Breaking overnight — Univision anchor Jorge Ramos and his news crew were detained after interviewing embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and then were released, according to the American Spanish-language network, Univision.
Univision’s president of news in the U.S., Daniel Coronell, said Monday that Maduro “arbitrarily detained” the group at the Miraflores Palace, the country’s presidential palace, in Caracas because he “did not like their questions.”
Paola Ramos confirmed her father had been detained and that the team’s electronic equipment had been confiscated. She confirmed on social media late Monday that her father was safe.
“He told me that 15 minutes into his interview, Maduro stopped him and then forced him and his team into a dark room for 2.5 hours,” she said. “He was then released without any of his belongings.”
Maduro’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, told Univision that no journalists were detained, the Miami Herald reported.
“According to Rodriguez, Jorge Ramos insulted Maduro,” Univision anchor Patricia Janiot said.
The incident follows a deadly weekend at the Venezuelan border, where at least four people died and hundreds more were injured trying to help get international aid shipments into the country. Military forces under Maduro have been blockading the border to prevent aid from reaching citizens.
A top-of-Sunburn birthday shout-out to our dear friend, the brilliant and loyal Ana Cruz of Ballard Partners. We know what she wants for her birthday — an outright win for her partner, Jane Castor, in next week’s Tampa mayoral race — but today we’ll just help her blow out the candles.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@ItsJeffTiedrich: Trump’s Twitter morning: 6:32am: whines about wall 6:36: retweets himself 6:50: attacks Spike Lee 6:58: whines about oil prices 6:59: retweets daughter 7:30: retweets himself 7:40: brags about dictator playdate 7:53: attacks old man dying of cancer 7:58: whines about wall again
—@MarioDB: “Elections” under the Cuban regime are a sham. Until all political prisoners are released, independent press and labor unions are legalized, and free, fair, multiparty elections are scheduled, these regime orchestrated “elections” are a farce
—@JamesGrantFL: Why don’t we just get on with it: 1. Abolish states. Why do they exist anyways? 2. Let the 2 parties keep defending ever increasing Executive overreach & dereliction by Congress? 3. Elect a King. Or Queen. 4. End this beautiful republic once & for all. Am I missing anything?
—@GovRonDeSantis: I am pleased that the @has granted my request for a statewide grand jury to review school safety measures throughout our state.
—@JeffreyBrandes: Working on an amendment to my MMJ bill that will terminate dormant licenses. Companies who got licenses to flip them for $50-$80 million dollars lied about their intentions to serve patients; I will not stand idly by while patients suffer
—@GNewburn: Great to see President @realDonaldTrump discussing the #FirstStepAct with governors from around the country this morning. He noted that conservatives led the effort, and now “Many states … are following the same roadmap.” We’re trying in Florida! Pass the bill
—@LizbethKB: So proud to stand beside my friend @as she kicks off her campaign for Florida House. Tonight hundreds of people came to hear her vision for Southwest Florida and her will to fight for the things that are important to Lee County.
—@OHDems: .@should donate the thousands of dollars in contributions he received from John Childs, who is accused of soliciting prostitutes from a Florida spa that law enforcement officials say has been trafficking vulnerable women
—@jpgillin: If anyone’s keeping score, gas went up 20 cents since I drove into work this morning. That’s 40 cents in 6 days.
—@AnnaforFlorida: Getting to know some of our urban gardens in @AudubonPark! Excited for us to start our own @fleetfarming at our #HD47 district office, too!
— DAYS UNTIL —
Fat Tuesday — 7; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 7; Tampa mayoral election — 7; ‘Captain Marvel’ release — 10; Players Championship begins — 16; St. Patrick’s Day — 19; Jacksonville municipal first election — 21; Major League Baseball opening day — 30; Scott Maddox corruption trial begins (maybe) — 30; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 33; Masters Tournament begins — 44; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 47; Easter — 54; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 66; Mother’s Day — 75; Memorial Day — 90; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates start — 101; 2019 General Election — 255; Iowa Caucuses — 342; 2020 General Election — 616.
