A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
Happy birthday to Ash Mason, GrayRobinson’s Jason Unger and Representative Alan Williams.
Thank you for the hospitality yesterday to Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto and her entire staff. What an amazing, welcoming person.
Today’s Sunburn is sponsored by Tucker/Hall – one of Florida’s leading public affairs and public relations firms. You need their team on your side during this Legislative session for media, grassroots and netroots support. Visit TuckerHall.com to read about their team and how they can help you.
OBAMA APPROVAL SLIPS AS PESSIMISM RISES
A new Pew Research survey finds President Obama’s job approval rating has tumbled since shortly after his re-election, from 55% to 47%, “as the public’s economic expectations for the coming year have soured”
Nonetheless, Obama “retains greater public confidence than congressional Republicans in dealing with the budget deficit: 53% express at least a fair amount of confidence in him to handle the budget, compared with 39% who express the same confidence in GOP leaders.”
Q-POLL: HILLARY TOPS FLORIDA FAVORITE SONS JEB AND MARCO IN POLL OF 2016
Clinton leads Jeb Bush 51 – 40 percent and bests Sen. Rubio 52 – 41 percent in a poll of Sunshine State registered voters.
Clinton is viewed much more favorably than either man, 62 – 33 percent favorable for Clinton, compared to 50 – 35 percent favorable for Bush and 41 – 34 percent for Rubio.
“We probably won’t know for some time whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, but if she decides to make the race, she begins with a sizable lead in a state that Republicans cannot win the White House without,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Florida voters have a very positive view of Mrs. Clinton and it’s not just Democrats who feel that way.”
EMAIL I ALMOST DIDN’T OPEN: “2016 candidates as Angry Birds” from Christian Heinze — “Matching the candidates with their Angry Birds (with Rand Paul, obviously, as the blue bird who splits into three).”
RNC OUTRAISES DEBT-SADDLED DNC via POLITICO Influence
The Republican National Committee continues to outraise its Democratic counterpart, which is struggling to bring in money to offset the debt that piled on during the 2012 election, new reports filed yesterday show. The debt-free RNC raised $5 million in February and ended the month with $7.5 million in the bank, while the Democratic National Committee brought in $3.8 million and still owes nearly $22 million. Both committees spent about $4.5 million during the same month.
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9 OF 10 FLORIDIANS FAVOR GUN BACKGROUND CHECKS via the Associated Press
Florida voters – by better than a 9-to-1 margin – say they would like to see the state require background checks on those who want to buy guns.
A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows 91 percent favor requiring universal gun background checks compared to 8 percent who said they’re opposed.
Fifty-one percent said they favored stricter statewide gun-control laws compared to 44 percent who were opposed. Self-described gun owners, however, were against tougher regulations, with 61 percent opposed to 33 percent in favor of such measures.
NRA HAS BEST SINGLE-MONTH $$$ HAUL IN 13 YEARS
February was the best fundraising haul for the National Rifle Association since the height of the 2000 presidential campaign. The group’s PAC raised $1.6 million in February. It hasn’t had a month like that since October 2000.
REP. BERMAN USES POLL TO HELP HER GUN BILL via Dara Kam of the Palm Beach Post
Berman is hoping the new Quinnipiac poll will help her gun bill (HB 1343).
Berman and Sen. Maria Sachs have filed proposals that would require universal background checks for all gun sales or transfers in Florida. But it’s unlikely that either bill will even get a hearing despite what appears to be overwhelming support by Florida voters.
Berman sent a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford and the rest of the 120 members of the Florida House asking them to co-sponsor her measure.
The poll “clearly shows that our constituents want us to address this issue,” Berman, a lawyer, wrote.
“With session in full swing, we need to act swiftly. In light of the recent tragedies, it is important that the Legislature acknowledges that Floridians are counting on us.”
