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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa General, All Children's take hit in state hospital funding

Late Monday, lawmakers released the additional payments some hospitals will receive in next year’s state budget.

The plan, released at 9:30 p.m. Monday, is among the most anxiously-awaited parts of the state’s health care budget, as it included more than $1 billion in supplemental money for hospitals.

Across the board, hospitals took hits owing to a $400 million reduction in the Low Income Pool, a pot of state and federal money that pays for uncompensated charity care. Among the hardest hit by the drop in LIP: the state’s safety net hospitals, which include public hospitals, specialty children’s hospitals and teaching hospitals.

“We weren’t given a lot of latitude,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the House’s health budget chairman. “At the end of the day, there’s going to be winners and losers.”

Lawmakers say their hands were tied by the federal government’s decision to cut LIP. And while they tried to shore up some hospitals using other programs, as well as a $75 million budget item for children’s hospitals, local facilities are still likely to be hurt. …

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Florida Chamber president to testify in Congress about welfare programs

The head of Florida's Chamber of Commerce is heading to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to testify in Congress about how to get more people off welfare and into jobs.

Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is one of five people invited to testify before a subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee at 10 a.m. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota County Republican, is the chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee and also a former chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Wilson is expected to talk about breaking the cycle of generational poverty by focusing on early education, school choice options, access to capital for start-up businesses and having a competitive business climate.



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House agrees to expand slots gambling - but exempts Tampa Bay

In a long-shot bid to keep a gambling overhaul bill alive, the House Finance & Tax Committee sent a “love note to the Senate” on Monday, accepting its proposal to allow dog tracks to operate slot machines in at least five counties and possibly others, while excluding Tampa Bay. 

The plan would require the governor to renegotiate the agreement he struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and would likely result in a lower guarantee of revenues than the $3 billion the tribe has already authorized.

It also means that one of Florida's oldest industries, greyhound racing, would be replaced by slot machines in Palm Beach, Brevard, Gadsden, Lee and Washington counties. A handful of other counties could conduct voter referendums by January 2017 to be allowed to replace dog tracks, quarter horse tracks or jai alai frontons with slot machines.

Only parimutuels within a 100 mile radius of the Seminole's most profitable facility — the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa — would be exempt from being able to seek voter approval for slot machines. That would affect parimutels such as Tampa Bay Downs, Tampa Bay Greyhound Track,, St. Petersburg Kennel Club and Sarasota Kennel Club.

The compromise was an attempt by the House's lead compact negotiator, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and the House Finance & Tax Committee chairman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, to find a way to win enough votes for the compact in the Senate before lawmakers end the session in two weeks. But Senate leaders have indicated that the deal may be too complicated to resolve with the time remaining.

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Medical marijuana debate highlights moneyed special interests

Debate in the Capitol over expanding medical marijuana has turned to a touchy subject: Money.

Senators on Monday considered a proposal to expand the state’s existing marijuana laws — which allow some patients, including children who suffer from intense seizures, to use pot low in high-inducing THC — to let licensed growers sell full-strength marijuana to terminal patients.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the sponsor of the legislation (SB 460), says the proposal would also speed up the process to get the low-THC variety to sick kids, who have waited two years since the Legislature authorized it.

But that argument angered Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said the Legislature already voted in 2014 to help those kids. He called Bradley’s bill an attempt to expand the potentially lucrative medical marijuana market to the existing five growers who have been approved by the Department of Health. …

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Mel Martinez endorses Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio keeps rolling out mainstream Republican Party endorsements -- including on Monday the one from former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez.

Martinez was the first Cuban American elected to the U.S. Senate, in 2004. He held his seat until 2009; Rubio was elected the following year to fill the post. Like many other recent Rubio Florida backers, Martinez had initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush for president. He'd hinted that Rubio would be his likely backup.

"Just like Marco's family, this country changed my life and my family's history forever, and the best way to repay the debt I owe America in this election is to help Marco Rubio become our next president," Martinez said in a statement provided by Rubio's campaign. "Our country deserves to have Marco Rubio as our next president, because he will unite us and move us toward the common purpose of making the American Dream a reality for more Americans than ever before."