— TOP STORY —
“Mike Pence, in Colombia to meet Juan Guaidó, announces new Venezuela sanctions” via Katie Rogers of The New York Times — Pence said the Donald Trump administration would impose sanctions on additional Venezuelan officials and urged regional leaders to freeze assets of the state oil company, moving to increase international pressure on the embattled Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, to step aside. Pence also announced an additional $56 million in aid to Venezuela. And he urged Latin American nations to transfer the control of assets from Maduro to Guaidó. Pence warned of more punitive steps to come. “I want to assure you, President Guaidó, that the tragic events of the past weekend have only steeled the resolve of the United States of America. We are with you 100 percent.”
“Region condemns Maduro but steers clear of new sanctions” via Jim Wyss and Franco Ordõnez of the Miami Herald — The meeting of the Lima Group was attended by Pence and Venezuela’s interim President Guaidó. And there were expectations that the bloc of largely Latin American countries might come out swinging after Venezuela violently stopped aid convoys on the Colombian-Venezuela border over the weekend. The group condemned Maduro’s actions and said its commitment to a democratic transition in the country was now “irreversible.” But the communiqué, which was read by Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, was likely to disappoint some in the Venezuelan opposition who were hoping for more forceful measures — and perhaps even tacit acknowledgment that diplomacy and sanctions aren’t enough.
“Mother of executed Venezuelan rebel officer Oscar Pérez is living her own hell in U.S.” via Antonio Maria Delgado of the Miami Herald — The mother of assassinated rebel police officer Pérez has suffered through anguished moments in the United States, forced into a harsh immigration process that first landed her in a detention center and now keeps her mired in uncertainty and on the edge of poverty. The case of Aminta Pérez reflects the ambiguity of the U.S. government as it deals with the crisis in Venezuela.
— THE NEW ADMINISTRATION —
“White House doesn’t back Ron DeSantis on drug importation from Canada” via Peter Sullivan of The Hill — White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere was noncommittal about the proposal. He said Trump “has instructed his staff to meet with the governor to learn more details about what he is considering.” The administration also looks forward to educating Gov. DeSantis on the many policy options the Trump administration has proposed to reduce costly drug prices for American families,” Deere added. The Trump administration must approve Florida’s move to allow drug importation for it to take effect, something that no administration has yet done.
“Volunteer Florida hardest struck by DeSantis’ board retractions” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Of the 23 commissioners currently overseeing work at Volunteer Florida, seventeen had their appointments pulled back. Kerry Anne Schultz, Vice Chair of the Commission, was among them. But she’s optimistic the news won’t impact the board. For one, it’s Schultz’s understanding that until DeSantis names new appointments, everybody previously appointed by Rick Scott will stand until further notice. “That will let business go forward,” she said.
—“DeSantis rescinds 6 of 9 appointments to FSW Board of Trustees” via Thyrie Bland of the Fort Myers News-Press
“Florida ethics commission reviewing rules after DeSantis yanks Rick Scott appointments” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida Commission on Ethics is not sure DeSantis has the authority to remove its members on his own. “Nothing like this has ever happened, at least for as long as I’ve been associated with the Commission,” said Virlindia Doss, the commission’s executive director. She has been with the ethics commission since 1990. DeSantis sent a letter to Senate President Bill Galvano announcing the retraction of more than 170 people appointed by former Gov. Scott who have not yet been confirmed by the Senate — from the Board of Acupuncture to the West Florida Regional Advisory Council. Florida statutes say a commissioner can only be removed for cause by a majority vote of the Governor, the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“Supreme Court orders statewide grand jury on school safety” via Florida Politics — The Florida Supreme Court has granted Gov. DeSantis‘ request, agreeing to “promptly impanel” a statewide grand jury for one year to investigate school districts’ safety practices. The seven justices issued their unanimous order on Monday, saying DeSantis “has shown (that) good and sufficient reason exists and that it is in the public interest to impanel a statewide grand jury … to investigate crime, return indictments (and) make presentments.” Among its charges: To look into “whether refusal or failure to follow the mandates of school-related safety laws, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, results in unnecessary and avoidable risk to students across the state,” according to the order.
