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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Ros-Lehtinen says she would have broken GOP ranks in Internet privacy vote

Two Miami Republicans, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, voted this week to lift restrictions on internet providers from tracking and sharing personal data without consent, joining a Republican majority that sent the legislation to President Donald Trump's desk.

Diaz-Balart's office said he supported the bill because it "eliminates confusing regulations" that allow both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet. The FCC rules that would be repealed by the law apply only to major providers like Verizon but not to giant websites like Google.

"This evens the playing field for the entire internet," Diaz-Balart spokeswoman Katrina Valdés said in a statement. "At the end of the day, the bill doesn't strip consumer privacy, but rather, strengthens the power of the one agency that had already been enforcing it."

Curbelo made a similar argument. …

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Florida water agency says it's OK to cut river flow 5%

Despite strong public opposition, the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted unanimously Tuesday to allow so much pumping from the aquifer that it could lower the flow of the Rainbow River by 5 percent.

The vote, taken after four hours of testimony, sets a "minimum flow" for the river, which is popular with tubers, rafters, canoeists and kayakers.  (See video.)

The Ocala Star Banner quoted the head of the Rainbow River Conservation Inc., Burt Eno, as saying after the vote, "Their mission is to find water (to allow continued development. I think the staff knows very well they're practicing junk science." He predicted a lawsuit.

This is not the first time the agency known as "Swiftmud" has enountered opposition to its setting of lower flow amounts for the region's rivers, an effort that other water districts are also undertaking around the state.

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Iowa senator wants answers on Florida ALF sex tape

The case of a Florida assisted living facility employee who was charged with shooting video of two residents having sex and posting it on Snapchat has caught the attention of Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Grassley fired off a letter Wednesday to the Bristol Court Assisted Living Facility 3479 54th Ave N in St. Petersburg, the ALF that formerly employed Alexis Gloria Rebecca Williams, 20. Williams, who was arrested last week,, told detectives that she recorded the video of the two ALF residents engaging in consensual sex and posted it on the social media site "for her own amusement," a Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman said. 

“This reported behavior, perpetrated against one of the most vulnerable populations in our country, is absolutely abhorrent,” Grassley wrote to the administrator of the Bristol Court ALF.

Grassley took up the cause of what he called "humiliating social media posts involving nursing home or assisted living residents" last year, and has called on social media companies such as Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook to "prevent their platforms from being used in the commission of crimes and abuse, especially against vulnerable populations."

 

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House targets judiciary with new redistricting rules

Versions of draft legislative maps from 2012

Miami Herald

Versions of draft legislative maps from 2012

In an aggressive attempt to weaken the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution, a House committee on Wednesday passed legislation to create new hurdles to legal challenges to the maps lawmakers draw. 

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee voted along party lines to change the implementation of the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the constitution, which subjected the Republican-led Legislature to years of litigation and an embarrassing admission that they intentionally drew districts that favored incumbents and parties in violation of the law. 

Under the amendment added to HB 953 by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, any challenges to a redistricting map would have to occur within 60 days after the maps are passed, effectively short-circuiting the time challengers can obtain records and documents to prepare a case. 

The bill also suspends any litigation that occurs 71 days before candidates qualify for election and freezes the districts in place until after the election. And, in an attempt to turn the tables on the judiciary if it must resolve a dispute over the maps, the bill subjects judges to cross-examination. Story here. 

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Pam Bondi hosts Women's Empowerment Panel at White House

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks at the Women's Empowerment Panel on Wednesday at the White House.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais | Associated Press

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks at the Women's Empowerment Panel on Wednesday at the White House.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was the host Wednesday for the Women's Empowerment Panel at the White House.

Also in attendance was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

President Donald Trump stopped by to make remarks and was accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.

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Trump ad promises 'it's only just begun'

Here's the Trump ad playing in Florida and other states.

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House passes 12-year term limits for justices and judges

Florida House

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Florida House

Justices on the Florida Supreme Court and judges on state appellate courts would be forced out of office after 12 years under a constitutional amendment that the Florida House barely passed Wednesday.

The measure, which would be the first of its kind in the country, has been criticized by business groups and conservative and liberal lawyers. To make it into the state Constitution, it needs to pass the Florida Senate, where it has not been given a single committee hearing, and gain 60 percent of voters’ support.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, says the amendment (HJR 1) would give greater accountability to the judicial branch. Supreme Court justices and judges serve until they are 70 years old and face voters every six years in a yes-or-no merit retention election.

“Today, we have a judiciary that is legislating from the bench,” Sullivan said. “It is not accountable to the people.” …

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Florida woman wants Trump apology, refund

FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) — President Donald Trump's $25 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that alleged fraud at his now-defunct Trump University may be put on hold because a former student in Florida wants a full refund plus interest and an apology.

A federal judge in San Diego will decide Thursday whether to let Sherri Simpson opt out of the settlement and sue the president individually.

Simpson, a Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy and consumer rights attorney, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she thinks Trump should acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize. Simpson and a partner paid $35,000 in 2010 to enroll in Trump University's "Gold Elite" program, where they were supposed to be paired with a mentor who would teach them Trump's secret real estate investment strategies.

