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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.14.19

Commentary and links on Florida politics as crisp as your morning bacon.

It’s been one year since tragedy struck Parkland. One year since we learned of the senseless killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

We’ve since changed the way we talk about policy. The state last year passed marked departures from the norm on gun control, and school safety will undoubtedly remain in the fore through this Legislative Session.

Last year’s tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed the way we talk about both Florida policy and politics.

Thinking of Parkland, it’s sometimes hard to find the right words to say. And if you’re in politics, you know every bit of speech counts.

We received leaked a copy of the state House Democrats’ messaging strategy, so we know what’s in store from them. They’ll be talking about their anti-gun violence agenda unveiled earlier this week.

“It’s time for the Florida GOP to join @FLHouseDems in their efforts to strengthen our gun safety laws,” reads one suggested tweet.

From part of a Facebook post: “I am proud to support a comprehensive anti-gun violence agenda with my colleagues in the Florida House and Senate.”

“Passing universal background checks and keeping weapons of war out of dangerous hands is simply common sense,” reads part of another Facebook recommendation.

Are they bringing politics to tragedy? Sure. But the distinction between the two blurs more every day.

Schools to commemorate MSD anniversary with moment of silence Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has invited the state’s 66 other school districts to join his school district in marking the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre with a moment of silence at 10:17 a.m. Thursday. “This heartfelt tribute will honor those who were so directly and terribly impacted by this horrific tragedy — including the entire MSD and Parkland community of families,” Runcie said. “As our entire state felt the incalculable loss suffered by so many a year ago, now our entire education community can be a meaningful part of the ongoing process of healing by pausing at 10:17 a.m. on February 14th to respect and remember.”

The plan was coordinated with Tallahassee Sen. Bill Montford, who is CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. … “Broward County’s loss has had a profound impact on the education community statewide,” Montford added. “No matter where we are in the state, at 10:17 a.m. on February 14th we will be standing with Broward Public Schools and paying tribute to the victims, their families, and the MSD community.”

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Ron DeSantis orders flags at half staff, moment of silence for Parkland” via Florida Politics — Gov. DeSantis ordered flags at half-staff on Thursday “in honor and remembrance of the victims of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.” He signed a proclamation on Wednesday. He also asked all Floridians to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. That’s in addition to a moment of silence being held at 9 a.m. in the Capitol Courtyard in Tallahassee.

Historic Capitol lit orange in remembrance of Parkland shooting victims” via Tori Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — In recognition of the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and in honor of the victims, the Florida Historic Capitol Museum will be lit up orange every night until Sunday. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried proposed the lighting at a Cabinet meeting last month. It was unanimously approved. “As we approach a difficult day for our state, let this week of orange serve as a token of hope, and a pledge that the 17 Parkland victims will not be forgotten,” Fried said. “Let us pledge that no victim of gun violence will be forgotten. And let us work together to address the threat of gun violence in our communities.”

Florida’s Old Capitol building goes orange to commemorate the anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

February is “I Love to Read” month, and when Michael Williams from CoreMessage reached out with a project he and his wife were working on, I couldn’t resist.

Michael’s wife Katie is a former teacher in Leon County: She spent two years at Riley Elementary, which is in one of Tallahassee’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Katie now works for Usborne Books and More, and she has a goal of buying every student at Riley a book and a treat for Valentine’s Day.

Thanks to some pretty generous donors, she’s covered some of the expense but could use help from the community in covering the cost of the rest of the books.

$3,000 is the goal to cover all the costs for the project. Anything raised beyond that will go to libraries in areas affected by Hurricane Michael.

If you want to donate, please click here, and share on social media with the hashtag, #FlaPolLovesRiley.

Background noise — I joined The Capitolist publisher Brian Burgess this week for “The Capitolist LIVE,” an audio/video podcast, to discuss ongoing ‘blackface’ controversies, Florida’s evolving political media, and more.

To view the podcast, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half-billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a “green” disaster!

@BillGates: At a time when bad news seems to dominate the headlines every day, I want to keep reminding people that life is getting better for millions in the world’s poorest countries, thanks in part to smart investments in health.

@GovRonDeSantis: While we cannot bring back the innocents lost, we can honor their memory by learning from the mistakes that were made and resolving to swiftly correct all of those within our control.

@JaredMoskowitz: Its still fresh in my mind when my wife called me as she passed #MSD in #Parkland while I was on the House floor on the #14th. What I saw a year ago tomorrow still haunts me. I wish I never met @AndrewPollackFL @fred_guttenberg @rpetty @maxschachter

@MichaelUdine: Working w/Airport Director and @FAANews requesting that media refrain from flying helicopters anywhere near MSD on the 14th. We understand the need to report, but ask that media respect the wishes of the community and let us heal in peace

@Fineout: Is it still a major announcement if the Facebook live feed freezes?

@AGAshleyMoody: With the 1st anniversary of the tragedy at MSDHS a day away, we must reflect on this tremendous loss & work to make sure it never happens again. My Office of Statewide Prosecution will fully investigate school districts across FL to ensure they are not operating outside the law.

@MDixon55: It appears @UCF is better at @USouthFlorida at both misappropriating taxpayer funds and basketball

@PhilAmmann: @TB_Times online SAYS it is an “advertising-supported” site, yet there is still a PAYWALL for users. So, who is it that is paying: “advertisers” or READERS? Just be honest with us, that’s all

— DAYS UNTIL —

Federal government runs out of funding (again) — 1; Fat Tuesday — 19; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 19; Tampa mayoral election — 19; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 22; Players Championship begins — 28; St. Patrick’s Day — 31; Jacksonville municipal first election — 33; Scott Maddox corruption trial begins — 43; Major League Baseball season begins — 43; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 45; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 59; Easter — 66; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 78; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates begin — 113; 2019 General Election — 267; Iowa Caucuses — 351; 2020 General Election — 628.

