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Takeways from Tallahasee – No shortcuts

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There are no shortcuts to be had on the drive between St. Petersburg and Tallahassee. It’s either up and down I-75 and left/right on I-10 or north and south on U.S. 19. Either route takes about over four and a half hours to complete.

Of the nearly five hundred times I’ve journeyed to and from the Capital City, I’ve almost always taken the “scenic route” along the Suncoast Parkway to Brooksville, where I then pick up U.S. 19.

When the wind is right and Smokey’s not looking too hard, I can turn a four and a half hour chore into one that takes only about three hours and forty-five minutes. On the way home, that means I get to see my wife and daughter sooner. As far as the trek to Tallahassee, this means I am afforded an extra hour to learn about what’s really going on along Adams Street.

With that extra hour — and forty eight other ones — here are my takeaways from Tallahassee.

Nothing is pissing off top lobbyists more than the fundraising efforts underway by Rick Scott‘s Let’s Get To Work CommitteeAs Marc Caputo of POLITICO first reported, Scott became the first sitting governor to embark on a paid media campaign to advocate for his policies. (Recently), he began meeting with a handful lobbyists at a Tallahassee hotel, where he asked them to bundle as much as $250,000 each for his upcoming ad buy.

Some lobbyists and their clients are kicking in, but some are not, especially as Scottworld continues to do everything it can to support presidential candidates not named Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Scott himself continues to praise Texas Gov. Rick Perry, while his top fundraiser, Meredith O’Rourkejust went to work for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (a personnel move we predicted in January).

As one top lobbyist close to Bush sums it up, any money given at this point to Let’s Get To Work is indirectly hurting Bush and/or Rubio.

Two interesting other personnel notes about LGTW: 1) one of its point people on the ground in Tallahassee is Brecht Heuchan, the well-liked lobbyist, political operative, and founder of Contribution Link; 2) the latest campaign finance report for the committee shows that former RPOF Executive Director Juston Johnson, who resigned immediately after Rep. Blaise Ignoglia unseated Leslie Dougher as chair of the Florida GOP, is now on LGTW’s payroll.

Supporters of Sen. Jack Latvala‘s bid to be the next Senate President are pointing to his fundraising efforts as an indication that his rival, Joe Negron, has not yet locked up the race.

Latvala out-raised Negron by nearly 4 to 1 in February and raised more money during the last month than Negron has money left in the bank.

Those numbers are misleading, Negron’s supporters insist. While Latvala has been raising money for his committee, they point out Negron has been assisting Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Bill Galvano with raising money for Senate Victory.

Jack’s on the outside, Joe’s on the inside, they say.

Negron’s camp is also saying that there will be pressure on Andy Gardiner to call a caucus vote soon after Rep. Travis Hutson wins the April 7 special election for Senate District 6.

If Latvala has a card or two left in his hand, now would be the time to play it.

We’re at Day 13 of the 2015 Legislative Session, which means lawmakers are, basically, at the first turn on the track. Does this mean that legislators are twenty percent done with their work? Absolutely not. In fact, after talking with nearly two dozen lawmakers this past week, I am confident that my prediction that this session would see the fewest number of bills passed is all but a lock. It’s not that bills are dying. It’s that they may never have been alive in the first place.

Case in point is how a House panel rejected a proposal to revamp the Medicaid program’s system of providing dental service to children, as reported by CBS Miami. On Tuesday, the House Health Innovation Subcommittee deadlocked 6-6 on HB 601, filed by Rep. MaryLynn Magar. A tie kills a bill and this legislation cannot be retained or amended on to other bills. Rarely do you see a bill like this torpedoed before St. Patrick’s Day.

Is the gambling bill DOA as the Chamber/Disney/No Casinos crowd would have you believe? No, it’s not dead, but it is drawing to an inside straight.

But before I explain why the bill may not be dead, just think about how, um, interesting it is to see the Florida Chamber’s Mark Wilson appearing in an ad defending the state’s gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It’s almost as jarring as seeing Associated Industries’ Tom Feeney rallying Senate Democrats on the issue of Medicaid expansion.

Back to whether Majority Leader Dana Young‘s gambling legislation is dead. Here’s the latest key development: Senate leadership is telling casino industry lobbyists that it will not reveal its own gaming bill until the House shows it is actually interested in passing some kind of gambling bill. Specifically, Young’s bill have to make it out of one committee before the Senate, which historically has been more open to gambling expansion, shows its cards.

The trouble for Young’s legislation, or any gambling legislation for that matter, is not the anti-gaming folks, it’s the gambling and pari-mutuel interests who believe they have will be left out of the game.

