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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.22.19

Make your bed. Then check out your morning rundown of the day in Florida politics.

We were told “rulemaking” must happen before smokable marijuana could be sold.

So much for that.

Trulieve, one of the state’s medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), said it made the first-ever “whole flower” sale Thursday at its Tallahassee store.

And flower will now be sold at all its retail shops, including its newest dispensary in Melbourne, which opened this week.

This bud’s for you: A Tallahassee Trulieve dispensary was the first in Florida to legally sell ‘whole flower’ medical marijuana.

“Offering these whole flower products to our patients in their purest, most effective form is something we — and patients — have been looking forward to since we opened the doors of the state’s first dispensary,” said Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO.

Trulieve is offering smokable whole-flower buds, but it plans to soon sell other smokable products, like pre-rolled cigarettes.

Just another example, as one unnamed House Democrat put it, that “when this Governor wants something to happen, it f—-ing happens.”

—“Fired up: Trulieve Tallahassee dispensary first to sell smokable medical marijuana in Florida” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat

—“Smokable medical marijuana sold for first time in Florida at Tallahassee dispensary” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel

First in Sunburn — With Democrats focused on ousting Donald Trump from the White House in 2020, the Florida arm of the party is looking to do its part with a hefty group of hires announced Friday morning exclusively in Sunburn.

“Florida is ground zero for the 2020 presidential race, and that’s why the Florida Democrats are starting early to turn our state blue and put a Democrat in the White House,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.

Former FDP Finance Director Christina Diamond is returning as a senior adviser. Will Zigler will take over as Data Director after holding that role in both the Texas and Missouri state parties.

Taehan Lee, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee alumnus, was hired as deputy director of Data and Reporting. Catherine Theriault and Chrisney Frederick, both former FDP filed organizers, are coming back into the party fold. Theriault was hired as the deputy director of Analytics, while Frederick will be the party’s VAN Administrator.

Former Tampa City Council candidate Ella K. Coffee was hired as the Community Engagement Director in Tampa Bay. Harrison Angelis will handle community engagement in Central Florida. Alex Berrios will oversee operations in Martin, Indian River, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties.

On the press outreach side, Luisana Pérez Fernández is coming on as Hispanic Press Secretary, while Alex Morash will take over as the statewide Press Secretary.

Rounding out the new hires are Devon Murphy-Anderson, the FDP’s new Deputy Finance Director in South Florida and Sam Cook, who will serve as the Party’s assistant to the Executive Office.

Also, a trio of party members earned a raise Friday morning. Lauren Calmet is moving from Deputy Political Director to Political Director. Rachel Berger, a veteran of the FDP Party Affairs department will now serve as that department’s director. And 2018 gubernatorial campaign spokesperson Kevin Donohoe was named the party’s chief spokesperson and senior communications adviser.

Be sure to check out my latest blog post — Lawmakers should stop misguided move to defund Florida Joint Center for Citizenship” — There’s a plan to eliminate all funding for the nationally respected Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which works with teachers, school districts and others to boost K-12 civics education — programs that teach our kids about citizenship and how government operates. FJCC is a partnership between UCF’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government and the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service. Civics education is at the core of everything we are as a society. It’s about the law and the Constitution. It’s about voting and free speech. It’s about free expression of religion and speaking up freely to the government itself. In other words, it’s about America. The Legislature requires civics education for millions of Florida children. In light of that, cutting funding for a resource that’s shown long-term significant ability to improve civics education seems to be an unwise and uncivil course of action.

Please listen to the latest episode of “He Said, She Said” — It’s Spring Break! Michelle Todd Schorsch and I talk with VISIT FLORIDA CEO Dana Young about the state of Florida tourism — 126.1 million visitors spending $112 billion — and what it means to the average taxpayer. Tourism dollars means taxes remain low for Floridians, with the average family saving $1,500. Speaking of tourism: We also speak with their favorite travel agent, Lesley Cohen, who offers her list of the best luxury vacation spots in Florida, including Miami, Palm Beach, Amelia Island and the Panhandle. Cohen also offers a few helpful travel tips for those planning post-Session getaways (spoiler alert … it’s the Caribbean). Other hot topics: Operation Varsity Blues, March Madness brackets (or lack thereof), 2020 candidate likes and dislikes, and Michelle’s take on Andrew Gillum — “Go away quietly, like you should when you lose.”

The latest “He Said, She Said” podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. 

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@CheriJacobus: One problem w/[Joe] Biden naming Stacy Abrams early as his running mate is the other candidates will attack her & him hard. They’ll no longer be campaigning to be his VP (and POTUS 4 years later). They will no holds barred campaign against the ticket if he fills the spot they all want

@EWarren: There are up to four million people in Florida who can vote but aren’t registered. I’m so glad to see @AndrewGillum’s new initiative to help Floridians register to vote.

@JTLevy: The theory of the Electoral College: Councils of the wisest and most virtuous citizens in each state will assemble in the state capitals to deliberate about who is wise and virtuous enough to be president. The reality: The most important voter in the country is Florida Man.

@kyledcheney: CONFIRMED: Roger STONE has invoked the Fifth Amendment to decline to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee.

