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January 28, 2016

Marco Rubio's final TV ads in Iowa


WEST DES MOINES -- Marco Rubio's campaign put out two new TV ads in Iowa over the past two days, aiming for what his aides call a "strong close" in Monday's caucuses.

One spot, released Wednesday, focuses on Rubio's love of families and faith. The other, released Thursday, hones in on Democrat Hillary Clinton. Both feature the Florida senator speaking directly into the camera.

No campaigns (including super PACs) have spent more on Iowa TV than Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.



Set to run for Congress in Miami, son of Hillary Clinton donor now also considering state Senate seat


Andrew Korge let it be known two weeks ago that he intended to run for Congress as a Democrat in the Florida district now represented by Republican Carlos Curbelo.

But he has yet to file paperwork for his candidacy, and now he's taking a second look at running for Florida state Senate, his spokeswoman said Thursday.

"He has been approached by leaders in the community about running for District 39," Helena Poleo told the Miami Herald. "He hasn't made a decision yet."

Korge, a political novice and the son of Chris Korge, a prominent Hillary Clinton financial backer, had originally considered a Senate run. After new districts were redrawn and Miami Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis said she'd seek reelection, however, Andrew Korge set his sights on Congress instead.

What's changed in the past two weeks? Two things: Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia sounded more serious about campaigning for his old seat again, taking on Democrat Annette Taddeo.

And word leaked from Tallahassee that a deal might be in the works between Sens. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, to avoid running against each other. Such an agreement could tacitly signal to other Democrats not to run against Flores.

Korge and other Democrats privately panned the notion of a deal, saying it wouldn't make sense for the party not to compete in new District 39, which leans Democratic. So does District 40, where Bullard and Flores live now. Both are heavily Hispanic. Neither Bullard nor Korge are.

After lengthy, lively debate, open-carry proposal heads to full Florida House



Despite discord among the state’s law enforcement officers and passionate efforts to derail it, a National Rifle Association-backed measure to allow nearly 1.5 million people to openly carry guns in Florida is ready for consideration by the full state House.

A compromise version of HB 163 -- by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- easily passed the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The 12-4 vote came after 2-1/2 hours of debate that included mentions of terrorism, God and the Wild West, and four unsuccessful amendments aimed at scaling back the drastic shift in public policy.

Tallahassee Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda was the only Democrat to side with Republicans in supporting the measure.

If it becomes law, concealed-weapons permit-holders could carry handguns openly wherever they're allowed to carry concealed. Private businesses -- ranging from grocery stores and bars to Disney World -- would be able to decide whether people can carry guns, but no public place -- such as a public hospital -- could ban them, unless guns are banned already under state law.

The Senate version -- SB 300, sponsored by Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville -- awaits consideration before that chamber's Judiciary Committee, its second of three committee stops. Chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has said he'll give it a hearing.

Matt Gaetz's measure is likely to earn favor in the full House, where 81 of the 120 members are Republicans, but Democrats said they plan to continue fighting.

Republicans and gun-rights supporters heralded the proposal on Thursday as one that fortifies constitutional rights, or what Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, called a "God-given right to openly carry weapons."

But Democrats and gun-control advocates blast the measure because they fear it would jeopardize law enforcement officers' safety as well as public safety. They say it could harm Florida's "family friendly" tourism industry, and some also worry about the ready ability terrorists could have to openly carry handguns.

Continue reading "After lengthy, lively debate, open-carry proposal heads to full Florida House" »

Cancelled due to lack of interest: Next Cabinet meeting in Tampa

Gov. Rick Scott's office has cancelled the next scheduled meeting of the Cabinet scheduled for Feb. 4 at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. This was to have been the meeting held every year to mark the opening of the annual state fair, but Scott's office pulled the plug on it because state agencies that report to the governor and Cabinet had no urgent pending business.

"Given that there is no official voting agency business and all agencies have confirmed that they do not plan to submit an agenda, we should cancel the meeting," Scott's Cabinet aide, Kristin Olson, said in an email to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's chief Cabinet aide. "We should save the state the cost for Cabinet aides and staff from traveling to Tampa."

The next scheduled Cabinet meeting is March 2 in Tallahassee.

It was at the Tampa meeting last year that Scott and Cabinet members held an extensive discussion over the fallout from the ouster of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "I could have handled it better," Scott said, an admission that soon led to reforms in Cabinet oversight of state agencies.


Up against a deadline, Miami spends anti-poverty dollars on a fire truck


Miami Commissioners did their best Brewster's Millions impression Thursday, rushing to spend more than $1 million in anti-poverty money before blowing a federal deadline and losing it all, plus more in the future.

Only, with just two days to spend the Community Development Block Grant funds, and no wiggle room, they begrudgingly agreed to buy a fire truck.

"It's just unsettling to those people who are suffering in these communities that we can't find a way to spend those dollars in a better way," said Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon.

