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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Where are the compromises on education policy for the public to vet? For now, still private.

Florida Capitol

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida Capitol

With barely three days left before lawmakers have to finalize the annual state budget if session is to end as scheduled May 5, Floridians still have very little idea what kind of compromise lawmakers are crafting behind closed doors when it comes to the most consequential reforms this year that affect K-12 public schools.

As of Saturday evening, House and Senate leaders had yet to release any proposed amended language for policy bills tied to the education budget, such as those calling for:

▪ A brand-new $200 million “schools of hope” program (HB 5105) to help students in perpetually failing schools.

▪ A $214 million expansion of annual “Best & Brightest” bonuses for teachers and principals (HB 7069) that rely on their personal academic achievements.

▪ And reforms to how school construction and maintenance dollars — from the state and from local property taxes — are shared between traditional and charter schools (SB 376). …

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Legislature drills down on hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects

With the big ticket items in the state budget resolved or in the hands of the top leaders in the House and Senate, the rest of the Florida Legislature hunkered down into marathon negotiations over the weekend to dole or hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects back home.

While many of the items are tiny in a budget of $83 billion, they are the library projects, museums, park renovations and roadway work legislators crave to bring back home to win praise from voters.

“We’re sort of in a project hell,” State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said about marathon negotiations and constant inquiries from other members about the status of funding for things back home. …

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Enviromental budget talks blow up as Senate declares exercise 'fool's errand'

Florida's Everglades National Park

Miami Herald files

Florida's Everglades National Park

Negotiations blew up Saturday over the Legislature's $3.6 billion environmental budget after the Florida House returned with a new offer that rescinded agreements forged the previous two days, forcing the entire budget silo to be bumped up to leadership to resolve.

"We've now spent two days on what, in essence, is a fool's errand,'' said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chair of the Conference Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

He then declared that all 359 line items will be resolved by House and Senate budget chairs, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. After the meeting, Bradley called the two days of meetings "a charade."

"This was destined to fail and this budget was not going to work out in any meaningful way,'' he concluded. It was not clear when Latvala and Trujillo would meet to resolve the budget, which includes many of the pivotal environmental projects sought by lawmakers as a condition of their support for Senate President Joe Negron's priority -- a water-storing reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. …

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Cruz: Senate chairman who opposes slavery memorial 'knows he can say this and be revered at home'

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa

AP

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz is among those upset and offended by a conservative Senate chairman's explanation on Friday for why he blocked a bill to establish a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who chairs the Senate's government operations committee, had told the Herald/Times a memorial to slavery would be too negative and would "celebrate defeat" -- remarks, among others, that were viewed as racially insensitive and sparked immediate backlash from House Democrats and members of the black caucus.

Baxley later clarified that by "defeat" he meant "adversity" but his explanation didn't quell the outrage.

MORE: "A senator said a Florida Slavery Memorial would ‘celebrate defeat.’ Lawmakers are furious."

After what Baxley said, Cruz remarked that a "real issue" in Florida is the redrawing of legislative districts in ways that have created politically safe seats for one party or another.

"Gerrymandering has given members in these safe seats, on both sides, the ability to say what the hell they want to say without answering to a district," the Tampa lawmaker told the Herald/Times, venting her frustration late Friday. …

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Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Alumni of New World School of the Arts in Miami helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.”

AP

Alumni of New World School of the Arts in Miami helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.”

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

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Corcoran: Gov. Rick Scott is 'the problem with recess,' not Legislature

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a curious statement shortly after midnight Saturday: It’s not lawmakers who have a “problem with recess” — it’s Gov. Rick Scott.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the remark in a tweet with no additional explanation. The Herald/Times has requested clarification from Corcoran’s office and also sought comment from Scott’s spokeswoman. (This story will be updated when they respond.)

“Recess moms” were immediately perplexed by Corcoran’s mystery tweet, which was in direct response to a question from an advocate for daily school recess.

More here.

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David Rivera is hanging out in Frank Artiles' old Senate office

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera appears to be testing out the digs of a state legislative office that he might seek to occupy one day soon.

Rivera, a Republican, was seen casually hanging out in the Capitol office of former Sen. Frank Artiles on Friday evening -- socializing and bantering with a handful of people who appeared to be Artiles' remaining legislative staff and others.

One of Artiles' legislative aides, Alina Garcia, used to work for Rivera when he was a state House member from 2000-2008.

Artiles, R-Miami, resigned one week ago Friday after a firestorm brought on several days earlier when Artiles insulted a fellow lawmaker and used a racial slur to describe several other senators in an alcohol-laced tirade at a private Tallahassee bar.

Rivera's name has been floated as a potential candidate to fill Artiles' vacant seat, representing District 40 in Miami-Dade County. (Rivera unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat last fall.)

After Artiles' resignation, his legislative staff was kept on to provide continued constituent services until voters select his replacement in an upcoming special election, which Gov. Rick Scott has not yet scheduled. …

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House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida: …

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House passes 'sanctuary' city ban, although Senate version stalled

Dozens of immigrant advocates gathered at the Florida Capitol in March to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau

Dozens of immigrant advocates gathered at the Florida Capitol in March to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.

Florida’s Republican-led House voted Friday to outlaw “sanctuary” cities and to impose harsh penalties on any elected officials or communities that seek to thwart that ban.