—@PattyLaya: Maduro’s top officials are promoting a Twitter campaign to block U.S. Senator Rubio, complete with an instructional video and hashtag

@GovRonDeSantis: I fully agree with President @realDonaldTrump. It is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty in the Golan Heights, an issue I have been advocating for since my time in the U.S. Congress.

@Kathleen4SWFL: March is Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating the women of Florida! Our new Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez is the first Hispanic female to serve in this capacity. I know she will serve us well! @LtGovNunez #

@VALoupis: One of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had to serve was as a commissioner for @VolunteerFla. So proud of the work that they’re doing to bring opportunity to Floridians through @AmeriCorps — and excited about our new director (and former representative) Clay Ingram.

@SkylarZander: Thank you @Rob_Bradley for laying the soil and passing SB 82. Giving property rights back to Floridians so they can grow gardens in their front yard if they chose.

@BSFarrington: Overheard in Senate Office Building: If someone asks “Whose bill is that?” you have an 8 in 10 chance of being right if you say @JoeGruters

@MDixon55: Does a politician picking their home state team to win the tourney even if there is zero chance of that happening really help with anything? Is there a voter out there who is like “The Gov picked my beloved Monarchs to win it all, maybe I was wrong about them”

— DAYS UNTIL —

Scott Maddox corruption trial begins (maybe) — 6; Major League Baseball opening day — 7; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 9; Masters Tournament begins — 20; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 23; Easter — 30; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 32; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 42; Mother’s Day — 51; Memorial Day — 66; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates start — 77; 2019 General Election — 231; Iowa Caucuses — 318; Florida’s presidential primary — 361; 2020 General Election — 592.

— TOP STORY —

House panel approves guns for teachers” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — The Republican-led legislation adopted 11-5 along party lines by the House Education Committee builds on a law passed after last year’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Teachers would not be required to carry guns, but those who volunteer would have to undergo 144 hours of firearms training, possess a valid concealed weapon permit and pass both a psychological evaluation and drug test. Currently, teachers whose sole focus is classroom instruction are excluded from the program that as of January numbered about 726 armed volunteer guardians in 25 Florida counties, according to a committee staff analysis.

Pass the ammo: The Republican-led legislation to fund the state’s armed volunteer school guardian program passed a House committee along party lines.

— THE ADMINISTRATION —

E-Verify plan a heavy lift” via the News Service of Florida — Ron DeSantis’ vow to require Florida businesses to use federal “E-Verify” checks on the immigration status of new hires remains a tougher lift than his call for a sanctuary-city ban, which is speeding through the Legislature. But he’s not giving up, even as he blames a lack of unanimity among Republican lawmakers for slowing the proposal opposed by large farmers and tourism and construction interests. While saying this week he’d like the proposal to advance this year, he noted he has “four years.” “We got a lot of irons in the fire this session, we want to deliver on things that we can,” DeSantis told reporters, before adding, “This will be one I’m not going to quit on.”

Ron DeSantis asks Supreme Court to bow out of Okaloosa official’s suspension” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — Attorneys for DeSantis urged the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s lawsuit seeking to overturn her suspension. Attorneys for the Governor contend the court lacks authority to intrude upon his constitutional authority to police public officials or the Senate’s to judge them. “By the text of the Florida Constitution, the authority to suspend a public officer is committed to the governor,” DeSantis’ attorneys wrote in a brief filed with the court.

Butt out, Justice: Ron DeSantis is asking the Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit by former Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson.

Governor suspends Panhandle court clerk Kyle Hudson” via Florida Politics — Holmes County’s Hudson was charged after an audit revealed questionable travel expenses amounting to more than $6,000. “Hudson submitted travel vouchers for several conferences, Clerk of Court Operations Corporation meetings, and canvassing board meetings. FDLE agents found that Hudson either did not attend the meetings or that the meetings never happened,” the Dothan Eagle reported. DeSantis suspended Hudson, twice elected to office. Hudson is out on $7,500 bond, albeit with one condition: “Do not return to the Holmes County Courthouse unless advised by the Governor’s Office to do so.”

— BREAKING OVERNIGHT: HOUSE RELEASE ITS BUDGET BILL —

The House late Thursday night unveiled an $89.9 billion budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The initial spending proposal should be more conservative than the Senate’s.

Senate President Bill Galvano has said he expects the Senate budget coming Friday to be “just a little over $90 billion.”

House Speaker José Oliva told reporters after a floor session on Thursday that he wants per-capita spending to be lower than it is during the current fiscal year. It’s now “around the $4,800 [per-person] range,” he said.

“The overall goal is to be below what we spent last year per resident,” Oliva said. “How much of that? The more the better obviously in our opinion, but that’s the goal we set for ourselves.”

Last year, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an $88.7 billion budget.

— 2019 SESSION —

As Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva suffer setbacks, deal-cutting takes shape” via Matt Dixon and Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida — Midway through the legislative session, roads, hospitals and gambling cash are emerging as fuel for the high-level deal-cutting that typically defines the end of session. Tallahassee tradition dictates that one chamber’s top priority be held hostage by the other as leverage — as bills flow through the legislative process in the hectic first weeks, measures that aren’t moving can be just as significant.

