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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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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Nelson, Rubio split votes as Senate moves to kill Internet privacy rules

The Senate voted today to kill regulations that would prevent Internet providers from tracking and sharing personal data without consent, and Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio were on opposite sides.

Nelson voted against the measure; Rubio voted for it.

The Associated Press explains:

The regulations would have required a company like Verizon to get approval before telling an advertiser what websites customers visited, what apps they used, their health and financial information, or their physical location. Under the regulations, many more people likely would have chosen not to allow their data to be shared than if they had to take an extra step of asking a company to stop sharing or selling their information.

Industry groups and Republicans protested the regulations. They said broadband providers would have to operate under tougher privacy requirements than digital-advertising behemoths like Google and Facebook.

Nelson blasted the move. “We are talking about taking privacy rights away from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule,” the Democrat said in a statement after the vote. “This is a gold mine of data, the Holy Grail, so to speak.” …

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U.S. House won't vote on health care today

WASHINGTON - Moments before GOP leaders announced a vote would not happen today, Florida Rep. Ted Yoho was calling for a breather.

Emotions are too high, the Gainesville Republican said on MSNBC. "Back up, do a pause, let people calm down ..."

Yoho is a Freedom Caucus member and met with President Trump today at the White House. He wants to strip the bill of the essential health benefits mandated under Obamacare.

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Liquor law changes split Republicans and Democrats in Tampa Bay

Florida Senate Chamber

Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate Chamber

The Florida Senate voted 21-17 on Thursday to allow hard liquor like whiskey and vodka to be sold at grocery stores and big box retailers, a move opposed by smaller liquor stores and Publix. The vote split both Democrats and Republicans. Here are how State Senators voted:

YES:
Republicans (14): Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers; Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Rene Garcia, R-Miami; Travis Hutson, R-Elkton; Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; Keith Perry, R-Gainesville; David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, Greg Steube, R-Sarasota;  Dana Young, R-Tampa; Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Democrats(7): Lauren Book, D-Plantation; Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando; Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens; Audrey Gibson,D-Jacksonville; Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton; Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami; Linda Stewart, D-Orlando

NO:
Republicans (9): Frank Artiles, R-Miami; Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach; Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze; George Gainer, R-Panama City; Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne; Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland …

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Senate advances bill aimed at 'gotcha' public records requests

Sen. Greg Steube

Scott Keeler

Sen. Greg Steube

The Florida Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a compromise proposal aimed at cracking down on “gotcha” public records requests while preserving the attorney fees leverage the public has against public officials who violate Florida’s Sunshine laws.

The bill, SB 80, by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is intended to crack down on what he says is are a small group of serial records abusers who attempt to snag unsuspecting public officials into violating public records laws in an effort to coerce a financial settlement.

But Steube’s initial draft of the measure was criticized by public records advocates who warned that the plan to give judges more discretion in deciding whether or not to award attorneys fees in public-records lawsuits would have a chilling effect on public records challenges. …

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'Donald Trump will turn out to be Bill Nelson's best friend'

189 experts in Florida politics participated in this month's unscientific survey

Tampa Bay Times

189 experts in Florida politics participated in this month's unscientific survey

Check out the assorted comments from our latest Florida Insider Poll. We allow participants - many of them political pros, fundraisers, lobbyists, academics and the like - to weigh in anonymously so they can be honest without ticking off clients, colleagues, and friends.

Democrat: "There is no real primary threat to Senator Nelson.  The democratic primaries in FL have not been good for liberal outsiders in the past, thanks to a coalition of moderate suburbanites and non-whites that don't apply purity tests to candidates."

Republican: "Rick Scott will continue to distance himself from the healthcare bill to preserve his Senate run."

R: The way the Enterprise Florida is playing out one could conclude that Speaker Corcoran could be a candidate for either Governor or Senate.  He may be grandstanding issues to give himself a name in the GOP Primary for Governor.  OR he maybe beating up on Scott and Enterprise Florida because that is his ultimate target.

D: A Bill Nelson US Senate and Andrew Gillum Governor ticket is the best turnout opportunity Democrats have for the 2018 midterm.

