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Budget writers nearing deal on courts, legal funding

House and Senate justice budget writers appear within striking range of a deal to reconcile their proposals, which sat at $3.5 million apart after two meetings on Saturday, one-10th of 1 percent over the overall budget.

As of Sunday afternoon the gap was narrowed to about $441,939 in general revenue, though the way the money is appropriated still differs slightly.

Budget writers closed out differences on nearly a dozen line items including funding for public defenders and other state-provided defense counsel, and for inmate re-entry centers in Lake and Gadsden counties.

The current House offer also includes $100,000 for a new branch of the 2nd District Court of Appeals, but that was not met by the Senate. Some Tampa Bay area lawmakers want to move the DCA court to more centrally located Tampa, but observers say Polk County Sen. Kelli Stargel, who represents Lakeland where the court now operates, is vehemently against the move.

The Senate made in exchange Senate proviso and “back-of-the-bill” language, which contains boilerplate language directing funds for certain programs generally kept intact from year to year, though the items do shift some.

Among other proviso differences, the House wants $500,000 to study the recent rash of deaths among inmates in Florida’s prisons, by “consolidating, cleansing and analyzing data to measure behavior, improve outcomes, and make data driven decisions on how to best utilize resources.” The Senate’s offer contained no such language.

The Senate proviso proposal, though, contains $1 million to track prisoners at the Lowell Correctional Institution using GPS tags to help study inmate interactions, a priority unmet in the House offer.

Chairman Larry Metz tentatively announced the next hearing will commence at 6 p.m. Sunday night, but that it could meet later in the evening.

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Rick Scott says he’s not thinking of becoming Donald Trump’s VP

A day after Gov. Rick Scott became the subject of speculation that he could be considered in the mix as of potential running mates for GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump, he attempted to dial down those rumors by saying that he hadn’t thought at all about the possibility.

“I focus on this job. I’ve got three more years on this job,” he said when asked by longtime Tallahassee reporter Bill Cotterell at a news conference in his office Wednesday afternoon. “My goal is when I finish this job, people are going to say I have to live in Florida because everybody can get a great job.”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza first broached the subject in an opinion piece also discussing Republicans Nikki Haley, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin as possible running mates. Trump rolled to his third consecutive primary victory Tuesday night in Nevada.

Unlike many other Florida Republicans, Scott has remained neutral in the Republican presidential sweepstakes, despite that two Florida native sons – Jeb Bush andMarco Rubio – have been considered front-tier candidates since they entered the race in 2015. Bush dropped out last weekend.

Scott told reporters on Wednesday that he hasn’t decided who he’ll back in Florida’s March 15 presidential primary.

“I’ve been very clear the things that are important to me,” he said. “I think we need to have a president that has a very specific plan on how we’re going to get jobs going in this country, just like we’ve done here in Florida. Somebody who is going to balance the budget. Somebody who is going to cut federal regulations in half. And somebody who is going to be absolutely focused on destroying ISIS.”

He later said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll endorse anyone before the primary.

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Uber to give lucky users an ultimate Valentine\’s Day, private jet trip to NYC on Saturday

Love is in the air this weekend, as Uber gives riders in Tampa Bay, Tallahassee, Orlando and other cities a chance to take Valentine\’s Day to new heights.

By opening the Uber app Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., three lucky riders from over 50 U.S. markets could be struck by cupid\’s arrow and win the getaway of a lifetime for Saturday — a flyaway trip to New York City in a private jet, complete with an overnight stay at a luxury hotel, a shopping spree and dinner at two celebrated restaurants.

To win, users must access the Uber app Feb. 12, select the promotions tab and enter the promo code DREAMDATE. Then, slide over to the LOVE option to request a ride.

Winners, chosen randomly, will spend the next day being whisked away to NYC via private jet, courtesy of Victor Jet Charters. They will stay at the Gansevoort Meatpacking luxury urban retreat, enjoy some rest at its posh exhale spa, as well as $2,500 to spend at Saks Fifth Avenue. During the stay, they will dine elegantly at The Chester and chef Mario Batali\’s Del Posto. And to top it off, flowers from 1-800-Flowers.com.

Uber is offering similar Valentine\’s Day promotions in other international cities, including on-demand lingerie (in Manhattan) and puppies (in Cleveland). In India, the ride-hailing company is offering similar weekend getaway vacations – with 15 domestic and three international destinations – asking potential winners to have “passports and government ID ready for verification.”

“This is a one-of-a-kind on-demand where we\’re giving our riders an opportunity to travel to other cities (on the same day) for the Valentine\’s Day weekend,” an Uber representative told Mashable. “Uber is all about giving riders a unique and amazing experience, and we\’re excited about this on-demand as it takes the Uber experience a few notches up.”

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