House panel approves measure aiming to fix Florida’s election woes” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Florida House State Affairs Committee agreed Thursday to approve a measure (PCB SAC 19-01) aimed at addressing several problems which plagued Florida’s elections back in 2018. But while the committee moved the bill forward, several legislators questioned whether it goes far enough. “The 2018 election one again, and unfortunately, placed Florida in a national spotlight,” said Committee Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who presented the bill. “While most of our elections officials and poll workers did an outstanding job following the law, others struggled to do so and in some circumstances, failed altogether.”

Lawmakers propose ‘parental rights’ law” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Rep. Erin Grall is seeking support to create a new chapter in Florida law, aimed directly at detailing parental rights. “It is about setting apart from all statutes what a parent can expect in interacting with the government,” Grall told the House Education Committee, the first stop for HB 1171. “This is all about empowering, engagement.” The bill makes plain that the state and other governments would not be permitted to infringe on the “fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of his or her minor child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest” in the narrowest and least restrictive way possible.

Parental rights: Erin Grall is looking for a better definition of how parents interact with the government, protecting the ‘fundamental rights of a parent’ over the care and upbringing of minor children.

Bill overhauling VPK evaluation system gains momentum” via Ryan McKinnon of the Herald-Tribune — Legislation that could reshape how Florida’s 11,000 voluntary prekindergarten providers are assessed received strong support during a subcommittee hearing this week. House Bill 1193, sponsored by Rep. Grall aims to fix a disjointed evaluation process that has frustrated VPK providers and left education leaders unsure about the results’ validity.

Panel approves bill toughening flood insurance policy disclosures in Florida” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — A Senate committee approved legislation this week changing the flood coverage disclosures required for homeowner insurance policies — in part to sharpen the warning, and in part to account for the growth of that market. The Legislature began requiring the disclosures last year. Brandes’ new bill (SB 380) removes the requirement for policies that do cover flood damage — in recognition of the quick growth in private market alternatives to the National Flood Insurance Program in the state.

Panel backs ending requirement for hospice doctors” via the News Service of Florida — A Florida law mandating that hospice and palliative-care physicians check a statewide database to ensure patients aren’t shopping around for opioids is “stupid,” state Rep. Cary Pigman said. Pigman, an Avon Park Republican and emergency-room physician, is sponsoring a bill (HB 375) that would eliminate the database-check requirement for patients admitted to hospice. The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the measure, despite opposition from Florida Right to Life.

Senate poised to shield recordings of mass killings from public view” via Elizabeth Koh of the Miami Herald  A bill that would block video and audio recordings or photos depicting the deaths of victims of mass violence is poised for a vote before the state Senate after its sponsor amended the bill Thursday to narrow the scope of the records would be kept from public view.

’The grief, the sadness.’ House, Senate ready to vote on police dog protections” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — SB 96, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, would render targeting or killing a canine used in public safety functions a second-degree felony. Those targeting horses, meanwhile, would be subject to a third-degree felony charge. Bean said the inspiration for the bill was a local tragedy last September when a suspect shot and killed Fang, a 3-year-old Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office K-9. “The grief, the sadness,” Bean said. Both the Senate version and House version are ready for a floor vote. HB 67, the companion, cleared Judiciary.

Senate moves forward with vaping ban” via the News Service of Florida — Without debate, the Senate unanimously supported a proposal (SB 7012) by Sen. Wilton Simpson that would implement the constitutional amendment, which was supported by 68.9 percent of voters in November. The vaping ban was combined on the ballot with a ban on offshore oil drilling. A House version of Simpson’s bill (HB 7027) is ready to go to the full House. The bills mirror how the state has carried out a long-standing ban on smoking tobacco in indoor workplaces. They also would add vaping to a state law that bars people under age 18 from smoking tobacco within 1,000 feet of schools.

No vape: Wilton Simpson is pushing an implementation bill for a constitutional amendment which bans vaping in workspaces. Image via Colin Hackley.

Freedom for fennel: Senate passes vegetable gardens bill” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Local governments would be pre-empted from banning or otherwise regulating front-yard vegetable gardens under a bill passed by the state Senate. The chamber approved Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley’s measure (SB 82) with five Democrats voting ‘no’: Lori Berman, Randolph Bracy, Gary Farmer, Bobby Powell, and Perry Thurston … For example, Powell questioned whether six-foot corn stalks growing in residential neighborhoods could become a “nuisance” to other neighbors.

Beer ads in theme parks bill sails through last committee — A House bill (HB 261) that would allow beer companies to advertise in large Florida theme parks unanimously cleared its final review panel Thursday and is ready for the floor. But an identical Senate companion (SB 242) has not been heard, throwing into question the legislation’s viability there. The bills permit “cooperative advertising,” which allows for cost-sharing between beer interests and the parks. It would allow a beer company to sponsor a concert or festival within a park, for example. As written, the legislation would apply only to Universal Orlando, Sea World, Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens.

— MORE SESSION —

Budgets and bad omens: Bill Galvano won’t count Seminole gambling money” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The Senate’s proposed $90 billion state budget for next year is missing something: Any gambling money from the Seminole Tribe of Florida … What’s more telling about Senate President Bill Galvano’s pronouncement is what it suggests about talks his staff has been having with the Seminoles about renewing their revenue sharing agreement with the state … “We may not have anything this Session, but efforts will continue to try to make progress,” he said. “I’m perfectly content to just take our time and move forward, and maybe it’s a next-year issue.”

