CPA who used to be a Republican. But as he told this reporter … the rap that he’s too moderate for Florida Democratic primary voters isn’t accurate.

“I’m a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “I vocally supported raising the minimum wage, and voted for it. One hundred-percent I support a woman woman’s right to choose. I support marriage equality. I mean, these are all issues that I’m very vocal about, and a strong supporter of.”

MORE REAX

U.S. Rep Ted Deutch: “I am proud to endorse my friend, colleague, and fellow Democrat Patrick Murphy for the United States Senate. … Patrick will fight for the same things in the U.S. Senate that we have fought for together in the U.S. House, like protecting Social Security and Medicare, raising wages for hardworking Americans, and fighting for a safer and cleaner environment. … Patrick always puts the needs of Florida families, seniors, and small businesses first, and that’s why I plan on doing whatever I can to help him win in 2016.”

Florida Democratic Party’s Allison Tant: “Patrick Murphy is a champion for middle class families, and his commonsense approach to the tough issues facing Florida and our country has earned him praise from all corners. In Congress, Patrick has focused on strengthening Medicare and Social Security, standing up for our right to vote, protecting women’s rights, growing middle class jobs, and fighting for equal opportunity.  I am glad Patrick has joined the race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Marco Rubio. For five years, Rubio has put his partisan ambitions and Washington’s wealthiest special interests ahead of Florida’s middle class families. They deserve better.”

Florida GOP’s Blaise Ingoglia: “The RPOF warmly welcomes liberal-insider Patrick Murphy into the race for the U.S. Senate. We also applaud him for the impeccable timing of this announcement, as it comes on the same day as the five-year anniversary of Obamacare. And, while he’ll undoubtedly try and continue to run away from his record of overwhelming support for ObamaCare and voters can expect to hear him parrot Republican talking points on TV and in ads, his votes and track record can speak for themselves.”

HOW IT PLAYED: PATRICK MURPHY’S ANNOUNCEMENT

POLITICOFlorida’s Patrick Murphy running for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat – “Murphy said he’s running to put an end to the ‘hyper-partisanship in Washington’ … focus on problems like preserving Social Security, Medicare and the environment, a classic Democratic platform.” ABC News, Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy Announces Bid for Rubio’s Seat – “… immediately becomes a formidable candidate, regardless of who else runs.” Tampa Bay TimesWith Rep. Patrick Murphy in, Florida’s 2016 Senate race is on – “An open Senate seat casts an even bigger spotlight on Florida, a critical prize for both parties seeking the presidency … Senate winner could be determined by the outcome of that battle.” PolitiFact, Fact-checking Patrick Murphy, Democratic hopeful to succeed Marco Rubio – “It is true that Murphy joined most Democrats in opposing a bill called the “Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013 … A few other challengers taking on incumbents did raise more than Murphy … only surpassed Murphy because they gave themselves large loans or because they transferred money from a U.S. Senate campaign,” Miami New TimesRep. Patrick Murphy Running for Marco Rubio’s Senate Seat: Five Things You … – “ … He’s a Miami kid … He’s a former Republican … He’s Florida’s most moderate Democratic congressman … He’s not afraid to break with his party … he still has solid Democratic positions on several issues.” Washington PostRep. Patrick Murphy jumps into Florida Senate race – “a talented fundraiser who raised a whopping $5 million for his House race … represents a swing district north of West Palm Beach that Democratic strategists believe has prepared him well for running statewide.”

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RICK SCOTT KICKS-OFF “CUT MY TAXES WEEK” via the Associated Press

Gov. Scott will kick off “Cut My Taxes Week” … at the Florida State Capitol.

A booth will be set up at the Plaza Level Rotunda from Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. where Floridians can bring their bills and use the tax cut calculator to see their savings with the Governor’s proposed cell phone and TV tax cut. Governor Scott will be at the booth on Tuesday, March 24 and Wednesday, March 25.

In celebration of Gator Day at the Capitol, University of Florida President Dr. Fuchs and Albert and Alberta will join Scott at the booth on Tuesday. FSU President John Thrasher and Coach Jimbo Fisher will join Scott at the booth on Wednesday.