Like other members of the lawsuit, Simpson said they got little for their money — the videos were 5 years old, the materials covered information that could be found free on the internet and her mentor didn't return calls or emails. Under terms of the settlement, Trump admitted no wrongdoing and the students will get back 80 percent of their enrollment fees — about $28,000 for Simpson and her partner. …

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Pro-Trump TV ads to air in Florida

The following is from Bloomberg Politics:

With President Donald Trump trying to find his footing after his failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a group of wealthy backers is launching a 10-state media blitz to pressure Democratic senators to support him -- or at least think twice about piling on.

Making America Great, a nonprofit run by Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s most influential donors, will begin airing $1 million in television ads on Wednesday, coupled with a $300,000 digital advertising campaign. The TV ads will run in the District of Columbia, along with ten states Trump carried in the presidential election where a Democratic senator is up for re-election in 2018: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Montana and Pennsylvania. The digital campaign also will focus on voters in those states. …

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Gwen Graham smacks Florida Legislature over fracking

Presumed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham of Tallahassee is taking shots at Republican legislators over a bill that would allow Florida Power & Light to charge customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states and also for not yet moving on on a House bill that would ban fracking in Florida.

"“Out of touch politicians in Tallahassee are moving to allow fracking in Florida — and they want to make Florida families pay for it. I've spent years fighting to stop fracking because I know our water and state's unique geology could be harmed by even limited fracking," Graham said in a statement. "We must stop Republicans from passing this bill and finally ban fracking in Florida once and for all."

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'Best & Brightest' expansion ready for full House vote

A bill to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program is ready for a full House vote, after clearing the 30-member Appropriations Committee this afternoon on a party-line vote.

HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week.

The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT.

MORE: "Another budget showdown looms over ‘Best & Brightest’ teacher bonuses"

The number of educators who would be eligible for the money would increase greatly. Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he doesn’t yet have an estimate for how many might be eligible, but he told the Appropriations Committee funding it at $214 million -- as the House proposes to do -- is intended to keep the awards at around $10,000 per person. …

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Senate plan gives Gov. Rick Scott job incentive money, but there's a catch

Gov. Rick Scott

MONICA HERNDON/Times

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott would get the $85 million he has asked the Legislature for to continue to hand out job incentives to companies to move to Florida, but with a big caveat, under a plan the Florida Senate rolled out this morning. The Senate would allow just $45 million of that to go to new job incentive projects.

And on Visit Florida, the state's embattled tourism marketing agency, the Senate would give $76 million, close to what they received this year.

A Senate budget writing committee led by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, advanced a plan that would put only $45 million of new funding into two programs Scott uses to hand out tax credits to businesses to move to the state in return for creating jobs. Another $38.4 million would be set aside for past incentive contracts that have already been agreed to with companies. Scott asked for a flat $85 million in January, but his spending proposal did not block of just $45 million for new projects. 

While not exactly how he requested it, Scott has to like the Senate plan more than the House's plan which would eliminate all funding for the tax incentive programs and would cut Visit Florida's budget to just $25 million. …

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Bondi appointed to Trump's drug commission, headed by Christie

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second from right, looks on in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is at the far left.

[Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images]

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a panel discussion on an opioid and drug abuse as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, second from right, looks on in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is at the far left.

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Pam Bondi has been appointed to President Trump's Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, which will be led by Chris Christie.

"Thousands of Americans each year die from drug overdoses," Bondi said in a statement. "I want to thank the President of the United States, Governor Christie and many others for caring about this deadly epidemic."

At the White House today, Bondi sat in on a "listening session" on the issue, joining Christie, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, VA Secretary David Shulkin, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Omarosa Manigault, and other administration officials.

Later today, Bondi will moderate a women's empowerment panel at the White House.

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Richard Corcoran talks of 'consequences' at prayer breakfast

House Speaker Richard Corcoran spoke at Wednesday's Legislative Prayer Breakfast in Tallahassee.

Steve Bousquet - Times

House Speaker Richard Corcoran spoke at Wednesday's Legislative Prayer Breakfast in Tallahassee.

On a day when stark differences in priorities by the House and Senate came into sharper focus, House Speaker Richard Corcoran spoke at the annual legislative prayer breakfast Wednesday at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee. The yearly event is sponsored by the Florida Faith & Freedom Coalition, part of the national conservative group founded and led by Ralph Reed and based in suburban Atlanta.

"It's that truth that you tap into and you say, 'I will fight for truth,'" Corcoran said in a brief speech. "And I will stand, regardless of the consqeuences, and that doesn't happen without your prayers and your support."

Midway through Week 4 of the scheduled nine-week session, Corcoran and the House are on a collision course with the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott on a range of issues including public school and university funding, tax cuts and Enterprise Florida's future. …

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Philip Levine calls for statewide referendum on minimum wage after loss in court

Philip Levine

[Miami Herald]

Philip Levine

From the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas:

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's proposal to raise the city's mandatory minimum wage above the statewide minimum was met with unanimous approval from the City Commission, but it failed its first legal test Tuesday when a Miami-Dade circuit judge invalidated the ordinance.

Passed in June 2016, the ordinance mandates Beach employers to pay a minimum wage of $10.31 starting Jan. 1, 2018, and a dollar more each year until 2021. The current state-mandated minimum is $8.10. The initiative, praised by labor groups and decried by business associations, also became a political talking point for Levine, who is now considering a run for governor and is frequently included in the conversation of potential Democratic nominees.

But on Tuesday, Levine suffered a legislative and political setback when the minimum wage ordinance was struck down after big business groups and Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged the city's right to set its own minimum.  …

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