$3.1 million for Palm Beach County shooting range added in state budget deal

County gun range gets state dollars in budget agreement.
County gun range gets state dollars in budget agreement.

House and Senate budget-writers agreed Monday to tuck $3.1 million into the state’s spending plan for a recreational shooting range west of Palm Beach Gardens.

The deal emerged as lawmakers extended budget conference committees through Monday. The original plan was to have House Budget Chief Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, take over, but dozens of issues across a range of budget areas remained unsettled.

The shooting range drew a similar amount from the 2014 Legislature. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have outdoor public gun ranges and Palm Beach County was considered the most densely populated county without a major shooting facility.

A smaller public gun range is at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

While a number of projects on the county’s wish list — like the shooting range — have gotten the go-ahead in recent budget negotiations, a number of big-ticket items remain unresolved both for the county and state.

While conference committees will likely conclude Tuesday, Corcoran and Lee could spend a few more days working on differences between the House and Senate budgets.

In a key agreement reached late Sunday, the two sides agreed to a $458 million boost in public school funding, representing a modest 1 percent increase.

But the two sides included some election-year bragging points in the package. While earlier proposals had school increases financed primarily on the backs of local property taxpayers — whose rising values amounted to more tax dollars — the latest deal will be financed completely by state dollars, lawmakers said.

The average per-pupil funding of $7,178 for each of the state’s 2.8 million school children also tops by $52 the pre-recession record set in 2007-08.

Gov. Rick Scott campaigned for re-election in 2014 on the promise that he would shatter that mark, but lawmakers didn’t go along last year.

But the per-pupil record looks like the only budget prize Scott will claim this year — which could prompt him to veto plenty out of the budget expected to win final approval from lawmakers March 11, the final scheduled day of the 2016 session.

Corcoran and Lee both have said that it’s impossible for lawmakers to back Scott’s sought-after $1 billion in tax breaks mostly favoring businesses and another $250 million in economic incentive cash to lure companies to Florida.

Instead, lawmakers have agreed to set aside $400 million in tax breaks, whose details are still to be determined. So far, there is nothing for economic incentives.

Abortion clinic regulations advancing in Republican-led Senate, House this election year

Abortion bills flourish in Republican-led Legislature this election year.
Abortion bills flourish in Republican-led Legislature this election year.

A Senate panel approved stricter regulations on abortion clinics Tuesday, with supporters arguing it would improve patient safety while opponents condemning the measure as aimed only at limiting women’s access to the procedure.

A key piece of the legislation (SB 1722) is included in a Texas law set to be reviewed this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas enacted a law in 2013 that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — a provision also included in the bill advanced Monday by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. In Texas, roughly half the state’s 40 abortion clinics closed because of the tougher standards.

“This is a woman’s health issue,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, sponsor of the Senate proposal. “We’re making sure that women are being treated the same.”

But Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, said the goal of the legislation is to limit abortion rights.

“It just seems to be a way to restrict access to women’s health care, and that’s not something I have any interest in taking part in,” said Clemens.

The measure cleared the Republican-dominated Senate panel on a 6-2 vote. A similar bill (HB 1411) is poised for a full vote in the House.

“What we’re seeing both in Florida and across the country is that politicians are using women’s health as a political issue — and it shouldn’t be a political issue,” said Missy Wesolowski with the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which run 16 clinics in the state that provide abortion services.

Wesolowski said abortion is a “safe and legal” medical procedure and shouldn’t be subject to stricter regulations.

Stargel, however, argued that the doctor admitting privileges or hospital transfer requirements mirror those of outpatient centers that provide such routine procedures as colonoscopies. Wesolowski said that standard under current Florida law is applied only to clinics which perform second-trimester abortions.

More than 90 percent of abortions currently occur in the first-trimester of pregnancy, according to state records.

Along with the hospital provisions, Stargel’s bill also requires that clinics be inspected annually and have at least 50 percent of their records reviewed to have their license renewed. The legislation also could restrict some reproductive clinics – namely those run by Planned Parenthood – from accessing state Medicaid funds.

The Legislature’s focus on abortion has been a steady theme in the 20 years Republicans have controlled the House and Senate.