In his 2015 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget, Scott has proposed cutting $673 million in tax cuts for Floridians. The biggest portion of his proposal includes cutting the tax that families and businesses pay for their cell phone and TV services. Currently, Florida families pay a state cell phone and TV tax rate of 9.17 percent on nonresidential landlines, cell phone, and cable services, and 13.17 percent on satellite services.

DEO FILES FIRST CHALLENGE TO A LOCAL GOVERNMENT LAND-USE CHANGE via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has filed what is the first challenge to a local comprehensive plan amendment since sweeping growth management law changes passed in 2011.

Legal watchers on both sides of the growth management issue — development and environmental — say the DEO move against the City of Mascotte in Lake County is significant.

Business groups and local governments in 2011 supported the growth law changes that sharply reduced state oversight of local development decisions. Environmental groups said the changes would put important natural areas at risk.

In Mascotte, the city annexed 500 acres within the state-designated Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern and changed the designation from one home per 10 acres with a requirement of 80 percent open space to one home per five acres.

The Department of Economic Opportunity on March 19 issued notices that it found the land-use changes not in compliance with state law and filed petitions requesting state administrative law hearing.

“It would be significant in showing DEO is looking very closely at amendments and willing to challenge particularly in areas of environmental import to Florida,” said Nancy Linnan, a land use attorney with Carlton Fields Jorden Burt who has represented developers and local governments.

FDLE CHIEF CITES TIME DELAYS IN NOTIFICATIONS OF PRISON VIOLENCE via Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, whose surprise appointment followed the secretly orchestrated ouster of his predecessor, Gerald Bailey, cruised through his first Senate confirmation hearing … After a series of questions, mostly about FDLE’s role in investigating deaths and serious injuries in state prisons, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to confirm him.

“I did not inherit a broken agency,” Swearingen told senators.

Swearingen said a written agreement between FDLE and the Department of Corrections had led to “more and more calls” about incidents in prisons, but he did not elaborate. He also cited violations of time provisions in the agreement that requires incidents to be reported within 30 minutes, first by a DOC employee to DOC’s inspector general, and in turn by the inspector general to FDLE. He said the delays are being investigated because the agreement includes administrative penalties for violations.

Swearingen said FDLE wants 17 more full-time employees for prison death investigations and said the agency is “absolutely prepared and capable” to fulfill that role. He did not address the Senate proposal for an independent oversight board to monitor the prison system.

Prodded by Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, who alluded to “some of the things that have happened,” Swearingen declared his independence and said he will hold regular meetings with all four of his bosses, Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members. He said he has asked the Legislature for money in areas that Scott did not include in his proposed budget, and that no one from Scott’s office has questioned that.

OFFICERS BLOW WHISTLE ON DANGEROUS DOC ‘CRISIS’ via Noah Pransky of WTSP

For all the attention paid to ongoing budget and management problems at Florida’s state prisons, 10 Investigates has learned penny-pinching has created an even more dangerous situation in the Department of Corrections’ probation and parole division.

A months-long investigation into the DOC’s community corrections program suggests probation and parole officers are not adequately outfitted to properly monitor former felons on court-ordered supervision.

While other agencies handle misdemeanor probation in Florida, the DOC is in charge of the state’s riskiest offenders as they are reintroduced into society. In Florida, there are 143,000 felons on community supervision – including many for violent or sex crimes convictions – living among us.

Yet the DOC doesn’t pay for weapons for its probation division. If officers wish to carry a firearm, they are responsible for purchasing it themselves. The agency provides ammunition and training, but a DOC spokesperson said only 46% of probation officers carry a weapon.

And a more significant problem appears to be embarrassingly-poor access to working vehicles. A 10 Investigates review of hundreds of state documents revealed most DOC offices have just one or two old vehicles to share among 10-to-20 officers. The vehicles are typically 10-to-20-year-old “hand-me-downs” from other DOC divisions or state agencies. And the vehicles break down so frequently, officers are often left with a choice of conducting home visits of “maximum risk” felons in their personal vehicles – or not at all.

The poor access to vehicles also impacts probation officers’ ability to conduct surprise visits to felons’ homes. Because vehicles have to be reserved weeks in advance, officers often rely only on scheduled visits to felons’ homes, affording the probationer a chance to hide potential contraband such as drugs or weapons.

