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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Black caucus demands Rick Scott rescind order taking Orlando prosecutor off cop-killer case

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, led by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, call on Gov. Rick Scott to rescind an executive order removing the Orange-Osceola state attorney from a case after she said she would not seek the death penalty.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, led by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, call on Gov. Rick Scott to rescind an executive order removing the Orange-Osceola state attorney from a case after she said she would not seek the death penalty.

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called for Gov. Rick Scott to change his mind and rescind an executive order that transfered the case of a man accused of killing a police officer in Orlando away from the local state attorney after she declared she would not seek the death penalty.

The order, signed by Scott last Thursday after State attorney Aramis Ayala publicly said she would not seek death for Markeith Loyd or any other accused murderer while she is in office, gives the Loyd case to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King.

Since the order, Scott has faced pressure from all sides. Some, including lawmakers, have demanded he suspend Ayala from office. Others, among them a group of lawyers and former state Supreme Court justices, call Scott's decision an overreach.

"Gov. Scott's hasty response to State Attorney Ayala's announcement set a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face of the voters who carried her into office," said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, the chairman of the black caucus. "In this way, the order operated as little more than an unfettered and uninformed power grab by the governor's office over a difference of opinion." …

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Miami officials urge legislature to halt FPL transmission bill being 'bulldozed' through

Officials from several Miami-Dade communities impacted by an 88-mile transmission line sought by Florida Power & Light through the county’s most affluent and environmentally sensitive areas pleaded with a Senate committee Wednesday not to approve legislation to allow the company to build the line without considering local development rules.

The bill, SB 1048 by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, would overturn an April 2016 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal that said the governor and Cabinet failed to consider Miami-Dade County’s environmental rules when they signed off on allowing FPL to string a transmission line through Everglades marshes and fragile wetlands.

Despite their appeals, the Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill with only one no vote — that of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, whose district includes the entire corridor of the transmission line along U.S. 1 from Cutler Bay, through Pinecrest, South Miami and Coral Gables to a substation in Coconut Grove. …

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Florida Insider Poll: Will Richard Corcoran run against Rick Scott? For gov? For attorney general?

With so much hostility between Gov. Rick Scott and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, we've heard speculation that Speaker Corcoran could be preparing to challenge Scott for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination rather than for governor as widely assumed. So we turned to nearly 200 savvy Florida political players for our latest Florida Insider Poll.

How do these folks see Corcoran's future? A whopping 74 percent expect the Land O'Lakes Republican to run for governor in 2018, 14 percent expect he will wind up running for attorney general, 6 percent said senator and 4 percent predicted he will run for Senate.

"Corcoran's potential candidacy for Governor or Senate looms large over everything right now in the state. With conservative activist ideological backing, political savvy and strong funding sources, Corcoran will primary either Rick Scott or Adam Putnam it appears," one Democrat said. "I tend to believe it will be Putnam that he faces in a primary since Corcoran's ideological zeal and quest for power tends to fit state government better than being a junior member of the US Senate." …

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A Florida Republican frets party squandering opportunity on health care

Rep. Dennis Ross in Washington

Alex Leary | Times

Rep. Dennis Ross in Washington

"If we don't pass this out of the House, this is the beginning of the end for us as a Republican Party," U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross said, predicting voters will exact revenge on lawmakers who have campaigned against the Affordable Care Act — and taken dozens of symbolic votes against it — but falter now that they have the power to do something real.

"I would love to do more," Ross told the Tampa Bay Times. "But I can't go home with nothing. This process never gives you the perfect product. It's like a marriage, there's a give and take. So to my ultra conservative friends, I get frustrated because I think they may have some sense of ignorance to the process."

"If we can't muster enough to get this over to the Senate, which will change it, we won't be able to go on to tax reform, infrastructure, Dodd-Frank, just about anything," he added. "This will basically shut us down because we'll be so fractionalized."

More here.