For example, the parimutuels in South Florida would only get a tax cut … in the future … but only when a destination casino comes in and competes with them with more product offering.  They get no expansion of operation hours, no parity of product. The only thing other pari-mutuels get is the ability to decouple and potentially be bought by another interest for the value of its permit under the new formula in the bill.

These are just  a few of the policy obstacles standing in the way of the gambling bill’s progression.

Quietly, a House panel on Thursday approved a bill that would pay districts an extra $10 per student if a uniform policy is adopted. The legislation is aimed at students in elementary and middle school. Districts would be shielded from lawsuits if they implement the uniform policy for those grades. School uniforms would have to feature solid colors.

The bill passed by the House Education Appropriations subcommittee sets aside $10 million for districts that require uniforms.

Now what if I told you, this may be one of the most important bills of the Session? Why? Because it is, unbeknownst to most, a  priority for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, who strongly believes in the role of school uniforms in education.

Crisafulli’s support for this legislation has stayed off the radar — until this week. But now that the Senate knows about it, look for the bill to get tangled up in House vs. Senate tensions.

As often as I typically agree with and promote the agenda of Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, he’s being irresponsible by crafting a budget that depends on the the federal government’s providing of $1.3 billion that helps hospitals pay the costs of treating uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

“I have faith that they’re going to (renew) it,” said Corcoran. “All of this is hysteria because one guy said LIP won’t exist…”

Well that one guy is Eliot Fishman, director of the Children and Adults Health Programs Group in the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) at CMS. He’s exactly the kind of “guy” who would know if the LIP funds won’t be there after June 30.

And it’s not like Corcoran and Co. haven’t known for a while that this could happen.

A 244-page report required by federal regulators was released in January that warned Florida was at risk of losing $1.3 billion in federal funds, reported Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times.

“These funds are critical for maintaining access to essential hospital services for the state’s large Medicaid and uninsured population,” the report concluded. “Not having these funds available for payment to Florida’s hospitals may exacerbate an already tenuous situation.

Food fight update

Craft beer: The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will consider SB 186 on Monday. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Latvala and would change laws dealing with brewers, including ending the state’s prohibition on being able to fill 64-ounce beer containers known as growlers.

Ride-sharing services: Matt Gaetz successfully steered legislation to formally legalize “transportation network services” like Uber through the House Transportation & Ports Subcommittee on Tuesday. The bill now moves on to House Economic Affairs. Jeff Brandes’ Senate companion, SB 1326, has yet to be taken up in its first stop in the Regulated Industries Committee.

Whiskey and Wheaties: The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will take up a SB 468 on Wednesday. The bill is sponsored  by Sen. Denise Grimsley and would repeal a longstanding law that requires liquor stores to be stand-alone facilities.

Undoubtedly, the event of the week was the Capitol Press Corps Press Skits, if for no other reason than the A-list mingling the event provided. Look, there’s Adam Putnam … there’s Kathy Mears … there’s Gwen Graham, etc., etc.

The skits, at least the ones not produced by the Florida Cabinet, House or Senate, were mediocre, for a host of reasons previously discussed. What has not been discussed is the behind-the-scenes in-fighting that is plaguing the Capitol Press Corps. At work is a rivalry between the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida, which, along with Press Corps president Tia Mitchell, is the driving force behind the event.

The bitterness of this rivalry was alluded to by the AP’s Gary Fineoutwho tweeted during the Skits that he would not be “taking part in the @NewsServiceFla er, yeah, um “Capitol” Press Corps skits” and that he will participate again only “when the skits are controlled again by journalists.”

Ouch!

Fineout’s tweets, as well as comments from the AP’s Brendan Farrington, are an indictment of NSF publisher Ruth Herrle, who has been accused by more than Fineout and Farrington of “hijacking” the skits. Some Capitol Press Corps members are upset with the selling of high-priced tables to lobbying firms — the same firms the press criticizes for lavishly contributing to state politicians.

There are other issues dividing the Capitol Press Corps; we hear of a rivalry between Mitchell and the Miami Herald‘s Mary Ellen Klas, as well as gossip about a high-profile table sponsorship which has gone unpaid.

With a diminished press corps, the skits are already struggling to remain relevant. And these behind-the-scenes machinations aren’t helping.

On Wednesday, the newly formed Florida Technology Council (FTC) introduced itself in a big way during its first Legislative Technology Reception held at the Governors Club in Tallahassee. FTC is solely focused on the needs of the technology sector  and will advocate on behalf of the Information Technology industry.

Executive Director James Taylor thanked sponsor SAS and welcomed legislative guests Senator Jeff Brandes, Speaker Pro Tem Matt Hudson and Reps. Bill Hager and Jeanette Nunez.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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