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May 14, 2015

Gov. Scott signs growler bill into law

Citing a need for pro-business policies and eliminating regulations, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a new law aimed at helping grow Florida’s craft beer industry, including the long-awaited legalization of 64-ounce growlers.

The new law, which goes into effect July 1, will allow breweries to open tap rooms and sell their beer directly to consumers.

“By making the sale of 64 ounce growlers legal in Florida, we are eliminating another burdensome regulation and allowing more Florida businesses to succeed,” the governor said in a statement. “We are pleased to continue to create a world class business environment where all businesses, including breweries, can succeed.”

Craft brewers and their advocates in the Legislature have argued that strict regulation over the distribution of beer in Florida has made it hard for their industry to flourish. The growler in particular — a half-gallon, refillable jug — is standard in the industry but has long been illegal in Florida.

The bill has been carried for three years by Tampa Bay lawmakers, including Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa. This year, freshman Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, sponsored it in the House.

“By legalizing the 64 ounce growler and streamlining the regulation of craft brewers, the bill increases competition and taps a great Florida resource that will benefit businesses and consumers alike,” Young said in a statement.

Downtown Miami booster agency creates crap map

via @NewsbySmiley

Tasked with marketing Miami to tourists and investors, the tax-funded Downtown Development Authority has plenty of maps highlighting restaurants, tourist attractions and real estate development.

On Thursday, they unveiled the latest -- showing where people pop a squat on the street.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, the agency’s chairman, displayed the map during the city's bi-weekly commission meeting. It shows the downtown grid, with smiling poop emojis documenting where the agency says feces was spotted during a sanitation worker’s eight-hour Friday shift.

The map is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute between the DDA and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, which receives tens of millions in tax dollars to oversee the county's homeless services. In creating the map, the DDA hopes to both urge the Trust to support portable toilets and temporary shelter programs, and to embarrass the Trust's powerful chairman, Ron Book, who has dismissed sanitation issues as a downtown problem and proposed solutions as "pie-in-the-sky."

"As the chief advocate for downtown Miami's growing base of residents, businesses and visitors from around the world, the Miami DDA has been making the case that homelessness is having a disproportionate impact on our urban core for years, and yet The Homeless Trust has resorted to passing the buck and ignoring the problem," executive director Alyce Robertson said in a statement. "We're hopeful the map we've created will finally motivate The Homeless Trust to put its multimillion dollar budget to good use on downtown Miami's streets."

No one from the Trust attended Thursday’s meeting, although a spokeswoman said they were watching Thursday's hearing.

A previous version of this story misidentified Ron Book's position with the Homeless Trust. He is chairman of the board.

Scott wants lists of critical service needs, hints at July 1 shutdown

Gov. Rick Scott directed all state agencies Thursday to draw up lists of "critical service needs ... in the event Florida is forced into a government shutdown on July 1."

Scott's memos to agencies carry an alarming tone and were issued the day after the Legislature's chief budget-writers, Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Richard Corcoran, struck a hopeful tone and said they had made progress toward a compromise after an all-day negotiating session in the Capitol.

In some more Scott-speak not likely to endear him to Republican senators, Scott refers in his agency memos that he's building a budget without "controversial and divisive issues like Medicaid expansion or using Florida tax dollars to fund the federal low-income pool program."

Both programs are Senate priorities, though Senate GOP leaders deny that their limited expansion of health care to the uninsured is an expansion of Medicaid.

Scott's memorandum says the lists of critical service needs are needed because "it is possible that Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Florida Senate will not agree to any budget without the specific expansion of Medicaid at a cost to state taxpayers of $5 billion over 10 years."

Scott's budget director Cynthia Kelly has identified 13 critical service needs that should be addressed in the upcoming special session on the state budget. They include operating deficits in four state agencies; an anticipated increase of 15,000 students in the public schools; the transportation work program; and implementation of Amendment 1, the water and land protection amendment. 

Scott has used the term "continuation budget" -- a term that he has not defined and has never been used in the Legislature and does not appear in Florida statutes. However, a "continuation budget" is a common practice in Louisiana, where Scott's chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, worked for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal before coming to Florida.