— TOP STORY —

Families to quietly remember on school massacre anniversary” via Terri Spencer of The Associated Press — Victims’ families say they will mourn out of the public eye. For the victims’ families, there is no day without pain, in some ways it won’t be any different from the previous 364 days. The families remain outspoken in their demand that school Superintendent Robert Runcie be fired and against the reinstatement of suspended Sheriff Scott Israel, saying their inaction and mistakes allowed the shooting to happen. Still, most who have spoken publicly say they plan to spend Thursday quietly. Jaime Guttenberg’s family, for example, will visit her grave, while Nick Dworet’s will go to the beach where his ashes were scattered in the ocean. Athletic Director Chris Hixon’s family is preparing for a race in his honor on Saturday. “We are going to simply reflect and remember,” said Tony Montalto, president of the victims’ families’ organization, Stand With Parkland. “That is the best thing.”

Fred Guttenberg will spend this terrible anniversary quietly, and out of the limelight.

A childhood interrupted: In year since shooting, Stoneman Douglas family wrestles with how to stay” via Jessica Bakeman of WLRN — When Annabel Claprood walks into a room, the first thing she does is look for a place to hide. The 17-year-old has practiced moving quickly from the driver’s seat of her car to the back, so she can’t be easily seen through the windows. Her mother, Elyse Claprood, uses her cellphone to closely track her daughter’s location, feeling relief only when she confirms, yes, Annabel is at home. She’s at school. At the horse barn where she volunteers. Annabel Claprood, 17, and her mom, Elyse, are next to each other on the couch in their living room in Coral Springs. River, the therapy dog who works in the library at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, sits at their feet. A year ago, the sound of gunfire interrupted Annabel’s sophomore Spanish class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

—“A year after Parkland, a family searches for closure” via Gabby Deutch of POLITICO Magazine

Their anguish was a defining image of Parkland. Now they don’t talk to each other” Kelli Kennedy of the Associated Press — It’s an image that has become emblematic of the Parkland school massacre: two terrified moms outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, one of them a tall, weeping blonde with the black smudge of Ash Wednesday on her forehead, the other a petite redhead crying in despair on her shoulder. But the bond in that widely seen photograph didn’t survive long. The two women soon found themselves at odds — like the nation itself — over gun control.

Student journalists track 1,200 youth gun deaths in year since Parkland” via Axios — On the 1st anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 200 student journalists from across the country assembled to document and write profiles on the 1,200 Americans under the age of 18 killed in shootings in the last year. “The reporting you will read in ‘Since Parkland’ is journalism in one of its purest forms — revealing the human stories behind the statistics — carried out on an exhaustive scale,” says project’s website. The newly launched multimedia initiative, titled Since Parkland, partnered with organizations that include The Trace, the Gun Violence Archive, Miami Herald, McClatchy, NowThis and Global Student Square. The victims whose stories are told were killed during school shootings, armed domestic violence, drug homicides, unintentional discharges, and stray bullets.

Parkland school turns to experimental surveillance software that can flag students as threats” via Drew Harwell of The Washington Post — The school system in South Florida, one of the largest in the country, said last month it would install a camera-software combination called Avigilon that would allow security officials to track students based on their appearance. With one click, a guard could pull up video of everywhere else a student has been recorded on campus. The 145-camera system, which administrators said will be installed around the perimeters of the schools deemed “at highest risk,” will also automatically alert a school-monitoring officer when it senses events “that seem out of the ordinary” and people “in places they are not supposed to be.” The supercharged surveillance network has raised major questions for some students, parents and teachers, who voiced concerns about its accuracy, invasiveness and effectiveness. The biggest doubt: that the technology could ever understand a school campus as a human can.

‘Columbine’ author Dave Cullen’s new book ‘Parkland: Birth of a Movement’ out this week — “For ten months,” Columbia Journalism Review’s Carlett Spike wrote, Cullen embedded himself with the student survivors who formed Never Again MSD. “I felt hopeless and just bleak since Columbine,” Cullen told her. “It was 19 years into this … We failed to pass gun-control legislation. We taught kids to hide better. When I think about lockdowns, it makes me more and more angry.” But: “When I met the Parkland kids, they were all really bright, creative, and they were doing something powerful.” He said it was a privilege “to go inside their heads and talk about what’s going on …”

— THE NEW ADMINISTRATION —

DeSantis calls to impanel grand jury on school safety” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Gov. DeSantis has petitioned the state Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigate school districts throughout the state regarding their school safety practices. DeSantis made the announcement Wednesday afternoon just a day before the anniversary of the Parkland shooting. The families of Parkland victims flanked DeSantis along with several members of his staff. “The best tool that we have to bring accountability but also move forward in a better way is a petition that I filed today with the Florida Supreme Court for a statewide grand jury.” DeSantis says he made a move to go beyond the scope granted to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

DeSantis orders audit of programs like the one that might have prevented Parkland” via Elizabeth Koh of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau — In an executive order, DeSantis called for an audit of all 67 counties’ school districts for diversion programs like the “PROMISE” program, which Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was referred to while a student in the Broward County school district. The audit “should determine the requirements for eligibility and operation of these programs, the costs of these programs, their stated impact on school and public safety, and whether there is evidence to support their continuation, closure or regulation in law.” DeSantis’s order also directed the Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice to work together to review the programs by July 1 and, “at a minimum, determine whether there is adequate information or evidence available to draw an informed conclusion about the efficacy of these programs and their impact on school and public safety.”

