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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Power struggle emerges over Constitution Revision Commission rules

Members of the Constitutional Revision Commission listen to residents during a town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami, April 6, 2017.

PEDRO PORTAL pportal@miamiherald.com

Members of the Constitutional Revision Commission listen to residents during a town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami, April 6, 2017.

Two months after the formation of the Constitution Revision Commission, the rules governing the 37-member panel remain in turmoil as a power struggle between the chairman and the rest of the commission has emerged.

The commission is convened every 20 years and is given the power to put proposals directly on the November 2018 ballot. The chairman, Carlos Beruff, was appointed by the governor along with 14 other members. The remaining commissioners were appointed by the House speaker, Senate president and chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Before the commission first met on March 20, Beruff proposed a set of rules to shape how the panel operates. They were modeled after the rules used by the CRC that convened in 1997-98 but modified to essentially give Beruff the authority to control which proposals made it to the ballot — more power than the chair had 20 years ago.

Beruff, who is mindful of the fact that Gov. Rick Scott is also likely to be on the 2018 ballot as a candidate for U.S. Senate, faced immediate resistance from the other commission members, who refused to adopt his rules. Read more here. 

 

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Charlie Crist, like Trump, likes to give out his cell number

Congressman Charlie Crist's business card

Times

Congressman Charlie Crist's business card

President Donald Trump has been "handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications," the AP reports.

Charlie Crist has for years given his cell number to just about anyone -- people on the street, donors, reporters -- and he hasn't changed in Washington.

Of course there's a major difference in what the president is doing.

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First Amendment Foundation also wants veto of higher education bill

Barbara Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for open government and access to public records.

Miami Herald file photo

Barbara Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for open government and access to public records.

The First Amendment Foundation wants Republican Gov. Rick Scott to now also veto a third part of the 2017-18 budget over concerns of a lack of transparency: a priority bill of Senate President Joe Negron's that includes sweeping reforms affecting Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges.

The formal veto request from the non-profit foundation -- of which the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times are members -- comes after similar requests by the organization, which called on Scott to reject the main budget act (SB 2500) and a controversial $419 million K-12 schools bill (HB  7069).

The higher ed bill (SB 374), like the public schools legislation, was among a dozen or so budget-related policy bills that lawmakers negotiated and finalized behind closed doors in the final days of session. …

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'Floridians need a champion again,' Andrew Gillum says

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, talks to members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee before delivering a luncheon speech on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, talks to members of the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee before delivering a luncheon speech on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Amid a crowded field of contenders for governor in 2018, Democrat Andrew Gillum is casting himself as the “slightly out of place” candidate who would bring years of government experience but also fresh ideas and “something different” than Florida has seen under two decades of Republican rule.

“It is our political leadership — or the lack thereof — that has failed us,” Gillum said Wednesday, speaking for nearly an hour in front of a couple hundred people at the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee. “We’ve had enough with slogans and showgames, enough with struggling to get ahead, enough with shrinking from our state’s challenges. ... Floridians need a champion again.”

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, aimed to set himself apart from other Republicans and Democrats seeking to lead the nation’s third largest state, while also acknowledging his long odds against competitors who have more prominent names Floridians likely already know.

“I recognize this is more than a notion — to be on this journey,” Gillum said, when one Tiger Bay Club member bluntly asked Gillum if he’d settle for being just lieutenant governor. …

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The clock is ticking: $82.4 billion budget sent to Rick Scott's desk

Gov. Rick Scott

CHRIS URSO | Times

Gov. Rick Scott

The clock starts today for Gov. Rick Scott who has 15 days to decide whether to sign an $82.4 billion state budget -- and just how much of it he wants to veto.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Wednesday is sending the budget bill (SB 2500) to Scott, who faces a June 15 deadline to act on it. And speculation is running wild in Tallahassee that the governor could send much of the budget right back to the Legislature.

After Scott's favored projects, economic incentive agency Enterprise Florida and tourism marketer Visit Florida, were gutted in the budget, the governor has been critical of the spending plan passed by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

"I have the opportunity to either veto the entire budget or veto parts of the budget or veto a line item," he said last week.

It's a basic fact. But it's also a reminder to legislative leaders that in his frustration, Scott could veto an entire section of the budget -- for example, the $23.7 billion K-12 education budget -- as well as sweeping policy bills that were pushed through the secretive budget process. …

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On defense , Gwen Graham rolls out big-shot enviro endorsements

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham ticked off a lot of environmentalists by voting for the Keystone pipeline as a congresswoman, and today she faced a Politico report highlighting a $50,000 contribution to her campaign by a Panama City developer who has run afoul of environmental regulators.