“Hospital group signals support for DeSantis’ AHCA Secretary” via Florida Politics — Former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior is expressing confidence in his successor, Mary Mayhew. “Every life matters and every Floridian deserves access to the highest level of care at the most affordable price,” Senior wrote in a letter to Senate President Galvano on behalf of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, or SNHAF. “It is because of the Secretary’s shared focus on this mission that we are pleased to support Mary Mayhew’s nomination and are hopeful she will be quickly confirmed.” Senior left AHCA last year and took a CEO spot at SNHAF. Gov. DeSantis early last month tapped Mayhew to lead AHCA.
Happening today — DeSantis and the Cabinet will consider spending $2.54 million in the Florida Forever conservation program to buy land in Lake and Hamilton counties. The proposals would lead to paying $540,000 to acquire 83.4 acres in Lake County and paying $2 million for 316 acres in Hamilton County, 9 a.m., Cabinet Meeting Room.
Assignment editors — DeSantis will make an announcement, 2:30 p.m. Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Main Training Room, 18900 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.
— “New Attorney General Ashley Moody says opioids, fraud top priorities” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post
Jared Moskowitz says ‘no’ to firm run by former DEM staffer — Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Moskowitz is not allowing his agency to do any business with a company operated by a former DEM employee. First reported by Arek Sarkissian in POLITICO Florida, Jason Wheeler joined the agency in 2017 to head the DEM Recovery Bureau, which manages FEMA hurricane recovery funds. Wheeler co-founded Capital Engineering and Consulting six months earlier.
— ROAD TO SESSION —
“Aaron Bean backs Medicaid change” via the News Service of Florida — Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean said the state could not afford to return to a long-standing policy that allowed Medicaid patients three months to apply for coverage while the state and federal governments paid the costs of care. “The policy (change) is reasonable,” Bean, who filed a bill (SB 192) last week to make the change permanent. Instead of giving patients 90 days to choose a Medicaid managed-care plan, the state now requires that the patients immediately enroll in a plan. About 39,000 poor, elderly and disabled Floridians are impacted by the change, which took effect Feb. 1
“Joe Gruters, Randy Fine want Florida’s electrical grid upgraded” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Companion bills have been introduced in the Florida Legislature with the goal of prepping the state’s electrical grid to survive the next storm. Sen. Gruters introduced the measure in the Senate (SB 796), while Rep. Fine filed the House version (HB 797). The measures call for utilities to submit infrastructure hardening plans to the Public Service Commission for review. The plans must cover arrangements for the next 30 years. Once submitted, the commission has six months to either approve or modify the plan. Both Fine and Gruters referenced the recent spate of storms to hit the Sunshine State as their motivation for addressing the state’s electrical infrastructure.
“Nicholas Duran bill aims to modernize HIV law” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Miami Democrat filed the HIV Prevention Justice Act (HB 79) in hopes of reforming the law. The bill already has favorably passed through the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The legislation seeks to reclassify a failure to notify a sexual partner of HIV-positive status as a misdemeanor, instead of a felony. “This legislation will save lives and take care of the whole community,” said Alejandro Acosta, coordinator for Equality Florida’s HIV Advocacy Project. “It will help decrease HIV stigma, encourage people to get tested, and get into treatment.”
“Medical marijuana ‘reciprocity’ proposed” via the News Service of Florida — Wauchula Republican state Sen. Ben Albritton filed such a “reciprocity” bill (SB 1328), after Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, and Rep. David Silvers, a Lake Clarke Shores Democrat, filed a similar measure (HB 557) last month. Under both bills, medical-marijuana identification cards issued by other states to patients and caregivers would have the same authority as identification cards issued to Florida residents who are registered to receive medical cannabis. The Senate bill also would require the Florida Department of Health to enter into a registry physician certifications about the types of marijuana and delivery devices recommended for the out-of-state residents..
“Spanish, French and … SQL? The push to teach coding like a foreign language” via Lynn Wallace of the Blacksburg Beacon — Aimed at preparing students for high-tech jobs in a modern digital economy, the legislation (SB 104) has the backing of such influential powerhouses as Disney and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “I love this idea. This is the future,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes. “Employers are valuing the skill of coding, and we should ensure that the education market is geared toward what employers want.” But the idea is drawing renewed criticism from educators and Hispanic advocacy groups. “I sort of comically applaud that some would want to categorize coding as a foreign language,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who fiercely opposed the measure when it was first pitched in the 2016 session.
—“Brandes on criminal justice, a new report on hate groups and student culinary competition” via Alejandra Martinez and Chris Remington of WLRN Miami
“Florida Democrats reveal political strategy and new gun law” via Gabriella Paul, Cat Gloria and Katherine Campione of Fresh Take Florida — Lawmakers introduced more than a dozen new bills to see whether any proposals might gain traction among majority Republicans. Their tactics are part ambitious optimism and part public-relations strategy to draw attention to their party’s ideas about changes to criminal background checks, the Guardian campus security program and forcing abusers in domestic violence cases to give up their guns. The strategy is more a public relations effort than anything, said Daniel Smith, chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Florida. Democrats in the minority will attempt to stoke public opinion about gun safety to pressure Republicans, he said.
One downside to this strategy: If a bill is never heard in committee, the substance cannot be the subject of an amendment later on, meaning the Dems cannot force legislators to take a vote on their proposal https://t.co/cJvU7PApGf
— Gary Fineout (@fineout) February 25, 2019
FEA launches ad campaign: ‘Fund Our Future’ — The Florida Education Association is introducing a “Fund Our Future” advertising campaign urging lawmakers to fund public education. The six-figure television and digital buy will run Feb. 25-March 11. FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement: “Funding our future means investing in all of the elements that are crucial to providing opportunity to our students … Our public schools need to be funded so students can have a fair shot at success, and educators can teach with dignity. We must do better, and Tallahassee has to help.” The ads will air in Orlando, Tallahassee and Tampa with digital versions of the campaign across the state via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
To view the video, click on the image below:
Happening today — The Florida Elections Commission will take up numerous cases and receive a legislative update, 8:30 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
Assignment editors — Members of the Sadowski Housing Coalition will gather to call on the Florida Legislature to appropriate all the housing trust fund monies for the Fiscal Year 2019-20, 1:30 p.m. at the Plaza Level Rotunda.
— EARNINGS REPORTS —
“Southern Strategy Group earned up to $21.2M in 2018 lobbying pay” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Southern Strategy Group pulled down eight figures in consulting fees last year, once again putting them among the top firms in the state when it comes to incomes. SSG’s median earnings estimate puts them just shy of $8 million in legislative lobbying pay with another $6.2 million in fees collected through their executive branch efforts. That includes $3.7 million in Q4 earnings. … Had each of SSG’s 243 legislative and 251 executive contracts hit the top dollar in their reported ranges, the firm could have tallied as much as $21.2 million. That top end estimate is the second-best among all Florida lobbying firms.
“Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney clears $2.8M in 2018 lobbying pay” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Full-service law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s fourth-quarter lobbying compensation reports show they brought in an estimated $2.82 million in 2018. New reports indicate the 10-member firm brought in $630,000 during the last three months of the year. That includes a $370,000 rake across 57 paid contracts on the firm’s legislative compensation report and another $260,000 in receipts reported on their executive compensation report. … That finish is in the ballpark of the firm’s 2017 Q4 haul, and their legislative compensation report was good enough to land them a top-20 ranking among all Florida lobbying firms. … If the firm’s contracts weighed in at the top dollar in their reported ranges, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney could have earned as much as $4.14 million last year.
“Floridian Partners tops $3.75M in annual earnings” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — According to new compensation reports, full-service consulting firm Floridian Partners earned as much as $5.1 million for its Capitol lobbying efforts last year. Fourth-quarter lobbying compensation reports show managing partner Charlie Dudley and the team of Jorge Chamizo, George Feijoo, Cory Guzzo, Gary Guzzo and Teye Reeves cracked $565,000 on their legislative report and $310,000 on their executive one. The firm also got some help from new additions Nichole Geary, who signed on in mid-September and Melissa Joiner Ramba, who headed to the firm from the Florida Retail Federation in October. … Overall, Floridian Partners could have earned nearly $3.4 million from its 61 legislative lobbying contracts and more than $1.7 million in pay across its 51 executive branch principals.
— THE TRAIL —
What Jason Garcia is reading — “Initiative would change Florida constitution to say ‘only a citizen’ can vote” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A group connected to an organization promoting Trump‘s agenda wants to change Florida’s constitution from reading “every citizen” qualified and registered in Florida can vote, to “only a citizen” qualified and registered can vote. The proposed wording change may have no legal impact on voting in Florida because only citizens can legally vote now in the Sunshine State. The organization behind the drive is the Florida Citizen Voters committee. “It sounds like a get-out-the-vote, turnout measure for Republicans,” said Susan MacManus, the semiretired political scientist from the University of South Florida.
“Group launches effort to oppose 2020 energy deregulation amendment” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A proposed amendment to deregulate Florida’s electric industry is garnering more pushback. A group called Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy (FARE) now is launching efforts to oppose the plan. “Today, Florida consumers pay some of the lowest rates in the country,” said former Democratic state Rep. Robert Asencio, who now serves on the FARE board. “We cannot allow Florida’s stable energy market to be disrupted by special interests who are only looking out for their bottom line, and not the public interest.” The amendment would allow Floridians to pay for their electricity on an outside market rather than pay their local utility. It also purports to expand individuals’ ability to use solar energy to power their own homes.
“Finger-pointing abounds in heated HD 7 special election” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Republican Mike Watkins called on primary opponent Jason Shoaf to fire his campaign team after alleging a connection to negative ads. It’s the latest sign of hostility in a North Florida special election dousing airwaves and social media feeds with anger. “My opponent, Jason Shoaf, has begun to run one of the nastiest and negative campaigns in Panhandle history,” Watkins wrote on his Facebook page. The Shoaf team notes Watkins hasn’t exactly kept messaging to family photos. Tossing accusations at Shoaf count as negative campaigning, they note. But Watkins’s big issue is whether Shoaf owns up to any role in the sudden burst of unpleasant advertisements.
— STATEWIDE —
“Triumph OKs expedited hurricane relief plan” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Triumph Gulf Coast, a nonprofit that will administer 75 percent of a $2 billion state settlement that followed the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, unanimously backed a plan on Monday to launch an application process to permit cash advances to Wakulla, Gulf, Franklin and Bay counties. The counties will be asked to each submit one proposal. Counties will be required to disclose their estimated ad valorem property tax loss for the current year, as well as certified collections from 2018 and 2017. Decreased property values as a result of Hurricane Michael are expected to result in decreased collections, adversely affecting local government services. To combat that, Triumph earlier this month set aside $15 million for four of the eight counties eligible for Triumph funding. Triumph members noted multiple times that the $15 million set aside for ad valorem relief does not affect the four counties’ statutory eligibility for a certain percentage of Triumph funds split evenly across the eight counties that interact with Triumph.
“BP oil spill money to help FSU revive Apalachicola oyster industry” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times — The university’s scientists believe they can figure out what’s gone wrong with the oysters and bring back the industry, even building a pilot-scale oyster hatchery. FSU also will contribute $1.5 million toward the project. To finance the first five years of the project, FSU sought funding from Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., the nonprofit corporation that the state organized to oversee the expenditure of 75 percent of all funds that BP paid to the state for economic damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. When it came up on the Triumph meeting agenda, former House Speaker Alan Bense made the motion to approve the request, and the vote was unanimous.