Ron DeSantis gives a speech to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Gala in Boca Raton. Friends of the IDF provides for soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who ensure the safety of Israel and Jews worldwide.

Nikki Fried taps Gwen Graham’s husband, a cop-turned-attorney, to oversee Division of Licensing” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — Fried announced that Stephen Hurm would serve as the next Director of the Division of Licensing. Hurm, a police officer-turned-lawyer who is married to former U.S. Rep. Graham, will oversee the concealed weapons permitting and licensing program. “One of my top priorities is to adequately screen applicants for concealed weapons permits and correct the previous administration’s serious failures in oversight,” Fried said in a statement. “Stephen’s experience implementing successful risk management strategies makes him the careful, competent, and qualified leader the Division needs as we move forward to remedy the past failures.”

DEP’s Noah Valenstein outlines goal to ‘do more now’ on environmentvia Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The state’s top environmental regulator says the agency is looking to show Floridians more immediate impact of water quality projects throughout the state. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Valenstein testified in front of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. He said DEP’s No. 1 question is: “How can we do more now to protect the environment?” DeSantis recently issued an Executive Order (EO) allocating $2.5 billion toward water quality projects over the next four years. Valenstein outlined several ways DEP would be affected by the Governor’s EO. He says the agency is now looking to show residents quicker results regarding cleanup projects which can often take decades.

— ROAD TO SESSION —

’Guardian’ money goes to gun supplies, staff” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — The 25 sheriff’s offices participating in the school guardian program have spent nearly $2 million to buy firearm supplies such as ammunition, weapons and gun holsters and at least $3 million to pay for salaries and benefits of employees involved in the training process, according to records. Other purchases that have driven program costs in some counties have to do with screening candidates who participate in the program and expenses for uniforms. While costs vary from county to county, the state has paid at least $376,000 for drug screening, polygraph tests and psychological exams and about $300,000 on uniforms for guardians. Training equipment and firearm accessories, however, tend to dominate much of the sheriff’s offices’ costs. Whether that money has been spent appropriately by law-enforcement agencies will be up for discussion during the Legislative Session, Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley said.

FEA President: Arming teachers is the ‘wrong conversation” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA), is pushing back against lawmakers’ efforts to allow teachers to train and be armed to enhance school security. Under SPB 7030, advanced through the Senate Education Committee, teachers would not be required to carry weapons. They would merely be added to the list of eligible individuals to participate in the state’s Guardian program. But Ingram, a former high school band director elected to lead the FEA in October, believes having guns inside the classroom isn’t a solution. “That’s the wrong conversation,” he argued. “The conversation should be about how we deal with our students.”

FEA President Fedrick Ingram argues that talk of arming teachers is ‘the wrong conversation’ we should have about school safety.

A good bill can die many times before it passes —Insurance reform may already be DOA for 2019” via John Haughey of FloridaWatchdog.org — This year, Senate Business and Industry Committee Chairman Doug Broxson thought he’d found a way to address AOB reform by introducing Senate Bill 122, a relatively modest proposal to limit the “one-way” attorney fee provision only to homeowners rather than contractors and attorneys. Broxson maintains SB 122 does not do away with the value an AOB agreement offers homeowners after a loss — such as hurricane and flood damage — in “assigning” the right to contractors to pursue insurance payments in exchange for “upfront” work. But this week, Broxson’s own committee raised so many objections to the proposal, he tabled SB 122, signaling AOB reform may be DOA even before the 60-day session begins on March 5. Four members of the eight-member panel — three Democrats and one Republican — said during a pre-session primer in Tallahassee that they would not vote for the measure as it is now crafted.

Committee OKs ban on customer incentives by auto glass shops” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — Legislation to bar auto glass shops from offering incentives to lure windshield repair customers cleared the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee on an 11-2 vote. The dissenters feared the legislation would make it harder for small businesses to compete against large players like Safelight Group. Sponsor Richard Stark, a Democrat from Weston, insisted that his proposal (HB 323) would crack down on dodgy vendors seeking access to insurance money. “The goal of the bill is not to put people out of business. The goal of the bill is to prevent people from offering cash to file a claim,” he said.

Nurse practitioner debate re-emerges in House” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The House Health Care Quality Subcommittee heard the pros and cons of allowing advanced registered nurse practitioners to operate independently of physicians and whether it would increase access to care. Tay Kopanos, vice president of state government affairs for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, said states are turning to a number of solutions to increase access to care, including building more medical schools, increasing the number of medical residencies, establishing repayment programs for providers willing to work in underserved areas and investing in telehealth initiatives.

DOC says aging inmates, mental health are driving up health care costs” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Corrections staff briefed a House panel on the structure and status of prison health care Wednesday before detailing some of their 2019-20 budget requests. DOC in recent years has faced budget shortfalls, causing them to make dramatic cuts to inmate health care services. The $55 million shortfall last year caused officials to slash substance-abuse, mental-health and re-entry programs by more than $10 million to make ends meet. DOC Health Services Director Tom Reimers told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee that part of the cost spike could be pinned on the large population of inmates needing mental health care as well as an aging population.

House and Senate on different paths to a fracking ban” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — After the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee adopted a committee bill proposed by Sen. Montford a group of his colleagues rushed out of the room and across the Capitol campus to see what the House would do. In the House committee meeting, Rep. Evan Jenne tried to amend a proposal advanced by Rep. Holly Raschein and adopt the Senate’s language. When it became clear the move would fail one opponent quipped, “We have a farce of a fracking bill.” Montford had simplified his proposal. To get it through his committee he stripped it of a study and a legislative finding that called fracking a threat to the clean water supply for “Florida’s natural systems.” “The majority of the people of Florida want a fracking ban, and this bill gives them that ban,” said Montford.