So Graham rolled out some old lions of Florida's enviroronmental movement - Nat Reed, Manley Fuller, and Jon Mills -- to vouch for her cred on green issues.

From a release:

"The love we all have for Florida would not be complete without our environment. Protecting our precious land and water used to be a bipartisan value, but over the past six years, Rick Scott and the Tallahassee politicians have taken our state backward," Graham said. "I have seen the destruction and worked with those trying to save our land and water on Workdays from Wakulla Springs to the Indian River. As governor, I will fight oil drilling off our beaches, ban fracking and use Amendment One funds as voters intended, to preserve our land and water." …

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Jeremy Ring jumps in race for CFO

Jeremy Ring

File

Jeremy Ring

Promising to protect Florida’s public retirement system and to focus on creating an innovation economy, former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, on Wednesday jumped into the race for chief financial officer.

Ring, 46, said he is uniquely qualified for the job, about to be vacated by Republican Jeff Atwater, as a former legislator who focused heavily on Florida’s pension and as a businessman, investor and one of the first staffers on board at Yahoo.

“I understand the business aspect I’m sure as well as anybody that can run for that seat,” said Ring, who filed papers to begin raising money and is the first major Democrat to get into the race.

It’s a rare, open statewide seat seen as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion, but no other big Democratic names are circulating for the position. The CFO is part of Florida’s Cabinet, along with the attorney general and agriculture commissioner, and was created nearly two decades ago after the Constitution Revision Commission asked voters to merge the Department of Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal and the Department of Banking and Finance into the Department of Financial Services. …

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Prosecutors want Gov. Rick Scott to veto raid on their money

Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a sweep of a state attorneys' fund.

Miami Herald

Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle wants Gov. Rick Scott to veto a sweep of a state attorneys' fund.

Florida prosecutors are lobbying Gov. Rick Scott to whip out his veto pen and wipe out the Legislature's $542.3 million raid on a wide range of trust funds, including a $10 million "sweep" of the state attorneys' revenue trust fund (page 436 of the budget).  

There's nothing new about lawmakers raiding these piggy banks, or "unobligated cash balance accounts," as the budget describes them, to pay day-to-day state operations without raising taxes or fees. (The raid on the local affordable housing trust fund alone is $95 million). But every trust fund has a powerful constituency, and in this case it's the elected law-and-order leaders across the state, people Scott might want to have on his side when he runs for the U.S. Senate next year.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle sent an email to Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera that said: "Please try to remember to ask the governor to veto state attorney sweeps." …

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Florida man: Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort has called Palm Beach Gardens his full-time home since at least April 2011, when he registered to vote.

[Bloomberg photo by Patrick Fallon]

Paul Manafort has called Palm Beach Gardens his full-time home since at least April 2011, when he registered to vote.

He was a powerful Washington insider brought on to steady Donald Trump’s campaign and is now a key figure in the escalating Russia controversy. But for all the attention Paul Manafort has attracted, one detail is little-known:

He’s a Florida resident.

Manafort has called Palm Beach Gardens his full-time home since at least April 2011, when he registered to vote. He has regularly cast ballots, including voting early in the November contest featuring Trump and Hillary Clinton, records show.

Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, bought the waterfront home in 2007 for $1.5 million, more than twice it sold for in 2000, and paid more than $15,000 in taxes in 2016. The couple previously owned property in nearby Wellington but sold that in 2004 for $1.55 million.

He also has several LLCs registered in the state.

As a Florida resident, Manafort does not have to pay state income taxes, a perk that has beckoned wealthy people from all over, including prominent Republicans such as Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, lived for a while in Miami and was considering buying a home in Sarasota before joining the campaign, the Tampa Bay Times reported in March. …

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Even in dry conditions, Zika threat looms in Florida

Aedes aegypti

AP

Aedes aegypti

From the News Service of Florida's Jim Turner:

Florida's largely dry conditions, which might appear to be more conducive to wildfires, shouldn't be seen as a reason to reduce vigilance in preventing the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

So far this year, Florida has had 50 cases of “travel-related” Zika --- people infected elsewhere who brought the disease into the state. That lags behind where Florida was at this point in 2016.

But last year's outbreak didn't explode until July and August. And state Surgeon General Celeste Philip warned Tuesday that little water is needed for mosquitoes carrying the disease to survive and breed.