Missing: Bill Galvano’s Senate budget seems a little light — on gambling money from the Seminole Tribe.

House will consider Senate gaming plan — If the Senate comes up with a plan to fix the designated player gaming rule, House Speaker José Oliva said his chamber would consider it. “We’ve tried it the other way, with two bills, and you’ve seen the result,” Oliva told Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida. “I still say it’s not going to be easy, but this is an option.” A federal judge tossed the designated player rule, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida has set a May 31 deadline for the Legislature to fix it, else it will halt payment of hundreds of millions of dollars it makes to the state each year. Simpson said he was encouraged by Oliva’s support. “I actually think that’s a ringing endorsement. It’s very encouraging to hear that,” he said.

Travis Hutson expects to ‘bump’ on VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida and Sadowski money” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — Hutson, who wrote the Senate budget for the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Committee, said during a recent interview that he expects to make “pretty quick decisions” with House counterpart Jay Trumbull on things like member projects. But, Hutson added, “there will be a little rub” on VISIT FLORIDA, Enterprise Florida and money for the Sadowski Trust, the state’s affordable housing coffer. “Those are the three items that we’re furthest apart on,” Hutson said. “So those are the three that are going to cause the most negotiations and we — after a couple of passes — probably won’t be able to figure it out without extra allocations coming down. I don’t anticipate having extra allocations, so I assume we will bump those.”

Senate budgets $1.8 billion for Hurricane Michael recovery” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The chamber’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year pegs total state spending at $1.8 billion, one of the first true price tags for the near-Category 5 storm. That total consists of $1.6 billion in emergency funds from the state and just shy of $220 million from the spending plan the Senate will unveil on Friday. The emergency funds are primarily paid from reserves under an emergency order, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta. Galvano and Appropriations Chair Bradley do not expect those funds to reimbursed by the federal government during the next fiscal year, she said.

Legislature’s planned road project could benefit Florida’s richest man” via Julie Hauserman of Florida Phoenix — Thomas Peterffy, a resident of Billionaire’s Row in Palm Beach, bought about 561,000 acres in 2015 — a tract the size of Rhode Island — in the rural Panhandle, including land in Lafayette, Dixie and Taylor counties. A large swath of the land includes an already-approved massive development corridor in rural Taylor County which envisions intense residential and commercial building. It’s very rural now, but a new toll road would bring traffic and infrastructure — including connections for water, sewer and telecommunications — to the region. Peterffy, as well as the two wealthy men who sold him the land five years ago, have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Florida Republican political committees and candidates, state records show.

Senate scooter bill will address home rule concerns” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — At the House scooter bill’s first committee hearing, home rule advocates weren’t shy about their distaste for the bill. Its “aggressive” pre-emption language would bar local governments from capping the number of vendors and rental scooters within their borders, supplanting carefully crafted rental programs. The Senate plans to address those concerns straight away. Sen. Jeff Brandes, who is sponsoring SB 542, confirmed that a compromise had been hammered out allowing local governments to have more control over scooter rental rollouts. SB 542 goes before its first committee Tuesday.

Compromise: Jeff Brandes is willing to give a little bit to satisfy home rule concerns over a new bill regulating electric scooter rentals. Image via Twitter.

Want to rent out your car? Florida lawmakers consider fee, rules for that” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — This time it’s not ride-sharing companies like Uber, but peer-to-peer car rental companies such as Turo and Getaround that allow private owners to rent out their cars to others. A Senate panel passed a bill (SB 1148) that defines them as rental car companies, which would require them to pay the $2 rental car surcharge to the state. It also mandates that the companies have contracts with airports, two requirements the upstart companies say are harsh and unnecessary. “You can call it peer-to-peer you can call it whatever you want to, it’s rental,” said Sen. Keith Perry, sponsor of the bill.

Flashback to when #FlaPol first put this issue on your radar —“Next clash over ‘sharing’ business models — cars — being waged at Orlando airport” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

Vehicle rental companies seek tax breaks” via Jason Garcia of Florida Trend — Companies that rent bulldozers, backhoes and other construction and industrial equipment are lobbying the Florida Legislature for a $30-million tax break this spring. Led by industry giant United Rentals, which owns a $14-billion fleet of machines and has more than 60 locations in Florida, the heavy equipment industry wants state lawmakers to reclassify their rental equipment as “inventory,” akin to new products waiting to be sold. Inventory is exempt from property taxes under Florida law; tangible personal property, which is how heavy rental equipment is generally classified now, is not. The lobbying in Florida is part of a nationwide push by the industry to eliminate personal property taxes on heavy rental equipment, or at least replace the tax with easier-to-administer levies.

— THE TRAIL —

David Straz slams Jane Castor for ‘double-dipping’ in latest TV spot” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Straz’s campaign is criticizing Castor because “she wants” to collect both a city pension and a salary as Mayor. “It’s not right. An insider like Castor looking out for herself,” an announcer says in the ad. In 2014 Castor, at Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s request, agreed to stay on as chief for an additional year after her Deferred Retirement Option Plan period ended. That meant for a year, Castor collected a $156,000 salary while also collecting her roughly $113,000 annual pension. Castor will receive her annual pension for the rest of her life, meaning if she’s elected Mayor, she’ll be paid both the pension and a salary as Mayor, which right now is about $160,000 a year.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

Straz says he won’t take $160k mayoral salary. Castor: I wouldn’t either if I drove a Bentley” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — David Straz has a steep climb to overtake Jane Castor in the final 32 days before Tampa picks its next mayor. He said he wouldn’t shy from throwing mud as long as it’s honest and truthful. The 76-year-old retired banker, whose estimated net worth is $426 million, took an interesting angle for his first assault: Money.