Citrus money could remain steady as result sought” via the News Service of Florida — Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Ron Bradley supports maintaining the current level of funding for the state’s citrus industry, as a decade of research about combating deadly citrus greening disease is applied more in groves. After hearing presentations Wednesday from citrus-industry leaders, Bradley said there “certainly” won’t be a drop from this year’s $23.2 million in funding. At the same time, he advised industry leaders there is a sense of urgency that “the investments that we made start literally bearing fruit” to help growers. “We’re starting to see the research being applied to the fields, now we’re going to start to see what really works and what doesn’t,” Bradley said. “We don’t need to be taking our foot off the gas at this point in time.”

House panel green-lights CRC reform bills” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Floridians voted on 12 amendments last year, but those measures covered well over a dozen subjects. One example: Amendment 9, which bundled a ban on workplace vaping with another on offshore drilling. All the bundled amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to recommend changes to the state’s governing document. The body — made up of commissioners appointed by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President — was heavily criticized for the bundled amendments and now lawmakers are looking to make sure it doesn’t happen again. … One proposal (HJR 53) would require CRC amendments “embrace but one subject and matter directly connected therewith.” In other words, no more bundling. Another (HJR 249 and linked bill HJR 251) would get rid of the CRC altogether, though it would need to be approved by 60 percent of Florida voters. That plan, sponsored by Republican Rep. Brad Drake … Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson has called it “power to the people bill.” has broad bipartisan support — All three bills cleared the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, with HJR 53 getting unanimous support and the repeal bills getting the vote of all but one committee member.

Audrey Gibson calls the CRC reform bill ‘power to the people.’

Jeff Brandes’ local tax referendum measure breezes through first committee” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes’ bill (SB 336) would require counties to place tax increase referendums only a general election ballot. Currently, counties are not limited on such tax initiatives and can put them before voters in special elections. Brandes filed the same bill last year, but it died in the Senate. He presented it again this year saying the measure would stop counties from raising taxes on residents during special elections that have “ridiculously low turnout.” He noted that effectively allows a very small number of constituents to approve taxes on the entire county population. The measure passed the Ethics and Elections Committee without debate. The bill heads next to the Finance and Tax and then Rules committees.

Small beer? Bill to benefit big theme parks squeaks through first committee” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — A bill that would allow beer companies to advertise in the state’s biggest theme parks barely escaped its first House review panel. The Business & Professions Subcommittee OK’d the measure, which has been filed for the last three years, by an 8-7 vote on Wednesday as lobbyists for the state’s beer distributors put up a fight. The House version of the legislation (HB 261), identical to its Senate companion (SB 242), permits “cooperative advertising” … allow(ing) a beer company to sponsor a concert or festival within a park, for example.

Goodbye, Knights? Lawmaker floats ‘shutdown’ of University of Central Florida” via Florida Politics State Rep. Randy Fine is suggesting the lack of oversight is so stunning at UCF that the 68,000-student school — one of the largest in the nation — deserves to be shuttered. “If this was a private business I owned, I’d shut it down,” Fine said. In fact, he said he’s “working on a five- or ten-year shutdown of the university” because of its dearth of “corporate governance.” Fine spoke at a hearing of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which he chairs. He began a promised deep dive into university capital spending.

Good luck with that: Financial mismanagement is the reason Randy Fine is considering a ‘five-or-ten-year shutdown’ of the University of Central Florida.

— Randy, you gonna let him get away with this? …“Shut down UCF? A nutty idea from an amateur-hour politician” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel

A $733M backlog could force cuts to campus construction — Nearly 40 state college and university construction projects, including some in the works for more than a decade, are on the chopping block. Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reports Fine plans to cross out three dozen projects that lawmakers approved but didn’t fund. In total, it would cost $733 million to close the construction backlog, more than the nearly $607 million already invested by the state, according to a report from the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is chaired by Fine. “We’re going to take a good, hard look at the commitments that have been made but not funded to just make sure they’re things we still things we want, and ought, to be doing,” the Brevard County Republican said. … On top of the construction backlog, schools are expected to face a $150 million decrease in PECO funds, which pay for construction projects.

The surprising political rise of Adam Hattersley” via Kenya Woodard of the Tampa Bay Times — In late 2017 Ross Spano — a Republican who had held the District 59 seat since 2012 — filed to run for Attorney General and later made a successful bid for Congress. The move prompted Republicans Ronda Storms and Joe Wicker — who had the backing of the party — to launch campaigns to replace Spano. Hattersley said his phone “started to ring off the hook” after Storms’ announcement. The former nuclear submarine officer and U.S. Naval Academy instructor filed, running unopposed on a platform of supporting increased funding for education, increased teacher pay, expanding Medicaid, and working with local governments to improve transportation. Storms lost the primary to Wicker, who Hattersley then defeated in November. Since his election, Hattersley has been busy. He’s filed five bills and co-sponsored 10 others, an impressive showing for a political newcomer. One of those bills, dubbed the “MeToo No More Act,” would eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sexual offenses.

An impressive showing: A series of political dominoes resulted in the ‘surprising’ political rise of Democrat Adam Hattersley.

Governors Club Thursday lunch buffet menu — Tuscan white beans soup; mixed green salad; marinated vegetable salad; tuna salad; BBQ pork ribs; smoked chicken; shrimp Creole; steamed rice; Brussels sprouts and bacon lardons; cauliflower au gratin; apple cobbler for dessert.

