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March 17, 2015

Ousted FDLE chief Gerald Bailey met with federal prosecutors

Ousted FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Tuesday confirmed a report that he met with the U.S. attorney’s office in Tallahassee this month.

Bailey said he met with prosecutors at their request for more than an hour on March 5. He declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Patricia Marsh has declined to confirm that the agency is investigating the circumstances of Bailey’s removal from office or his subsequent allegations of repeated political interference in FDLE’s operations by Gov. Rick Scott’s office and his campaign.

A spokeswoman for Marsh, Amy Alexander, confirmed that Marsh received a letter from Integrity Florida, a self-appointed watchdog group, asking federal prosecutors to open a review of Bailey’s case.

Bailey’s dismissal is the subject of a lawsuit by more than two dozen news organizations accusing Scott and Florida’s three elected Cabinet members of violating the Sunshine Law by forcing Bailey to retire with no public discussion or vote.

The attorney for the media outlets, Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Sarasota, says she plans to take Bailey’s videotaped deposition on April 22 in Tallahassee.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Artiles' transgender bathroom bill passes 2nd committee, gains GOP opponent

A bill that would limit transgender Floridians to using the bathroom corresponding with the sex on their driver's license cleared its second hurdle in the Florida House on Tuesday.

The bill (H.B. 583) is intended to promote public safety by banning members of the opposite sex from entering a bathroom, its sponsor, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, has argued.

But he's faced fierce criticism from activists who say the bill amounts to discrimination and would create new public safety risks by forcing people who present themselves publicly as male to use the women's room and vice versa.

In its latest committee stop Tuesday, the bill was approved by the House Government Operations Subcommittee in a 7-4 vote, with opposition from three Democrats and Republican Rep. Ken Roberson of Port Charlotte, who said he worries about unintended consequences.

This came about two weeks after the bill's first hearing in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, and as before, the hearing was marked by passionate, emotional testimony on both sides, which lasted for almost two hours.

Some, like Jean-David Parlier, a transgender man, said passing the bill would harm public safety and urged lawmakers to consider transgender people as not so different from themselves.

"The passage of this bill will in effect require all women, millions of women in the state of Florida, to allow men in their bathroom," he said. "I am concerned about the safety standards."

Meanwhile, others agreed with Artiles' public safety argument, arguing that it's in the public's interest to pass the bill.

"It's a prottective thing, it is not a discrimination thing," said Kenneth Jensen, a pastor. "There is a big difference between protection and restriction."

And in the end, Artiles repeated the argument he's made several times: His concern is a Miami-Dade County ordinance for transgender rights, which he says is overly broad. It's an argument that's convinced his colleagues in two committees so far.

But the companion bill in the Senate (S.B. 1464), sponsored by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, hasn't been put on a calendar yet.

Florida House unveils its recommended education budget

It's that time of the year when the budget committees roll out their proposals.

Among the first to debut: the Florida House's recommended $21.1 billion education budget.

(You can find Chairman Erik Fresen’s proposal here.)

The overall figure represents a $708 million -- or 3.5 percent -- increase over last year’s spending on public schools.

"Education state funding exceeds any previous year," Fresen pointed out Monday.

The House wants to spend roughly $7,130 per student -- an increase of $215, or 3.1 percent, over the current spending level.

That figure would fall short of Gov. Rick Scott's goal: $7,176 for 2015-16.

But it would still top the high watermark set in 2007-08 by about $4 (not accounting for inflation).

Fresen called the number "historic."

The House proposal also includes $80 million for classroom technology.

Among the other highlights:

The State University System would see an additional $157 million, plus $100 million for performance funding and $10 million for the state's two preeminent universities: Florida State and the University of Florida.

The Florida College System would see its budget increase by $28.6 million.

And the overall funding for Voluntary Pre-K would stay the same, despite a projected dip in enrollment. 

Five things to watch in Tallahassee Tuesday

Florida Capitol 2015 KeelerIt is a day of firsts on Tuesday in the Florida Legislature. Here are five things to watch:

  • For the first time in history, the Legislature will consider a bill to allow people to register to vote online, rather than in person or through the mail. The bill (SB 228) by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, will be discussed in the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee.
  • The Florida House also will engage in a rare first: take up a bill to repeal a test, rather than impose a new one during a floor session of the Florida House, beginning in at 3 p.m. HB 7069 would eliminate the 11th-grade language arts test and allow school districts to start classes as early as Aug. 10 each year. 
  • The Florida Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a first vote on its plan, SB 7044, to expand health coverage to draw down federal health care money to provide private health insurance coverage. The proposal is aimed at providing coverage to an estimated 800,000 low-income Floridians who do not qualify for Medicaid. The meeting is at 2 p.m. 
  • The House budget committees will publicly discuss their proposed budget plans for the first time during a series of meetings Tuesday. 
  • Former Sen. John Thrasher will serve in his first day as the official president of Florida State University. An investiture ceremony will be held for Thrasher, who began the job in November. Among the expected guests are Gov. Rick Scott, FSU Board of Trustees Chairman Allan Bense and state university system Chancellor Marshall Criser