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BLOG POST OF THE DAY: POSTSCRIPT ON POLLS, REPORTERS AND RICK SCOTT by Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News
Watch him (Rick Scott) deliver the news, then watch what happens afterward when he turns it all over to the press for questions. Does a single reporter care about the good stuff? Anybody want to hear more? Not in Tallahassee. Not if it comes from Rick Scott.
Press folks in the company of this governor move right along to controversy, as they did here. Not that they used any of their questions or the governor’s answers in a story, by the way.
… Rick Scott is not getting through, and he won’t.
Absolutely Scott will have to use his “considerable resources” to tell his story. What choice does he have? And when he does, watch the mainstreamers throttle him for throwing his millions into “negative” TV ads.
DEMS TORCH SCOTT OVER LINES IN WEB AD via Aaron Sharockman of the Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Democratic Party released a Web ad attacking Gov. Scott over the long lines some Floridians faced during the 2012 election. Scott’s office earlier this week released a Web ad heralding the governor’s work on the economy and the improvements Florida has made since he took office. Watch here.
FUN PRESS RELEASE OF THE DAY: “Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse Goes Fishing with Florida Governor Rick Scott as Part of ‘Emeril’s Florida’ Television Series” via Christina Johnson for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association
GOV. SCOTT SAYS HE’LL FIGHT FOR PIP LAW via The Associated Press
Scott said he will “continue to fight” for the state’s new Personal Injury Protection law in light of a judge’s temporarily banning its enforcement.
He says changes to PIP have resulted in more than 70 percent of insurance rates approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation either decreasing or holding steady.
Changing the law has lowered insurance costs and he will “continue to fight special interest groups to keep them in place.”
Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ordered a temporary ban this week. Lewis found that the changed law violates the Florida Constitution.
A group of acupuncturists and massage therapists and chiropractors had sued the state. The law was changed last year to include a prohibition on PIP payments to those providers.
ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments today in the challenge to Gov. Scott’s executive order which mandated all state employees and job applicants in executive branch agencies under the purview of the Governor (about 77% of the state workforce) submit to invasive tests of their bodily fluids without regard to suspicion of drug use.
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BILL WOULD GIVE BEER FREEDOM
You can go into a brew pub and get a 32 ounce beer to go. And you can go in and fill up a gallon bucket and take it home. But the most common size to-go beer container around the rest of the country, the 64-ounce growler, can’t be filled up by brewpubs under Florida law. That would change under a bill (SB 1344) approved Thursday by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.
“Many people bring in their 64-ounce growlers, proud to show their local brewery, and they get to our brewery and we tell them ‘We can’t fill that for you. I can sell you two 32-ounce growlers to equal the same.,'” Justin Clark of Cigar City Brewery in Tampa told the panel. “It’s just silly. “We’ve got to get rid of this archaic law.” Large beer distributors oppose the idea.
DEMOCRATS LOSE ENTHUSIASM FOR WEATHERFORD’S CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM by Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times
A day before they vote on overhauling the Florida’s campaign finance laws, deep divisions emerged between Republicans and Democrats on the House Floor.
Along mostly party lines, the House on Thursday rejected efforts by Democrats to limit campaign contributions to $500, prohibit the governor from raising campaign cash during the legislative session, and prevent candidates from hoarding up to $50,000 in campaign cash to use in their next political races.
“I was disappointed we didn’t get support,” said Rep. Allan Williams. “They weren’t partisan amendments. They were good government amendments.”
On Friday, representatives will vote on HB 569, which, while touted by Speaker Will Weatherford as a bipartisan approach to campaign finance reform, has attracted growing opposition among Democrats.
It increases the current $500 campaign contribution limit. For statewide offices, such as governor or Commissioner of Agriculture, candidates would be allowed to collect up to $5,000 per individual or company. For legislative offices or multi-county offices like circuit judge, contributions could be increased to $3,000.
HOUSE PASSES CONTENTIOUS CLAIMS BILL via Dara Kam of the Palm Beach Post
A House committee took the first step toward revamping the state’s claims bills over the objections of cities, counties, public hospitals and other “sovereign” entities.
