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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Prison official keeps high-paid job as state settles $800,000 case against him

The state takes no blame for what former Florida Department of Corrections inspector general Jeffery Beasley has done, but it is paying $800,000 to end a retaliation lawsuit brought by his former employees and is keeping him in a newly created job that pays $116,500 annually.

As “director of intelligence” at the state’s prison agency, Beasley admits that his position was created after the whistleblowers filed their lawsuits and he left the inspector general’s post last fall, according to his deposition in another pending retaliation lawsuit reviewed by the Herald/Times.

He is in charge of the department’s K-9 unit and the security threat group, among other things. He draws “special risk” designation as a law enforcement officer, allowing him to collect a higher pension when he retires. His replacement as inspector general, Lester Fernandez, makes $115,000. …

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From ethics to workers comp, the full schedule for 'Legislator U'

Here's the complete schedule for House Speaker Richard Corcoran's "Legislator University," the two-day training seminar for House members to be held at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Dec. 6-7.

Legislator University Schedule

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Bondi gets her sit-down with Trump

Attorney General Pam Bondi met in New York on Friday with President-elect Donald Trump, and left Trump Tower smiling but saying very little about whether she's being considered for a White House job.

Bondi said her afternoon meeting with Trump was related to her duties on the executive committee of Trump's transition team.

Asked if she was offered a job, Bondi said: "I'm on the transition team, and we're doing everything we can to help him put the best people in place. So right now I'm attorney general of the state of Florida. I think the whole country should be so proud of how hard he is up there working."

Bondi declined to say what she and Trump talked about.

"I can't discuss that," she said. "I'm a member of the executive transition and I just don't think that's appropriate for anyone on the team to be talking out of school." 

Asked if she would accept a job if one is offered, Bondi said: "I'm AG of Florida right now. Thank you! You guys have a great day."

The former Tampa prosecutor left Trump Tower carrying a heavy winter coat (Friday's temperature in Manhattan was 48 degrees). …

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Florida Democrats mainly back Pelosi

Florida Democrats this week helped protect Nancy Pelosi from a leadership challenge driven by the party's abysmal November.

Pelosi on Wednesday was easily elected minority leader over Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who said the party has lost touch with the working class. But as the Washington Post notes, Pelosi’s margin of victory, 134 votes to 63, "signaled a large degree of discontent with her leadership after 14 years atop the caucus and, more broadly, with the Democratic policy agenda that many lawmakers say has grown stale."

We've asked Florida Democrats -- those who will be part of the 115th Congress -- who they supported.

Kathy Castor - Pelosi
Ted Deutch - Pelosi
Lois Frankel - Pelosi
Alcee Hastings - Tim Ryan
Frederica Wilson - Pelosi
Debbie Wasserman Schultz - Pelosi

Incoming members:

Charlie Crist - Pelosi

Darren Soto - Pelosi

Space will be updated if additional new members provide their pick.

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Rubio not involved in Capitol Hill effort to help Dreamers

With concerns over the Trump administration stripping legal status from Dreamers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Lindsey Graham is working on legislation to provide that protection.

The group does not include Sen. Marco Rubio, who had gained widespread attention years ago for proposing legislation aimed at young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents.

Rubio’s office declined comment.

Rubio’s legislation was never filed and President Obama followed through with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, which has shielded more than 740,000 Dreamers, including more than 20,000 in Florida.

Trump has talked about rescinding the program. Rubio criticized Obama's executive action, too, but has said the legal status already granted should not be retroactively removed. …

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Latvala bristles at freshman senator's attempt to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Without mentioning any names, or even the issue at hand, Florida Sen. Jack Latvala took a clear swipe Thursday at a newly minted Senate colleague who filed legislation to undo a university tuition measure that Latvala worked hard to broker two years ago.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, proposed a bill Wednesday to void a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who graduate from Florida high schools. Latvala initially had little to say about the proposal, which he hadn't yet read.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bill would revoke Florida law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition rates

A day later, in a room filled with school board members from across the state, Latvala let loose. He made his comments in response to the question of what might be his biggest non-financial challenge in the 2017 session.

That challenge, Latvala said, will be coming to grips with the largest freshman group of senators in memory — 20 in all, 17 of whom came from the Florida House with their own set of protocols and behaviors that differ from the more collegial Senate. …

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Charlie Crist turns to experienced D.C. hand for chief of staff

U.S. Rep.-elect Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, has picked an experienced Washington hand to serve as his chief of staff rather than going with a local political operator as many members do. 

Austin Durrer, who spent nearly 13 years working for Democratic former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran of northern Virginia, will lead the former governor's Washington office. Durrer currently serves as chief of staff of the U.S. Commerce Department's Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), overseeing the Department's data technology mission.

“Austin brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and a strong, steady hand to this important position. He's an impact player who will build our team in Washington with a laser-like focus on serving the people of Pinellas County." said Crist in a statement

"It's an honor and a privilege to work for Gov. Crist on behalf of Pinellas County,” said Durrer, 37. “He's no ordinary freshman, and someone who has dedicated his life to looking out for the little guy.  I look forward to helping advance his agenda of bringing common sense solutions to Washington, to bridge the political divide, serving as the voice for the people of Pinellas County on Capitol Hill." …

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Office assignments don't go well for Charlie Crist

As an incoming Democrat coming into his first term in a U.S. Congress controlled by Republicans, Charlie Crist knew he was going to get the dregs of offices.

As Roll Call points out, new representatives have no claim on the offices that are coveted for their locations, size or other features, so they get assigned the worst of the worst offices via a lottery.

The lottery drawing was Thursday. How did Crist do? About as bad as can be imagined.

That last pick in the lottery pretty much means Crist will be looking at offices in the Longworth House Office Building or the Cannon Office Building. There's no underground train connecting these buildings to the Capitol, so lawmakers will have to brave the elements.

How bad can it be, though, right? Well, we're talking drinking water that's tainted with lead in Cannon. The loser of the 2014 lottery found herself there.

Welcome to Washington, D.C. Rep. Crist!

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President Obama will visit MacDill AFB in Tampa on Tuesday

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will travel to Tampa on Tuesday for a visit to MacDill Air Force Base, where he will meet active duty service members and give remarks on his administration's counter-terrorism efforts, the White House announced moments ago.

"While at the base, the President will have an opportunity to meet with uniformed leadership from both Commands as well as with some of the men and women stationed there," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. "Among those the President will meet are members of our Special Operations community, who over the past 8 years been a key element of our relentless pursuit of terrorists who would threaten the United States of America. The President will offer his personal gratitude--and that of the nation--for the professionalism, skill, and sacrifice of those American patriots." …

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Once the man to beat, Jeb Bush returns to Trump's Washington

The last time Jeb Bush held an education summit in Washington, as he does today, scores of reporters and a big crowd showed up. The headline: Bush seeks balance on Common Core under 2016 glare.

Two years ago, speculation raged over whether Bush would run for president. Finally, in June 2015, he jumped in with a big splash of money. The rest is well-known.

Today, Bush continued his re-emergence in a space he feels most comfortable in: policy wonk. He kicked off his Foundation For Excellence in Education summit with an 8:45 a.m. speech.

"This is a time for big thinking and courageous leadership, to encourage each other to move the needle so that more and more children gain the power or knowledge in this turbulent world, this exciting world that we’re living in," Bush said.

National political reporters, who used to show up en masse to hear the presumed presidential front-runner, blew off the speech.

Bush began with a nod to the election. "I actually planned not to be here this year," Bush said to laughter. "I hoped to be pursuing a different type of public service." …

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Report: Florida is battleground for utilities and fossil-fuel-backed anti-solar campaign

With Florida now a battleground over the future of solar energy, "utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns,'' according to a new report funded by environmental activists and think tanks that are opposing the effort. 

The report, “Blocking the Sun,” released by the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center, singles out Florida's four largest utilities -- Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric -- as being among 17 entities nationwide that are working aggressively "to block solar policies."

The report was written by the Frontier Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center, two environmental think tanks backed by pro-solar and anti-climate change activists. The report says it was funded by several individuals that are who are listed in the report's opening pages. 