A measure signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott requires women to wait 24 hours and make a second trip to a clinic before having an abortion. But it has been blocked by a court order and is still not in effect.

In the last big election year, 2014, Scott also signed measures that allow separate criminal charges for the death of a fetus, no matter its stage of development, when a crime was committed against its mother.

Another measure that year effectively reduced by several weeks the time period that a woman could legally have a late-term abortion.

For his part, Scott also confronted Planned Parenthood last year after disputed videos posted online appeared to show staff in California discussing fetal tissue and organ donation.

Scott ordered an investigation of every Planned Parenthood clinic in Florida, but found no evidence of a fetal organ donation program.

Scott’s Agency for Health Care Administration cited three clinics alleging they performed abortions outside the scope of their licenses, but the state’s claim has been legally challenged by the organization.


Pro-Marco Rubio PAC slams Donald Trump on KKK in new TV ad


You could see the 30-second ad coming as soon as Donald Trump turned down three opportunities Sunday to denounce David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.

Trump's CNN appearance was in color, but it's rendered in black and white in new Conservative Solutions PAC ad.
Trump’s CNN appearance was in color, but it’s rendered in black and white in new Conservative Solutions PAC ad.

Sure enough, the pro-Marco Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC today unveiled an ad today that seizes on Trump’s stumbling CNN performance and shows a clip of Rubio (from before his latest insult-comic persona) declaring that “the children of the Reagan revolution are ready to assume the mantle of leadership.”

The PAC said the ad will air in states with March nominating contests, but didn’t provide additional details.

It’s a safe bet the CNN clip will appear in other ads as the 2016 campaign continues.

Alan Grayson, member of Hillary Clinton’s leadership council, endorses Bernie Sanders

Sanders “has defied The Establishment and monied classes who control our rigged political system," says Grayson.
Sanders “has defied The Establishment and monied classes who control our rigged political system,” says Grayson.

U.S. Rep. and Democratic Senate candidate Alan Grayson — who in November signed on as a member of Hillary Clinton‘s “Florida Leadership Council” but later said it didn’t constitute an endorsement — announced today that he’s endorsing Bernie Sanders for president after Sanders got overwhelming support in an online poll on Grayson’s Senate campaign website.

Liberal firebrand Grayson is running against more moderate Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, in the Democratic primary for Senate. Grayson draws much of his support from backers of Sanders, but for most of 2015 he declined to take sides in the race and offered praise for Sanders, Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. Some of Grayson’s progressive fans were disappointed in November when Grayson joined about 150 other Florida Dems on Clinton’s leadership council.

The Clinton campaign billed the council as “a group of over 150 elected officials, community, coalition and grassroots leaders who will help build a grassroots-driven volunteer team that will help Hillary to win the Florida Primary on March 15th.” But Grayson said his membership on the council did not constitute an endorsement.

Because he’s a member of Congress, Grayson will be a superdelegate to the 2016 Democratic convention and free to support the candidate of his choice. He criticized the superdelegate process as favoring party elites rather than the will of rank-and-file voters.

“Instead of selling my superdelegate vote to the highest bidder — like most members of the unDemocratic party these days — I am offering up my vote to you. You decide: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The choice is, literally, yours,” Grayson said on his campaign website.

The poll got more than 376,000 responses, Grayson’s campaign said, with more than 86 percent supporting Sanders.

“I’ve devoted my political life to bringing the virtues of justice, equality, and peace to as many people as possible, and Bernie’s presidential campaign has drawn millions of people into a movement that’s grounded in those same shared ideals,” Grayson said. “Bernie has defied The Establishment and monied classes who control our rigged political system. That’s why millions of people see that the only way to break this oligarchy is to put Bernie Sanders in the White House. He can bring about the revolutionary change that will reverse income inequality, provide healthcare for all, open the door to debt-free college and protect our environment.”



KKK konfusion? Donald Trump blames ‘lousy earpiece’ for David Duke debacle

Jake Tapper interviewing Donald Trump on Sunday.
Jake Tapper interviewing Donald Trump on Sunday.