— STATEWIDE —

Scoop — Rebecca Kapusta resigns from DCF — The Department of Children and Families’ Assistant Secretary for Operations departs effective March 31 “for a new role in the private sector.” Her Feb. 8 resignation letter and an internal announcement on her leaving were released after a public records request. She had been Interim Secretary for several months between former DCF head Mike Carroll and current Secretary Chad Poppell. Poppell told staff that Kapusta, whose last day in the office is Feb. 28, “embodied the mission and vision of the department, and her commitment is unmatched.” Kapusta, who also has been DCF’s statewide General Counsel, logged nearly 12 years with the department. She was Chief Counsel for DCF’s Suncoast Region in Children’s Legal Services, as well as Assistant Regional Counsel and Assistant General Counsel. Kapusta also was a general magistrate in the 12th Judicial Circuit for Desoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Kapusta out: Rebecca Kapusta (left) is stepping down from the Department of Children and Families. Image via Facebook.

SunPass system was ‘completely overwhelmed’ last year, but most problems fixed, FDOT says” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — “The system was completely overwhelmed,” Gerry O’Reilly, secretary for FDOT’s District 4 region said. “There just wasn’t enough horsepower there to process it all.” When the state’s electronic tolling system went down in June, the result was chaos, with bills not going out, some people being overbilled, and general confusion about how to fix the problems. State Rep. Mel Ponder said the contractor, Conduent State & Local Solutions, should have known that it was woefully unequipped to handle the millions of tolls Florida drivers rack up each week. “This shouldn’t have been a surprise to them, nor should it have been a surprise that their system couldn’t remotely handle it,” Ponder said.

Supreme Court warns about email scams — An email scam aimed at bilking people out of money has surfaced again, using phony letterhead that appears to come from the Florida Supreme Court, spokesman Craig Waters says. Many of the intended victims are located outside the United States and are unfamiliar with Florida law. “Courts in Florida never send out real legal notices by email,” Waters said. “If you get an email asking for money because of some court document or saying you violated a court order or other legal obligation, you should check further before taking any action.” To pursue a complaint, click here.

Palm Beach, ground zero for 2018 vote recount, didn’t apply for election security cash” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Nearly $2 million in federal funds was made available to the state for hardware and software support, including server installations and network monitoring, ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. In a presentation to the House Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, state elections director Maria Matthews said 66 of 67 Florida counties applied for the funds, news that angered lawmakers. “Once again, the Palm Beach supervisor’s office has proved that they have been woefully mismanaged,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican who led the Republican Party of Florida during the 2018 election cycle. “It’s clear to me that making deadlines was not their forte.”

Pulse shooting: Police cleared of wrongdoing in response to massacre, state attorney says” via Gal Tziperman Lotan and Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel — Fourteen law enforcement officers fired shots during the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub, but none struck anyone other than the gunman, the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office said. Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said her office found the response to the June 12, 2016, massacre that claimed 49 lives justified. “While there is no way to take away the pain and the devastation that has been imparted upon our community, it is my hope that sharing the results of this investigation will help survivors and their loved ones to find closure and answer any questions they may have,” Ayala said. “They do deserve to have answers.” Deborah Barra, Ayala’s chief assistant state attorney, detailed five encounters during which officers fired shots and said that evidence showed that none of those bullets killed or wounded anyone but gunman Omar Mateen. Officers’ actions were “reasonable and justifiable,” she said.

Cleared: Aramis Ayala and Deborah Barra explain in detail how there was no wrongdoing by police in response to the Pulse shooting in June 2016.

Hmmm —Virgin Trains USA delays planned $538 million IPO” via Jonathan Levin and Drew Singer of Bloomberg — Virgin Trains USA Inc., which struck a licensing deal last year with billionaire Richard Branson, sought to raise as much as $538 million in an IPO that was set to price Tuesday. The IPO decision follows previous delays for Virgin Trains. Last year, the company, owned by Fortress Investment Group private equity funds, had to push back startup dates along the Florida corridor and thus missed its passenger forecast by about half, losing $87.1 million on $5.2 million in revenue in the first nine months. Virgin Trains sees shuttling Disney-bound tourists as more lucrative than its current route. It will eventually make three times more revenue from the Orlando run as from short hops between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, according to forecasts in a study by the firm Louis Berger, which was commissioned by the railroad.

— LOCAL —

Exclusive — “Lenny Curry far out front in Jax mayoral race” via Florida Politics  If Election Day were today, Jacksonville Mayor Curry would win another term in a landslide. That’s according to St. Pete Polls, which asked 1,027 voters planning to cast a ballot in the election who they planned to vote for March 19. Nearly 58 percent said they wanted to stay the course, with about a fifth of respondents planning to tick the box for Councilwoman Anna Brosche. Second-tier contenders Jimmy Hill and Omega Allen both polled in the single digits. The crosstabs show Curry, a Republican, has the backing of 75 percent of Republicans and a plurality of Democrats. He’s also the pick for a supermajority of white voters, 38 percent of black voters. Those two demographics made up 92 percent of the sample. He also has majority support from men, women, millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers.

Front runner: Lenny Curry, shown here visiting Julia Landon Middle School, is far out in front according to latest polling in the Jacksonville mayoral race.

Former felons freed to vote in March mayoral races” via Ursula Perano of POLITICO Florida — Election supervisors in Duval and Hillsborough counties said voter registration applications were up last month after Amendment 4 took effect Jan. 8. The measure aims to restore voting rights to 1.5 million felons who have completed their criminal sentences, excluding those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Florida Senate President Bill Galvano believes the amendment is self-executing and already is being implemented around the state, so specific action by the Legislature isn’t required. Currently, the Secretary of State is in charge of verifying individual eligibility and relaying information to elections supervisors about who is authorized to vote. Department of State spokesperson Sarah Revell said the agency is complying with the amendment and “there has been no delay in implementation.”

