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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week

Adam Goodman. The Republican media consultant from Tampa (moving soon to St. Pete) is poised to work for his first Democratic statewide candidate, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who has already put $2 million into a political committee to explore a gubernatorial run and told The Buzz he could spend tens of millions of his own money on the campaign, if he decides ultimately to run. Meanwhile, Goodman client Rick Baker is increasingly expected to run for another term as St. Petersburg mayor against incumbent Rick Kriseman this year.

Loser of the week

GOP promises and credibility. That vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that was a central campaign argument for so many Republican members of the U.S. House and for part-time Florida man Donald Trump? Never mind. So much for Trump being the ultimate dealmaker.

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Florida House committee proposes changes to school recess bill

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald

Omari Accius 6, enjoys recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.

Next week would have been make-or-break for this year’s efforts by the Florida Legislature to implement mandatory daily recess in public elementary schools.

While the Senate bill (SB 78) sailed through committees and awaits a floor vote, the House bill had yet to move — and next week is the last week policy subcommittees are expected to meet.

But “recess moms” are in luck.

Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled the recess bill (HB 67) to be heard Tuesday morning in his House Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee.

However, Latvala’s committee is proposing some hefty changes, which might not leave all “recess moms” happy.

More here.

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Rep. Cary Pigman facing DUI charge after stop on Turnpike

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park

St. Lucie County Sheriff's Offfice

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park

State Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, was charged with driving under the influence early Friday after a state trooper stopped his Jeep on Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County and a Breathalyzer test showed that his blood alcohol level was .15, nearly twice the legal limit.

A Florida Highway Patrol arrest affidavit said Pigman's vehicle, with the Florida license tag H55, was weaving in and out of its southbound lane as the lawmaker headed home to Okeechobee County after the third week of the legislative session in Tallahassee.

"Once I got to the front passenger window, I could immediately smell an odor of alcoholic beverage coming from within the vehicle,"  Trooper Abe Dacosta wrote in his arrest report. "That was confirmed when I saw an open wine bottle in the front passenger seat." …

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House pulls health care bill

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House will not vote on the health care bill today, a stunning development as the bill careened toward failure.

All but two Florida Republicans signaled how they would have voted. Those who did not are Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Carlos Curbelo of Miami, who had voted to advance the legislation in committee, though it later changed.

A Curbelo spokeswoman said: "He had not made a final decision because he was working with Senate offices to get assurances on increased tax credits for lower income Americans and with Administration officials on restoration of Florida’s Low Income Pool funding. It was clear to him the bill needed improvement and he was fairly certain that we would not be voting today."

Reaction: …

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Will state apologize to children tortured at state reform school for decades?

A University of South Florida assistant professor steps among the more than 50 grave sites that were found at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Times File Photo

A University of South Florida assistant professor steps among the more than 50 grave sites that were found at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

The children killed and tortured at the hands of the state at a reform school in north Florida just might get an apology after all.

Although a pair of bills apologizing to hundreds of then-children sent to the Dozier School for Boys for decades has yet to move in either of the House or Senate, one of the top leaders in the Florida Legislature said it is one of his priorities.

“We know those children were abused and tortured,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran said. “And the question is, how do you try to find some way to close that door in a healthy way that allows people to move on and recognizes the gross injustice that was done.”

Corcoran said he wants to move forward with a bill on both Dozier and another to address the “Groveland Four," a quartet of African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949.

"To the extent that we can move forward on both would be great," Corcoran said …

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Rick Scott answers whether he wants U.S. House to pass Trumpcare bill

The question from the Miami Herald's Amy Sherman this afternoon was concise and clear: "Should the House approve the Affordable Health Care Act as it is written?

The answer from Gov. Rick Scott was not: "Here's the way I look at it. It's...I'm...I'm encouraged the conversations that are going on. I know there's things we have to continue to improve. 

"I know I grew up in a family that struggled to pay for health care. I remember my mom crying when she couldn't pay for health care for my brother. I worked in the hospital industry. I ran the biggest company in that industry. 

"We've got to figure out how to get this, how to make healthcare more affordable. That's what I focused on when I was in business. So I'm going to continue to work to make sure that happens. 