But House Select Committee on Claims Bills Chairman James Grant called Florida’s claims bill process a broken system that encourages local governments not to settle with victims because of the time, expense and uncertainty of getting a settlement passed even if the local governments agree to pay it.
The committee grudgingly approved the proposal with a 5-3 vote after a contentious debate in which no one from the audience spoke in favor of the plan. Both Republicans and Democrats who supported the measure said they had serious reservations about its impact on local governments.
The measure would raise the current $200,000 per individual cap to $1 million and $300,000 per incident cap to $1.5 million to encourage local governments to purchase insurance or self-insure. The proposal also places a “hard cap” on payments for those with insurance by barring individuals who get those payments from being able to seek additional money. Claims against governments without insurance would have to be paid out of state coffers. It would also require lawyers representing claimants to register as lobbyists and require a majority of the local delegation to approve the claim at a public meeting.
SENATE HEALTH PLANS STARTS MOVING; FACES QUESTIONS IN THE HOUSE by Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida
As the Senate began moving forward Thursday with a plan to offer health insurance to hundreds of thousands of low-income Floridians, it faces House resistance to relying on federal money to pay for the program, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who is chairman of a House select committee studying the federal Affordable Care Act, said many concepts of the Senate plan are “easily bridgeable” with House ideas about helping people get health coverage. But he said the House does not agree with the Senate plan’s use of federal funds.
“The biggest difference is certainly funding,” Corcoran said.
Republicans in both chambers this month rejected a major expansion of the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, but they have said they want to find other ways to help offer coverage.
The Senate Appropriations Committee took the first formal step Thursday when it introduced a bill that would create a program called Healthy Florida, which would use a longstanding state program — the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. — as a vehicle to offer private health insurance. The program would target the same group of people who would otherwise be eligible for the Medicaid expansion and would rely heavily on federal money to pay for the coverage.
The plan, which Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron first outlined last week, has quickly received backing from groups ranging from the hospital and managed-care industries to the left-leaning Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. Also, Gov. Rick Scott has expressed support.
Negron has tried to draw a distinction between the Healthy Florida bill and expanding Medicaid, describing his plan as “premium assistance for people who go to work every day.”
“We’re not putting one more citizen of Florida into the current Medicaid program,” he said.
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EVERGLADES COMPROMISE HAILED, PASSES SENATE COMMITTEE via Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current
A Senate committee voted Thursday to rewrite Everglades legislation to win support from environmental groups and sugar farmers.
The House was expected to follow suit with a rewrite of an Everglades bill that environmentalists opposed.
The two sides had been pitted against each other over who pays for Gov. Rick Scott’s $880-million plan to build reservoirs and treatment marshes to filter water flowing into the famed “River of Grass.”
Representatives of both sides said legislative leaders pressured them to reach a compromise, which they did through a series of meetings during the past week.
“As an Everglades advocate, I can tell you this is a good bill,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida.
“This bill allows us to continue as a partner in restoring the Everglades ecosystem, and we are proud of our role in the restoration plan,” Brian Hughes, a spokesman for sugar farmers, said in an email.
HOW TALLYMADNESS HELPED SOLVE TWO OF THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION’S MOST DIFFICULT ISSUES
Two major issues came to a compromise on Thursday, calming the tone (and perhaps the excitement) of two of the biggest legislative battles that have played out in the press.
I personally think that I can take credit for these because lobbyists are trying to impress their colleagues so they will vote for them in Tallymadness.com and hearing that I am in town, but I could be wrong.
Nonetheless, a Herculean lift by #1 seed Nick Iarossi, who helped broker a deal for his client, The Everglades Foundation, with #3 seed Robert Coker and #9 seed Gaston Cantens and the Sugar Industry. Even my favorite Senator, Jack Latvala, applauded the sponsor, Senator David Simmons, for being a miracle worker and bringing together groups who typically never agree.
I must also mention that Claudia Davant and Dave Ericks are on team Everglades and on Tallymadness.com, but I can’t list all of the sugar lobbyists who are on there because let’s face it, it is basically EVERYONE ELSE.