In Tuesday’s election, Duval County went red” via Andrew Pantazi of the Florida Times-Union — With no Democratic candidate for mayor, and after much bluster and talk about a Blue-val by local Democrats, Duval County took a sharp turn toward Republicans in Tuesday night’s low-turnout election. Across the seven countywide races Tuesday featuring at least one Republican and one Democrat, the average swing from 2018 to 2019 was 12.7 percentage points toward Republicans when compared to November’s results, which saw the county slightly favor Democrats on average for six countywide races.

— STATEWIDE —

Is Florida’s $2.4 billion criminal justice system due for an overhaul?” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s one area in America’s fractured political environment where some common ground can be found. Republicans and Democrats in Washington united to pass modest criminal justice reform at the federal level. Advocacy groups are optimistic Tallahassee will follow Washington’s lead and start moving away from the tough-on-crime stance politicians have embraced in the past. Their central message: Florida is locking up too many people for too long. It’s burdening taxpayers, and it’s doing little to rehabilitate offenders or make communities safer. The federal First Step Act expanded rehabilitation programs in prisons and reduced mandatory minimum sentences for repeat nonviolent drug offenses at the federal level. Florida will take up a bill that would make similar changes at the state level.

Under Florida’s Amendment 4, can felons afford to vote?” via Lawrence mower and David Ovalle of the Tampa Bay Times — What seemed like a simple amendment restoring the right to vote to nearly all felons who have completed their sentence has become wildly complicated in the Legislature. Republicans and Democrats — and even judges and court clerks — can’t agree on what it means to complete someone’s sentence. And court fees, which can total more than $1,000, are at the heart of the debate. Already, national figures like New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have dubbed it a “poll tax,” and others have accused the Republican-controlled Legislature of keeping people from voting. The results could, indeed, prevent hundreds of thousands of potential former felons off the voter rolls.

VISIT FLORIDA announces another $229K in grants for areas hit by Hurricane Michael” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — With that money, the state’s official tourism marketing organization will have put forward more than $1 million to help areas struck by the storm. The newest round of funding will be split between the Tourist Development Councils in Franklin and Holmes counties. Franklin will get $174,000 while Holmes will receive $55,000. “VISIT FLORIDA is dedicated to communities that are continuing to recover from Hurricane Michael,” said Young, the organization’s president and CEO.

VISIT FLORIDA is offering another cash infusion to hurricane-ravaged areas of the Panhandle that will be suffering during spring break.

Army Corps: Lake Okeechobee discharges will keep coming to St. Lucie River 2 more weeks” via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm — Since the discharges began Feb. 23, about 9 billion gallons of Lake O water has entered the river. Also, the Florida Oceanographic Society gave water quality in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon in Martin County a “B” grade, noting poor salinity in the South Fork, where discharged Lake O water first hits the estuary. For the first three weeks, the discharge flow averaged about 323 million gallons a day. The Corps cut that in half to the current flow beginning March 16.

Assignment editors — The Florida Maritime Partnership, the American Maritime Partnership, elected officials, local business leaders and maritime employees will gather for a news conference to announce a report on the economic benefits of the domestic maritime industry to the Tampa and Florida economies, 10 a.m. Eastern time, Gulf Marine Shipyard, 1800 Grant St., Tampa.

— LOCAL —

Robert Kraft files motion to keep Orchids of Asia Day spa videos from becoming public” via Will Greenlee of TCPalm — Attorneys for Kraft and more than a dozen other defendants facing charges in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa sex-for-pay case filed court paperwork asking that evidence, including videos of sex acts, not be publicly released. Kraft, 77, owner of the New England Patriots, was accused twice in January of visiting the spa in Jupiter and receiving sex acts, records show. He faces two misdemeanor prostitution-related charges. His arrest was part of what law enforcement authorities called a human trafficking crackdown that closed several day spas and resulted in dozens of arrests. According to records, covert video surveillance equipment recorded footage of Kraft and others.

Roll tape: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is trying to keep video surveillance of his alleged sex-for-pay acts out of the public eye.

Orlando to test having Uber, Lyft users gather at ride-sharing hubs when bars close” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando officials — along with Uber and Lyft — are preparing a pair of ride-sharing hubs: well-lit areas with public restrooms, security and food options, where Uber and Lyft users will be directed at night’s end. Food trucks and vendors may also gather there, a news release said. They’ll open this spring, though no exact start date was available. The two spaces are planned at Magnolia Avenue near Heritage Square and Gertrude Avenue near Jefferson and Washington streets east of Interstate 4. Each hub will have special pickup lanes in hopes of speeding up people exiting downtown and will operate Fridays and Saturdays from midnight until 3 a.m.

