[Special to the Times]
Chris Christie to head Trump opioid abuse commission
As it's becoming abundantly clear, Pam Bondi still doesn't have a job in the Donald Trump administration.
Considering her early support for Trump, Bondi was considered a lock for a top post in his administration. She will be moderating a "Women's Empowerment" panel with First Lady Melania Trump today, so that's fueled further speculation that a post is imminent.
But it's hard to ignore that Trump just tapped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the chair of a commission devoted to battling opioid abuse in America.
Ask any Floridian about the job that Bondi has done in Florida, and the subject of her pill mill crackdown will probably come up. Shortly after getting elected, Bondi unveiled an aggressive crackdown on pain clinics that illegally distributed oxcodone pills. She succeeded in helping the state shut down most of them. …Full Story
Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.
While both the House and Senate are interested in more than quadrupling funding to expand the “Best & Brightest” teacher bonus program next year, only the House actually proposes a dollar figure in its initial budget plan.
Both chambers’ education budget plans were unveiled Tuesday in advance of the full budget roll-out this week.
The House plan calls for $214 million in the 2017-18 budget for the teacher bonuses, up from the $49 million the Legislature allocated this year. But the Senate proposal zeros out the program funding — setting up another year of negotiations over the controversial program.
“That’s part of the process; this is not the first go-around with that in dealing with the Senate,” said Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman. “That’s par for the course.”
MORE: “$250 million for teacher incentives? Florida lawmakers crafting plan to do it” …Full Story
The Associated Press
Sen. Bill Nelson
Sen. Bill Nelson defended his decision to join a filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch despite opposing one a decade ago for Samuel Alito.
“Each nominee is different, and how Sen. Nelson votes for one nominee has no bearing on how he’ll vote for another,” spokesman Ryan Brown said in response to a Tampa Bay Times question.
“Plus, the motion to invoke cloture on Alito’s nomination wasn’t as controversial as the upcoming cloture vote on Gorsuch. Nearly three-quarters of the Senate – including nearly half of the Democratic caucus – voted for cloture on Alito in 2006. Trying to compare the two would be like trying to compare apples and oranges.”
Does he regret at all supporting Gorsuch in the past?
“The Senate confirmed Judge Gorsuch’s nomination in 2006 by unanimous consent,” Brown said. “Under Senate rules, a request for unanimous consent is approved unless one senator objects. Nelson did not object to Gorsuch being an appeals court judge, which is significantly different than supporting his nomination to the Supreme Court.”Full Story
The Associated Press
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville
WASHINGTON — Still livid over the collapse of the Obamacare replacement, President Donald Trump jumped on Twitter and shook Washington out of bed Tuesday.
The Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," Trump wrote in one of his signature late-night attacks. "After so many bad years they were ready for a win!"
Before Friday, when the bill was pulled from a vote, the Freedom Caucus was little known outside Washington — a small, raucous coalition of far-right conservatives who, unhappy that parts of the Affordable Care Act were maintained, insisted on more changes until Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan quit negotiating.
In a tweet Sunday, Trump said "Democrats are smiling" because the Freedom Caucus and conservative interest groups had "saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!" But among the 30-plus Freedom Caucus members, his fury landed with a whimper.
"I don't work for Donald Trump. I work with him. I work for the people who sent me up here," said Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville, one of three members from Florida. "He ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Those people that put him and me in office expect us to repeal and replace Obamacare." …Full Story
Richard Corcoran accused of Soviet-style leadership
That's the tongue in cheek charge from Miami Beach mayor and likely Democratic candidate for governor Philip Levine, a staunch critic of the Florida legislature's efforts to bar local governments from -- among other things -- restricting travel rental sites like Airbnb in their communities. Levine, a wealthy entrepreneur, notes that Warren Buffet lets the management of companies he invests in make their own decisions about what's best for the businesses.