Jeb Bush finally says, in hindsight, he wouldn't have invaded Iraq

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush on Thursday tried, finally, to exorcise the ghost of the Iraq war that has haunted him politically for most of the week. Speaking at a small brewery in Arizona, Bush said, “Knowing what we know now, I would have not engaged, I would not have gone into Iraq.”

He made the declaration without any prompting — a sign that Bush knew he had to clean up the muddled responses that began in a Fox News interview taped Saturday. His shakiness was the first significant misstep in his early campaign, and it gave an opening to his likely 2016 Republican presidential rivals to pounce, with one after the other clearly stating they would not have authorized the invasion.

Bush’s trouble began when anchor Megyn Kelly asked him the most obvious of questions about his brother’s scarred Iraq legacy: “Knowing what we know, would you have authorized the invasion?”

“I would have,” Bush said, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Kelly pressed Bush on whether the war was a mistake, and he conceded the intelligence was “faulty.” She later opined he had misheard her question. But the damage had been done by the time her interview aired Monday.

“If we knew then what we know now, and I were the President of the United States, I wouldn’t have gone to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a likely Bush rival, told CNN on Tuesday.

Bush said on the radio that afternoon that he had, in fact, misunderstood Kelly. But when host Sean Hannity asked it again, Bush said, “I don’t know.” He called the query a “hypothetical.” That only further emboldened his critics, who pointed out that most of a presidential campaign (or soon-to-be campaign, in Bush’s case) involves discussing hypotheticals.

By the time Bush arrived in Nevada on Wednesday, he was repeatedly getting asked about Iraq. “I respect the question, but it does a disservice to a lot of people who sacrificed a lot,” Bush said in Reno.

By Thursday, he had had enough. He took Kelly’s original question head on.

This time, on his fourth try, Bush didn’t hesitate.

More here.

This post has been updated.

With new super PAC, Carlos Lopez-Cantera steps toward Senate run

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is not yet a 2016 candidate for U.S. Senate. But he very much sounds like he's preparing to be one.

Lopez-Cantera, who as of Thursday has the support of "super" political action committee to help him raise serious campaign cash, told the Miami Herald he's still "exploring" a bid for Marco Rubio's seat. But Lopez-Cantera has already thought about how a potential Republican primary between him and the only major GOP candidate so far, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, might look like.

"This race is going to be about who can defeat Harry Reid's hand-picked candidate," Lopez-Cantera said, referring to the Democratic minority leader and his apparent support of the only big Democrat in the Senate race so far, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

Translation: Lopez-Cantera, who in 2012 won a local countywide race in blue Miami-Dade, thinks he would be more appealing to general-election voters than DeSantis, a conservative tea-party darling.

Lopez-Cantera is also a close friend of Rubio's, and the two have talked about the possibility of being on the same ballot next year.

"We've had just a lot of conversations about what this could mean, the importance of Florida's role in our country," Lopez-Cantera said, calling Rubio "encouraging" about his friend's potential Senate run.

Continue reading "With new super PAC, Carlos Lopez-Cantera steps toward Senate run" »

May 13, 2015

Corcoran and Lee meet all day to discuss budget

The Legislature’s two budget chiefs met all day Wednesday to discuss ways to compromise on the impasse on Medicaid expansion, but don’t expect any breakthroughs, at least not yet.

House Appropriations Chair Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes said Wednesday’s meeting in the Capitol with Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, was “super productive.”

But he also said it was “too early to say” when asked what, if any, common ground was reached. Lee and the Senate want to use federal Medicaid money to expand healthcare coverage; Corcoran and the House oppose that plan. That disagreement has held up a wider agreement on the state’s $80 billion budget. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet in the first three weeks of June during a special session to approve a budget. State government isn't threatened with running out of money until July 1, when the new budget year begins.

“The best part, from the House standpoint, was that it was the first real negotiation where there was give-and-take,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran did say he and Lee agree that both want a budget. A good thing, perhaps, for two budget chairs to agree on. But he hinted that desire might trump coming to a resolution on Medicaid expansion during the special session.

Asked if a discussion on expansion might be put off for a later date, perhaps at another special session, Corcoran replied that it was a “potential compromise and endgame.”

His negotiating partner, Lee, couldn’t be reached. Lee told the Associated Press that "a fair amount of progress" had been made Wednesday. Corcoran said Lee was joining him for wine and cigars later that night. He said, however, no major breakthroughs were expected at this gathering.