Tampa adds Lime to electric scooter vendor pilot; delays launch slightly” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The Tampa City Council granted a staff request to delay its vote on vendors for its Shared Motorized Scooter Pilot Program. The city identified three vendors to provide a combined total 1,800 electric scooters in and around downtown, setting the pilot project to begin in early April. After receiving protests from two additional vendors, the city decided to add a fourth vendor, Lime. As a result, the decision means city staffers have to amend contracts, operating agreements and other documents before receiving approval from Councilmembers. Each vendor will have to pay the city an operating fee of $20,000 and an additional $365 per device. Each vendor will provide 600 scooters, which means they’ll each pay the city $239,000.

Jupiter to put ‘God’ back in town council meeting invocations” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — It’s a minuscule part of sometimes hours-long meetings, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and roll call. But “God” will return to the invocation read before each town council meeting starting April 2. The word “God” hasn’t been part of the invocation since at least 2016, as both Councilor Wayne Posner and Vice-Mayor Ron Delaney couldn’t recall it ever being included in the invocation since being elected.

With a Friday deadline to choose a president, USF sprints to find out more about the candidates” via Anastasia Dawson and Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — A more in-depth look — including comments from references, supervisors and other colleagues from current and previous jobs — is not expected to be ready until Friday, when the USF board of trustees is scheduled to choose a new president. And only after that will the person picked be subject to a state-mandated background check that would search for any legal skeletons. The university has set up an ambitious schedule to follow Wednesday’s interviews. Visits and discussions at all three USF campuses were scheduled for Thursday, and interviews with the USF board of trustees will consume most of Friday.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago to host Palm Beach County Republicans. Reporters aren’t invited.” via Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — Trump’s possible presence at his Mar-a-Lago resort, where an annual Lincoln Day Dinner is held, prompted the local party to exclude reporters. “We’d love to have the media broadcasting our event,” said Michael Barnett, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County. “But we also want to respect the privacy of the president and the wishes of the folks at Mar-a-Lago. If it means we have to say no the press, that’s what we have to do.” Barnett said Mar-a-Lago decided to close the event to reporters. “They didn’t give us a reason; they just let us know,” he said.

Cindy Yang helped Chinese tech stars get $50K photos with Trump. Who paid?” via Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, and Caitlin Ostroff of the Miami Herald — Yang brought two Chinese-born tech executives to take formal photos with Trump. But neither Ryan Xu nor Lucas Lu appears to have paid for the privilege. A search of a federal database showed no record of either man giving to Trump Victory, the political action committee that sold tickets — as well as perks like photos with the president — for the Dec. 2, 2017, breakfast fundraiser hosted by the Republican National Committee in New York City. So who paid Trump Victory for their photos? Yang isn’t saying — but she and three associates with an Asian-American political group donated a total of $135,500 to Trump Victory in the weeks leading up to the event.

Picture-perfect: Cindy Yang arranged for two Chinese tech execs to take photos with Donald Trump, at $50,000 a pop. But who paid for them? Image via Twitter/Miami Herald.

Marco Rubio wants federal probe into Florida massage parlors” via Gary Detman and Jim Grimes of CBS12 News — “Strikes me as organized crime because there’s no way that these people are opening up of these facilities and accounting without backing from someone,” Rubio said in an interview. “Someone’s making big bucks off of it.” Rubio wants the Justice Department to look into the setup of these operations, follow the money trail, and prevent human trafficking. “It sounds to me like it’s an industry where women in China and Thailand and primarily from Asia are lured to the U.S. … are then trapped in these jobs, and they take their passport away, and they tell them until you pay off the debt that we paid to get you in this country you have to work in this industry.”

Cuban MLB players who fled the island hope no one else has to. Will Trump and Rubio play ball?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Over the past three decades, dozens of Cuban baseball players have made the dangerous escape to play in the United States. If Major League Baseball gets its way, Guillermo Heredia will be one of the last to risk his life to play here. A historic three-year pact between Major League Baseball and Cuba announced in December could mean a faster and safer flow of Cuban stars to the big leagues. Current players especially have celebrated it as a humanitarian victory for the next generation. But the agreement’s future is already uncertain. It has become a political football in Washington, where Trump has ushered in a new era of hostility toward Cuba and its communist leadership.

Tweet, tweet:

Assignment editors — U.S. Sen. Rick Scott will visit PortMiami to highlight his Fighting for Florida budget agenda, which includes more than $140 million for Florida Ports, 10 a.m. Eastern time, 1015 N. America Way, Miami.

John Rutherford breaks with Donald Trump over John McCain” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Rutherford on Thursday sided with departed Sen. McCain over Trump after the President lamented that he “didn’t get a Thank You” from McCain after having “given him the funeral he wanted.” Rutherford broke with Trump regarding the late Arizona Senator, a “war hero.” The congressman suggested that a root of the Trump/McCain animus was that the Christopher Steele dossier on the President was “delivered to the FBI by John McCain.”

Francis Rooney files bill to end ‘free speech zones’ nationwide” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — His bill (HR 1672) amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 to allow political expression in outdoor areas for campuses. The legislation applies to public institutions of higher education. “Many colleges and universities use dangerous and insidious methods to suppress free speech,” Rooney said. He wrote that the very idea of “free speech zones,” where universities confine political protests, is an “oxymoron.” “An absolute truth, a right guaranteed under the Constitution, should not become a negotiable, transient issue of policy.” Rooney announced the legislation the same day Trump was expected to sign an executive order threatening research funding for universities that restrict free speech.

Protected speech: Francis Rooney filed a bill to eliminate free speech zones in universities the same day Donald Trump signed an executive order doing exactly that. Image via Washington Examiner.

Assignment editors — U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Val Demings, along with state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Kissimmee Mayor José Alvarez, will take part in a roundtable hosted by Casa Venezuela to discuss efforts to support Venezuelans in the United States and their home country, 8:45 a.m. Eastern time, Costco Business Center, Community Room, 2101 Water Bridge Blvd, Orlando.

An uneasy tomato truce between Florida and Mexico is coming to a bitter end” via Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — The Florida Tomato Exchange, a trade organization, alleges an effort by Mexican growers to dump artificially low-priced tomatoes on the American market. That, they claim, is undermining American farms. The exchange is making a case in front of the U.S. Trade Commission, arguing that the Department of Commerce should terminate a 22-year-old agreement that had attempted to maintain the peace between Florida and Mexican tomato growers. The Tomato Suspension Agreement halts anti-dumping investigations by Commerce and requires tomato growers in both countries to agree to a minimum price for imports. This floor price has been renegotiated several times, but the exchange filed the action in November after concluding they could not come to another agreement that would work for both sides.

Spotted — Jacksonville-based lobbyist par excellence Marty Fiorentino hosted a dinner this week at the Epping Forest Yacht club in support of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Seats were $2,800 each; $5,600 to co-host the event. We heard Team Mitch made out well. Also at the dinner: CSX CEO Jim Foote, Crowley CEO Tom Crowley, and Availity CEO Russ Thomas.

— OPINIONS & ANALYSIS —

At last, Tallahassee is talking about sea-level rise” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — After years of turning a blind eye to the growing prospect of devastating losses, the Legislature is beginning to concede to reality: Sea level rise is happening; it will worsen, and Florida must adjust. SB 78 addresses one obvious adjustment: From now on, whenever we construct public buildings, roads or bridges, we should be factoring in the structures’ ability to withstand the heavier flooding that we know to expect. Doing this will help keep repair, replacement and insurance costs to a minimum. And by setting statewide standards for making structures resilient, we’ll give the insurance industry and Wall Street more confidence that coastal buildings are worth investing in over 20 or 30 years.

Voting should be encouraged, not hindered” via The Gainesville Sun editorial board — Only about 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Gainesville election, according to unofficial results. We had hoped turnout would be higher. The situation should improve in 2022 when city races will start being held during the fall election cycle on a biannual basis. Gainesville voters approved the move last year through a ballot initiative. Even in fall elections, voter participation is often lower than desired. Some of that can be chalked up to apathy or dissatisfaction with the candidates, but there have also been repeated efforts to keep voters from being able to cast ballots. Public officials should be working to encourage more citizens to vote, not trying to prevent them from exercising their rights.

Bob Dickinson: Don’t target immigrants, the backbone of Florida’s tourism industry” via Florida Politics — Sen. Joe Gruters recently introduced Senate Bill 168, which forces local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents and target undocumented immigrants in our state. SB 168 is bad for business and bad for our state. Immigrants are the backbone of the tourism industry — doing the backbreaking work in the hotels and restaurants that make Florida the world-class tourist attraction it is. A new study demonstrates that if we lost just 10 percent of undocumented immigrants, Florida would be poised to lose millions of dollars in taxes and up to $3.5 billion in state gross domestic product in just one year. This would have devastating effects across industries, including the tourism industry.

A new prescription for saving Floridians money on drug costs” via John Couris for the Tampa Bay Times — Drug prices in the United States are out of control, and I’m thrilled to see that DeSantis and Florida legislators are doing something about it this Session. Their plan to import safe, more affordable drugs from FDA-approved facilities in other countries will save Floridians up to 80 percent on what they currently pay for prescription drugs. That’s a plan I’m proud to stand behind. The exorbitant costs of prescription drugs contribute significantly to the price we pay for health care. Meanwhile, drugs produced in other countries can be just as safe and far more affordable. Think about the savings we could enact in Florida if we could bring drug prices more in line.

Storm hardening legislation exposes FIPUG’s hypocrisy” via Florida Politics —Gruters and Rep. Randy Fine are spearheading the bipartisan effort to put long-term storm hardening plans in place. These plans would be paid for by a storm protection recovery clause — a small investment on the front end to get a more resilient grid on the back end that better withstands damage and can be fixed more quickly when outages occur. SB 796 and HB 797 provide strong consumer protections by requiring the Public Service Commission to review these plans for prudence on an annual basis. That is four times as often as the PSC reviews base rates. And, the storm hardening fee is separate from base rates on utility bills, enhancing transparency by showing consumers exactly what they are paying for.

— MOVEMENTS —

Personnel note — Nikki Fried Appoints Nik Harris as LGBTQ adviser” via Florida Politics — Agriculture Commissioner Fried on Thursday appointed Harris as her LGBTQ Consumer Advocate — a first for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Harris, an attorney, “will serve as the Department’s liaison to Florida’s LGBTQ community, raising awareness on opportunities within the agriculture industry, and helping address discrimination and fraud targeted at the LGBTQ community,” a news release said. “Historically, the State of Florida has turned a blind eye to discrimination against our LGBTQ community — but today is a new day in our state,” Fried said in a statement.