“Cigarette makers rejected by U.S. Supreme Court on Florida suits” via Greg Stohr of Bloomberg — The justices rejected appeals by units of Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc in eight cases that totaled more than $120 million in awards to smokers and their family members. The appeals, which argued that the companies weren’t being given a fair chance to mount a defense, were similar to previous industry bids turned away by the high court in recent years. The tobacco companies said in court papers that they face another 2,300 pending suits. The cases that have gone to trial have produced more than $800 million in judgments, they said.
— LOCAL —
“NFL to take ‘appropriate action’ in case of Robert Kraft charges for soliciting prostitution” via Mary Helen Moore and Cheryl McCloud of TCPalm — New England Patriots owner Kraft, 77, was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution in connection with a Florida spa tied to an international human trafficking ring, Jupiter police said. The NFL said in a statement its personal conduct policy “applies equally to everyone in the NFL and it will handle “this allegation in the same way we would handle any issue under the policy.” The league added it is “seeking a full understanding of the facts” and does not want to “interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation.” The NFL said it would “take appropriate action as warranted based on the facts.”
“Why would a billionaire go to a suburban strip mall sex spa?” via Gil Smart of the Tallahassee Democrat — Let’s say you’re Kraft. And you could be if you had $6.6 billion lying around and happened to own the New England Patriots. Even if they thought the women were on the up and up, so to speak, why would the likes of Kraft risk so much for such fleeting pleasure? “A lot of it has to do with the danger of it, the excitement of getting away with it,” said former NYPD sex crimes detective John Savino, now North Central Regional Commander for the Florida Bureau of Insurance Fraud. “It’s just the ease of the mission being accomplished. There’s no strings attached.”
“Duval superintendent, some board members cite shortfalls at proposed charter school” via Teresa Stepzinski of the Florida Times-Union — Duval schools Superintendent Diana Greene indicated she wouldn’t recommend a contract for a proposed new charter school unless its operator provides a realistic diversity plan that won’t segregate students. Some board members shared Greene’s concerns and voiced their own reservations about a Seaside School Consortium Inc. proposal for a new charter school — Seaside Charter North Campus — on Jacksonville’s Northside. Seaside already operates two charter schools in Duval. At issue is that the consortium’s Seaside Charter Beaches and Seaside Charter San Jose schools don’t have diverse student populations while the new school would be in an area with a large minority population, basically creating separate but equal charter schools.
“Stoneman Douglas watchman questioned by lawyers for Andrew Pollack” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Andrew Medina the former watchman criticized for his failure to call for a “code red” when Nikolas Cruz arrived on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, was grilled for hours by attorneys for the father of one of the victims of the massacre. Medina was joined at the meeting by former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer who resigned under pressure after officials labeled him a coward for failing to engage Cruz once the shooting began. Medina and Cruz are among the people sued by Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed at Stoneman Douglas.
“Who will lead UCF long-term? The answer is unclear.” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — Trustees selected Thad Seymour, vice president for partnerships and chief innovation officer, to lead in the short-term as the university searches for a more permanent leader. One thing that is clear: Seymour isn’t interested in the job permanently. “I’m focused on helping to steer the ship in the near term, but will not put my hat in the ring to be the next president,” Seymour wrote. “I’m confident UCF will be able to attract an exceptional candidate for the long-term interim role as well as for the next president when that time comes.” It’s unclear if trustees will choose to embark on another national search, as they did last time.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Former campaign staffer alleges in lawsuit that Trump kissed her without her consent. The White House denies the charge.” via Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites of The Washington Post — Alva Johnson said Trump grabbed her hand and leaned in to kiss her on the lips as he exited an RV outside the rally in Tampa on Aug. 24, 2016. Johnson said she turned her head and the unwanted kiss landed on the side of her mouth. In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed Johnson’s allegation as “absurd on its face.” “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye-witness accounts,” she wrote. Two Trump supporters that Johnson identified as witnesses — a campaign official and Pam Bondi, then the Florida Attorney General — denied seeing the alleged kiss in interviews with The Washington Post.