March 16, 2015

Not in Florida politics: Mitt Romney to box Evander Holyfield for charity

From The Salt Lake City Tribune:

I've learned the real reason why Mitt Romney chose not to run for president for a third time in 2016.

He's taking up boxing.

In fact, Romney is slated to fight former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield in the marquee event during a several-bout evening at the Rail Event Center near the Union Pacific Depot in Salt Lake City on May 15.

"It will either be a very short fight, or I will be knocked unconscious," Romney quipped in an interview recently. "It won't be much of a fight. We'll both suit up and get in the ring and spar around a little bit."

Alas, it will be a one-fight career for the 68-year-old former Massachusetts governor and Salt Lake City Winter Olympics boss.

More here.

House committee rejects attempts to impose new restrictions on utilities

Duke Energy power plantThe state board that regulates utilities will have to stream its meetings live on a web site, but it won’t be forced to impose new restrictions on the powerful utility industry that holds sway over its commissioners.

The House Energy and Utilities Committee voted Monday to increase some accountability of the state Public Service Commission but rejected a series of amendments including one that would have repealed the controversial nuclear fee currently paid by Florida Power & Light customers without any guarantee that a nuclear plant will be built. 

The fee, known as the advanced nuclear cost recovery, allowed Duke Energy to charge customers $3.2 billion to build a nuclear plant in Levy County that has now been scrapped. The PSC has ordered the company to return only $54 million of the money to customers. 

“Nothing good has come with the utility tax,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, who sponsored the failed amendment to repeal the advanced nuclear cost recovery fee. “You get the consumers to take all the risk and get the companies to get all the reward. What about American capitalism?”

Dudley’s amendment was one of several he tried and failed to attach to PCB EUS 15-01, a fast-moving proposal to make minor changes to the Public Service Commission in the name of increased accountability.

Continue reading "House committee rejects attempts to impose new restrictions on utilities" »

Latvalas’ police public record exemption passes House committee

To kick off Sunshine Week, an open-government advocacy event being observed by news organizations across the state and country, a House committee approved a bill that will exempt current and former police officers’ and their relatives’ information from public records.

Rep. Chris Latvala and Sen. Jack Latvala, both Pinellas County Republicans, sponsored the bills (H.B. 1015, S.B. 1324) to increase privacy for police officers, state attorneys and public defenders.

In the first committee stop for either bill in either chamber, Rep. Latvala’s proposal passed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee 13-0.

“This would create a public records exemption that was noticeably missing and would create an exemption for state attorneys that did not exist previously,” Latvala said, defending the bill Monday.

The father-and-son duo has argued that this information needs to be made private to prevent identity theft and attacks against police officers.

A provision of the bill that would have made secret law enforcement officers’ previous employers was removed, but open government advocates still worry that the exemptions in the bill are overly broad and unnecessary.

“I think this goes too far,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I would bet that most of the information they want to protect is available on the Web.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz still won't say if she's thinking of running for Senate

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, spoke to reporters in her district Monday but was careful not to make any news regarding her potential interest in making a 2016 Senate run. 

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

Later in the day, former Gov. Charlie Crist, whose name had also been bandied about as a possible candidate, announced he won't be running for office next year.

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

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

"I didn't have any conversations with them to begin with," she said.

No, Charlie Crist isn't running for office in 2016

@PatriciaMazzei

Charlie Crist dispelled any lingering rumors Monday that he could, maybe, possibly, potentially run for U.S. Senate in 2016.

On Facebook and then on Twitter, Crist plugged the Florida Democratic Party but said he won't be on the ballot.

In a sign of Florida Democrats' thin political bench, Crist's name had been mentioned earlier this year as someone Democrats could look at if Republican Sen. Marco Rubio chooses to run for president and not seek reelection. Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat former Florida governor, lost to Rubio as an independent in 2010. He then lost to Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.

The most likely Democratic candidate for now appears to be U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who hosted a swanky South Beach gathering for donors last weekend. He's expected to announce a run next week, regardless of Rubio's plans.

UPDATE: Here's Murphy's reaction on Twitter: