Friends of mine have noticed that I have been in Tallahassee more than in previous years. And they’re right, of course. But why?
The first reason is to deliver all of the Girl Scout Cookies you good folks ordered. Thank you again for that.
The second reason is obvious: This new Governor and Cabinet are revitalizing the capital.
Last year, I forecast that the moment Rick Scott signed his final budget as Governor — and he became a lame duck — Florida politics would start getting back to “normal.”
I predicted that four of the key pillars of The Process — the lobby corps, the media, the state parties, and the fundraisers — would see their strength return as state politics ceased revolving around someone who really could care less about them.
This prediction has yet to become 100% realized, but it’s on its way.
That’s why it’s exciting to be in Tallahassee once again. Adams Street isn’t what it was twenty years ago, but it’s certainly more interesting than the time you had Scott’s chief of staff instructing gubernatorial staffers not to fraternize with the, um, money changers who gather there.
And yet … having been in the capital so often this year … what strikes me is a feeling I haven’t fully grasped yet, so I’d like to hear what Sunburn readers think.
Thesis: The 2019 Legislative Session is a storyline lacking drama.
Are we in the beginning stages of a Pax Republicana? A period of relative peace after two brutal statewide election cycles?
And after a series of nasty leadership fights and scandal, is the Legislature simply devoid of genuine villains?
Ask yourself, is there any doubt about this Legislative Session ending on time? I don’t think so. Not under Bill Galvano and José Oliva. Maybe they’re more far apart than I realize, but I wouldn’t know that reading the coverage of the Legislature.
Everyone’s singing from the same songbook.
Let’s be frank, with Jack Latvala two Sessions removed from the Senate, who has the sand to gum up the works? Tom Lee doing his best imitation of Polonius, spouting avuncular bromides about the stench of flowers and decaying legislation? Nah. Latvala could build coalitions.
They may have lost more than they won, but Latvala had his people. Lee doesn’t.
The Senate’s different now. The scars of Joe Negron v. Latvala may still be there, but Galvano’s not acting like it. He doesn’t seem to be trying to jam some major initiative (i.e., Medicaid expansion or repairs to a dam on Lake O) down his members’ throats. Past Senate Presidents have talked so much about it being a member-driven process, only to turn around and twist arms into pretzels. It’s early, but that doesn’t seem to be how Galvano handles his business.
Another factor keeping temperatures from boiling over is the distinct lack of divisive leadership fights in the Senate or the House. Don’t get me wrong, they are out there (we see you Hutson v. Passidomo) but the reforms instituted by Richard Corcoran and Oliva to table leadership votes until after the freshmen have had at least one Session to play together has worked. It’s hard to prove a double-negative, but, in this case, you know there’s a lack of drama because there aren’t coups being staged on the House floor.
During a recent panel, I was asked if there was a genuine existential threat to the status quo in Tallahassee. I mumbled something about the realization of Amendment 4 and, perhaps, redistricting in 2022. But remember, I said, these are essentially the Democrats’ lines in the Senate now, and the Republicans in 2018 won five out of the six competitive races there.
Redistricting ain’t all its cracked up to be.
If he wanted to be, John Morgan could have been an existential threat to Republican control of Tallahassee. He has the right combination of brains, charisma, and money to have shaken things up. However, his stalking horse, Charlie Crist, lost in 2014. His biggest issue now is whether Floridians get to smoke medical marijuana. Even if/when he wins that issue, that won’t do anything to shift the balance of power.
I guess the most significant shift in power will occur if Republican reformers get what they want in terms of school choice. That would be a wholesale and fundamental change in how one of the most important functions of government — educating children — is conducted. But, again, what’s to stop that from occurring? Only Republican hubris, I suppose.
So I must ask, have we arrived at the Florida politics equivalent of Francis Fukuyama‘s “The End of History?“
Fukuyama’s argument then in 1992 did not hold up very well, and I don’t suppose mine will either. Certainly, a storm much worse than anything seen before will strike Florida (I mean that literally and probably figuratively). And the 2019 Legislative Session, with its relative peace and tranquillity, will be remembered with nostalgia.
What you must ask yourself is, in the face of this peace, would it be more prudent to beat swords into plowshares or to batten down the hatches?
Please consider watching this clip of Florida Internet & Television’s Brad Swanson and me discussing the first week of Session. I also explain to Brad why he should not wear O.J. Simpson‘s black gloves while appearing on TV.
Check out my latest blog post in which I weigh in on one of the legislative food fights that are shaping up this Legislative Session — “Distributors getting the shaft in distillery legislation.”
First in Sunburn — Rick Scott staffer McKinley Lewis joins Kendra Parson, Laura Rambo at On3 PR — On 3 Public Relations (On3PR) Pres. and founder Christina Johnson announced the addition of Lewis, who will serve as Senior Vice President of Accounts. He joins Parson and Rambo as part of the woman-owned and woman-certified firm, now celebrating its 11-year anniversary. McKinley most recently served as Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Scott since 2016, and previously as the Communications Director and Press Secretary for the Department of Corrections. Before that, he was a communications specialist at the Department of Health. “McKinley Lewis has led successful public relations campaigns and statewide media strategies in the nation’s third largest state under Florida Gov. Scott,” Johnson said in a statement.
Speaking of leadership races, here’s a fun story — “Eggplant parmesan and fundraising go hand-in-hand for Kathleen Passidomo” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — When she’s not building up the Florida Senate’s Republican caucus, Kathleen Passidomo loves to cook. Shortly before the start of session, she found a way to do both. The Senate Majority Leader on Feb. 18 served as host and chef for a Tallahassee fundraiser at Fifth and Thomas. There, 45 guests noshed on Italian delicacies prepared by the Naples state senator. A menu included charcuterie, octopus salad, baked stuffed shells and a memorable eggplant parmesan. The dinner helped Passidomo raise some $474,000 for her campaign and the Working Together For Florida political committee.
For your radar — “Marijuana leaders to gather and hear what regs will poof or pass” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida hosts its 2019 legislative policy conference at Florida State University on Tuesday. Organizers for the event are bringing stakeholders together in Tallahassee at the same time as lawmakers. Just a week into the Legislative Session, there’s already much to discuss. Leaders in the state Senate and House appear on a new plane regarding smokable marijuana. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried may start cracking down on CBD. The event includes panels on physician-patient relationships, program research and efficacy, banking issues and the future of marijuana in Florida. Fried, a former medical marijuana industry lobbyist, will greet attendees at a Welcome Reception on the Capitol’s 22nd floor.
Tallahassee attorney Tony Glover tells Florida Politics he and former state medical marijuana czar Christian Bax are teaming up on a new podcast, “Regulated.”
The skinny: It will focus “on the cannabis, alcoholic beverage, and gambling industries in Florida and across the country,” Glover says.
The debut: The first ep is titled, “Legislative Action + CBD Issues in Florida.”
“Because the content is time-sensitive, we’re putting it up on the web before the iTunes and other app links post,” Glover told us.
The backstory: He was director of the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) and deputy director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT), both under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).
Bax was director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use under the Department of Health before leaving to become “of counsel” to top regulatory lawyer John Lockwood’s firm. Bax also has his own consulting firm.
The future: For a heads up when upcoming episodes drop, follow them on Twitter: @RegulatedPod.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@RealDonaldTrump: Despite the most hostile and corrupt media in the history of American politics, the Trump Administration has accomplished more in its first two years than any other Administration. Judges, biggest Tax & Regulation Cuts, V.A. Choice, Best Economy, Lowest Unemployment & much more!
—@JMartNYT: The 7,568th example of how the line that the press is too tough on Trump is laughable: sitting president expresses sympathy for, says nothing about crimes of, a convicted felon the day after guy was sentenced to three years in the joint. Barely a ripple.
—@GusCorbella: 80 babies, 160 adults and 56 adolescents have died at just this one hospital in Maracaibo, Venezuela, due to the 70+ hour power outage across the country. Imagine the horror nationwide.
—@JamesFallows: My colleagues in journalism: PUH-LEEZ. There is *no* point, *whatsoever,* in running “who’s ahead?” 2020-Demo polls now, 20 mos before election. 1) Polls now=99% “who have you ever heard of”? 2) In wide-open field like this, practically zero predictive validity. Please don’t!
—@SenRickScott: Did you wake up feeling a little less rested this morning? Nobody likes to lose an hour of sleep. Last week I sponsored the Sunshine Protection Act to end this unnecessary tradition.
—@Rob_Bradley: It’s not just small towns. Our region has zero reporters in Tallahassee for Session. Session started on Tuesday-I don’t think @, @ , @ or I have spoken to a single TU reporter about it. Occasional untimely AP/NSF story reprint in the TU is it.
—@Fineout: This is an important story. Worth noting AP operations in US are shrinking as well. AP has no news reporters in places such as San Antonio & Charleston. Its statehouse bureaus across the nation have also gotten smaller & smaller
—@Rob_Bradley: For the record, I’m speaking of newspapers and traditional media. @has our region’s Tallahassee beat on lockdown from his worldwide headquarters in Jacksonville.
—@BSFarrington: I just realized I’m sitting inside on a beautiful Saturday going over bills. As in the legislative kind. Just because I’m curious. When did I start becoming @fineout? And someone please stop me.
New on the Twitters: @FLVetsAffairs — “To advocated with purpose and passion for Florida veterans and link them to superior services, benefits and support.”
— DAYS UNTIL —
Players Championship begins — 3; St. Patrick’s Day — 6; Jacksonville municipal first election — 8; Florida Capitol Press Corps skits — 8; Andrew Gillum makes a ‘major announcement’ in Miami — 9; Major League Baseball opening day — 17; Scott Maddox corruption trial begins (maybe) — 17; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 20; Masters Tournament begins — 31; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 34; Easter — 41; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 43; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 53; Mother’s Day — 62; Memorial Day — 77; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates start — 88; 2019 General Election — 242; Iowa Caucuses — 329; 2020 General Election — 603.
— TOP STORY —
“Donald Trump extends full reimbursement period for Hurricane Michael” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Ron DeSantis announced President Donald Trump committed to fully reimburse costs for everything up to 45 days after the storm made landfall. “This is historic for Florida as the state has never received 100 percent reimbursement for 45 days from a single hurricane,” DeSantis said. A news release from the White House said the President authorized the increase in federal funding for debris removal and emergency services in Florida following Michael. On Oct. 14, Trump authorized a 100-percent federal cost share, including direct federal assistance, for five days after the storm. The extension is a ninefold expansion of that period. DeSantis thanked the President for this “unwavering commitment to the people of Northwest Florida.”
—“Lawmakers in NWFL label FEMA extension a ‘lifesaver’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
Lauren Book debuts ‘The Journey Home’ to highlight Hurricane Michael recovery effort — State Sen. Book is launching a new initiative to help the Panhandle post-Hurricane Michael. A video called “The Journey Home” debuted in Aventura at the Reid & Fiorentino Call of the Game Dinner (which benefits her Lauren’s Kids Foundation and the Dade Schools Athletic Foundation). Through Book’s “Walk in My Shoes” annual statewide trek, she developed a special relationship with the advocates and survivors at the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City. As part of “The Journey Home” Book and her crew will travel to Panama City in April — National Sexual Assault Awareness Month & National Child Abuse Prevention Month — to renovate a multipurpose room in the main advocacy center to support survivors and staff.
To view the video on the initiative, click on the image below:
— THE ADMINISTRATION —
What Shane Strum is reading — “The tireless Ron DeSantis” via Deroy Murdock of National Review
Spotted — DeSantis at Trump’s Friday night speech to RNC donors at Mar-a-Lago, where the President reportedly told the audience “Democrats hate Jewish people.” Also attending were Secretaries Wilbur Ross and Linda McMahon, as well as Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
“After chat with DeSantis’ top lawyer, state’s chief administrative law judge will resign” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Bob Cohen knows when he’s not wanted anymore. The state’s chief administrative law judge said he plans to step down as head of the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). A procedure to select a new chief judge will be discussed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting … That comes after a meeting earlier this month with Gov. DeSantis’ chief legal adviser, Joe Jacquot. “He said … the governor wants to re-examine and re-evaluate the leadership at DOAH, as he has been doing with all agencies,” Cohen said in an interview with Florida Politics.
“DeSantis’ Orlando airport appointee has tax lien for owing money to IRS” via Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel — The seven-person Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board is currently overseeing one of the nation’s costliest airport construction projects at nearly $3 billion. Randall Hunt, who owns Athletic Apex Health Clubs and lives in Lake Mary, was appointed to a three-year term by DeSantis. A search by the Sentinel revealed that Hunt owed more than $115,000 to the IRS, according to a federal tax lien notice filed in Seminole County and Hunt’s former Texas residence in 2016. He said he is repaying the money owed.
— 2019 SESSION —
“Ashley Moody, Tom Lee say bill needed to prevent ‘chaos’” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — Attorney General Moody is pushing legislation she says is needed to prevent chaos in Florida’s legal system after voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that could reduce existing sentences of thousands of people convicted of crimes. More than 4 million Floridians in November approved Amendment 11, which got rid of an 1800s-era constitutional “Savings Clause” provision that banned the Legislature from applying criminal-justice and sentencing changes retroactively. The legislation (SB 1656), filed by Sen. Lee with the help of Moody, seeks to “clarify” what voters approved and require that lawmakers sign off on the retroactive application of any new sentencing laws. Without the legislation, there will be chaos in the state’s court system as thousands of defendants try to appeal sentences, they argue.
“Voter-approved victims-rights amendment spurs clarifying legislation. But questions linger.” via Tony Marrero — “Amendment 6 put new restrictions on the disclosure of information that could be used to identify victims. But the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association have said the amendment is vague, confusing and in conflict with existing public records laws. The result: Law enforcement agencies have settled on different interpretations of the amendment, leading to inconsistent policies throughout Florida. Meantime, open government advocates say the amendment is reducing transparency because agencies are automatically walling off information the public has a right to know. “If the Legislature doesn’t step up and clarify this and give us some sense of how this is to interpreted, I think there will be a lawsuit, and I would prefer to avoid litigation,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. Now, one of the amendment’s staunchest supporters has filed a bill to spell out how Amendment 6 should be put into action. But SB 1426, filed by Sen. Book, skips over two of the main questions that have arisen over the amendment.
First on #FlaPol — “Done deal: Ray Rodrigues says House expected to pass Senate marijuana bill” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — DeSantis should “anticipate” the House passing the Senate’s smokable medical marijuana bill and seeing it on his desk next week, Rep. Rodrigues told Florida Politics. The Estero Republican has been working with Senate bill sponsor Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, on the final language and doesn’t expect any holdups. “It would be my anticipation that the House is going to pass the bill as it’s been sent over,” said Rodrigues, who chairs the Health & Human Services Committee.
“Anitere Flores wants to curb deaths by butt lift” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A rash of deaths during butt lifts and other cosmetic procedures prompted lawmakers to consider a new wave of regulations. The state Senate Health Policy Committee considers a bill (SB 732) that will put new requirements on the plastic surgery industry. Sen. Flores introduced the bill because of a spike in deaths from apparent malpractice. She said some surgeons using new procedures often end up sidestepping regulations.
“UCF scandal gives House fodder to cut university funding” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — “The more money that you throw into an institution and the faster that you throw it in there, the less that it can properly assimilate it,’’ House Speaker Oliva told reporters. “And I think that’s what happened to the university system. A course correction is needed.” Oliva said his chamber would approve changes to how universities and colleges pay for construction projects, including requiring them to justify the need for new space and pay for future maintenance with escrow accounts.
“Doug Broxson shepherds AOB reform” via Tom McLaughlin of the NWF Daily News — Broxson found himself in the center of a maelstrom during the first week of the legislative session as a controversial Assignment of Benefits bill passed through the Banking and Insurance Committee he chairs. Senate Bill 122 was pushed out of Broxson’s committee and has landed in the Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. David Simmons. “The thunderstorm has moved to a different part of the building. It’s moved away, but it’s not gone,” Broxson said. Broxson said the goal of the Senate is to pass reform that will protect homeowners and limit the ability of vendors to take advantage of the law.
— MORE SESSION —
#Fresh off embargo — “Poll: Even pro-choice voters favor ban on late-term abortion” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — New polling from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List shows a vast majority of Floridians oppose late-term abortions. The data comes as the conservative group gets into the Tallahassee lobbying game. The organization will promote the Florida Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act during session. The Tarrance Group survey found 76 percent of Florida voters support prohibiting late-term abortions. Ban backers include a majority of Republicans (87 percent), independents (75 percent) and Democrats (64 percent) Perhaps most notable, 53 percent of those who classify themselves as “pro-choice” still draw the line with late-term abortions.
“Anitere Flores wants to curb deaths by butt lift” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A rash of deaths during butt lifts and other cosmetic procedures prompted lawmakers to consider a new wave of regulations. The state Senate Health Policy Committee considers a bill (SB 732) that will put new requirements on the plastic surgery industry. Sen. Anitere Flores introduced the bill because of a spike in deaths from apparent malpractice. She said some surgeons using new procedures often end up sidestepping regulations.
“Should your 23andMe results make your insurance costs spike?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Should insurance companies be able to use your 23andMe results against you by insurance companies? Sen. Aaron Bean introduced a bill (SB 258) this session that will stop life and long-term care insurers from yanking, lifting or flat-out denying coverage based on genetic test results. The legislation lands in front of the state Senate Banking and Insurance Committee today.
“Florida could enact a 20-cent deposit on bottles and cans. Here’s what you need to know.” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — Legislation pending before the House and Senate would create a similar system in Florida. House Bill 853 and Senate Bill 672 call for consumers to pay a 20-cent or 30-cent deposit on plastic, glass and aluminum containers between 6 fluid ounces and a gallon. That’s substantially more than the 5 cents to 15 cents charged in other states. Sen. Kevin Rader, who introduced the Senate bill, said the extra financial incentive would translate to less litter and substantially higher recycling rates. Besides, he said, consumers get the money back when they return the bottles and cans. Under the Florida proposal, retailers would get at least a 20 percent cut.
>>>This bill will never pass in this Legislature.
“St. Johns County, city officials criticize state bill on renaming fees” via Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record — Local officials criticized a bill sponsored by a state representative that would force local governments to start calling some fees taxes. The measure, House Bill 7053, covers state charges for things such as rental cars and cigarettes, but the measure would also affect local governments. “The proposal alleges to increase transparency, and I’m all for transparency, but this looks like a publicity stunt,” St. Augustine Beach Mayor Undine George wrote in an email. “How would this legislation actually help anybody? How is anyone hurt by the way things are currently labeled? I doubt local governments are trying to trick taxpayers by calling something a ‘fee’ if it really is a tax.”
Actual news release via Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism: “Hindus urge Florida legislators to include Vedas in House Bill 195.”
Assignment editors — State Sens. José Javier Rodriguez, Annette Taddeo and Victor Torres join the Florida Immigrant Coalition and families for a news conference to oppose SB 168, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, 4th-floor Rotunda.
— THE TRAIL —
“Andrew Gillum teases ‘major announcement’ in South Florida” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — After losing out in a tight contest against now-Gov. DeSantis in 2018, Gillum has previewed a “major announcement” about the “future of our state and our nation.” Something is coming March 20. “We came so close to winning our state back last year,” Gillum wrote in an email blast to his supporters on Friday morning. “It still stings — especially when I think about the people who lose when we lose elections. But what I’ve realized, is that the legacy of our campaign was never going to be defined by victory or defeat on one day.” Gillum, rumored to be a 2020 presidential candidate on the Democratic side, repeatedly teased that possibility throughout the announcement.
“Amendment to raise Florida minimum wage clears first hurdle, heading to Supreme Court” via the News Service of Florida — The political committee Florida For A Fair Wage had submitted 87,528 valid petition signatures to the state, making the proposed amendment eligible for review by the Florida Supreme Court. Backers of proposed constitutional amendments must submit at least 76,632 signatures to trigger Supreme Court reviews of ballot wording, a crucial initial step in the amendment process. If the Supreme Court signs off on the wording, Florida For A Fair Wage would have to submit an overall total of 766,200 valid signatures to get the measure on the November 2020 ballot.
Happening today — The Financial Impact Estimating Conference will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment that would overhaul the state’s electric utility industry, 8:30 a.m., 117 Knott Building.
Happening today — State candidates and political committees face a deadline for filing reports showing finance activity through Feb. 28.
“Contributions against Lenny Curry coming from Jack Latvala-affiliated groups” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Republican Jacksonville mayoral candidate Jimmy Hill scored donations from Foundation for Freedom and Suncoast Better Government, which each cut a $1,000 check. Both Tampa-area committees are seeded by former Sen. Latvala‘s Florida Leadership Committee. The latter committee, belonging to the former Senator’s son, Rep. Chris Latvala, has received a total of $440,000 from the Florida Leadership Committee. The last disbursement, of $25,000, was late in January. The committees share a treasurer and registered agent (Jamie C. Jodoin) with Rep. Latvala’s campaign account.
Uniformed guards yesterday HIghlands Library EV site is wrong for mny reasons. I’m sure there is another way to deal with potential for heavy turnout and anxious campaigners as was explained to me the reason. Candidates also should monitor their folks so as not to stop flow pic.twitter.com/CM8Qlo70za
— Audrey Gibson (@SenAudrey2eet) March 10, 2019
“David Straz will not attend first runoff debate against Jane Castor” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Straz will not be attending the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce debate. Straz’s campaign notified the Chamber he had an “unavoidable” scheduling conflict. The decision comes a day after Castor’s campaign hand-delivered a letter from Castor to Straz encouraging him to participate in campaign forums. Castor’s letter urged Straz to run a positive campaign focused on issues and demonstrating skills for the job to voters. Castor said forums are the opportunity to spread those messages. Straz refused to promise he’d run a clean campaign, arguing that as long as the information was honest and truthful, negative campaign strategies were fair game.