Donald Trump today blamed a “lousy earpiece” for his refusal to disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan in a CNN interview on Sunday.

Trump disavowed former Klan leader Duke’s support in a Friday news conference. But when asked about it Sunday by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump refused three times to denounce Duke or the KKK.

“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” Trump told Tapper. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know. I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”

(The “I know nothing about David Duke” answer was puzzling because Trump, when announcing in 2000 that he wouldn’t run as a Reform Party candidate for president, noted Duke’s involvement in the party and said the former Klansman and others were “not the company I wish to keep.”)

When Tapper followed up, mentioning “groups and individuals endorsing you,” Trump asked for a list of the groups.

“I’m just talking about David Duke and the KKK,” Tapper said.

“I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him and I just don’t know anything about him,” Trump said.

On the Today show this morning, Trump pinned the controversy on an equipment malfunction.

“So let me tell you, I’m sitting in a house in Florida (his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach) with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But what I heard was ‘various groups,’ and I don’t mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke and I disavowed him a day before at a major news conference,” Trump said.

Later, he added: “Now, I go and I sit down again, I have a lousy earpiece that is provided by them, and frankly he talked about groups…It would be very unfair to disavow a group, Matt (Lauer), if the group shouldn’t be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke…I disavowed David Duke all weekend long, on Facebook, on Twitter, and obviously it’s never enough.”

Pafford nears end of stretch as House Democratic Leader — what some see as Capitol’s worst job

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford

Florida House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach is nearing the end of a two-year stretch in what one of his colleagues called the “worst job in the Capitol.”

Being in charge of vastly outnumbered House Democrats means tilting at windmills almost every day. Pafford’s won-loss record rivals that of the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ longtime opponents.

But the liberal-leaning Democrat said he’s proud to have given his party’s 4.5 million voters a voice – even one that is steadily drowned out by a conservative majority.

House Republicans hold 81 of the chamber’s 120 seats.

“I wasn’t sent up here to pass bills, but to speak where I can and represent my constituency,” said Pafford, 49, first elected in 2008. His district includes Wellington, Loxahatchee Groves and Royal Palm Beach.

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/1VM86HY

Palm Beach County wish list gets attention in weekend budget talks — although some big ticket items remain unsettled

Palm Beach County projects get included in budget deals
Palm Beach County projects get included in budget deals

House and Senate budget talks continue today but action over the weekend appeared to position at least key portions of Palm Beach County’s wish list for inclusion in the the final $80-billion state spending plan.

The Lake Worth Park of Commerce drew $2.5 million in budget deal-making, while $1 million was set aside for both the Norton Museum of Art and road resurfacing projects in the financially strapped Glades region.

A local environmental priority — state aid for the Chain of Lakes Blueway project –also looked set for the $286,900 sought by the county. Palm Beach Habilitation Center in Lake Worth is in line for $649,000 for roof repairs and water system work and Place of Hope foster care looks set for $200,000 in state assistance.

The city of Tequesta also was included for $300,000 in road work in budget agreements reached between House and Senate negotiators.

With a host of top statewide budget items still to be settled — along with such local projects as a big-ticket classroom building at Palm Beach State College — negotiations  today may be handed over to budget chiefs Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, for further decision-making.

State money looks set for final stage of moving 4th DCA to downtown West Palm Beach

Money is set aside again by state lawmakers for moving the 4th DCA
Money is set aside again by state lawmakers for moving the 4th DCA

The final installment of $7.3 million needed to move the moldy Fourth District Court of Appeal courthouse to downtown West Palm Beach appeared set Saturday in an early and easy budget deal between House and Senate negotiators.

The agreement emerged as  House and Senate conferees began work on crafting a new spending plan for the year beginning July 1. House budget chief Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has been generally cool to the big courthouse move, but it was his side that quickly endorsed the Senate’s pitch for funding.

The 4th DCA hears appeals from Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties. It’s looking to relocate from Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach to a new building planned between Clematis Street and Datura Street, east of Tamarind Avenue.

Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has been championing the project and had tucked about $6 million in the Senate budget for the courthouse move. But the project had been ignored by the House in its roughly $80 billion budget blueprint.