"He's modeling himself after his mentor, Donald Trump, " Levine said of Florida House Speaker Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, another potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018. "We know Donald Trump has the highest regard for Vladmir Putin. which is post-Soviet. But it's interesting that Richard is more interested in the Soviet style of economics, where he believes in central planning out of Moscow. The greatest investor of our time, Warren Buffet, believes the opposite, which is local control. Then again, Richard Corcoran has never built or operated any (business) in his entire life, so I'm not sure his opinion on how to get the most out of anything would really matter."Full Story
Orlando Sentinel via AP
In a press conference on the steps of the Orange County Courthouse Thursday, March 16, 2017, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announces that her office will no longer pursue the death penalty as a sentence in any case brought before the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
State lawmakers are trying to cut the budget of State Attorney Aramis Ayala, the Orlando-area prosecutor who said she would not pursue the death penalty while in office.
In initial budget proposals released Monday and Tuesday, the House and Senate committees responsible for funding Florida's criminal justice system put forward a plan to cut more than $1 million and 21 staff positions.
The House budget proposes a $1.3 million cut that it would set aside as "a lump sum ... for state attorneys to access as necessary to cover additional costs associate with reassigned death penalty cases."
Gov. Rick Scott has already reassigned one case -- the prosecution of Markeith Loyd, accused of murdering Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton, as well as his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon -- to another state attorney, Brad King.
The Senate proposes a $1.5 million cut.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, had promised to push for the cuts.
Ayala spokeswoman Eryka Washington said that "99.9 percent" of the cases handled by the state attorney's office in Orange and Osceola counties are not death cases. …Full Story
Fantasy sports companies DraftKings Inc. (the app is shown) and FanDuel Inc. (website) would be treated differently in pending House and Senate gambling bills.
So why would a House committee meet for 10 minutes Tuesday for the sole purpose of passing a bill clarifying that fantasy sports leagues are not gambling?
The ice has thawed on the gambling impasse.
House and Senate leaders have agreed to pass their respective bills off the floors of their chambers to set up a gaming conference for as early as next week. It's not a sign that there is a deal. But it is a sign that they're taking the issue of shoring up their gaming revenues seriously as they head into discussions over the budget.
The recent decision by a Leon County Circuit Court that determined slot machine look-alikes found in bars across the state are not illegal gambling devices. The decision was noticed by parimutuels, convenience stores and gaming centers across the state who signaled an interest in installing the machines without having to seek a gaming license. …Full Story
From the News Service of Florida:
Despite "disheartening" losses in November that left Republican in control of the White House and the U.S. Senate, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said this week his party will bounce back --- including winning state Senate seats in 2018.
Speaking to the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee on Monday, Bittel said Democrats next year "absolutely" will win state Senate seats held by Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia, Miami Republican Frank Artiles and Tampa Republican Dana Young. Garcia cannot run again because of term limits, while Artiles and Young are freshman members of the Senate. Also, Bittel said if the national mood sours further toward President Donald Trump, Democrats could pick up five state Senate seats, bringing them to parity for the first time since the 1990s. …Full Story
Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Dozens of immigrant advocate groups gathered at the Florida Capitol for a press conference on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.
Dozens of immigrant advocates, including many from South Florida, descended on the Florida Capitol on Tuesday to send a message to the Republican-led Legislature: Back off.
“We are tired of having the same conversation with our legislators, as if we — as immigrants — do not contribute to the state of Florida,” said Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We contribute economically to the state of Florida. Our families are here, and we are here to stay.”
Representatives from the coalition and several other immigrant advocacy groups came together at a press conference, where they were joined by dozens of supporters, including Democratic lawmakers.
“[We are] standing here, demanding that we stop all of this, because our families are sick and tired of being threatened of being separated,” Menes said.
Menes blasted President Donald Trump for being a “bully who is threatening to take away our funding.” (Trump signed executive orders earlier this year ordering the Department of Homeland Security to stop funding communities that were deemed “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.) …Full Story
Tampa Bay Times
Party leaders say they are private associations, but open primary advocates note that all taxpayers foot the bill for these 'private' elections
A newly released robo poll by funded by several election reform groups found that nearly three in four Floridians, 74 percent, think independent voters should be allowed to vote in the primary elections. Voters not affiliated with a political party account for about 27 percent of the Florida electorate, but are currently barred from participating in taxpayer funded primary elections.
“If the Constitution Revision Commission is listening to Florida voters, they will put a referendum on the 2018 ballot for open primaries. The big question is will they listen. There is a growing sense among voters in Florida and across the country that no one is really listening,” said John Opdycke, President of Open Primaries.