Blocking the Sun report

Coming after the pro-solar groups' defeat of the utility-backed Amendment 1, the missive is a sign that the battle over solar power in Florida is still young.  …

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Bondi to meet with Trump on Friday

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, rumored to be in the running for a job in Donald Trump's administration, is scheduled to meet with the president-elect Friday.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller announced the scheduled meeting in a Thursday morning conference call, according to reporters who were on the call.

It is planned for 1 p.m. in Trump Tower. The presidential transition has been silent about what Trump and Bondi, who are personal friends, will discuss.

Bondi's name has been mentioned in connection to several high-level positions, including White House "drug czar" and U.S. trade representative. She could also be nominated as a deputy or assistant U.S. attorney general or as a candidate to chair the Republican National Committee.

However, she could also be wary of any job that would require a rigorous Senate confirmation process, as Bondi tends to cringe under critical spotlight.

Bondi was an early Trump supporter and appeared alongside him at rallies around the state, as well as at the Republican National Convention. …

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Gov. Scott wants 5 percent raises for 4,000 state police officers

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott wants the Florida Legislature to approve a 5 percent pay raise for about 4,000 state law enforcement officers in next year's budget.

Scott, who has generally opposed across-the-board raises for all state workers during his six years in office, made the proposal at a Florida Highway Patrol station in Orlando Thursday. He cited their heroic efforts at the Pulse nightclub massacre in June, followed by two hurricanes and a tropical storm.

"We must always do everything we can to recognize our law enforcement officers and let them know how much we appreciate their service," Scott said in a statement. "It is thanks to their hard work and sacrifice that Florida persevered throiugh these difficult times and has achieved a 45-year crime rate low."

The Republican governor said he has attended 32 funerals for fallen law enforcement officers since he took office in January 2011.

Scott has advocated performance-based bonuses for state workers in most of his budgets. Last year he vetoed a $2,000 raise for state forestry firefighters, who did receive a pay raise in the current year's budget. …

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Lawmakers will return to Capitol for 'Legislator University'

A motivational speaker who worked in the White House. A mandatory seminar on sexual harassment. Breakout sessions on the death penalty, workers comp, Medicaid, the courts and the Florida retirement system.

It's all part of two days of member training next week in the Florida House of Representatives, with code numbers assigned to each seminar, just like at UF and FSU. The "Legislator University" is part of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's plan to upgrade civility and professionalism in a House where more than one-third of the members (46) are newbies.

Corcoran is bringing in Shelby Scarbrough, a motivational speaker who will discuss the importance of civility in politics and how to apply it to lawmaking. Scarbrough, whose fees and expenses were picked up by the Republican Party of Florida, is a Harvard Business School grad who worked in the White House Office of Presidential Advance and once owned a group of Burger King franchises in Northern Virginia.

Scarbrough's general session talk (GS 101) is one of three must-attend seminars for all House members. The others are Respect in the Workplace, with a focus on sexual harassment, and Ethics in the Legislature. …

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Where's Sen. Bill Nelson's support going for next Florida Democratic Party chair?

Sen. Bill Nelson, the key elected Democrat in Florida who will likely have influence in selecting the next Florida Democratic Party chair, hasn’t publicly revealed who he will support.

“The Senator is aware of some candidates who have expressed an interest and will be monitoring the upcoming local DEC elections which determine who is officially eligible to run,” said Pete Mitchell, Nelson’s former longtime chief of staff who is advising him on his 2018 campaign.

It appears that Nelson is waiting for some of the large Democratic counties to first elect their own leaders before he weighs in publicly on who should replace Allison Tant, who announced after the Nov. 8th election that she wouldn’t seek re-election in January.

Broward Democrats will elect their state committeeman and woman Saturday while the Miami-Dade party elects its leaders Tuesday.

Across Florida, committeemen and women vote for the state party chair according to a formula based on the number of registered Democrats in the county which means that Broward and Miami-Dade have the most influence.

Nelson is the lone statewide Democrat in elected office in Florida and the Republicans have placed a target on this back for 2018. …

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