“Republicans save Democrat Patrick Murphy from investigation into illegal campaign activity” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Federal Election Commissioners couldn’t agree on whether to investigate allegations of illegal campaign activity in 2016 by then-U. S. Senate candidate Murphy, so the case is closed. Though a Democrat, Murphy was spared further investigation by the two Republicans on the commission, who blocked further inquiry into the allegations. The two Democratic commissioners said there was a reason to believe that Murphy, his political committee, his father, Senate Majority PAC and Murphy’s treasurer violated federal election statutes. The 2-2 decision was reached Feb. 6. It takes four votes of the commission to proceed, and there are two vacancies that Trump has yet to fill.
Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a member of the Judiciary Committee and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, will hold a news conference call before the congressional hearing on the Trump administration’s family separation policy, 10 a.m. Eastern time, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
— OPINIONS —
“DeSantis surprises again with decision to pull plug on John Miklos appointment” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Miklos, appointed to the St. Johns River Water Management District, has been driving good-government advocates batty for years with his legendary conflicts of interest between his stewardship role on the water board and his profession as an environmental consultant. Talk about a political swamp that needed cleansing. We’ve been among the chorus of voices agitating for change. Miklos told news outlets that he wasn’t going to seek reappointment, a face-saving fact he didn’t reveal publicly until after DeSantis acted. Oh, and Miklos is facing a new ethics complaint about his conflicts. Regardless of the reason, hallelujah.
“Bob Lotane: Pulling back Willie Meggs nomination to ethics board a good thing” via Florida Politics — Meggs was appointed to the Florida Commission on Ethics just months ago by former Gov. Scott. Meggs’ appointment to that panel was an insult to the very concept of ethics. My late wife Robin worked as an assistant state attorney under Meggs for 17 years, eventually rising to the top nonelected post of Chief Assistant State Attorney. Former Statewide Prosecutor Pete Williams best described Meggs’ brand of justice: “For too long, justice under Willie Meggs has been based on who you are or what you look like. He is responsible for the culture of favoritism and intimidation in his office …”
— MOVEMENTS —
“Lobbying powerhouse Ron Book charged with DUI after Lamborghini crash” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Book was arrested Sunday night in Broward County on DUI-related charges after a crash involving his Lamborghini, according to police records. Inmate information listed with the Broward Sheriff’s Office shows Book was brought to the Broward County Main Jail after his arrest by Florida Highway Patrol on three charges — a first-offense charge of DUI, refusal to submit to a DUI test and DUI with damage to a person or property. All the charges are misdemeanors. Book was released on bond, so he did not appear in court for a bail hearing, according to the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
Happening today — Staff members of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee will select which lobbying firms to audit compensation reports, 2 p.m., G-01 Claude Pepper Building, 111 West Madison St., Tallahassee.
— ALOE —
“White House says Easter Egg Roll to take place on April 22” via The Associated Press — Tickets are free and can be requested through an online lottery scheduled to open Thursday at 10 a.m. EST and close March 4 at 10 a.m. EST. The White House says there’s no fee to enter the lottery and winners will be contacted by email by March 14. Families with children ages 13 and younger are invited to join Trump and first lady Melania Trump for a day of festivities on the South Lawn, where children use wooden spoons to roll dyed hard-boiled eggs.
“Gas prices in South Florida make a double-digit bounce to a new 2019 high” via David Neal of the Miami Herald — Average gas prices rocketed up 10 cents in Miami to $2.39 per gallon, according to AAA, and 11 cents around the state to $2.34 per gallon. GasBuddy.com puts last week’s rise in Miami at 8 cents per gallon, but their daily survey of 1,690 stations also puts the average price per gallon of regular at $2.39. Miami prices have gone up over the last month (8 cents by AAA’s numbers, 6.7 cents by GasBuddy’s), but are significantly lower than a year ago (32 cents according to AAA, 20.6 cents according to GasBuddy).
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are political consultant Eric Foglesong, Ron Greenstein, and former Rep. Jerry Paul.
Today’s Sunburn was written by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.