Miami administrators said most the money at issue Thursday came to the city in November after the owner of an Overtown apartment complex sold the property and repaid an $800,000 loan received in 1996 for renovations. The sudden influx of funds put Miami's stash of CDBG dollars above an end-year limit that, if violated, would have caused federal authorities to revoke the money and then penalize the city again next year, they said.

The deadline is Friday, giving the city two days to spend the money. Hardemon tried to push the city to instead invest the $800,000 on playground equipment in Miami's poorest neighborhoods, but was told a 30-day advertising requirement would make that impossible.

George Mensah, the city's head of community and economic development, told commissioners he's proposing changes to avoid the situation in the future, but said the city was left with little time to find places to spend the money from the apartment complex due to the fact that it was sold in late November and the city commission met only once in December. But he said the money will still be spent on efforts within the poor neighborhoods it's intended to serve.

"The equipment we buy is supposed to be used in those communities," he said. "It's city of Miami equipment. However, it can't be used in Brickell."

Bernie Sanders' doctor declares him in 'very good health'



Ahead of Monday's Iowa caucuses, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign released a letter from the Democratic presidential candidate's doctor attesting to the 74-year-old's "very good health."

Rear Adm. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of the United States Congress, listed Sanders' key health stats and past conditions in a one-page letter. In his most recent physical in November, Sanders had blood pressure of 136/81 and a pulse of 72, and total cholesterol of 196 (LDL cholesterol of 125 and HDL cholesterol of 46).

In the past, Sanders has been treated for high cholesterol, hypothyroidism, gout, diverticulitis, laryngitis due to acid reflux and a lumbar strain, among other things. He's also had the "complete removal of superficial skin tumors," removal of a cyst on his vocal chord and repair of left and right side inguinal hernias. "You have no history of cardiovascular disease," the doctor wrote.

His prescriptions include a daily thyroid medication and intermittent medication for gout. He doesn't smoke and drinks alcohol "infrequently," the doctor wrote. Sanders' most recent colonoscopy was "normal," and he's up-to-date on his vaccines.

"You are in overall very good health and active in your professional work, and recreational lifestyle without limitation," Monahan concluded.

Read the letter here.

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer, Bloomberg

Jeb Bush donor Mike Fernandez backs PAC promoting Cuba ties

via @learyreports

Billionaire Mike Fernandez -- one of Jeb Bush's biggest financial backers -- has maxed out to a political action committee organized to support federal candidates who favor ending the Cuban embargo.

His contribution helped New Cuba PAC raise nearly $350,000 in seven months - an amount the group said is its "biggest fundraising milestone yet."

Contributors who gave the maximum $5,000 include Fernandez, Carlos Gutierrez, Pat Riley (Miami Heat), Manny Medina, Joe Arriola and Paul Cejas.

“Today’s announcement is further proof that Americans from across the political and economic spectrum are continuing to unite in their support for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations. As we enter 2016, we will do all that we can to support candidates and elected officials working towards ending the embargo, which will ultimately benefit both U.S. citizens and the Cuban people,” said PAC official James Williams.

Fernandez has supported the diplomatic reset with Cuba. Bush is vehemently opposed to the thaw.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Rene Garcia's hospital budget plan emphasizes safety nets


With the pot of money to reimburse hospitals for unpaid charity care shrinking this year, Senate leaders are proposing to heavily weight Low Income Pool spending in favor of the state’s safety net hospitals.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said Thursday that the hospitals that see the most charity care patients would be fully reimbursed for treating them with the numbers dropping steadily after that point.

“What we’re trying to do is push out the money to those that are providing the most charity care and help those hospitals that really are the safety nets in our communities,” Garcia said. “Those are the hospitals we rely the most on and we need to make sure they get reimbursed adequately.”

Under his plan, the second tier would receive reimbursement of 67 percent of their charity care, the third tier 7.5 percent and the bottom tier 1 percent.

Federal regulators shrunk the Low Income Pool to $608 million this year. That, plus $400 million in state funds the House and Senate agreed to last year make up much of the pot of money state lawmakers can use to reimburse hospitals as they write the budget.

Garcia wants to set aside an additional $7.3 million for specialty children’s hospitals, including $4.6 million for All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and $1.9 million for Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami.

Under new federal rules, Florida has to end a longstanding practice of guaranteeing hospital taxing districts’ investments in the Low Income Pool, which is funded largely by those local taxes and federal money. But Garcia said most of those hospitals will still see a return on their communities’ investment.

“The way we do that is to make sure that those that contribute the most … and those that provide the most services in charity care are the ones that are going to get reimbursed 100 percent,” he said.

A breakdown of how much money each hospital would receive under Garcia’s proposal has not yet been released, and House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Matt Hudson, R-Naples, announces his proposal Thursday afternoon.

