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March 18, 2015

Senate poised to approve concealed carry law

Following pointed questions from a small handful of Democrat opponents, Florida senators Wednesday set themselves up to consider concealed carry legislation, likely in the chamber’s session next Tuesday

The bill (S.B. 290) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would decriminalize carrying a concealed weapon while evacuating an emergency. A similar bill did not pass last year.

“My bill simply allows people who are lawful gun owners who are fleeing for their lives to not be considered felons for following the law if they happen to have a firearm on their person,” Brandes said.

Some Democrats, including Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando and Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, raised concerns that the proposed legislation could cause problems with looters or lead to uncertainty during a time of emergency.

“In an emergency situation, we need less chaos,” Sobel said, “not more.”

The bill seems on track to pass the full Senate. Not only do Republicans have a solid majority, but in its three committee stops, the bill won votes from as many Democrats as opposed it. A similar bill in the House has been okayed by its two committees.

Broward Sen. Chris Smith seeks Gov. Scott's help for project

Gov. Rick Scott regularly holds one-on-one meetings with members of the Legislature, and they're usually Republicans. But Scott has agreed to meet Wednesday with Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, who wants to head off potential Scott opposition to his plan to secure state money for a project to increase the number of African-American police officers in Florida.

"I want to deal with him on the front end," Smith said.

Smith is sponsoring a bill (SB 772) that would place a Northeast Florida police training academy under the direction of historically black Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. He said he has the Republican Senate leadership's support for a $1 million appropriation for the project. The president of Edward Waters College, Nat Glover, was elected sheriff of Duval County in 1995 -- the first elected black sheriff in Florida in more than 100 years.

Smith and other black legislators have criticized Scott for not hiring more African-Americans in his administration and not appointing more minority candidates to judgeships in Florida.

Smith was active in mobilizing black voters to vote for Charlie Crist in the 2014 race for governor, and he was quoted last October in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as saying: "I get more motivation from people wanting to get rid of Rick Scott than people wanting to vote for Charlie Crist."

House bill opens door to sheriffs housing more state prisoners

Jail Miami HeraldFlorida’s sheriff-run jails would be the beneficiaries of the fallout of Florida’s troubled prison system under a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by a House committee that would allow courts to keep inmates in county jails for up to two years to avoid entering the state’s prison system. 

Under the plan, the state would pay counties up to $60 a day to house inmates with lower-level felony convictions  who have sentences that do not exceed two years. Current law allows counties to house state prisoners for only a year or less.

The proposal would apply to counties that volunteer to accept the state inmates and is likely to be used most by rural county jails, where the average daily cost is less than $60. In South Florida, where the cost to house a prisoner is more than twice what the state will pay, counties could lose money under the plan. 

“This is an experimental approach to see if we can reduce recividivsm…separate lower level offenders from the harden offenders at the state level,’’ said Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, who managed the bill for the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. “We’re trying see if this works.”

While the proposal would benefit counties, it would also cost the state an estimated $5.8 million in additional funds to send inmates who would have been housed in Florida prisons at a cost of $44 a day to the county jails which would be paid $60. 

The proposal has the support of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and drew bi-partisan support during the hearing.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,’’ said Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “I think it will save the state money, help the counties, help family support in different locations.”

He noted, however, that some county jails have eliminated drug treatment programs because of budget cuts and some of the additional money should go into restoring those programs if they are housing state inmates on drug offenses.

“This opens the door for a lot of things to happen and I’m very happy to support this bill,’’ he said. 

AP: Jeb Bush rejects idea of federal minimum wage hike

From the Associated Press:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that minimum wage increases should be left to businesses and state governments, opposing a hike in the federal pay floor as an impediment to individuals trying to escape from poverty.

"State minimum wages are fine," said Bush, making his first extended foray into the state that holds the initial Southern primary of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

As governor, Bush opposed a 2004 ballot measure approved by voters in Florida that tied increases in the state minimum wage to inflation. Asked about the minimum wage at a pair of appearances on Tuesday, he said he doesn't want to abolish the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but also opposes raising it.

Democrats generally favor raising the minimum wage, while many Republicans oppose it.

More here.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott thinking of U.S. Senate run

via @adamsmithtimes

But don't panic Jeff Atwater or Carlos Lopez Cantera. Gov. Rick Scott has told top fundraisers he's interested in running in 2018 - when Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson's third term ends - not 2016, when Scott will still be in the middle of his second term.

As uncomfortable as Scott often seems in the political world, the U.S. Senate makes sense given that Scott initially seemed far more interested in federal issues than Florida issues. He started his political career with a committee attacking the Affordable Care Act and by the time he turned his attention to running for office in Florida Marco Rubio was well on his way to trouncing Charlie Crist in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Running in an off-year with lower Democratic turnout also makes more sense for Landslide Rick, who barely won his two gubernatorial races despite a GOP turnout advantage and dramatically outspending his opponents, Alex Sink and Crist.

Team Scott had been worried about Bill Nelson jumping into last year's governor's race, but it's no sure thing Nelson will seek a fourth term. Florida's senior senator is acting like he intends to, but he will be 76 in 2018.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

AP: Marco Rubio says he'd 'absolutely' defy European allies on Iran

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that if elected president, he would "absolutely" defy stalwart European allies if necessary in order to revoke an Iranian nuclear deal he might inherit from President Barack Obama.

Rubio, who is on the cusp of announcing a run for the Republican presidential nomination, says the next commander in chief "should not be bound" by Obama's potential agreement, even if European negotiating partners stand behind the deal.

"The United States, although it's less than ideal, could unilaterally re-impose more crushing and additional sanctions," Rubio said in an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday. He said he would also "use the standing of the United States on the global stage to try to encourage other nations to do so."