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ONCE A YEAR SOME REPORTER WRITES THIS PROFILE — VETERAN PINELLAS SEN. JACK LATVALA IS BLUNT BUT EFFECTIVE via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

He’s gruff and he’s tough, and those are just two of the more endearing traits of state Sen. Jack Latvala … Or, as he told a packed hearing the other day, “I’m kind of a blunt talker.”

The veteran Republican lawmaker from Clearwater is having another Latvala-esque legislative session, relishing his role on a wide range of issues, from housing to beer to state troopers to Florida’s space program.

He’s where the action is. In the fall, when senators listed their favorite committee assignments, Latvala’s first choice was the one with the longest name: the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development or “TED” in the shorthand jargon of the Capitol.

The panel of five Republican and four Democratic senators oversees billions of dollars in spending, and in a year with a bountiful surplus, there are a lot more requests for money.

Latvala has led a lengthy and refreshingly public discussion in which private groups and state agencies have to publicly pitch and justify their requests.

Calling the bureaucrat’s presentation a “thud,” Latvala demanded a better explanation from DeLorenzo’s boss, DEM chief Bryan Koon — the guy who refused to utter the words “climate change” in testimony last week.

ACLU ATTORNEY SAYS NEW HOUSE BILL TO PREVENT GAY ADOPTIONS IN FLORIDA IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics

Last week the House Health & Human Services Committee approved a proposal that would allow private adoption agencies to object to “performing, assisting in, recommending, consenting to, or participating in the placement of a child if a placement violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The measure, sponsored by Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur, would also essentially endorse discrimination, allowing any agency that denies placing a child in a home with a same-sex couple from losing its license or ability to participate in government programs.

ACLU attorney Daniel Tilley says it’s flatly unconstitutional.

“The state can’t use religious criteria to place children in state custody,” he told Florida Politics. … “And since the state can’t do that itself, the folks that they hire to do the government’s job can’t do that either. So these child placement agencies cannot allow either religious or moral or other criteria to supersede the best interests of the child.”

The proposal is being viewed as a legislative response to the Florida House’s approval earlier this month to remove the ban on gay adoption out of state statute.

For some observers, it’s all a bit mystifying why the Legislature is dealing with this issue at all.  After the 3rd District Court of Appeal affirmed an earlier ruling that the ban on gay adoption was unconstitutional back in October of 2010, the Department of Children and Families announced it would not appeal the decision. Then Attorney General Bill McCollum said that case involving licensed foster parent Frank Martin Gill wasn’t the “right case” to take to the Supreme Court, allowing same-sex couples the legal right adopt children in Florida.

So while it’s been legal for gay couples to adopt ever since, the language has remained in state law. Hence the bill to remove it, sponsored by Miami Beach House Democrat David Richardson, who is running for state Senate in 2016.

ARTHENIA JOYNER FILING BUDGET AMENDMENT TO BOOST LAND-BUYING via Bruce Ritchie of Florida Politics

Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, the Senate Democratic leader, is filing a budget amendment to redirect $80 toward the Florida Forever land-buying program and away from other purposes she said are not consistent with Amendment 1.

Approved by 75 percent of voters in November, Amendment 1 is supposed to direct $742 million towards water and land conservation programs in the 2015-16 state budget.

The Senate budget bill … provides $2 million for Florida Forever along with $20 million for land-buying for Kissimmee River restoration.

“When 75 percent of Floridians resoundingly vote for environmental protection, the Legislature is obliged to listen,” Joyner said. “But it’s apparent from the bill before us today that the Legislature is doing everything but listen.”

The current state budget provided $12.5 million for the Florida Forever program plus $40 million from the possible sale of non-conservation land. Another $5 million was provided through the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for conservation easements through the Rural and Family Lands Protection.

THE BONG IS HALF-EMPTY: DOOR SHUTS IN TALLAHASSEE ON FULL-FLEDGED MEDICAL MARIJUANA via Stephen Nohlgren of the Tampa Bay Times

Non-euphoric pot may nudge forward in the Legislature this year, but the window for a full-fledged medical marijuana system has all but slammed shut.

A bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes … that would allow broad use of medical marijuana has not been scheduled for a committee hearing. Neither has a companion House bill, and by House rules, the deadline for that is Tuesday. Nor has leadership in either chamber shown any signs of making marijuana a high priority.

“We are in legislative purgatory,” Brandes said … “It’s difficult to see how my bill moves forward at this point.”

Brandes’ bill would have allowed counties to decide on how many state regulated marijuana dispensaries would operate in their jurisdictions. It would have allowed multiple qualifying diagnoses for patients, based on a doctor’s exam.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee plans to tweak last year’s “Charlotte’s Web” legislation that would allow for low -THC, non-euphoric pot. And Brandes said he hopes some of his ideas can be amended to that bill on the Senate floor.

United for Care, the organization that sponsored last year’s constitutional amendment to install and medical marijuana system, issued a gloomy plea to supporters … to sign petitions for a new amendment.

THE BONG IS HALF-FULL: MARIJUANA BILL ON SENATE FAST TRACK via Michael Pollick of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

A bill to expand the use of non-euphoric marijuana extracts and speed up its implementation is on the fast track in the Florida Senate.

The bill, SB 7066 … will get a hearing … at the Senate Regulated Industries Committee run by Sen. Rob Bradley …The Florida Legislature already passed a non-euphoric marijuana extract bill a year ago.

But the law called for the Florida Department of Health to issue rules covering who could apply for one of five regional state monopolies, and proposed a lottery to settle a tie for any given region.

That and other details of the rule-making process prompted a series of legal challenges. The end result has been that, a year later, nobody has even been able to apply for the job as grower-processor-distributor of extracts.

This revision, titled “An act relating to low-THC cannabis,” would streamline the application process, Bradley says.

If Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill this summer, enterprises affiliated with a long-standing Florida nursery would be able to apply almost immediately, Bradley told the Herald-Tribune. That could mean some form of marijuana would become available to some Florida patients in a relatively short time, possibly early 2016.

HEMP, POT’S FIRST COUSIN, GETS HIGH SIGN FROM SENATE PANEL via John Kennedy of the Palm Beach Post

Marijuana may have its detractors but hemp, pot’s first cousin, got a unanimous go-ahead … from a state Senate committee amid promises that it could prove a budding new industry for Florida growers.

Sen. Jeff Clemens … who has sponsored medical marijuana bills that went nowhere with fellow lawmakers, is promoting the industrial hemp proposal.

He said Florida could be a forerunner in the field. “We’re trying to give our agriculture community another option,” Clemens said.

He also cautioned that the measure is “not a marijuana bill.”

The 2014 federal Farm Bill allowed for the cultivation of hemp – lifting penalties that for generations had lumped it in with restrictions on growing marijuana, which remains illegal under state and federal law.

While the plants are related, pot contains a higher concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that gives it psychoactive properties. Hemp, used since ancient times in such products as rope, paper, soaps, clothing and building material, is gaining new popularity and now also is on store shelves as a health food supplement.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved Clemens’ bill 6-0 … But it still has a long way to go. Meanwhile, a House proposal (HB 363) is still awaiting its first hearing.

EYEBALL WARS II: SENATE OKS BILLS LETTING RETAILERS SET PRICE FOR CONTACTS via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

The Senate Health Policy Committee … gave the nod to a bill that would restrict contact lens manufacturers from preventing retailers from selling or advertising contact lenses below a set price.

The bill, SB 1400 by Sen. Tom Lee, brought lobbyists from Las Vegas, Utah, and Washington, which had former Senate President Don Gaetz joke that Lee, also a former Senate President, deserved the “Visit Florida” award for the number of lobbyists who traveled to the state to testify on the bill.

While the bill passed, it wasn’t because of support from the Republicans on the committee. Indeed, Republican Sens. Bill Galvano, Don Gaetz and Health Policy Committee Chairman Sen. Aaron Bean all voted against the measure.

Additionally, Galvano also testified against the bill at the committee but prefaced his testimony by quipping that it’s “never a comfortable position to oppose our Appropriations Chair, but I guess the budget already is being printed somewhere.”

Lee countered that in his 12 years at the Capitol he “never had a Republican leader lobby against a Republican piece of legislation (he) filed.

