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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Anti-abortion activists target Sen. Nelson in Gorsuch confirmation battle

Anti-abortion activists working to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will demonstrate outside Sen. Bill Nelson's Tampa office tomorrow.

Local activists will be joined by members of Susan B. Anthony List for the noon event, according to a release.

Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, faces pressure from the right and left.

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'We choose life,' say churches calling to stop executions

Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013, calls for an end to the death penalty surrounded by church leaders in the state Capitol on Tuesday.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

Darlene Farah, whose daughter Shelby was murdered in 2013, calls for an end to the death penalty surrounded by church leaders in the state Capitol on Tuesday.

As state lawmakers prepare to pass legislation requiring juries vote unanimously to sentence convicted murderers to death, a coalition of churches has a different idea: Abolish the death penalty entirely.

Members of the Florida Council of Churches and representatives from the AME and Catholic denominations on Tuesday called on lawmakers to pass a moratorium on executions, citing high cost of death penalty appeals, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the impact on victims' families being forced to relive their loved one's murder repeatedly in court.

"Even if we pass unanimous juries, we still haven't solved the economic issues and we still haven't solved the fact that familiesk eep being dragged through this trauma over and over again," said Rev. Russell Meyer, a Lutheran pastor from Tampa and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.

What's more, they say, there is a moral problem with the state killing people -- even the most depraved criminals.

"The church has come today on the issue of life and death," said AME Rev. James Golden. "We choose life." …

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Trump advisor Stephen Miller to attend Fox News town hall in Jacksonville

Fox News is hosting a town hall from Jacksonville at 7 tonight that will focus on immigration.

Among those attending is Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old aide to President Trump who was involved in the crafting of the controversial travel ban, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has drawn fire for complying with Trump's directive on sanctuary cities.

"Moderated by Martha MacCallum, the town hall will feature a dialogue between key newsmakers and Florida voters on the issue of immigration in the context of national security and jobs."

Newsmakers:

White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller

Rep. Ron DeSantis

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Former ICE Director Sarah Saldan

Immigration attorneys Francisco Hernandez, Joanne Fakhre and Karen Winston

Florida Coastal law professor Ericka Curran

St. Johns County under sheriff Matthew Cline

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Trump's visits to Florida costing taxpayers millions

CBS News looks at the costs of President Trump's frequent travel to Florida, which by some estimates is up to $10 million.

The piece includes an interview with Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch, which is pressing the White House to reveal the costs. Trump has gone to Florida the past three weekends. "He doesn't need to go to Florida every weekend," Fitton says. "He can work at the White House or up at Camp David."

>>> We profiled Judicial Watch during the 2016 election <<<

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Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida backs Perez in DNC race

A few days before the Democratic National Committee is slated to pick its next chairman, one group of Florida Democrats has made an endorsement in the race.

The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida announced Tuesday it has endorsed Tom Perez for chair. Perez, the only Hispanic in the running, was secretary of labor under former President Barack Obama. He's also a former assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

"Tom's perspective and powerful life story will be assets in the fight ahead, standing up to the Trump Administration and expanding our party's big tent," Democratic Hispanic Caucus John A. Ramos said in a statement. "In our experience, our party can only succeed when the stakeholders involved are as diverse as possible. Tom will create an inclusive DNC and speak to everyone who shares our values of opportunity to get our party winning in Florida and across the country."

Earlier this month, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida endorsed one of Perez's rivals, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, calling him a "clear and passionate voice for all people."

The DNC election will take place Saturday in Atlanta.

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Should food stamps be used to buy soda and candy? A Tampa Bay lawmaker says no

A Florida EBT card

Florida Department of Children and Families

A Florida EBT card

Should people who get food stamps in Florida be allowed to buy candy and soda with them? A newly-elected Tampa Bay legislator says no, and he's pushing to change state law to prevent it.

MassulloRepublican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto is one of 24 GOP freshmen in the state House and represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties on the North Suncoast. He's also an industrial engineer and a dermatologist who says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children.