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Constitution Commission announces hearings in Orlando and South Florida

From a release:

Constitution Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff today announced the first four scheduled stops on the statewide “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour being hosted by the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).  The Commission will be at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orange County on Wednesday, March 29 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida International University (FIU) in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m.; Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Palm Beach County on Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-noon; and the University of West Florida (UWF) in Escambia County on Wednesday, April 12 from 4-7 p.m. (central time). …

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Miami-Dade-backed legislation cracking down on 'rogue' condo associations advances

Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016.

Roberto Koltun / el Nuevo Herald

Hundreds of Miami-Dade County condominium owners marched in protest in the city of Doral on April 16, 2016.

A plan from Miami-Dade lawmakers to penalize fraud and abuse in condominium associations earned unanimous initial approval in House and Senate committees this week.

The bills, most notably, impose new criminal penalties for falsifying association documents, committing fraud in association elections and refusing to turn over administrative records, among other reforms.

"A lot of these reforms are a long time coming," said Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, who is sponsoring the Senate bill (SB 1682) with Sen. René García, R-Hialeah. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance their bill Wednesday.

MORE: "Miami-Dade lawmakers want criminal penalties for fraud and abuse by condo directors"

García said some condo associations have "gone a little rogue; it's gotten out of control."

"There are hundreds of people living in condos who don't feel they have a voice," he said. "We, as elected members, represent a constituency and these board members also represent a constituency. There should be accountability measures in place to ensure they take care of the monies of the association and the residents of the association." …

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Marco Rubio for governor? Nope, he says

Sen. Marco Rubio says he won’t run for governor in 2018.

“Me running for governor? No, I’m going to be in the Senate. Six years from now, I’ll either be running for re-election for the Senate or doing something different,” Rubio told the Shark Tank.

The possibility has recently crossed our mind, too, and recall that Rubio promised as a presidential candidate not to run for re-election to the Senate.

I have only said like 10000 times I will be a private citizen in January.

Rubio previously ruled out a run for governor after dropping out of the presidential race. He crushed talk of his political collapse by routing Democratic Senate challenger Patrick Murphy and would enjoy widespread name recognition that, say, Adam Putnam does not have.

But Rubio says that’s not going to happen.

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Republicans accused of advancing 'union-busting' proposal with little chance at becoming law

Florida House

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida House

Florida’s public-sector labor unions — which represent thousands of workers ranging from school teachers to public utility linemen — would have to convince their members to pay up or else risk being shut down, under a controversial plan by House Republicans that is now headed to the floor despite little chance at becoming law.

HB 11 is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, but it drew resounding backlash from Democrats and labor leaders who say the measure is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bust up unions.

It passed the Government Accountability Committee on a 14-8, party-line vote Wednesday, its second of only two committee stops.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, argues his proposal is about “transparency and democracy” because it would ensure labor unions serving government workers are accountable to and financially supported by at least a majority of the workers the union is supposed to represent. …

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White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.) …

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Floridians debate Medicaid block grants before AHCA vote

As lawmakers on a Capitol Hill consider overhauling the federal health instance program for the poor, a debate has bubbled up over what the changes would mean for Floridians.

Earlier this month, the Florida House passed a resolution urging Congress to establish a so-called block grant program, which would give states a set amount of money to spend for Medicaid and the flexibility to spend it as they see fit. The resolution passed along party lines.

Said Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola: “It would allow us to innovate and find programs that fit Florida best.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott also supports the push for Medicaid block grants. Late Friday, Scott sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price asking for increased flexibility even before Congress takes formal action.

“My goal is to turn the top-down, Washington-knows-best approach of the Obama Administration on its head by requesting flexibilities from the Trump Administration to manage our own Medicaid program based on the needs of Florida families,” he said in a statement.

But on Wednesday, a coalition of consumer groups painted a different picture. …

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Rick Scott calls out Richard Corcoran, Pinellas state lawmakers

Rick Scott, with Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson, during a Wednesday appearance at Allen Sports Center in Seminole.

[Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times]

Rick Scott, with Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson, during a Wednesday appearance at Allen Sports Center in Seminole.

From Times staff photographer Scott Keeler:

The Gov. Rick Scott Road Show continues.

On Wednesday, Scott's tour defending his key agencies, Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, landed him at Allen Sports Center in Seminole, where 75 business officials greeted him.

"It's shocking to me that the House of Representatives and many of your local House members voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida and limit Visit Florida," Scott said. "I mean, this is about people's livelihood and their jobs."

Ken Lawson, the newly minted Visit Florida CEO, sat next to Scott as he read from a sheet of paper, where the names of the House members who voted against his agencies were written in black marker.

The names that Scott mentioned: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and local Reps. Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, Larry Ahern, of Pinellas; Jamie Grant, of Tampa; and  Amber Mariano and Danny Burgess, both Pasco. 

Scott spent an hour at the family-owned sporting goods store, where he talked about his experience running a donut shop and HCA. He emphasized the importance of marketing in running a successful business. 

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Rubio noncommittal on health care bill

Sen. Marco Rubio refused Wednesday to take a position on the GOP's Obamacare replacement bill, saying it is a "work in progress."

"By the time I give you a statement now, that bill could change in the next 12 hours and then I'm on record of supporting something that changed," Rubio said on Jacksonville radio station WOKV.

He's right that the bill could change before the end of the day as Speaker Paul Ryan, President Trump and others are trying to rally enough votes. "They've got their own drama going on over there," Rubio said of the House.

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Jeb Bush joins board of Boca Raton communications-tower firm

Jeb Bush has joined the board of directors of Vertical Bridge, a communications-tower company based in Boca Raton.

In a statement released by the company, the former Florida governor and 2016 presidential hopeful praised Vertical Bridge's growth "and the smart capital deployment" of its parent Company, Digital Bridge.

"I have long been a strong proponent of the role that improved telecommunications infrastructure can and should play in enhancing our quality of life in so many diverse ways," Bush said. "I look forward to contributing to the continued progress at Vertical Bridge."

The company, which is three years old, says it's the largest private owner and manager of telecommunications assets in the country. It's looking to Bush's expertise as the federal government moves to expand infrastructure for an integrated communications network for first responders, said Marc Ganzi, Vertical Bridge's executive chairman and co-founder.

"Public safety is going to be a big growth area," Ganzi said. "Having a public servant like the governor on our board -- who understands public safety, first responders and public agencies -- that was the real, strategic push for why we brought him in." …

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Florida House Republicans proceeding carefully on Obamacare replacement

To understand the struggle GOP leaders face in getting votes for the American Health Care Act, consider this careful batch of Florida representatives:

Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City: “No decision yet.”

Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City: “He hasn’t announced his decision.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach: No response from a spokeswoman.

Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont: “He is reading through the changes and making sure he understands the impact to Florida in particular.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami: "The Congressman is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami: “The congressman is encouraged by the enhancements made to the BetterCare proposal. As of now, these changes substantially increase resources available for lower income and older Americans. He recognizes there remains more to be done and he’s still working with colleagues in both the House and the Senate to improve the legislation and create a healthcare system truly puts patients first.”

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Mailers, Facebook ad press Sen. Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court

Mailer

CVA

Mailer

A conservative group is dropping new mailers in Florida today to keep up pressure on Sen. Bill Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

This is the second direct mail piece from Concerned Veterans for America, and it makes a patriotic appeal, asking if Nelson will "protect the freedoms you fought to defend."

"Each piece of mail directs citizens to call a CVA switchboard where they are informed about Neil Gorsuch’s record and then patched through to Senator Nelson’s office," the group said. It is also targeting Democratic senators in Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Maine and Montana.

Nelson, facing re-election next year, has not said how he'll vote on Gorsuch.

UPDATE: The Republican National Commitee is also using a Facebook ad.

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