“So it’s equally as uncomfortable for me,” he said.

INSURANCE BILL FOR UBER, LYFT PASSES FIRST SENATE PANEL via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times

Facing potential cost increases, lobbyists for Uber and Lyft oppose a bill that would implement new insurance requirements for companies like them at the intersection of technology and transportation.

Unfortunately for them, a Senate panel … felt differently.

“This is simply a case in which we are setting forth minimum requirements relating to insurance so that our laws keep up with technology,” said Sen. David Simmons … sponsor of SB 1298.

At issue is a provision in the bill that would require drivers for so-called Transportation Network Companies to be insured whenever they’re driving with their phone application running.

For the unindoctrinated, Uber, Lyft and the like employ a fleet of freelance drivers who provide rides to people who request them using an app on their smartphone.

Lobbyists for Uber and Lyft say they shouldn’t be responsible for insurance when the app is running but a customer isn’t in the car with the driver.

But with support from existing cab companies, the members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, which will next be heard in the Judiciary Committee but has not yet been put on the agenda.

MY TAKE: POWDERED ALCOHOL … THE NEXT DATE RAPE DRUG? Full story here

Sometimes … bills that don’t involve eye-catching headlines or involve hot-button issues like guns on campus, how to use Amendment 1 dollars, or who should check the genitalia of folks using the bathroom often get little notice. … It’s that way with the effort to ban Palcohol.

On one hand, powdered alcohol is somewhat cool. Take a glass of water, add the powdered mix, add crushed ice and some salt on the rim and voila, you have an instant margarita. As someone who enjoys an occasional nightcap, I could see myself enjoying the convenience.

On the other hand, as the father of beautiful little girl, the stuff is a nightmare. Hard to detect, easy to smuggle and tempting to abuse, Palcohol has date rape or hazing-party-gone-wrong written all over it.

The stuff can be easily and surreptitiously added to the drinks of underage partygoers, mixed into food, snuck into parties, concerts and sporting events with amazing ease. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York once dubbed the concoction the “Kool-Aid of teen binge drinking” and that visual alone should give each of us pause.

Florida lawmakers are grappling with how to handle this party in a packet. Let’s face it; we were too late to the game on pill mills and we hit the pause button on bath salts. (Normally I would insert a line here about Kratom, but I don’t want to blow up my server again.) It would be a shame if we allowed powdered alcohol onto Florida’s streets, only to see just how wild and crazy a year-round spring break can get.

But for something this dangerous and this prone to abuse perhaps we should hit the pause button. Making it illegal first and then figuring a way to move it into the spectrum of regulated products makes more sense – far more sense – then letting into the wild now and then later figuring a way to rein it back in … Until that time, I will enjoy my nightcaps the old fashioned way.

PROCEDURAL JIU-JITSU SAVES CONTENTIOUS BILL HAMMERED BY UNIONS via Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News

A contentious bill pitting unions against contractors was defeated … by a Senate committee in a bipartisan vote, but quickly saved through a procedural move used by the sponsor.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Jeff Brandes … would create a new Florida statute that prohibits local governments from requiring contractors to agree to, among other things, so-called “project labor agreement.” Those agreements are sometimes hammered out between contractors and local governments before a project begins. They can set requirements for things like wages, worker benefits, and where a contractor must hire employees.

The agreements are opposed by associations that represent contractors, which argue they are often negotiated specifically with union contractors in an effort to box out nonunion companies.

“You have to hire from certain ZIP codes, you have to hire from groups deemed hard to hire,” Carol Bowen, vice president of government affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, told the Senate Community Affairs Committee. “That includes folks who are felons. That includes folks who are recovering addicts. That includes folks with physical impairments.”

She called the agreements “pre-bid mandates” that increase costs.

AMENDMENTS CHANGE BILL SEEKING TO REPEAL ALCOHOL/GROCERY SEPARATION LAW via James Rosica of Political Fix Florida

A state representative with a history of advocating for traditional family values wants to keep the wall between whiskey and Wheaties … Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican, filed an amendment to an omnibus House bill (HB 107) dealing with alcoholic beverages.