Garcia’s proposed health and human services budget also puts $4.4 million into additional forensic beds at the state’s mental institution, including adding 43 full-time positions after reporting last year by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune highlighted violence and neglect at the hospitals as a result of understaffing and underfunding.

It provides $9.5 million for community health clinics, vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, although it maintains the governor’s recommended personnel cuts at county health departments.

The state budget is far from finished. Negotiations between the House and Senate have not yet begun, and Scott holds the power of the veto pen.

Update: Court grants Bob Graham right to present arguments in pivotal Gretna gambling case

Gretna EntertainmentThe Florida Supreme Court on Thursday granted a request by former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to present arguments in the high profile case over the future of slot machines in Florida.  Download Supreme Court Order

Graham, who is represented by Dan Gelber, a Miami lawyer and former state legislator, filed a motion filed with the court on Wednesday asking to be allowed to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the Gretna Racing v. the Department of Business and Professional Regulation case so he could "argue that Gretna Racing's interpretation of [state law] contradicts the Florida Constitution's prohibition against lotteries."  Download Graham Gretna

The case, which has not been scheduled for oral arguments yet, is shaping up to be a pivotal one in determining the future of gambling in Florida and could have immediate implications on the gaming compact signed between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe.

Gretna Racing, a consortium with the Poarch band of Creek Indians, argues that it should be allowed to offer slot machines at its cardroom and race track west of Tallahassee. Gadsden County voters approved a referendum in 2012 that authorized the slot machines at the facility, which had persuaded the state to grant it the country's first pari-mutuel license for rodeo-style barrel racing. A court later ruled that the state had issued the barrel racing pari-mutuel permit in error but the company continues to operate its cardroom and pursue slot machines at its venue off of I-10 in North Florida. It argues that the referendum is enough to allow it to install the profitable machines.

The First District Court of Appeals, however, rejected Gretna Racing's argument in October, concluding that legislative approval is needed to allow any community to expand slot machines. Depending how the Supreme Court rules on that argument will have bearing on Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington counties which also have approved referendums seeking to allow slot machines. 

Graham, however, raises doubts about whether the Legislature has the authority to authorize slot machines outside of Miami-Dade and Broward. The Florida Legislature in 2009 passed a law expanding slot machines in Miami-Dade County by authorizing them at Hialeah race track. Lawmakers said giving Hialeah slot machines was a natural extension of the 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that authorized slot machines at seven existing horse and dog tracks and jai-alai frontons in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Graham's motion cites the dissenting opinion from Judge Scott Makar of the First DCA who said: 
“it is not at all clear that the Legislature has the constitutional authority to expand the use of slot machines outside of the geographic areas of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties." Graham noted that neither DBPR nor Gretna Racing addressed that issue during the appeal. 

(It is also possible that Attorney General Pam Bondi, who must represent the Legislature in the case, is also unlikely to raise the constitutional question about the Legislature's authority.)

"Bob Graham’s brief, moreover, would focus on the Florida Constitution, its prohibition against lotteries, and the legislative history surrounding that prohibition—areas that the parties might largely disregard,'' his motion said. He also noted that he has conferred with the parties and while Gretna Racing objects to his request to present arguments, the department consents. 

Photo: Courtesy of Creek Entertainment Gretna

Open-carry bill up for final hearing in Florida House this morning


A controversial proposal -- backed by the National Rifle Association and gun-rights advocates -- that would allow more than 1.4 million people in Florida to openly carry guns goes before its third and final House committee this morning.

Expect lively debate by the House Judiciary Committee over the proposal from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. At least two divergent amendments have been proposed; others might have been filed since last night, but are not publicly available yet.

Gaetz is offering a compromise to his bill, in line with what the Florida Police Chiefs Association has requested. His amendment would allow openly carried guns to be loaded or unloaded, but they'd have to be holstered.

Also, the language removes restrictions on judges and law enforcement that his original bill included, which would have limited how police investigated people openly carrying and how judges decided cases. Gone is the "strict scrutiny" mandate on judges and inserted is a clarification that the proposed law "is not intended to restrict a law enforcement officer’s ability or authority to conduct investigations."

However, police officers would remain vulnerable to lawsuits if someone accuses the officer of violating their right to bear arms, a penalty that Gaetz's bill still includes.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, has filed an amendment that would gut the bill and replace it with provisions sought by the Florida Sheriffs Association. General open carry wouldn't be allowed. The changes aim to target only what the NRA has said is its primary concern: the prosecution of people who accidentally display concealed weapons.

But NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said this morning that solution is off the table. She said lawmakers aimed to resolve that issue in 2011 but it didn't work. She said NRA attorneys believe the only fix is to allow open carry in general.

She added: "We're ready to fight."

The proposed law would still only apply to people who have concealed weapons permits in Florida.

The committee hearing starts at 9. Stay tuned to see what happens.