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Sunday, Feb 14, 2016

Fresh Squeezed

A Florida Politics Blog

Made fresh, never frozen, here's the juice on local and state politics from the staff of The Tampa Tribune and The St. Petersburg Tribune.

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Clerks could see budget relief

TALLAHASSEE -- Help is on the way for Florida’s clerks of courts, who have seen a huge reduction in their operating revenues over the last several years and are facing another round of budget cuts and staff layoffs this year.

Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate that the 2016-17 budget has $12.9 million to deal with their budget shortfall this year – roughly half the $25.8 million reduction estimated by the Legislative Budget Committee.

Several things have contributed to the clerks, which are supposed to be self-sufficient agencies that operate on money they raise from court fees, traffic ticket fines and other court-related payments.

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Senators work toward compromise on Uber. Lyft insurance

TALLAHASSEE -- On the eve of an important committee hearing on statewide ride-hailing regulations, Sen. Jeff Brandes has introduced an amendment to bring the senate version of statewide insurance regulations more in line with what the House has already approved.

It isn’t the only difference between the two versions, but it is the most important one, Brandes said Monday.

“Insurance is the lynchpin,” Brandes said. Once that gets squared away, he said, “Everything else will fall into place.”

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Gambling bills to be discussed next week

TALLAHASSEE -- Two gambling-related bills will get their first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee chaired by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming.

Bradley is one of the two negotiators of a new, $3 billion gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, signed by Gov. Rick Scott Dec. 7. The other negotiator was Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Both bills are preliminary drafts, barely a couple of paragraphs long. Final drafts could be made available before Tuesday’s 1:30 pm hearing in Tallahassee. But legislative leaders have said passage is going to be tough given the competing interests of the pari-mutuel industry and opposition from some Senate leaders.

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Uber-friendly bill passes House but Senate may hold challenges

TALLAHASSEE — Uber and Lyft lobbyists are hailing the 108-10 passage of a Florida House version of a bill to take local control of ride-hailing companies away from local governments, but they still have a difficult road ahead with the Senate.

Soon after the passage of HB 509,the bill by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, Matt Gore, general manager for Uber in Florida, issued a statement commending the “bipartisan coalition of Florida House members who voted overwhelmingly to pass this sensible, modern ridesharing legislation.”

Chelsea Wilson, public policy manager for Lyft said the bill “allows innovative transportation options like Lyft to continue to grow and thrive in Florida. We applaud the House of Representatives for passing comprehensive rules that provide clarity for drivers and consumers across the state, and urge the Senate to do the same.”

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Bill legalizing fantasy games moves forward

TALLAHASSEE — A bill sponsored by Senate President-designate Joe Negron of Stuart to legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports games passed out of the Regulated Industries Committee Wednesday morning, but not without a debate over whether the game constituted chance or skill.

Negron’s bill would make daily fantasy sports legal in Florida by basically saying it’s not a form of gambling but a form of amusement. It would set up an Office of Amusements, set up a regulatory framework and ability to suspend a license if any misconduct was found.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and chairman of the committee, said he was the last person to stand on a rooftop and advocate for criminalizing people who play fantasy games, but he was not sure that it wasn’t a form of gambling.

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Anti-gambling group hits petition review threshold

TALLAHASSEE -- The anti-gambling group No Casinos! announced today it has collected 100,000 signature s for its Voters in Charge ballot initiative and is submitting them to county election supervisors to be validated for judicial review.

State law requires 68,314 valid signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the ballot language.

“When we launched this petition drive in October, we outlined a plan that called for hitting this goal of collecting enough signatures, that when validated, would result in the total needed for the Supreme Court to review the initiative, and we have achieved that goal,” said John Sowinski, President of No Casinos!

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Measure would let voters decide on statewide charter school commission

TALLAHASSEE -- A House measure pushing a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would create a statewide charter school commission cleared the House preK-12 subcommittee Wednesday morning along party lines.

Opponents, all Democrats, said the amendment would strip local school boards of their authority to approve and supervise charter schools in their communities.

But Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, sponsor of House Joint Resolution 759, said it wouldn’t usurp the authority of local elected school boards, but provide an alternate path for charter applicants.

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Joyner calls for reinstatement of pediatric heart standards

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, lambasted Gov. Rick Scott and the Surgeon General for getting rid of pediatric heart surgery standards that led to the closing of one private hospital’s program, urging them to reinstate those standards.

The letter, sent out Friday to Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong and copied to Scott and Senate Democrats, was sent after CNN reported this week that the state dropped pediatric health care standards two months after Gov. Scott and the Florida GOP received contributions totaling $200,000 from Tenet Health Healthcare.

“As you are well aware, these standards were the benchmark against which the performance of one hospital was measured in the wake of multiple deaths and one paralysis of children who underwent heart surgeries,” Joyner wrote.

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Uber/Lyft regulations move forward

TALLAHASSEE — A bill to create a statewide regulatory framework for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft cruised through the Florida House of Representatives this week but could face a roadblock once it reaches the Senate.

It moved out of the House Economic Affairs Committee this week and could be up for a vote on the House floor by the third week of session, House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, predicted on Thursday afternoon.

It is expected to pass.

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Lawmakers move to boost spending on special-needs students

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate was full of praise for President Andy Gardiner Wednesday as it unanimously passed legislation of his held over from last year to expand educational options for children with special needs.

The bill, on its way to the House of Representatives, would provide $73 million to the Personal Learning Spending Account program and make it a permanent part of the Florida statutes. It would give about 7,300 families scholarships averaging about $10,000 apiece to spend as they see fit on the educational needs of a child with special learning needs or developmental disabilities.

It would also create a way for colleges and universities to offer a Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program for students with disabilities and a statewide clearinghouse with information for parents.

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