More from Martinez: …

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Presidential contenders ramping up ground game from Tampa Bay headquarters

With two weeks to go before Florida’s primary, the presidential campaigns are mobilizing for a final push in the Sunshine State, and there’s plenty going on in the Tampa Bay area.

On the Republican side, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign has an office in Tampa and will host a call party today from 5 to 9 p.m. The office is located at 11406 N. Dale Mabry, Suite 201.

“Bring your laptops, your smartphones, and your headphones or a headset and we will try to reach as many Florida voters as possible for Ted Cruz!” Lyndsey Blagrave, a communications staffer for the campaign, said in an email sent to supporters Saturday. If taking part in a historically unpredictable presidential race isn't incentive enough, volunteers will be treated to free pizza for their efforts.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump opened a Tampa headquarters last week in CoWorkTampa, an office coworking space in the historic Garcia & Vega cigar factory at 3104 N. Armenia Ave.

They’ve already started a phone bank there that is running Tuesdays and Thursdays, said Becky DeBoer, a co-chair for Trump’s campaign in Hillsborough. …

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Rubio presidential campaign announces Florida campaign offices

In advance of the March 15 presidential primary, Republican Marco Rubio's campaign has announced the opening of more campaign offices in Florida. 

Rubio already has opened a Miami headquarters and his state co-chairman Adam Hasner has said another will be open in Boca Raton today. 

In Tampa Bay, the campaign said they have opened an office at 1602 Oakfield Drive, Suite 109, Brandon, 33511.



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House, Senate agree to fund new positions in mental hospitals

Lawmakers have agreed to fund additional staff in the state's mental hospitals, where years of cuts have contributed to dangerous environments.

Health care budget chairmen agreed Monday to fund another 37 positions in the hospitals. The commitment of additional workers comes in the wake of reporting by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune that revealed violence and neglect in the state's mental hospitals, which have seen budget and staffing cuts.

"I think this committee has taken a priority of ensuring we protect our most vulnerable residents, and that's what we're doing," Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, the Senate's health budget chairman said.

Garcia said he and his House counterpart, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, set aside money for the 37 jobs after Secretary Mike Carroll of the Department of Children and Families asked them for help.

The additional workers were not in either the House or Senate's original budget proposals, nor were they in Gov. Rick Scott's, although the Times/Herald-Tribune reporting found that investing in more clinical staff could be one of the most important steps toward solving the violence in the hospitals.

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Carlos Beruff's Miami roots

From Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald:

The latest Republican to hop into Florida’s competitive U.S. Senate race made millions as a home builder in Sarasota, where has lived for more than three decades.

So why is Carlos Beruff starting his campaign Monday morning in Miami?

Because this is the city where he was born and spent his childhood.

“It’s where I started as an American,” he said. “So I felt that was an appropriate place.”

In an interview leading up to his announcement, 9 a.m. Monday at a Vicky Bakery on West Flagler Street, Beruff wouldn’t go into much detail about his platform. He wouldn’t say if he’ll follow in the footsteps of his ally, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and self-fund his campaign.

“I haven’t gotten any checks yet, so I guess I’m self-funding at this point,” he quipped. (He then sounded like someone who will soon be saying yes to checks: “I plan on doing what needs to be done.”)

Beruff also declined to pick a presidential candidate ahead of Florida’s March 15 primary: “I’ve stayed on the sidelines –- and I’ve found it very entertaining.” …

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Alan Grayson endorses Bernie Sanders

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.

Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a U.S. Senate candidate who sits on the Hillary Clinton campaign's "Florida Leadership Council," today endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.

Grayson casts himself as the anti-establishment candidate — which is logical because the Democratic establishment sees the populist hedge fund manager as a train wreck — so Sanders is a logical choice.

RELATED: What you need to know about Super Tuesday

Grayson based it on online feedback, and announced his decision in a fundraising email today:

Dear Friend,

Last summer, my 16-year-old daughter asked me whether I felt the Bern. “Did you leave the stove on again?” I asked her.

Now, after listening to We, the People, I feel the Bern.