Personnel note — Ray Treadwell now DBPR general counsel” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Treadwell, formerly an Orlando-based Shutts & Bowen senior attorney, accepted an offer to become Secretary Halsey Beshears‘ general counsel at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He started on Monday. “Ray has litigated a wide range of complex commercial cases, including contract and insurance disputes, statutory and constitutional challenges, and employment disputes,” said Shutts partner Ben Gibson, who was a Deputy General Counsel to former Gov. Scott … Treadwell graduated from Yale Law School in 2011 where he was a Senior Editor of the Yale Journal on Regulation.

Congratulations to Ray Treadwell, General Counsel for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Personnel note — Kip Talley joins Federal Advocates — U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s chief of staff has taken a new job. Talley this week accepted the director of government affairs position at Federal Advocates, a full-service government relations firm in Washington DC. Talley’s hiring comes shortly after Federal Affairs announced it brought on Trump’s former National Security Council director, Jennifer Arangio, as its new vice president. Talley is Gaetz’s second chief of staff to leave public service for a consulting gig. His first chief of staff, Dan McFaul, now works at Ballard Partners. Gaetz’ current communications director, Jillian Lane Wyant, will take over as chief of staff.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Ron Book, Kelly Mallette, Ronald L. Book PA: K. A. S & Associates

Donovan Brown, Suskey Consulting: American Family Insurance Company

James Daughton, Metz Husband & Daughton: TotalSource

Scott Dick, SKD Consulting Group: SEIU Local 1991

Andrew Karwoski, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund

David Ramba, Allison Carvajal, Thomas Hobbs, Evan Power, Ramba Consulting Group: Collective medical technologies

Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: Florida Association of Professional Employer Organizations, The Florida Bar, Jackpocket

Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: National Association of Industrial & Office Properties

Christopher Smith, Tripp Scott: American Property Casualty Insurance Association

Jon Yapo, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Palm Beach County

— WEEKEND TV —

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable reporter Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times, Republican political consultant April Schiff, independent journalist Mike Deeson, and Democratic political consultant Victor DiMaio.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion of election reform in Florida. Joining Walker-Torres are state Rep. Amy Mercado; Lake County supervisor of elections Alan Hays, and Manatee County Assistant Supervisor of Elections Scott Farrington.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: This week’s show features U.S. Sen. Scott, who will discuss his new role in Washington and how he’s bringing his Florida approach to the Senate; PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will rate claim made by Scott regarding his support of DREAMers.

Politics on Your Side with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): Donovan speaks with U.S. Reps. Greg Steube and Kathy Castor, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Fried.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Gary Yordon speaks with political consultant Screven Watson and political reporter Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week’s guests are Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels; Rick Mullaney of the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute and entrepreneur Amy Pope-Wells, who owns Tire Diva and is chair of the Clay County Chamber of Commerce.

— ALOE —

Sharks are much closer than you may think, especially January through March” via Ed Killer of TCPalm — Sixty feet. That is the average distance between a shark and a swimmer, or surfer, from January through March along South Florida beaches, according to Steve Kajiura, director of the Elasmobranch Research Laboratory at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Kajiura has learned thousands of blacktip and spinner sharks migrate each winter and early spring south into the waters of South Florida. By April and May, the sharks begin their migration back north along Florida’s beaches. What makes them move? What triggers this shift in biomass? Those mysteries are still being unlocked by shark scientists, but the good news is the number of shark bites on humans in the winter and spring is few.

What David Johnson is reading —Atlanta Braves’ exit from Disney will cut Central Florida out of Grapefruit League” via Stephen Ruiz of the Orlando Sentinel — In 2020, the Braves will move their spring operations to North Port in Sarasota County to begin a 30-year lease. “The Braves had to go,’’ said Don Miers, who was involved with the Astros during most of their 32 springs in Osceola County. “They’ve got to play somebody. You go back to the 1990s and the early 2000s, and Arizona was just killing us, building all of those complexes within 45 minutes of each other. “That’s what people in Florida wanted.’’

Bye-bye Braves: The Atlanta Braves will soon make their last appearance at Walt Disney World, leaving Central Florida without representation in the Grapefruit League. Image via Disney.

What Will Weatherford is reading — “Florida State to award honorary doctorate to Allan Bense” via David Huffman of MyPanhandle.com — Florida State University will award an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to prominent Florida businessman, former speaker of the Florida House and former chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees Bense in recognition of his years as a dedicated public servant and his devotion to his alma mater, Florida State University. The Event will take place on Monday. FSU President John Thrasher will preside over the private, invitation-only event. Speakers will include Weatherford, former Florida Speaker of the House and Bense’s son-in-law, and Ed Burr, chair of the FSU Board of Trustees.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to top fundraiser Gretchen Picotte, as well as great guys Sean Daly, Ash Mason, Paul Mitchell of Southern Strategy Group, Jason Unger of GrayRobinson, and former Rep. Alan Williams. Early birthday wishes to state Sen. Kelli Stargel.

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

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