"The fact that we're allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease," Massullo said in a Times/Herald interview. "I don't want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don't want government making us sick." …

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Advocates for gun safety set to take on Republican-led Florida Legislature today

A bullet was lodged in Steve Frappier’s laptop after suspected shooter Esteban Santiago opened fire in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. Frappier has become a gun-safety advocate and is speaking out against proposals in the Florida Legislature that would allow the open-carrying of guns and allow guns in airports and other areas that are currently “gun-free zones.”

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A bullet was lodged in Steve Frappier’s laptop after suspected shooter Esteban Santiago opened fire in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6. Frappier has become a gun-safety advocate and is speaking out against proposals in the Florida Legislature that would allow the open-carrying of guns and allow guns in airports and other areas that are currently “gun-free zones.”

Steve Frappier was one of the lucky ones in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6.

As a gunman abruptly opened fire that afternoon, killing five and wounding six, Frappier escaped injury when a bullet miraculously struck the laptop in his backpack instead of him.

Frappier, a former Coconut Grove resident who moved to Atlanta last summer, is taking that life-changing experience and turning it into advocacy.

He has joined Everytown for Gun Safety and other national gun-control organizations in calling on Florida lawmakers to oppose a slew of NRA-backed measures this spring that would make it easier for conceal-carry permit-holders to have guns in public places.

Among those measures is one that now hits close to home for Frappier: Allowing concealed guns in airport terminals.

Some conservative lawmakers argue the Fort Lauderdale airport tragedy might have had a different outcome or might have ended sooner with fewer casualties had concealed-weapons permit-holders been legally allowed to carry their guns in baggage claim.

The shooting lasted less than 90 seconds. …

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Bill Nelson's post-election pep talk: 'It has been a difficult slog'

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.

MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol.

Sen. Bill Nelson sounded a little like the coach of a losing team in the locker room at half time Monday as he made the rounds in the state Capitol, delivering pep talks to House and Senate Democrats.

"I know that it has been a difficult slog," Nelson told a gathering of six Senate Democrats. "We ended up with one net plus in the Florida Senate. But the next time around is a very, very good opportunity for Democrats. I think you see the lay of the land on the national scene, and I think that's going to translate in all the races on the ballot."

The only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, Nelson is holding out hope that progressives upset about President Donald Trump's election will turn out in massive numbers to vote in 2018.

He needs that hope. He'll be on the ballot, too, defending himself first against possible primary challenges from several Democrats mulling a run and then against the winner of a Republican primary in which Gov. Rick Scott is already seen as a favorite in Tallahassee. …

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Richard Corcoran's offer: Keep Visit Florida, slash budget to $25 million, end bonuses, freeze benefits, cut travel

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Times/Herald

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

On the eve of a key committee vote, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday offered what he considers an olive branch: He would let Visit Florida survive but with a much-reduced annual budget of $25 million and restrictions on bonuses, benefits and travel.

Gov. Rick Scott's office responded by calling a "67 percent cut to tourism marketing" unacceptable, and said: "More than a million Florida families rely on jobs in our tourism industry and are threatened with this massive cut." Scott's office said he supports transparency and accountability at Visit Florida and has proved it with "changes (and) new leadership at Visit Florida."

A Corcoran-crafted amendment to an incentives bill (HB 7005) to be offered by Rep. Paul Renner in the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday would require Visit Florida to agree to a series of restrictions as conditions for getting a $25 million a year from the Legislature. …

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Senate Democratic leader to Gov. Rick Scott: Treat opioid crisis as a public health emergency

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, speaks to reporters during the annual AP Florida Legislative Planning Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Jan. 31, 2017.

Steve Cannon / AP

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, speaks to reporters during the annual AP Florida Legislative Planning Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Jan. 31, 2017.

Florida Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency over the growing opioid epidemic in the state.

“No longer confined to small urban enclaves, heroin and fentanyl have become the scourge of communities throughout Florida, wreaking widespread devastation not only from the ravages of addiction, but the resurgence of deadly diseases associated with drug abuse,” Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens, wrote in a letter to Scott on Monday.

“There is no family, no race, no ethnicity, no income level this epidemic cannot touch — and no effective state bulwark in place to stop it,” Braynon added.