Among other provisions, that measure seeks to repeal the 80-year-old requirement that retailers sell hard liquor in a separate store away from groceries and other goods.

Van Zant’s amendment strikes the one line of language in the bill repealing the requirement, thus keeping it in state law. The bill, which has cleared one committee, is up again before the House Government Operations Appropriations subcommittee.

The Senate, however, is moving a bill (SB 468) that would keep the separation requirement but allow a door between adjoined liquor and main stores.

CHANGES TO BILL BANNING BACKYARD-SHOOTING RANGES via James Rosica of Political Fix Florida

A St. Petersburg Democrat changed his own bill aimed at outlawing backyard shooting ranges in residential neighborhoods.

Rep. Darryl Rouson filed legislation (HB 623) after reports that a St. Petersburg man had set up a makeshift firing range of wooden pallets and sand.

State law allows people to shoot pistols and rifles outside their homes. Gun rights advocates say the law is fine as is and fault police for not enforcing it properly, suggesting that firing a gun in a densely populated suburb, for instance, is reckless on its face.

State statute now says anyone “who recklessly or negligently discharges a firearm outdoors on any property used primarily as the site of a dwelling … or zoned exclusively for residential use commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.”

Rouson’s measure originally deleted the phrase “recklessly or negligently” and the word “outdoors,” meaning it would forbid target practice inside and outside one’s place of residence.

His amendment to the bill, scheduled to be heard … by the House Criminal Justice subcommittee, instead would define “reckless or negligent” as “if, as a result of the discharge, the projectile crosses the real property of another.”

It adds that a violation would be “regardless of whether the projectile harms a person or property.” Rouson exempts hunting on state land and shooting a gun in self-defense.

YOU KNOW WHAT FLORIDA NEEDS MORE OF — SPECIALITY LICENSE PLATES, THAT’S WHAT via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics

There could be some purple and gold license plates in the greater Orlando area under a bill being proposed by the Florida Senate.

Proposed committee bill 7072 authorizes 12 new specialty plates, including one for Orlando City Soccer Club, the state’s first Major League Soccer team. The plates would cost an additional $25 and the bill directs how that money should be spent.

The proposed bill also eliminates from statutes speciality plates previously authorized including plates for Correction Foundation — a direct support organization for the Department of Corrections — and the Veterans of Foreign War.

The requirement that any organization seeking a specialty license plate provide the Florida Department of Transportation an application fee of up to $60,000 and a a short-term and long-term marketing plans also has been deleted from the bill.

In addition to approving a license plate for Orlando City Soccer Club, the proposed bill also would give the green light to authorize specialty plates to support: Down’s Syndrome, Ducks Unlimited, Dogs Making a Difference, Rotary’s Camp, Paddle Florida, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, Safe and Free Florida, Florida Bay Forever, Sun Sea Smiles, Take Stock in Children, and Team Hammy.

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ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: House Finance & Tax Committee Chair Matt Gaetz joins a bipartisan group of state representatives to unveil the House’s #NoTaxIsSafe tax cut package. Press conference begins 12:15 p.m. in Room 333 of The Florida Capitol.

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JACKSONVILLE MAYOR, SHERIFF AMONG KEY LEADERS TO BE DECIDED via The Florida Times-Union

Politicians and their supporters will find out if all the time spent campaigning has resonated with voters as Jacksonville residents descend on polling stations throughout the city Tuesday.

The polling locations will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This election season promises a new leader at the Sheriff’s Office as seven competitors vie to replace outgoing Sheriff John Rutherford.

There’s also been a highly competitive race for mayor as incumbent Alvin Brown, a Democrat, tries to fend off two Republican challengers: long-time City Councilman Bill Bishop and the GOP-backed campaign of Lenny Curry.

Also, several district and at-large City Council seats are up for grabs.

This is called a “first election” and if a single candidate in any-given race doesn’t pull 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election May 19.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections has a running tally of counted votes on it’s website.

GOING INTO ELECTION DAY, TURNOUT IN TAMPA CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 6 TOPS 9 PERCENT via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times

With one day of voting left — Election Day — turnout in the runoff for Tampa City Council District 6 has the potential to match turnout during March 3 municipal election, which would be unusual.