Eight hopefuls ready for special elections” via the News Service of Florida — The recent appointments of former House members Halsey BeshearsDanny Burgess and Jared Moskowitz to lead state agencies spurred the need for special elections in House Districts 7, 38 and 97, respectively. Qualifying opened with Republicans Mike WatkinsLynda BellVirginia Fuller and Jason Shoaf qualifying in District 7, which is made up of Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla and part of Leon counties. Also, Democrat Ryan Terrell had an open campaign account for the race but not qualified as of Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Republicans Randy Maggard and David “Mac” McCallister and Democrat Kelly Smith qualified to run in Pasco County’s House District 38, and Democrat Dan Daley qualified to run in Broward County’s House District 97. Special primary elections are scheduled April 9, with the special general elections on June 18.

Jason Brodeur earns Wilton Simpson’s endorsement — Trilby Sen. Simpson wants former state Rep. Brodeur to join him in the state Senate in 2020. Simpson, who is set to take over as Senate President next year, lauded the Sanford Republican for his commitment to “issues such as family adoption, public safety and education.” … “I’m excited to endorse Jason’s campaign, and I’m proud of the work we’ve already accomplished together on key issues like pension reform. I’m confident in his ability to continue to lead in the State Senate.” … Brodeur, who is seeking the Senate District 9 seat held by term-limited Republican Sen. David Simmons, called Simpson “a proven state leader, colleague and friend.” 

Scott Plakon files for re-election in HD 29” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Plakon served two terms in House District 30 from 2008-12 and then came back in House District 29, first being elected in 2014. It’s been a big month for the conservative Republican and publisher from Longwood. On Feb. 3 the widower announced his engagement to Central Florida real estate agent Rachel Saunders. Last fall Plakon squeaked by for re-election, defeating Democrat Tracey Kagan 51-49.

A big month: In addition to getting engaged, Scott Plakon (center) has filed for another term in House District 29. Image via Facebook.

Panhandling lawsuit filed in federal court — Advocacy organizations and pro bono attorneys say they’re filing suit against St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar and Florida Highway Patrol Director Gene Spaulding on behalf of Peter Vigue, a St. Augustine man arrested for “standing on the public right of way and holding a sign soliciting donations.” The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, saying Vigue’s rights were violated. “Asking for help is speech protected by the First Amendment,” said Kirsten Anderson, one of the attorneys on the case. The suit challenges the constitutionality of Florida state law that prohibits people from soliciting contributions on public streets and sidewalks without a permit. State law exempts, however, charitable organizations from the permit requirements and other restrictions. Both law enforcement agencies named in the complaint have made a practice of enforcing the statutes against the homeless, advocates said.

Tony Ledbetter, energetic Volusia Republican ‘boss,’ dies” via Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Volusia County Republican Party Chair Ledbetter, whose energy is widely credited with a flip of the county’s registered voters from blue to red for the first time since at least Reconstruction, died. Known by party member as “The General” or “The Boss,” Ledbetter was a controversial figure unafraid of challenging norms, much like the candidate he supported starting in 2015 when he started delivering hundreds of signs and Make America Great Again hats to Donald Trump backers. “I’m a Type-A personality. Donald Trump is a Type-A personality,” Ledbetter once said. Ledbetter, 71, of Ormond-by-the-Sea, had been ill with cancer for the past 10 weeks and died Wednesday morning, his wife, Toni Wright Ledbetter, said.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Donald Trump to talk about Venezuela on Monday at Florida International University” via David Smiley And Franco Ordoñez of the Miami Herald — Trump is scheduled to speak at Florida International University, where he’ll reaffirm his support for Guaidó and, according to the White House, hammer socialism as a scourge. The president will deliver his address at the university’s Modesto A. Maidique campus in Sweetwater, which is immediately south of Doral, home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the U.S.

C’mon, Matt — “Matt Gaetz altercation with Parkland parents fuels Crowdpac fundraiser” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A fund launched last week attracted donors with the #MakeMattPay hashtag on Twitter. Gaetz’s sin? He clashed publicly at a House hearing with parents of children slain at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year. At the Judiciary Committee hearing, Gaetz suggested a border wall to stop migrants would more effectively curb gun violence than would background checks. Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin died in the shooting, objected loudly, and Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime also perished in Parkland, joined him. “I’ve witnessed three interruptions of my time by the same individual,” Gaetz said while requesting if Oliver could be ejected from the hearing. The Crowdpac fund quickly set up a $50,000 goal to fund the eventual Democratic nominee in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. As of midday Wednesday, $45,965 has come in, much of it through suggested donations of $20.20.

#MakeMattPay: An altercation at a recent House hearing on gun violence has prompted crowdfunding a Democratic opponent to Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz: Fox News regular ‘not afraid to be hated’” via Robin Bravender of Florida Phoenix — So why all the cable news appearances? Gaetz’s spokeswoman, Jillian Lane Wyant, said the congressman’s media strategy “speaks for itself — ubiquity. “Being on television is more effective than a news release, though our office engages in both traditional and new media,” she added. Gaetz has appeared on other television networks in the past two months, according to clips posted to his YouTube channel. He was on CNN and Bloomberg, and he was preparing to appear on MSNBC before the cable news network canceled. Asked about the frequency of his Fox appearances, she said, “Fox seems to have a preference for Congressman Gaetz. While the congressman regularly appears on a variety of platforms, Fox News asks the most.”