Also on the compromise-rumor wagon today is the eye-ball fights, with the Optos – A-Team of David Ramba, Bill Rubin, Corcoran & Johnston, Mayernick squared, Ross, and Turnbull coming to an agreement with Brian Ballard and Iarossi’s ophthalmology folks to bring another battle in for a smooth landing – all before the end of week 3.
So my question is this, what will all of the sugar, Everglades, Optos and Ophthalmology lobbyists do with their time now? Probably vote on TallyMadeness.
TALLYMADNESS SMACK TALK
Shot: “Peter, those international votes for Slater are coming from a fifth grade class in ccina that Slater has hired to win the Tallymadness contest.” — #2 seed Chris Dudley, Southern Strategy Group
Chaser: “Lol! It looks like the SSG intern pool is kicking my a**.” — #15 seed Slater Bayliss
WELCOME TO THE TWITTERS: Ralph Lair, one-time chief legislative aide to Speaker Will Weatherford. Follow him @RalphLair
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NORTHWEST FLORIDA TEA PARTY PRESIDENT MIKE HILL TO RUN FOR CLAY FORD’S SEAT by Nancy Smith of Sunshine State News
Mike Hill, president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party and a 2010 Republican Primary candidate for the Florida Senate, confirmed Thursday he will seek the House seat left vacant following the death of Rep. Clay Ford.
Hill said he will wait to announce formally until after Ford’s funeral, and after Gov. Rick Scott has set a date for the special election. But he’ll begin right away to assemble a campaign team.
Hill, 54, said Wednesday night that he was “leaning toward running, but I don’t make any kind of family decision like that until my wife and I go to church and pray about it.”
A State Farm insurance agent in Pensacola, he lost to heavily financed Sen. Greg Evers in the 2010 GOP District 2 Senate primary, but he said he has remained “politically inclined” since the 2010 cycle. He described himself as a “free-market, limited-government, lower-taxes, personal-freedom, individual-responsibility” kind of conservative.
“In fact,” he said, “I think I’m more passionate about limited government now than when I ran for office three years ago.”
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4TH FLOOR FILES talks to Fred Karlinsky about Silence of the Lambs, Miss Rotunda, and passing the Bar without studying. Here’s the file on Fred (with working link).
APPOINTED: Darla Furst to the Florida Real Estate Commission; Tirso Martinez to the Florida State Boxing Commission.
BALLARD PARTNERS EXPANDING
Ballard Partners announced the expansion of its Tallahassee and Miami offices with the addition of former State Representative Michael Abrams and Monica Rodriguez.
Michael Abrams will serve as chair of Ballard Partners’ public policy team in their Miami-based office, where he will utilize his valuable expertise in health care policy and government affairs to enhance the firm’s lobbying efforts across the state.
Monica Rodriguez joins Ballard Partners’ Tallahassee office as a partner, bringing to the team more than a decade of experience in legislative affairs at both state and federal levels.
“Expanding our exceptional teams in Tallahassee and Miami will amplify our ability to represent clients throughout the state. Mike’s vast experience in public policy, particularly in health care and government appropriations, will complement our firm’s strength in those areas,” said Brian Ballard, president of Ballard Partners. “Monica brings to the firm a key addition to our health care, insurance, and transportation policy teams. We are delighted to welcome such talented additions to Ballard Partners.”
LOBBYING WITHOUT A TRACE: A new study finds that nearly half of the lobbyists who were registered with Congress in 2011 and then went “inactive” in 2012 remained with the same employer, and many continued to influence public policy.
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FLORIDA POLY FUTURE UNCLEAR, WEATHERFORD SAYS via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times
A day after the Florida Senate excised the $22 million for the yet-to-be-built Florida Polytechnic from its education budget, Speaker Weatherford said he’s open to reevaluating whether it belongs in the state university system.
