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March 18, 2015

Sen. Sachs urges stronger texting and driving ban

Decrying the state’s current ban as difficult to enforce and ineffective, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, Wednesday emphasized her desire to allow police to pull over drivers for texting and driving.

The state’s existing ban is a secondary offense, meaning officers can only issue a texting and driving ticket after pulling the driver over for something else, like speeding or running a red light.

“It has not worked,” Sachs said. “Secondary enforcement of this ban has not been effective at stopping the loss of lives.”

Sachs’ proposal (S.B. 246) would change that, she said.

It would allow police to pull people over if they see them texting or surfing the Web while driving. It would also double texting fines in school zones.

Currently, 44 states, including Florida since 2013, ban texting and driving. But just a handful treat it as a secondary offense.

White House tries to make nice with Miami congressman who was denied Air Force One seat


Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo met last week with a White House aide who tried to smooth things over after Curbelo was snubbed from flying on Air Force One with President Obama last month.

Curbelo had asked to fly with Obama to a town hall-style event on immigration held Feb. 25 at Florida International University, which is in Curbelo's Westchester-to-Key West district. He was told there was no room on the plane, though White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later said he didn't know why Curbelo had been turned down.

The snub didn't sit well with Curbelo, a moderate Republican in his first term who could potentially find common ground with the president on immigration, transportation and free trade (though Curbelo disagrees with Obama on U.S.-Cuba policy, for example). White House office liaison Don Sisson reached out to Curbelo two days after the incident to set up a meeting.

Curbelo said Wednesday he appreciated the outreach.

"While my disagreements with this White House are vast and sharp, I owe it to the people of South Florida to seek ways in which we can work together to improve the quality of life for my community and strengthen the nation," he said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "Government dysfunction and gridlock is not working for the American people."

Barbara Bush now wants Jeb to run for president, asks supporters for money

via @learyreports

Remember back when Barbara Bush was stepping all over son Jeb's presidential dreams? She's come around and is now lending her stature to his fundraising machine. An email from her circulating today begins:

Subject: I changed my mind!

When the idea of Jeb running for President first came up, I was hesitant. You may have heard about that. When you see the pounding candidates take these days, what mother wouldn't be?

But our problems are so profound that America needs a leader who can renew the promise of this great nation.

Which is why today I’m starting the Run Jeb Run fund.

Florida Senate approves March 15 primary date; Scott will sign into law

The Florida Senate on Wednesday signed off on a plan to make March 15 the date of the 2016 presidential primary.

The proposal (HB 7035) would put Florida in line Republican Party rules -- and enable the state to award all of its delegates to the winner of the GOP primary.

If Florida holds its primary election on March 1, as current law dictates, it would have to allocate its delegates proportionally. As a result, Florida would yield less influence in determining the Republican nominee for president.

"It makes Florida meaningful in the presidential primary elections," Republican Sen. Garrett Richter said of his proposal.

The bill won the unanimous support of the House last week, and passed 39-0 in the Senate.

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday afternoon that he planned to sign the bill "as soon as it gets to my desk."

Some Democrats on Wednesday alleged the proposal was only meant to help possible Republican candidates -- namely former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. (The Democratic Party awards delegates on a proportional basis regardless of the state's primary date.)

But Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the bill would help the Democratic nominee, too.

"When you look back, when Hillary Clinton and then Sen. [Barack] Obama were running, they essentially boycotted the state of Florida," Gardiner said. "They came here and raised money, but they didn't participate in the election."


The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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.