R: Any Rep will have a difficult time against Nelson.  Trump is working the Democrats into a frenzy! …

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Bill promoting religious expression in school passes Florida Senate

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

Steve Cannon / AP

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

Florida’s public schools would have to let students lead religious prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, under a controversial proposal that the state Senate approved Thursday, mostly along party lines.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, heralded his bill (SB 436) as a way for lawmakers to “take a stand for liberty,” because it makes explicitly clear the rights to religious expression that students and teachers have in public schools, regardless of their faith.

But Democrats worry the measure goes beyond existing protections of religious freedom and violates the constitutional separation between church and state. They also fear it could lead to students and teachers being ostracized or discriminated against if they’re of non-Christian faiths or non-religious.

“It’s religiously coercive, divisive and unconstitutional,” said Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach.

The bill passed on a 23-13 vote, with Miami Shores Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell voting with Republicans to support the bill. Campbell told the Herald/Times: “I don’t see anything wrong. The bill is not discriminatory. ... I just don’t see how anyone could be against prayer.” …

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Yoho, DeSantis at Freedom Caucus meeting with Trump

Freedom Caucus members meeting with President Trump

@CSims45

Freedom Caucus members meeting with President Trump

WASHINGTON - At least two Florida Republicans, Reps. Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis, are at the White House at this hour meeting with President Trump on plans to change the American Health Care Act.

A photo of the Freedom Caucus meeting shows Yoho and DeSantis joining a standing ovation for Trump. But will the deeply conservative caucus extract more changes to the bill? And will those changes turn off more mainstream Republicans?

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Black caucus demands Rick Scott rescind order taking Orlando prosecutor off cop-killer case

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, led by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, call on Gov. Rick Scott to rescind an executive order removing the Orange-Osceola state attorney from a case after she said she would not seek the death penalty.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, led by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, call on Gov. Rick Scott to rescind an executive order removing the Orange-Osceola state attorney from a case after she said she would not seek the death penalty.

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called for Gov. Rick Scott to change his mind and rescind an executive order that transfered the case of a man accused of killing a police officer in Orlando away from the local state attorney after she declared she would not seek the death penalty.

The order, signed by Scott last Thursday after State attorney Aramis Ayala publicly said she would not seek death for Markeith Loyd or any other accused murderer while she is in office, gives the Loyd case to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King.

Since the order, Scott has faced pressure from all sides. Some, including lawmakers, have demanded he suspend Ayala from office. Others, among them a group of lawyers and former state Supreme Court justices, call Scott's decision an overreach.

"Gov. Scott's hasty response to State Attorney Ayala's announcement set a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters who carried her into office," said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, the chairman of the black caucus. "In this way, the order operated as little more than an unfettered and uninformed power grab by the governor's office over a difference of opinion." …

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Miami officials urge legislature to halt FPL transmission bill being 'bulldozed' through

Officials from several Miami-Dade communities impacted by an 88-mile transmission line sought by Florida Power & Light through the county’s most affluent and environmentally sensitive areas pleaded with a Senate committee Wednesday not to approve legislation to allow the company to build the line without considering local development rules.

The bill, SB 1048 by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, would overturn an April 2016 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal that said the governor and Cabinet failed to consider Miami-Dade County’s environmental rules when they signed off on allowing FPL to string a transmission line through Everglades marshes and fragile wetlands.

Despite their appeals, the Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill with only one no vote — that of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, whose district includes the entire corridor of the transmission line along U.S. 1 from Cutler Bay, through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables to a substation in Coconut Grove. …

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Florida Insider Poll: Will Richard Corcoran run against Rick Scott? For gov? For attorney general?

With so much hostility between Gov. Rick Scott and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, we've heard speculation that Speaker Corcoran could be preparing to challenge Scott for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination rather than for governor as widely assumed. So we turned to nearly 200 savvy Florida political players for our latest Florida Insider Poll.

How do these folks see Corcoran's future? A whopping 74 percent expect the Land O'Lakes Republican to run for governor in 2018, 14 percent expect he will wind up running for attorney general, 6 percent said senator and 4 percent predicted he will run for Senate.

"Corcoran's potential candidacy for Governor or Senate looms large over everything right now in the state. With conservative activist ideological backing, political savvy and strong funding sources, Corcoran will primary either Rick Scott or Adam Putnam it appears," one Democrat said. "I tend to believe it will be Putnam that he faces in a primary since Corcoran's ideological zeal and quest for power tends to fit state government better than being a junior member of the US Senate." …

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