After a divisive debate that spanned almost three hours over two days, the House endorsed the proposed law by a 76-41 vote, with Democrats vehemently opposed.

Republicans said the bill supports American freedom and “the rule of law” by prohibiting local law enforcement from resisting compliance with federal immigration laws and detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“To essentially encourage illegal activity should be offensive to everyone,” Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, said in reference to communities deemed to be “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.

RELATED: Judge blocks Trump from cutting off funds to ‘sanctuary cities’

The controversial measures proposed in HB 697 are unlikely to become law this year. A companion bill in the Senate wasn’t heard in committee.

Lawmakers still debated the legislation at length, as Republicans aimed to temper what they viewed as inflammatory rhetoric by Democrats.

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Black lawmakers, Democrats irate after senator says slavery memorial would 'celebrate defeat'

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

AP

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

House Democrats and members of the legislative black caucus are offended and irate after a conservative Senate committee chairman said Friday the reason he didn’t hear a bill to create the first slavery memorial in Florida was because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat.”

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Herald/Times for a story that was published online midday Friday. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. ... I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

His comments came as the House voted unanimously that day — with roaring applause — to build the Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee. Despite the House support, the proposal stalled in the Senate because Baxley had what another senator described as a “philosophical objection” to the concept. …

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Is fracking create cracks in the Democratic Party?

Fracking

Associated Press

Fracking

A crack has emerged over fracking in Florida Democratic Party.

As the Florida Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states, the Florida Democratic Party was blasting the measure on its website and urging people to sign up “and tell the Florida Legislature to OPPOSE SB 1238.”

“Republicans in the Senate want Florida families to pay for FP&L’s disastrous and harmful oil exploration methods,” warned the party in a post after the measure passed 9-3 by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

SB 1238, has been opposed by residential and commercial utility customers, and remains stalled in the Florida House but, in the Senate, both Republican and Democratic senators have voted for the measure in committee and are expected to approve it when it comes up for a final vote as early as Monday. The bill was debated on second reading Friday.

Among the supporters of the bill are both Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, even though …

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House overhauls medical marijuana plan, but the bill still isn't final

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, in 2015.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, in 2015.

State lawmakers are inching closer to an agreement on medical marijuana after more than 70 percent of voters declared they wanted to allow patients with debilitating conditions to use the drug.

On Friday, the Florida House made sweeping changes to their legislation (HB 1397), addressing concerns raised by activists that bill initially proposed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, made it too difficult for doctors to recommend cannabis to patients and limited access.

“We have listened and we have worked hard to create a patient-centered process,” Rodrigues said. “We believe this bill makes it easier for patients to obtain their medical marijuana.”

Among the changes: 

* Patients who complain of chronic pain can be recommended cannabis, but only if it is linked to another debilitating condition. This is in line with Senate proposals but a major step for the House.

* Marijuana dispensaries can sell edibles and products that can be “vaped.” The bill still bans smoking. …

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Rick Scott goes after Bill Nelson in NRA speech

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks Friday at the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta.

Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks Friday at the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum in Atlanta.

Gov. Rick Scott used a speech before the NRA today to attack probable 2018 rival Bill Nelson, saying the Democratic senator "has beared far to the left."

"Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee and you can see that there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired," Scott said at the NRA conference in Atlanta, speaking after President Donald Trump.

"Unfortunately one of my Florida senators -- Bill Nelson -- has beared far to the left. He voted for Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and he just voted against Neil Gorsuch.

"I will leave you with this. You all have done great and important work but there is no rest for the weary. There is no time to relax. The opponents of freedom and liberty are constantly on the move. But fortunately for America today the defenders of freedom and liberty are stronger but we have to keep fighting to keep it that way.”

Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown: …

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It's Camp Tallahassee 'superlatives' time for Florida House

Clip art

https://goo.gl/images/VhzXqS

Clip art

As the Florida House was engaged in deep discussion Friday over things like whether to give more power to law enforcement to crack down illegal immigration, two freshmen House members were circulating a little survey in search of a colleagues "most likely to fall asleep," or the "best dressed" or the "life of the party."

Patterned after the popular summer camp and high school practice, Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, circulated the "2017 member superlatives" aimed at deciding which of the 120 members of the House should be given important designations.

"The Women’s Caucus is pleased to request your anonymous responses to the 2017 member superlatives,'' they wrote. "Please drop off at Rep Alex Miller or Rep Jackie Toledo’s office on the 14th floor (or in person). All 120 members of the House are included. Please submit responses by 5 pm on Monday May 1st."

Here's what they're looking for:  …

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Senator's 'discomfort about memorializing slavery' could block House-approved state monument

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami

Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami

A proposal to create the first slavery memorial in Florida unanimously passed the state House on Friday with roaring applause — but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain after one committee chairman stalled the legislation over a “philosophical objection” to the concept.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley — the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight & Accountability Committee who is known for his conservative positions — never scheduled a hearing to consider the Senate’s version of a bill calling for a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Because of that, the fate of HB 27 now hinges on a rare procedural override that President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, could try to execute.

House members Friday overwhelmingly embraced the idea for a slavery memorial, proposed in that chamber by Miami Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee.

“I am literally — and many of us in this room, we are literally 7,923 weeks out of slavery,” McGhee, who is black, said on the House floor before the vote. “As we gather here at this defining moment in this Capitol ... this is perhaps one of the most joyous moments in my life to know that the journeys that my forefathers went through were not lost.” …

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