“We do have the responsibility to make the best lemonade that we possibly can out of the situation and hopefully turn that into a world-class institution,” Weatherford told reporters Thursday. “The Board of Governors (which oversees the university system) and the Board of Trustees should get creative about what that institution could be.”
Asked if that meant not turning it into the state’s 12th university, Weatherford replied: “Yes.”
GAINESVILLE MAYOR CRAIG LOWE CHARGED WITH DUI via The Associated Press
Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe faces a DUI charge after crashing his vehicle.
The Florida Highway Patrol says the crash happened about 2:20 a.m. Thursday. Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies said Lowe appeared intoxicated when they arrived and the 55-year-old mayor told them he fell asleep at the wheel before the crash.
A trooper said Lowe smelled of alcohol and performed poorly on field sobriety tests.
The Gainesville Sun reports Lowe told authorities he had three beers earlier in the evening. He was charged with DUI with property damage and careless driving and taken to jail.
On Tuesday, the mayor won a place in the April 16 runoff in a bid for re-election.
A city statement said officials are aware of the arrest and would have no further comment.
NFL COMMISSIONER WARNS SOUTH FLORIDA WON’T HOST ANOTHER SUPER BOWL WITHOUT STADIUM IMPROVEMENTS
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dropped hints that South Florida won’t host another Super Bowl until Sun Life Stadium, home of the Dolphins, gets renovated — including a canopy, a new lighting system for high-def broadcast, and new seats closer to the field.
South Florida is a finalist to host Super Bowl L in 2016, up against San Francisco. But Dolphins owner Steve Ross says that without these updates, South Florida is out of the running. The Dolphins are lobbying taxpayers to fund half of the $400 million renovation through tourist taxes and tax exemptions, and in turn the Dolphins promise to cover any overruns and remain at the facility for 30 years. The economic impact generated from hosting a South Florida Super Bowl is estimated between $100 and $300 million, and would help pay for the renovations. The vote is expected in May, right before the Super Bowl committee decides if South Florida or San Fran will host Super Bowl L.
STATE OF FLORIDA PUTS UNIVERSAL (FORMER FLORIDA GOP FINANCE CHAIR AK DESAI’S COMPANY) IN RECEIVERSHIP
A state court judge in Tallahassee ruled that Universal Health Care should be placed in receivership, according to a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Financial Services.
The ruling comes about a week after the judge ruled that Universal Health Care, a Florida Medicaid plan and a subsidiary of Universal Health Care Group Inc., and another subsidiary, Universal Health Care Insurance Co., a private Medicare plan, were insolvent.
UF GOES BIG AND LAUNCHES MOOCS, FREE OPEN-ENROLLMENT COURSES
The University of Florida is the state’s first university to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which are free to anyone in the world to join but offer no course credit. For its part, UF stands to gain exposure and expertise in designing and marketing mass courses through its partnership with MOOC industry leader Coursera.
Three courses begin this week: Economic Issues, Food & You, with an enrollment of over 16,000 students; Sustainable Agricultural Land Management, with over 13,000 students; and Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future, with 18,000 on the roll. The first MOOC offered at UF, Fundamentals of Human Nutrition, has nearly as many students as these three combined.
“We don’t know where this is going,” said Wendell Porter, a lecturer on the department of agricultural and biological engineer, “but we’re not going to get left behind.”
Sounds interesting … unless they take attendance.
WELLCARE NAMES NEW FLORIDA PRESIDENT
WellCare Health Plans named David McNichols as state president of WellCare of Florida.
He succeeds Christina Cooper, who resigned earlier this month to relocate with her family.
Starting April 1, McNichols will have responsibility for WellCare’s Medicaid and Medicare Advantage businesses in Florida and will lead statewide expansion initiatives, a statement from the company said.
He has Medicaid experience in Florida as a prior CEO of AmeriChoice’s health plan. Since September 2011, he’s been state president of WellCare of Georgia.
Jesse Thomas, WellCare’s president, south division, will serve as interim state president of WellCare of Georgia, the statement said.