"I think Trump inherited an absolute mess. Barack Obama left in the nick of time. Prices were going up. My biggest concern is we've got to keep focusing on how to get costs down, because if we can't get costs down, you as an individual can't pay for it, or your employer can't pay for health care, or the government can't. 

"So I'm encouraged but I know there's more work that needs to be done."

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Lawmakers can request state money for transportation, but Pinellas and Hillsborough legislators aren't asking

State Senators from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties asked for less money for transportation projects than many of their peers.

Scott Keeler | Times

State Senators from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties asked for less money for transportation projects than many of their peers.

Each year, legislators ask the state to pay for projects in their communities. Some of those requests make it into the budget, others don't. But this year, Hillsborough and Pinellas lawmakers aren't asking for nearly as much money for transportation projects as their counterparts in other parts of the state.

The Tampa Bay Times reviewed 121 different requests House and Senate members made for transportation money, as of mid-March. Here's what we found:

Of those requests, 19 of them came from Broward. Miami had 16 separate asks. That number dropped to five in Pinellas and three in Hillsborough.

Other counties are asking for far more money for transportation projects than Tampa Bay. And it's not just the big ones. Leon County asked for projects totalling more than $92 million. Volusia County requested $26.7 million to widen roads and make airport improvements. Escambia wants nearly $15 million to pay for transportation needs. By comparison, Pinellas asked for $6.2 million and Hillsborough asked for $1.9 million. …

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With major vote coming, Florida Republicans divided on Obamacare replacement

WASHINGTON - Hours before a dramatic vote on the GOP Obamacare replacement plan, Florida Republicans are a window into the divided party.

Here is where thing stand.

Matt Gaetz: Yes

Neal Dunn: Yes

Ted Yoho: No

John Rutherford: (will not say)

Ron DeSantis: No

Bill Posey: No

Daniel Webster: No

Gus Bilirakis: Yes

Dennis Ross: Yes

Vern Buchanan: Yes

Tom Rooney: Yes

Brian Mast: Yes

Francis Rooney: Yes

Mario Diaz-Balart: Yes

Carlos Curbelo: (will not say)

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: No

-- Patricia Mazzei contributed.

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Conservatives tell legislature: reform sentencing like neighboring states

Conservative groups are lining up behind sentencing reform

Letter 3.24.2017

Conservative groups are lining up behind sentencing reform

More than a dozen conservative groups sent an appeal to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and the chairs of several legislative committees Friday, urging them to get behind legislation reforming the state's minimum mandatory sentencing law, which they have concluded are "costly to taxpayers" and "harm families and communities."

"In the last 15 years, more than 30 states around the country – Florida among them – have reconsidered the wisdom of disproportional mandatory minimum sentencing laws.'' the coalition wrote. "These centralized, one-size-fits-all laws undermine individualized consideration in the American justice system. They also waste taxpayer dollars locking up for far too long some people who pose little to no threat to public safety."  Download 2017 Florida Sentencing Reform Support Letter (Corcoran) …

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Will Bill Nelson filibuster Trump's Supreme Court pick?

President Trump and Neil Gorsuch

The Associated Press

President Trump and Neil Gorsuch

WASHINGTON - Democrats are lining up to oppose Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, but Florida Sen. Bill Nelson isn't saying where he stands.

"Still undecided on both," Nelson's spokesman tells The Buzz on whether how he will vote or whether he supports growing Democratic calls for a filibuster.

A filibuster, which New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for yesterday, would force Republicans to upend Senate rules to allow for a simple majority.

Nelson oppossed a filibuster for Sameul Alito in 2006, though voted against him. Yet Nelson previously told us he supports 60-vote threshold for a Supreme Court nominee.

"You bet I do. The filibuster has always forced the political extremes to come of the middle to build consensus," Nelson said in February, adding it was a "mistake" for former Democratic leader Harry Reid to lower the threshold on other nominees that were stymied by Republicans.

The NRSC says Nelson should tell voters where he stands. …

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House Speaker says Gov. Rick Scott traveling the state for the wrong issues

Gov. Rick Scott in Seminole on Wednesday

Scott Keeler/Times

Gov. Rick Scott in Seminole on Wednesday

If Governor Rick Scott really wants to save jobs, he’s focusing on the wrong issues as he travels the state calling out Republicans, House Speaker Richard Corcoran told reporters Thursday.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said too much energy is being paid to saving Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida under the guise of saving jobs when the real crisis for Florida businesses is the threat of dramatically higher workers compensation insurance rates and increasing rates on property insurance because of lawsuits related to water losses under a program called Assignment of Benefits.