MORE: Read Braynon’s letter to Scott

Citing “recent news reports” based on Florida Department of Law Enforcement data, Braynon wrote that the number of heroin deaths in Florida rose nearly 80 percent from 2014 to 2015, while the number of fentanyl deaths rose 77 percent in the same time. …

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Rick Scott, reacting to Buzz blog post, calls out 'absurd' House Republicans for 'hypocrisy' and 'playing games'

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday went after "absurd" House Republicans for "hypocrisy" and "playing games" in response to a post on this blog that quoted two high-ranking GOP lawmakers as saying they would vote to wipe out Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida as part of a broader "conversation" about the future of the jobs and tourism programs.

The earlier blog post that immediately got the governor's attention can be found here.

As tensions continue to rise in the state Capitol between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, Scott sent an opinion column to all Florida newspapers for immediate online use and for Tuesday's print editions. In the op-ed, Scott ratcheted up his criticism of his fellow Republicans. …

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Trump golfed more than a 'couple' holes in Florida

The White House today acknowledged that President Trump played more than a "a couple" holes of golf yesterday in Florida.

"As stated yesterday the President played golf. He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "He also had a full day of meetings, calls and interviews for the new NSA, which he is continuing today before returning to Washington, D.C. Tonight."

Turns out Trump was golfing with Rory McIlroy. Trump also played Saturday, though his spokeswoman described it as "a couple" holes and would not identify his partners.

Trump has been in Florida since Friday -- his third consecutive weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago.

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Military jets buzz planes that violated restricted airspace while Trump in Florida

The following is from the Palm Beach Post:

At least nine planes violated temporary flight restrictions through Monday morning for President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago stay, with at least two of those having the unique experience of being buzzed by military jets, federal officials confirmed this morning to The Palm Beach Post.

Eight of those crossed the line on Friday alone, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.

Hawaii dealt with its own flight restriction hassles when President Obama visited.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said F-15s from Homestead intercepted one pilot around 7 p.m. Friday and another around noon Sunday.

Friday’s encounter “required the Air Force F-15s from Homestead Air National Guard Base to travel at supersonic speeds, a sound noticed by area residents,” NORAD said in a release.

Full story here.

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Disparities in school recess revealed by Legislature's research survey

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.

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.

For more than a year, whenever a “recess mom” has come to the Florida Capitol and pleaded with lawmakers, they have told stories of their child’s lack of access to daily recess — offering anecdotes from their child’s school or school district to showcase the inequities of unstructured playtime offered in Florida’s public schools.

Informal surveys of parents in some counties, like Pinellas or Miami-Dade, have seemed to support their assertions.

IN-DEPTH: “Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature”

But if lawmakers need official, solid evidence of the disparities in school recess, they need look no further than the findings of their own research analysts.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) last fall surveyed all 67 county school districts about their recess policies and also sought responses from 2,900 public elementary and middle schools.

The results revealed broad inconsistencies in whether school districts and specific schools actually offer daily recess, and if they do, how frequently and for how long. …

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Liberal activists plan 'empty chair' town hall for Rubio in Tampa

Liberal activists in Tampa on Wednesday will hold an “empty chair” town hall on behalf of Sen. Marco Rubio, part of an ongoing campaign that borrows from tea party tactics.

“Join fellow Tampa Bay constituents as our invited (yet unconfirmed) guest Senator Marco Rubio hears and responds to constituent questions, concerns and issues brought forth in a format of an organized Q&A style evening,” reads a Facebook notice from Indivisible Tampa.

Rubio won’t be anywhere near Tampa, Miami or Washington. He’s in Europe this week.

The Republican has been the target of regular protests outside his Tampa office (and elsewhere around these state) and detractors say he’s not paying attention to Florida or being responsive to constituent concerns.

Rubio’s Tampa staff is meeting with a small group before Wednesday, according to a message one activist left for the Tampa Bay Times. But organizers say Rubio himself should be available.

A Rubio spokesman last week was dismissive of the tactics and said staff had met with “dozens of these liberal activists.”

"Their goal is to flood offices with calls and emails and then go to the press and claim they aren't getting a response," a statement read. …

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