John Rutherford introduces bill to ban seismic testing in the Atlantic” via Abukar Adan of WMFE — The Republican has teamed up with Democratic New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew to introduce a bipartisan house bill they’re calling the Atlantic Coastal Economies Protection Act, in response to the Trump administration approving the search for oil and natural gas off the Atlantic Coast. Last year, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issuing five Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs), a move that would permit oil and gas companies to blast seismic air guns that are harmful to marine life. “I was disappointed to see NOAA Fisheries advance efforts to conduct seismic testing off our Atlantic Coast — the first step to offshore drilling,” wrote Rutherford, in a December letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross following the administration issuing of the IHAs. “I am very concerned about the effects seismic testing would have on vulnerable marine mammal populations.”

A Florida mayor is thinking about running for president and it’s not Andrew Gillum” via Ryan Brooks of BuzzFeed News — Wayne Messam, 44, is the owner of a construction firm and serves as the mostly ceremonial mayor of Miramar, a South Florida city of 140,000. He told BuzzFeed News that while he’s largely focused on his mayoral re-election campaign, he’s seriously started considering launching a presidential campaign. “The way I’ve been able to communicate with my peers across the country, and leadership positions that I’ve been fortunate enough to serve in on the national level. It’s sparked some inquiries like ‘What’s next for you, mayor?” Messam said in an interview. “I’m just taking those comments and those urgings to really push and to seriously consider the prospects of perhaps running for president.” Messam was an early supporter of Gillum’s campaign for governor and served as a campaign surrogate for Hillary Clinton in South Carolina during the 2016 presidential election.

— ANALYSIS & OPINIONS —

Trump must hold out for a good deal with China” via Marco Rubio for The Washington Post — Bringing balance to America’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China is the geopolitical challenge of this century. As China rises, seeking to become the dominant global superpower, it is violating the international rules of the past century while moving to write new rules for the new century in its mercantilist and authoritarian image. Trump is doing what few thought possible: creating powerful leverage that could be used to change the behavior of China’s government and potentially bring more balance and reciprocity to the entire relationship. If American negotiators waste their leverage by prematurely agreeing to a bad deal, China will be emboldened to pursue policies that run directly counter to America’s national interest, and the United States will risk losing this century’s most important strategic, economic and geopolitical competition. The stakes couldn’t be higher — for the American people, for the 1.4 billion Chinese living under an authoritarian regime and for the stability of the world.

Nikki Fried: Democracy up in smoke” via Florida Politics — Twenty-seven months have passed since Floridians overwhelmingly voted for the right to access medical marijuana. Nearly 200,000 patients in Florida have used this medicine for relief from terminal and terrible conditions. Yet many are still seeking relief — and they need access to the flower in its natural form. After trying other forms of medical marijuana, their doctors have recommended continuing to smoke the plant — and those doctors believe stopping could present irreversible problems. Each day, people across our state break the law just to get the treatment they need to stay alive. This is absurd. And frankly, it’s just plain wrong. I’m doing my part to right that wrong, by appointing the state’s first-ever cannabis director and introducing new rules in the coming weeks on medical marijuana edibles and hemp production from which CBD products are derived. But delivering on Amendment 2’s promise requires all of Florida’s leaders working together.

Joe Henderson: GOP reckless idea to arm schoolteachers is no solution” via Florida Politics — I have a simple request for Republicans in Tallahassee fighting who say arming our schoolteachers will make classrooms safer. Can they please tell us about the last time any of them were actually inside a high school like Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland? They should experience what it’s like when the phone is ringing off the hook in the front office, and a student has a medical emergency. If a depraved individual bent on mayhem entered the school undetected, then what? Why do these lawmakers believe a teacher would be cool enough to stop a slaughter? Introducing more guns into the system exponentially increases the chance for tragedy. It is reckless, dangerous and irresponsible. The idea for arming schoolteachers came up last year, and it was bad policy then. It’s back again, but it’s still bad. It will always be bad.

An unbelievable odyssey: Trying to access court records, for free and on the spot, at your local courthouse” via Lucy Morgan of Florida Phoenix — First you’ll encounter a “Secure Website User Management” page that requires you to fill out a “registration agreement’’ listing your name, email and physical address, phone numbers, and the name of your business. Then you’ll have to hire a notary public to authenticate your written statement and get it to the courthouse. The clerks claim a Florida Supreme Court order requires the changes. Not so says Craig Waters, spokesman for the high court. The court issued an order which requires the custodian of records to redact confidential information such as Social Security numbers, but the order says it should not restrict access to other portions of the record. In a letter to the Supreme Court, Tampa lawyer Carol LoCicero has asked the court to look at other ways to protect confidential information. LoCicero is asking the court for help on behalf of a group of Florida newspapers and television stations and the First Amendment Foundation.

Anthony Sabatini’s blackface latest chapter in dark Lake County lore” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Growing up in Leesburg means coming to terms with Lake County’s racist history. The Groveland Four. America First. And now, state Rep. Sabatini posing in blackface. Unfortunately, the hits don’t stop. I’m sure Sabatini will lament he doesn’t belong on this heinous list. But he’s made a bigger splash with his fit over a high school photo than with any piece of legislation.

— MOVEMENTS —

Lisa Goodner Kiel named interim State Courts Administrator — Kiel has worked in Florida state government for over 35 years. She replaces Patricia “PK” Jameson, who returned to work in an administrative role with the Florida Legislature. Kiel’s first day was Monday. Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters explained that Chief Justice Charles Canady and the other justices chose Kiel “because of her breadth of knowledge about judicial relations with the other branches of government.” Her prior experience includes 11 years as state courts administrator before retiring in 2014. As state courts administrator, she’s responsible for “overseeing the broad range of policy, intergovernmental relations, and operational functions performed by the Office of the State Courts Administrator on behalf of the Florida Supreme Court, the district courts of appeal, and the trial courts.”