After a larger-than-expected $12 million was set-aside last year, county and court officials had been banking on the final round being eased by Negron’s expanding influence as an incoming Senate boss. Saturday’s swift action may have affirmed that.

An extreme mold infestation forced the courthouse’s closure for a while in 2013 and the facility — built in 1970 — is widely seen as more vintage Perry Mason than ready for the Law & Order era.

Scott’s $1 billion tax breaks, economic incentive cash become first casualties of budget talks

House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate counterpart Tom Lee had bad news for Gov. Rick Scott
House budget chief Richard Corcoran and Senate counterpart Tom Lee had bad news for Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott’s signature $1 billion tax break package was the first casualty of budget negotiations between House and Senate leaders Friday — with the robust plan scaled back to $400 million.

Also jettisoned by legislative deal-makers, a $250 million pool of economic incentive money hotly sought by the Republican governor.

“He had a billion dollars over two years,” House budget chief Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said of the governor’s plan, which Scott has been touting for weeks. “That was his campaign promise.”

But Corcoran quickly pointed out that state economists last month downsized revenue forecasts by $400 million — a shift which he said basically made Scott’s business-oriented tax cut proposal unworkable.

“You have to be conscious of what that does to your out years,” Corcoran said, adding, “The fact that we got as close as we did to his campaign promise, given the reality of the shortfall, is amazing.”

Although no details on the how the Legislature’s tax breaks will be doled out, only half the $400 million is considered a permanent tax cut, with the remainder a one-year reduction.

Corcoran’s Senate counterpart, Tom Lee, R-Brandon, agreed that Scott’s $1 billion plan couldn’t fly.

“Those promises were made a long time ago, and the facts on the ground have changed,” Lee said.

As recently as last week, Scott insisted there was “plenty of money” in the roughly $80 billion budget proposal. Groundrules for Scott’s $250 million economic incentive package also were approved by the House and have remained generally supported by the Senate.

But that looks out the window now. Corcoran said the “very, very conservative House” wasn’t willing to endorse the concept of having a robust amount of incentive money to dangle before companies looking to move to Florida.

Corcoran was among Republican House members who voted against the economic incentive blueprint last week.

Scott’s office Friday night seemed to hold out some hope that the early budget decisions would change. Lee and Corcoran’s budget huddle was the first of several days of negotiations between the House and Senate.

Scott’s likely to continue lobbying to preserve more of his legislative package — but it’s a bad start for the governor.


Hillary Clinton wallops Bernie Sanders in two new Florida polls that differ on gender gap

Hillary Clinton's last Florida appearance was in Orlando in December.
Hillary Clinton’s last Florida appearance was in Orlando in December.

Hillary Clinton holds a massive lead over Bernie Sanders among Democratic voters in Florida,  according to a new Quinnipiac University poll and a survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

Quinnipiac’s poll shows Clinton topping Sanders by a 59-to-33 percent margin. She holds a 57-to-32 percent advantage in the PPP survey.

Quinnipiac's poll (top) shows big gender gap among Democrats in Clinton-Sanders race. PPP's poll shows Clinton doing better with men than women.
Quinnipiac’s poll (top) shows big gender gap among Democrats in Clinton-Sanders race. PPP’s poll shows Clinton doing better with men than women.

The Quinnipiac poll finds a significant gender gap among Florida Democrats, with women preferring Clinton 69-to-24 and men favoring Sanders 47-to-43. But PPP finds Clinton getting more support from men than women. In the PPP poll, men side with Clinton by a 59-to-30 percent margin while women favor her by 56-to-34 percent.

Quinnipiac and PPP both find older voters favoring Clinton by a huge margin. Among voters younger than 45, Quinnipiac shows Sanders leading Clinton, 51 percent to 39 percent. But PPP has the under-45 bracket favoring Clinton by a 47-to-44 percent margin.

Quinnipiac’s poll of 405 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted Sunday through Wednesday and has a 4.5 percent margin of error. PPP surveyed 388 likely Democratic primary voters on Wednesday and Thursday; its poll has a 5 percent margin of error.