By the end of early voting on Sunday, more than 9 percent of District 6’s registered voters had cast ballots in the race between civil engineer Jackie Toledo and jeweler Guido Maniscalco. By comparison, about 15.6 percent of District 6’s voters cast ballots in the March 3 election that eliminated a third candidate, Tommy Castellano.

While early voting is off slightly, overall “we’re really still on pace with where we were” going into March 3, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Gerri Kramer said.

District 6 is the sole race on the runoff ballot, so only its 52,000 voters will be able to cast ballots. District 6 covers West Tampa, the southern parts of Seminole Heights and the area of South Tampa near West Shore.

Going into election day, seven of District 6’s 28 voting precincts so far had accounted for more than half the ballots cast.

One way to win this district, says council chairman Charlie Miranda, is to win about two-thirds majorities in just four precincts: 135, 137, 205 and 227. Another way to look at it: “whoever wins the absentees gets elected,” Miranda said. So far, absentees account for nearly 88 percent of the 4,765 votes cast.

MIKE BENNETT PASSES ON SENATE BID via Jeremy Wallace of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett brought a little clarity to the 2016 political calendar.

Bennett, the former state senator, officially has filed to run for re-election, seemingly ending his flirtations with running for another office – including for the state senate in Sarasota.

Bennett said he’s committed to seeking re-election. The Republican won his four-year term as Supervisor of Elections in 2012 by defeating three other Republicans in a contentious primary, and then cruised to victory in the general election.

Bennett is the only candidate to file for the position for the 2016 cycle so far.

SAVE THE DATE: Republican Paul Renner will hold a Jacksonville fundraiser in support of his bid for House District 24. The event begins 1 p.m. on Friday, March 27 at the Duval County Medical Society, 1301 Riverplace Blvd. Suite #1638 In Jacksonville. Hosts include Dr. Alan Pillersdorf, President of the Florida Medical Association. Renner is seeking to replace Rep. Travis Hutson, who himself is running in the April 7 special election for the Senate District 6 seat formerly held by former Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine.

APPOINTED: William “Billy” Buzzett to the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

APPOINTED: Michael Moran to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Lisa Ard, Cornerstone Procurement Strategies: Florida Agritourism Association; Oracle America

Donovan Brown, Colodny Fass: AmTrust Financial Services

David Browning, Southern Strategy Group: Anderson Columbia Co.; Junior Achievement of Florida Foundation

Christian Caballero, Foley & Lardner: Union Security Insurance Company

James R. Daughton Jr., Gregory Black, Patricia Greene, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Lyon, Andrew Palmer, Metz Husband & Daughton: Association of Global Automakers

Jim DeBeaugrine, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Therap Services

Sara Michelle Gross, RSA Consulting: David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts

Richard Heffley, Heffley & Associates: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Jeanna Mastrodicasa: University of Florida

Jerry  Paul, Capitol Energy Florida: Seven Seas Cruising Association

Jenna Marie Simonetti: Enterprise Florida

Herschel Vinyard, Foley & Lardner: Caulkins Citrus Company

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FUN READ – FICTIONAL TV PRESIDENTS MORE POPULAR THAN OBAMA via Roberta Rampton of Reuters

A Reuters-Ipsos poll … found 54 percent of Americans held an unfavorable opinion of Obama … [A]sked to imagine that David Palmer of ’24’ was president, 89 percent [of viewers] … said they held a favorable rating of the decisive president played by Dennis Haysbert. Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet of ‘The West Wing’ … was rated favorably by 82 percent of its … viewers. … [T]hose who watch ABC’s steamy drama ‘Scandal,’ 60 percent had a favorable view of Fitzgerald ‘Fitz’ Grant … Imagining [Kevin] Spacey’s scheming character [in House of Cards] as president, 57 percent … said they held a favorable opinion.

With Americans sharply divided along partisan lines, it is unlikely that any real-life president could achieve sky-high favorability ratings, said Tevi Troy, a presidential historian and author of “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted,” a study of popular culture in the White House.

MUSEUM WILL CHRONICLE JOURNEY OF CUBAN EXILES via Arlene Satchell of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

New museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of the Cuban exile experience could open in South Florida in four years if developers have their way.