Audubon Florida announces new legislative, policy staff — Beth Alvi joins Audubon Florida as Director of Policy, and Joshua Romero becomes Director of Legislative Affairs, the group said in a press advisory. Alvi worked in leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, most recently serving as Director of External Affairs in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Ecosystem Restoration. Romero has been a Marine, legislative aide in the Florida House of Representatives, and served as a senior political adviser to various statewide advocacy groups.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Lisa Aaron, Lisa Aaron Consulting: Carahsoft Technology Corp.

Melissa Akeson, Rubin Turnbull & Associates: Wellpath

Curtis Austin: Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges

Jack Cory, Keyna Cory, Erin Ballas, Public Affairs Consultants: Gaiaca

David Barkey: Anti-Defamation League

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: National Health Transport

Angela Bonds, Chris Moya, Dean Mead: Ride On Miami

Jennifer Green, Melanie BostickTimothy Parson, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: AT&T

Rivers Buford: American Heart Association

Mike Fischer, The Legis Group: Florida Independent Pharmacy Network, PPSC

Eduardo Gonzalez, Sun City Strategies: Town of Bay Harbor Islands

Glenn Grab: Harris Corporation

Mike Haridopolos: Handex Consulting & Remediation

Robert Holroyd, Lauren Jackson, TSE Consulting: Code.org, Handy, City of Fort Lauderdale, Federation of Public Employees AFL-CIO, Palm Beach County, Town of Davie

Elisabeth Kiel: State Courts System

Jennifer Kilinski, Hopping Green & Sams: Association of Florida Community Developers

Lori Killinger, Lewis Longman & Walker: Shark Allies

Patricia Lynch, Patricia Lynch Associates: The Nature’s Bounty Co.

Drew Medcalf, Florida Association of State Troopers

Jerald Paul, Capitol Energy Florida: Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy for the benefit of All-Star Children’s Foundation

William Peebles, Peebles Smith & Matthews: City of Newberry, Florida Municipal Broadband Alliance

Scott Remington, Clark Partington Hart Larry Bond & Stackhouse: Aero Air Charter

Katherine San Pedro, Ballard Partners: Friends of Miami-Dade College

Sharon Smoley: Orlando Economic Partnership

Timothy Stanfield, Greenberg Traurig: American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Holocaust Documentation & Education Center

Brendan Sullivan: Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen

Curt Anderson to cover Legislative Session for AP — The Associated Press’ Miami-based legal affairs reporter will join Brendan Farrington in covering the 2019 Session, he tweeted. “Will be a homecoming: I was there for AP in the early ’90s. See ya’ll soon,” Anderson wrote. He will temporarily replace the departing Gary Fineout, who is leaving the AP’s Tallahassee bureau to join POLITICO Florida. Farrington is now the AP’s lone full-time reporter in the state capital. The wire service in recent years had as many as four full-time reporters in Tallahassee, including now-retired veterans Bill Kaczor and Brent Kallestad.

Q&A: Meet Florida’s new Playbook co-author Gary Fineout” via Cindy Andrade of POLITICO Press

— ALOE —

Retailers expect plenty of love on Valentine’s Day” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Whether consumers dole out those chalky candy hearts to their loved ones, pick up flowers for their crush or bask in their singlehood with a night on the town, Valentine’s Day will see retailers make some serious coin. A new survey from the National Retail Federation estimates those planning to celebrate the patron saint of courtly love will spend $20.7 billion this year, a 6 percent increase over the previous high watermark which came in 2016. The record level of spending comes despite fewer people choosing to take part in Valentine’s Day festivities than last year. That’s because those who have plans expect to spend $161.96 apiece, up 13 percent from 2018 … The Florida Retail Federation, NRF’s state-level partner, expects a good amount of that retail rake will come to the Sunshine State. “Another special event on the calendar and another spending record is expected, once again reinforcing the strength of the economy both statewide and nationally,” said FRF President and CEO R. Scott Shalley. “More consumers are employed with more money to spend, meaning great sales opportunities for retailers throughout Florida.

Hearts and cash: Retailers expect consumers to drop some serious coin on Valentine’s Day.

Reservations going fast for ‘romantic’ Valentine’s Day dinner at one Orlando Waffle House” via Kyle Arnold of the Orlando Sentinel — The breakfast restaurant known for its low-cost, generous serving of ham, bacon and hash browns, will offer a special Valentine’s Day dinner at the restaurant at 8903 S. Orange Blossom Trail. But with only one day left and only one restaurant in Central Florida offering the special date nights, spots are going fast. An employee at the Orlando restaurant, just south of Florida Mall, said reservations are required and the only spots left are 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. “Valentine’s Day is about spending time with the one you love at a place you love,” said a statement from Waffle House Valentine’s Specialist Jessica Kinskey. “And it’s even better when you can do that without spending a lot of money.” Lovebirds will be offered a special meal with dimmed lighting and white tablecloths.

Stat du jour — From the Florida Trucking Association: An estimated 36 million boxes of heart-shaped chocolate boxes will be delivered by trucks, and 250 million roses are grown for Valentine’s Day … with only 24 hours for trucks to deliver them.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is the rising star of the lobby corps with the best hair, RJ Myers of Suskey Consulting. Also celebrating is Kari Hebrank of Wilson & Associates and first-year U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala.

Today’s Sunburn was written by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Joe Henderson, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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