The U.S. is negotiating the high-stakes nuclear deal with Iran alongside three European allies: Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China are also part of the U.S.-led negotiating team.

More here.

UPDATED Andrew Korge to run for Florida Senate, setting up potential match-up against David Richardson


Andrew Korge, the son of prominent Miami Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, intends to run for the Florida Senate whenever incumbent Gwen Margolis' seat becomes open.

Margolis is term-limited in 2020, and that's the race for which Korge said he has filed his candidacy. But should Margolis retire in 2016, Korge indicated he will run then. His father is close to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats' likely presidential nominee next year.

"If she decides to qualify in 2016 I stand ready to knock on doors and support Sen. Margolis in every possible way," Andrew Korge said in a statement. "If she chooses an alternate path and the seat becomes available, I will be prepared."

That could set up a 2016 Democratic battle royale between Korge and state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Florida's first openly gay lawmaker.

Richardson announced in January that he would run for Margolis' seat. At the time, Margolis, 80, said she didn't know if she would seek reelection, though she has an open 2016 campaign account. District 35 spans the eastern edge of Miami-Dade County, from south of Cutler Bay to Golden Beach. She did not immediately respond to a reporter's call Wednesday.

Richardson said in a statement that he would back Margolis -- and presumably back out of the race until 2020 -- if she runs for re-election. That suggests Richardson filed earlier this year assuming Margolis would retire but perhaps got ahead of himself by not letting her make that announcement on her own.

"She has my unwavering support as she charts her path forward, including my endorsement if she qualifies for re-election," Richardson's statement said. "With the legislative session under way, I am focused on fighting for the issues that will grow our middle class and help Floridians have a better quality of life, strengthen our public education and provide access to quality and affordable health care."

Korge's filing papers have yet to appear on the Florida division of elections website. But he already has a campaign site of his own -- which, needless to say, is unusual for a candidate who expects his race to take place in five years. Richardson has a website as well.

"As a 3rd generation Miamian and father of two young children, and after speaking with voters all across the district, it is abundantly clear that we need to remodel our lagging education system to prepare our kids and empower working families to compete in the 21st century economy," Korge said. "We need to facilitate a culture where entrepreneurs can thrive and build the next Google in our own backyard."

Richardson has raised about $85,000 for the race -- and lent himself $100,000. Margolis, of Miami, has about $26,000 in reported contributions so far.

This post has been updated to include Richardson's comments.

Wednesday: Five things to watch in Tallahassee

Another jam-packed day awaits in the Florida Legislature Wednesday as lawmakers debate guns, schools and water.
Here are five things to watch:
* The Senate convenes its first session since opening day to take up a series of bills including one to move Florida's presidential primary to the third Tuesday in March for 2016, SB 7036. 
* The Senate will also take up a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would allow special provisions for gun owners in state-declared emergencies. The measure, SB 290, would allow people without concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns during the first 48 hours after emergency evacuation orders are given.
* Education choice becomes the focal point of the Senate K-12 Committee which takes up a bill to give parents more flexibility in their children's education. The measure, SB 1552, by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, would require school districts to allow parents to enroll their children in any public schools that have not reached capacity and require school districts to give parents the opportunity to request specific teachers under certain circumstances. 
* A House proposal to make vast changes to the way the state regulates water policy gets a hearing in the Senate. The workshop on the wide-ranging issue will be held by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.
* The debate over the implementation of Amendment 1 continues in the Senate as the Appropriations Committee takes up a series of bills intended to provide the framework for the preservation of land and water as required by the new constitutional provision. The bills: SB 576, SB 578, SB 580, SB 582, SB 584, and SB 586.
--MARY ELLEN KLAS, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Miami-Dade mayor scores win in mega-mall vote


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez won a lopsided vote Tuesday approving a land deal needed to bring the nation's largest mall to the Miami area.

County commissioners approved spending $12 million of the developer's money to obtain 82 acres of real estate from Florida. Developer Triple Five, owner of the Mall of America, needs the land to complete a 200-acre assemblage near Miami Lakes and Hialeah.

Gimenez championed the deal as a major boost to Miami-Dade's economy, while challenger Raquel Regalado said the $4 billion project represents a misguided pursuit of low-wage tourism and retail jobs.

The back-and-forth inserted Triple Five's American Dream Miami as a campaign issue for the 2016 mayoral race, raising the stakes as public opinion forms around a massive project that was a secret until just two weeks ago.

Gimenez and several commissioners cited traffic as the top constituent concern. Mall of America reports about 40 million visits a year. American Dream Miami would be a larger destination.

In the photo below, Gimenez congratulates Triple Five's Eskandar Ghermezian after the 11-2 vote.

Read the story: Massive mall project wins approval for Miami-Dade land deal.

Miami-Dade mayor scores win in mega-mall vote

March 17, 2015

Texas Tribune: On Jeb Bush's early years in Texas

From the Texas Tribune:

Before Jeb Bush was a likely White House contender, or the governor of Florida, or a wealthy real estate broker, a banker, a college tennis player or even a pot-smoking prep school student — before all of that, he was in the newspaper business.

Ten-year-old John Ellis Bush was co-editor of the “Neighborhood Round-Up,” a handwritten periodical he created with best friend Rob Kerr and distributed door-to-door for “only 5 cents” apiece in the wealthy Tanglewood subdivision of Houston. In the Feb. 23, 1963, edition, slipped discreetly between scribbled articles on new neighbors moving in and boyhood shenanigans, there was a news nugget of particular importance:

“Mr. Bush wins unanimously as head of Harris County Republicans.”

The fifth-grade scrawl marked what would become a landmark moment in the Bush family legacy: the launch of a political career that would land George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office. 

More here.