Directors of the Cuban Exile History Museum kicked off a fundraising campaign and promotion Sunday during a lavish luncheon aboard Oceania Cruises’ Riviera cruise ship docked at PortMiami.

After more than 10 years in planning, the project is moving closer to fruition in downtown Miami on a waterfront site east of American Airlines Arena.

“We have to raise $125 million,” said Nicolas J. Gutierrez Jr., board director and secretary, to roughly 200 people gathered for the fundraiser. “We need to formalize our operation.”

Fundraising levels range from $1,000 to $100,000, with another category for “other.”

The money will be used for construction, an endowment and exhibits, Gutierrez said.

A final agreement with Miami-Dade County staff on the project and site plans also are pending, but directors hope to iron that out before the end of the year, which would allow them to meet their goal of a grand opening on Jan. 1, 2019.

TOURISTS FLOCKING TO CUBA ‘BEFORE THE AMERICANS COME’ via Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi of the Associated Press

Bookings to Cuba jumped 57 percent for one New York tour operator in the weeks after Washington said it would renew ties with Havana. In February, they were up 187 percent; and so far this month, nearly 250 percent.

The boom is just one sign that the rush is on to see Cuba now — before, as many predict, McDonald’s claims a spot in Old Havana and Starbucks moves in on Cubita, the island’s premium coffee brand.

The sense that detente will unleash an invasion of Yankee tourists and change the unique character of one of the world’s last remaining bastions of communism is shared by many travelers flocking here.

Outsiders may romanticize the “time-capsule” nation, but many on the island are ready for change.

Where foreigners see charming, historic architecture, bright 1950s-era American cars and vast stretches of white-sand beaches, locals see decaying buildings in need of repair, new vehicles priced beyond their reach and a lack of economic opportunity.

For many Cubans living in dilapidated, multigenerational tenements, change could be good. It may expand access to the Internet and the outside world, creating engagement that could bring brighter economic days and, practically speaking, make it easier to fix a leaky roof.

It’s unlikely Cuba will see major changes overnight. Talks to take the first steps toward normalized relations are just beginning and there is stiff opposition in the U.S. Congress to lifting the 53-year-old embargo that bars most trade with and travel to the island. … Still, the December announcement appears to have sparked an influx of tourism.

CONTEXT FLORIDA: DEMOCRATIC MESS, COVERAGE GAP, PANACEA AND UNDERMINING OBAMA

On Context FloridaThe Florida Democratic Party is a mess, a complete mess, says James Call. The party and not Charlie Crist is why Marco Rubio is a U.S. Senator and Gov. Scott has a bright future. Democrats simply do know how to talk to people. More than a quarter of the way through the 60-day 2015 legislative session, and Daniel Tilson says the Florida Legislature remains deeply divided about whether to close the health insurance coverage gap that upwards of a million Floridians have fallen into, through no fault of their own. Florence Snyder notes that small government Republicans such as state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who are seeking a Panacea, suddenly like taxes when it suits them. For the 47-signature U.S. Senate letter to Iran, Marc Yacht talks of the 300,000 petition signatures sent to demand prosecution of those senators who would willfully undermine President Obama. They cite the Logan Act, which specifically forbids non-designated representatives from negotiating with foreign powers on behalf of the United States. Law experts suggest such prosecution would be unlikely.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

POLITICAL FIX FLORIDA PODCAST NOW AVAILABLE ON ITUNES via Matt Dixon of Political Fix Florida

You can now subscribe to the Political Fix Podcast on iTunes, which means the automatic weekly download of our Florida political podcast to your phone, tablet, or whatever other gadget you use to communicate with the world. (I’m looking at you, Sen. Margolis’ carrier pigeon).

Our new podcast hit the ground running last week. We touched on the politics of beer, reminisced with a GOP rainmaker, and had a sit down chat with new Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

You think we can’t top that? Well, subscribe on iTunes and let us prove you wrong.

This week’s version is in progress, but already will feature a GOP ad man known for dropping bombs, a bipartisan chat with two politicos who routinely light up Twitterverse with 140 character slug fests, and a certain former state Senator turned university president.

So, subscribe on iTunes, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @PoliticalFix.

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.