Progress For All, Florida Fair and Open Primaries, and Open Primaries funded the survey by the Democratic-leaning firm, Public Policy Polling. Other findings:
**70 percent of Florida voters, and 74 percent of Hispanics, favor a top-two open primary where all candidates appear on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and all voters are able to vote for any candidate, with the top two candidates moving on to the general election. …Full Story
Patrick Farrell / Miami Herald
Kindergarten students head out to the playground for recess at Citrus Grove Elementary School on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Florida lawmakers are again considering a statewide mandate for daily recess in public elementary schools.
Florida parents seeking more recess time for their children suffered a setback Tuesday, when state lawmakers significantly watered down a proposal that was supposed to require 20 minutes of daily recess for all public elementary students.
Members of a House subcommittee were willing to give students more recess time during the school week — but not nearly to the extent that parents have fought for for more than a year and that many lawmakers previously supported.
The original bill — which remains intact in the Senate — called for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week,” 20 minutes per day, for the nearly 1.3 million Florida children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
But under the House’s amended bill, recess would be legally required at most two days a week, and a third of all elementary students — 430,000 fourth- and fifth-graders statewide — won’t have any guarantees of recess. …Full Story
SCOTT KEELER | Times
Reps. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, and Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford.
Florida state lawmakers on Tuesday proposed cuts to Medicaid that could take as much as $621.8 million away from hospitals next year.
The proposals, put forward by the House and Senate health care budget subcommittees are meant to reduce the state budget, but they have hospitals on edge.
In the House, Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, recommended cutting the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million. However, Medicaid is mostly funded by the federal government, so every dollar the state cuts has more than double the impact. The House proposal would take $621.8 million total from hospitals.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, recommended more modest cuts in the Senate: $99.3 million from the state budget, or a $258.6 million total hit.
A ray of hope that the Senate is counting on but which the House is not: That the federal government might reinstate a pool of money meant to reimburse hospitals for unpaid care given to people who have no health coverage. Flores said she thinks it is “more likely than not” that the feds will give Florida $607 million for the Low Income Pool. …Full Story
Tampa Bay Times
Jesse Panuccio has the number three job at Justice
Most Florida political junkies assumed Attorney General Pam Bondi would wind up with a plum, high-profile job in the Trump administration, a reward for her early endorsement of the New York billionaire and part-time Floridian. Turns out, however, that the Floridian who so far has landed the most influential administration gig is someone who struggled to get confirmed by fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate.
Jesse Panuccio, Gov. Rick Scott's former general counsel and jobs chief, is acting associate attorney general of the United States, the third highest ranking official at the Department of Justice.
Quite a few Floridians have landed jobs in President Donald Trump's administration including former senior adviser to Gov. Scott Mary Anne Carter, now serving as a senior White House adviser to the National Endowment for the Arts, and former Hillsborough GOP Chairwoman Deborah Cox Roush, who is at the Department of Education's public affairs office....
More hereFull Story
Despite intense opposition from Miami-Dade County, the city of Miami and several beach communities, a second House subcommittee passed a bill Tuesday that blocks cities and counties from adopting new restrictions on the use of private homes for vacation rentals. But ordinances that were in effect as of June 1, 2011, are grandfathered and can stay in effect.
The 9-6 vote in the Careers & Competition Subcommittee sends the bill to the full Commerce Committee, a 30-member panel that is top-heavy with members from South Florida, one of the nation's hottest tourist destinations and where passions on both sides of the short-term rental controversy run very high.
The sponsor of the bill (HB 425), Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, accused local governments of an "overreach" that violates the private property rights of homeowners.
[Florida House of Representatives]
Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Tuesday that Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, was stepping down as chair of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee.
It comes less than a week after Pigman, an emergency medicine physician, was charged with driving under the influence. A state trooper stopped Pigman's Jeep early Friday on Florida's Turnpike in St. Lucie County and a Breathalyzer test showed that his blood alcohol level was .15, nearly twice the legal limit.
“Having spent a career fighting for and defending this country, Dr. Pigman knows that it is honorable to take responsibility for one's actions," Corcoran said in a statement sent by his spokesman, Fred Piccolo. "It is the honorable thing to do. Dr. Pigman has done both by informing me that he wishes to step down as chairman of the Health Quality Subcommittee."
Corcoran named Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, as the committee's acting chair.Full Story