“These types of mosquitoes like to live close to people, so some of the factors regarding precipitation and heavy rains are different,” Philip said. “We are still concerned that a small amount of water, say a bottle cap, is sufficient for breeding to occur.”

Also, the warm winter may have aided the survival of many of the eggs from the type of mosquito that carries the virus. …

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Jeb Bush drops bid to buy Miami Marlins

MIAMI (AP) — Jeb Bush has dropped out of the race for the Miami Marlins.

The ex-presidential candidate and former Florida governor is no longer interested in buying the Marlins and has ended his pursuit of the team, two people close to the negotiations said Tuesday.

One of the people said former New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who had been part of Bush’s group, is still exploring a bid with other investors. The two people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the parties involved aren’t commenting publicly on the status of negotiations.

A source close to the negotiations confirmed the AP report to the Tampa Bay Times.

"He is stepping back from pursuing a bid. He has great respect for Derek Jeter and they remain good friends."

The source did not elaborate on Bush's reasons.

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Senate District 40 to headed to lively primary

Florida Senate District 40

Miami Herald files

Florida Senate District 40

Candidates barreled out of the starting gate Tuesday for the abbreviated qualifying period for candidates to fill the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami, vacated by the resigned Sen. Frank Artiles, and it looks as though a lively primary is inevitable.

Former state Sen. Alex de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares qualified Tuesday for Republicans, while the Democrat list included Annette Taddeo, former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and Steve Smith. Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth qualified with no party affiliation. 

Miami Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who said last week he will resign his House seat to run for the district, has until close of business Wednesday to qualify for the seat. 

Artiles, who was elected to a two-year term in the Senate in November, resigned April 21 after a racist tirade insulting several of his Senate colleagues, and after using his political committee to hire a former Hooters "calendar" girl and a Playboy model as consultants. 

Read more: How Artiles went from defiance to resignation: Four extraordinary days at the Florida Capitol.

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Foreclosure attorney to announce AG bid

Ryan Torrens

Facebook

Ryan Torrens

Ryan Torrens will formally announce his bid for Florida Attorney General on Thursday, making him the second candidate (and first Democrat) so far to officially campaign to replace Republican incumbent Pam Bondi, whose term expires next year.

Torrens, a 32-year-old Tampa attorney, opened a campaign account last week. Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, formally launched his campaign earlier this month

Torrens specializes in foreclosure defense, representing homeowners facing mortgage claims and consumers battling abusive debt collectors. He often represents clients who run afoul of homeowner associations.

"Many of the association foreclosures in this state are nothing more than a scheme for the associations to take someone's home over failure to pay very small fees and for their attorneys to hit homeowners with excessive attorney's fees," Torrens told the Times in March. …

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Opinions around Florida: Trump takes his lumps

Donald Trump

AP

Donald Trump

If your diet of political news consisted mostly of cable news shows, you'd think Trump's time in office so far was all about Russia. But a sample of Florida's editorials shows Trump's administration is making some big moves. Take criminal justice, voter fraud and Cuba for instance...

The Tampa Bay Times' editorial board weighed in on the seismic change in how Trump's U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is approaching crime, directing federal prosecutors to seek the maximum in criminal cases.

With crime rates low and falling and local prosecutors in many states, including Florida, looking to target their resources toward violent criminals, this directive embraces a wasteful approach that will needlessly ruin lives, clog the courts and distract law enforcement from pursuing more dangerous criminals. U.S. attorneys should continue to use their discretion even under this order to balance toughness with their larger obligation to charge responsibly. …

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First Amendment Foundation seeks veto of education bill 'decided in secret'

Barbara Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for open government and access to public records.

Miami Herald file photo

Barbara Petersen is president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for open government and access to public records.

Not only is the First Amendment Foundation asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto next year's $82.4 billion budget -- the group is also now requesting a veto specifically for House Bill 7069, the controversial $419 million education bill that's tied to overall spending approved for 2017-18.

As with the main budget act, the foundation says its concern with HB 7069 lies with how the legislation was crafted, not with the policies or appropriations within it.

"According to all reports, major education policy decisions included in HB 7069 were largely decided in secret by a small number of legislators," wrote Barbara Petersen, president of the foundation -- which counts the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times among its members.

RELATED: "Potential new laws further curb Floridians’ right to government in the Sunshine"

"The secretive process precluded any opportunity for public oversight or input on major changes to Florida’s education policy," Petersen wrote. "Alarmingly, local school officials were also shut out of the process, as were many legislators who were ultimately asked to approve this voluminous and complicated legislation decided in a manner closed even to them." …

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