I hereby endorse Bernie Sanders to be our Democratic nominee for President of the United States. I will vote for him as a Super-delegate at the Democratic National Convention. And I enthusiastically join, shoulder to shoulder, his political revolution.

Join our political revolution by chipping in $27, Bernie’s average contribution, right here and right now >> …

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A Miami congressional candidate and the evolution of U.S.-Cuba policy

From Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald:How the politics of Cuba have changed in Miami in recent years.

When Democrat Annette Taddeo first ran for Congress in 2008, she supported keeping the U.S. trade embargo. Now, eight years later, she's running for Congress again, in favor of lifting the embargo and asking voters to sign a petition backing President Barack Obama's visit later this month to Cuba.

She sent supporters an email urging their signature after incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he was "disappointed" to learn of Obama's trip and asked his own supporters to sign a petition opposing the visit. Republicans may instead counter that she's been a Cuba flip-flopper.

So, for Taddeo, what changed?

"In 2008, I was very much against lifting the embargo, as I think almost everybody was," Taddeo acknowledged in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Five years later, in 2013, she got a call from people trying to arrange meetings on Capitol Hill for Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger who was visiting Washington D.C. Taddeo says she put some together for Sánchez and several U.S. senators, and attended herself. …

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NAACP, other groups blast computer-coding proposal as 'misleading and mischievous'

Organizations that represent black and Hispanic Floridians released a joint statement Monday declaring their opposition to legislation that would let high school students count computer coding as a foreign language class.

The measure passed the Senate, 35-5, last week, and its companion bill awaits consideration on the House floor.

The groups who joined in Monday's statement were the NAACP's Florida Conference and Miami-Dade branch, the Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD).

"Our children need skills in both technology and in foreign languages to compete in today's global economy," the joint statement reads. "However, to define coding and computer science as a foreign language is a misleading and mischievous misnomer that deceives our students, jeopardizes their eligibility to admission to universities, and will result in many losing out on the foreign language skills they desperately need even for entry-level jobs in South Florida. …

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House Democrats running out of reasons to vote no on budget

In Tallahassee, it's as predictable as dogwoods in March: House Democrats will vote against the Republican majority's budget. But this year could be very different, and that speaks volumes about how awful a session this is becoming for Gov. Rick Scott.

House Democrats simply are running out of reasons to vote against the budget, and you won't likely be hearing them calling it "a tea party train wreck" as they did a few years ago.

Democrats hate big tax cuts, and Republicans don't like them this year either. Democrats don't like spending taxpayer money to lure private companies to Florida, and Republicans flatly refuse to support this signature priority of Scott's. Democrats don't like Republicans paying for a school budget increase on the backs of property taxpayers -- and Republicans changed that too. In an historic policy shift and over Scott's objections, they will pay for the boost in per-pupil spending with state tax revenue instead.

"They have responded to a lot of things that we've complained about," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the House minority leader. "The big difference is that they're actually putting together the kind of budget that we wanted to do." …

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Former Sen. Connie Mack endorses Marco Rubio

Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack joins the Marco Rubio team today.

“Marco is the right choice for conservatives, Republicans, Floridians and all Americans who recognize the importance of this historic election and the need to lead our country to a New American Century. Marco has represented the State of Florida well, and he recognizes the time has come for a new generation of conservative leaders to step up and fill a void that has been missing in the White House. I knew Ronald Reagan. I served with Ronald Reagan. And only Marco Rubio can continue the legacy of Ronald Reagan

"Marco is the Republican candidate who can win this election. As President, Hillary Clinton would be a disaster for the conservative principles we’ve fought to protect and that need to return to the White House.  Florida and the rest of our nation cannot afford another liberal in the White House. We need Marco Rubio."

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Cruz outspends Rubio in Super Tuesday states

Ted Cruz is outspending Marco Rubio by almost 2-to-1 on ads heading into Super Tuesday.

Cruz and his super PAC allies have spent $6.2 million, according to NBC News, which relies on ad tracker SMG Delta. Rubio’s team has spent $3.5 million, including about $960,000 in Texas and $690,000 in Virginia.

Donald Trump has spent $1.1 million.

Rubio has consistently been one of the top spenders of the election, usually running second only to now former candidate Jeb Bush.

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