“If I were to give encouragement to the governor I’d say: ‘go keep traveling. Start talking about workers comp and assignment of benefits which have far more effect than Enterprise and Visit Florida on jobs,’” Corcoran said as part of wide ranging press conference in Tallahassee. …

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Lawmaker asks governor have state take over private prison

Rep. David Richardson at Gadsden Correctional Facility

Courtesy of David Richardson

Rep. David Richardson at Gadsden Correctional Facility

Warning that inmate health and safety is at risk at the state’s largest privately run women’s prison, Rep. David Richardson on Thursday asked Gov. Rick Scott to use his emergency powers to replace the top officers and take state control of Gadsden Correctional Facility.

In a letter delivered late Thursday, Richardson asked Scott “to direct the Florida Department of Corrections to install a temporary warden, chief of security, and other resources you deem necessary to restore order and reverse what I can only describe as a loss of institutional control.”

Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat and retired forensic auditor, has been on a one-man mission to force change in Florida’s troubled prison system. After several surprise inspections in the last month with investigators from the Department of Corrections and the state’s Office of Chief Inspector General, he concluded the Gadsden prison faces “significant inmate health and safety concerns” and management has repeatedly retaliated “against inmates for discussing matters with me.” …

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How Walmart's decision to leave Midtown played into a Darryl Rouson vote

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg

[Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg

The Florida Senate's vote on the so-called "whiskey to Wheaties" bill was a tight one, narrowly passing 21-17.

One of those no votes, Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, proves that all politics really are local.

On Jan. 20, Rouson called a late-afternoon hearing at his downtown St. Pete office to try to change the minds of Walmart officials who chose to close its Midtown store. That store has been a linchpin in efforts to redevelop the low-income, predominately black community. A troubled lease agreement convinced Walmart officials to leave its location at the Tangerine Plaza in January.

When Rouson found out that Walmart was leaving, he was so upset, he said he wanted to vandalize the store.

Instead, he asked Walmart to stay during that Jan. 20 meeting. No dice.

Fast forward to Thursday, when big box stores like Target and Walmart were asking to sell liquor on their shelves next to beer and wine. Currently, only a separate liquore store can do so.

Rouson has opposed this legislation for at least four years, he said.  …

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Corcoran criticizes Constitution Revision schedule

House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday criticized Constitution Revision Commission chair Carlos Beruff for scheduling four public hearings in the middle of the legislative session, when five of his nine appointees, all legislators, are unavailable to attend.

 "When you have such a once-in-20-year august body, dealing with something of the highest impact -- which is our Constitution -- and you only have a limited number of members, 37, and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one sixth, I don't think that is a good start,'' Corcoran told reporters on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Beruff announced four public hearing dates and sites for the 37-member panel charged with recommending revisions to the state constitution and placing them on the 2018 ballot.

The meetings will be held in Orlando on Wednesday, March 29, in Miami on Thursday, April 6, in Boca Raton on Friday, April 7 and in Pensacola on Wednesday April 12.

The House has committee meetings and or floor session scheduled for each of those days with the exception of Friday, April 7, and lawmakers would have to get an excused absence from House or Senate leadership to attend the public hearings in person. …

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Richard Corcoran calls on governor to suspend Orlando state attorney

House Speaker Richard Corcoran

SCOTT KEELER | Times

House Speaker Richard Corcoran

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Thursday called on the governor to suspend Aramis Ayala, the Orlando state attorney who last week said she would not seek the death penalty in any cases while in office.

Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said Ayala stepped outside the bounds of the state Constitution by declaring up front that she would not consider the death penalty, even in the most heinous murder cases. Florida's Constitution says that "the death penalty is an authorized punishment for capital crimes designated by the legislature," but state attorneys also have broad discretion to decide which cases they prosecute and how they do so.

"(Ayala) has a right to say, 'In this particular case for these reasons, we've decided not to seek the death penalty,' " said Corcoran, who is mulling a run for governor. "That is not what she said." …

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