“It’ll be more social,” he said. “We won’t talk business.”

Former South Florida city manager says elected female officials ask many questions, don't want financial numbers

@PatriciaMazzei

A man who until last month was the manager of a Broward County city told a Texas city council now made up mostly of women that he learned a few lessons when he worked for the all-female Lauderdale Lakes City Commission.

"You see women in leadership positions...you will have to interact with them in a different way," Jonathan Allen told the Austin City Council, according to the Austin American Statesman.

Women ask more questions than men, and don't want as many financial numbers, Allen said, according to a bullet-point summary reported by the newspaper. Apparently the Austin City Council felt it needed a two-hour training session about women leaders after an election resulted in a panel of seven women and four men -- a female majority for the first time.

Allen, by the way, was fired in April after four years in Lauderdale Lakes. No mention of his gender seems to have been made at his firing. His is the father of an 11-year-old daughter.

Jeb Bush: 'I'm running for president in 2016...if I run'

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush briefly forgot his usual I'm-not-a-candidate-yet disclaimer in Nevada on Wednesday when he began answering a Washington Post reporter's question. The former Florida governor, however, quickly corrected himself.

"I'm running for president in 2016, and the focus is going to be about how we -- if I run -- how do you create high-sustained economic growth where more people have chance at earned success. I will apply my record  and the ideas that are relevant to all of this," he said.

The answer was part of a longer press gaggle where Bush made clear he is not yet formally running. The session began with a reporter asking, "Are you officially running?"

"No, no, I'm not an official candidate," Bush said. "I've been traveling the country for the last three months and making up my mind, trying to determine the support I may have should I go forward." He later said he would make up his mind "soon."

Bush remains an unannounced Republican candidate, which allows him to ask major donors for political contributions at events organized by Right to Rise, his super political action committee. Once he declares his candidacy, he will no longer be allowed to coordinate with the super PAC.

But in practical terms, he's already running. His staff has even moved into a future campaign headquarters in Miami.

This post has been updated.

Marco Rubio: I wouldn't have gone into Iraq knowing it didn't have WMDs

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio said after a foreign-policy speech Wednesday that, knowing that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, he would have been against the U.S. invasion launched by President George W. Bush in 2003.

"Not only would I not have been in favor of it -- President Bush would not have been in favor of it," Rubio told CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose in a question-and-answer session following Rubio's remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential contender who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has fielded Iraq questions in the past -- and has sounded more supportive about the invasion, or at least about its consequences, than he did Wednesday.

In March, Rubio was asked on Fox News: "Was it a mistake to go to war to Iraq?" That question made no mention of weapons of mass destruction.

"I don't believe it was," Rubio said at the time. "The world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn't run Iraq."

In 2010, when he was running for Senate, Rubio was asked, "Is America safer and better off for having gone to war in Iraq?" 

"I think the answer ultimately is yes," Rubio said. "First of all, the world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge in Iraq. And I think we have to remind ourselves of that, is that the world is a better and safer place because Saddam Hussein no longer is in charge of that country."

The Iraq question has bedeviled Rubio's Florida rival, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who tripped up over the weekend when Fox News asked him if he would have authorized the invasion given the "faulty" intelligence exposed after the fact. He said yes but then walked back his answer to say "I don't know."

Rubio's spokesman characterized the senator's answers as consistent: In March, he answered about the decision made in 2003, without the benefit of hindsight. On Wednesday, he answered about what the decision would have been in hindsight.

As for what former President Bush thinks, in hindsight, he wrote in his book Decision Points: "While the world was undoubtedly safer with Saddam gone, the reality was that I sent American troops into combat based on intelligence that proved false. That was a massive blow to our credibility -- my credibility -- that would shake the confidence of the American people."

Watch the full speech and Q & A below, with the Iraq question around the 44-minute mark.

 

This post has been updated.

Does the U.S. have the highest number of immigrants as Marco Rubio says?

The United States leads the world in terms of the number of immigrants it allows to enter the country, says U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"We have a legal immigration system in America that accepts 1 million people a year, legally," Rubio said at the National Review Forum May 1. "No other country in the world even comes close to that."

Is Rubio correct that no other country in the world comes close to the number of legal immigrants that come to the United States each year?

See what PolitiFact Florida found.