“Ocoee voters to decide between two-term incumbent and survivor of 9/11 attack on the Pentagon” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — The District 1 challenger, Larry Brinson Sr., 54, was an operations chief for the Marine Corps at the Pentagon the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he noticed a cluster of people gathered around a TV. Seconds later, he said, he was knocked to the ground by a blast that shook the building. A plane had crashed into its western facade. “I lost some friends there,” he said during a candidate’s interview. Brinson, who has worked as a property clerk for Orlando Police Department for 4½ years, is trying to unseat John Grogan, 57, who served as interim mayor in 2015 after Scott Vandergrift stepped down for health reasons.
“Susan B. Anthony poll: Even pro-choice voters favor ban on late-term abortion” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — New polling from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List shows a vast majority of Floridians oppose late-term abortions. The data comes as the conservative group gets into the Tallahassee lobbying game. The organization will promote the Florida Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act during Session. The Tarrance Group survey found 76 percent of Florida voters support prohibiting late-term abortions. Ban backers include a majority of Republicans (87 percent), independents (75 percent) and Democrats (64 percent) Perhaps most notable, 53 percent of those who classify themselves as “pro-choice” still draw the line with late-term abortions.
— ACCUSATIONS & PUSHBACK —
Republican House District 7 candidate Mike Watkins is a successful and high-paid leader of one of the state’s 19 agencies that manage child welfare and mental health service contracts and funding.
Defensive of his success, a story by Jeff Schweers in the Tallahassee Democrat says Watkins bristles at a recent report that suggests possible misappropriation of public contract funds.
Watkins has been CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care since 2005, the longest of any other CEO of a community-based care organization in Florida. He currently earns $475,000 a year.
“I’m at the height of my career, and I have been very successful,” Watkins said in an interview. “I am not going to apologize for my success.”
The report in question, a wide-ranging 122-page account, flagged Watkins salary, raising questions about specific real estate dealings that lacked any 3rd-party appraisal to justify the expense, as well as improperly using state contract funds for interest and depreciation costs.
The report’s findings are leading the Auditor General to recommend that the Department of Children and Families look into how much the provider should return to the state if any.
Watkins aggressively denied any impropriety.
“My relationship is not with the Auditor General; it is with DCF,” he told the Democrat. “And every contract I have with DCF is in good standing.”
Happening today — The registration deadline for voters who want to cast ballots in special primary elections in House District 7 and House District 38. The primary elections will be April 9 in the districts, which opened when former Rep. Halsey Beshears was appointed the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and former Rep. Danny Burgess was named executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
— STATEWIDE —
“Climate activists hope to put issue back on Florida’s agenda” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — With a new administration that is more attuned to environmental concerns and a new crop of lawmakers itching to take action, some see renewed momentum in Florida for addressing a problem that climate scientists say has only grown in urgency since Charlie Crist declared in his first State of the State address in 2007 that “global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century.” Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the national level, Anna Eskamani, 28, is part of a new wave of Democratic lawmakers in Florida who are eager to make a mark and not dissuaded by the lack of attention issues such as climate change have received in the past. “It’s a crisis, and we have to do something about,” said the freshman lawmaker. “We’ve waited too long.”
“Deadly deliveries: Some Florida hospitals face high rates of maternal complications” via Frank Gluck and Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Florida’s patient safety experts have spent the last decade promoting a campaign to address serious childbirth complications, including blood-pressure spikes, life-threatening bleeds and deaths, by encouraging hospitals to follow best-known practices during deliveries. Even with that effort, such events happened at more than twice the national norm — as determined by an analysis of 1,027 hospitals across 13 states — at more than a dozen Florida birthing centers between 2014 and 2017, a USA TODAY Network — Florida investigation has found. It’s worth noting that high rates of complications by themselves are not necessarily an indication of poor practices, given that some hospitals disproportionately treat more complicated cases. Rather, the investigation centered on whether hospitals were following these best practices.
“Florida spent $3.6 million for a company to drop its SunPass bid. Is this normal?” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — State Sen. Tom Lee is asking the new transportation secretary why the deal was made, which ensured that Conduent State & Local Solutions would win the estimated $600 million contract despite concerns over the New Jersey company’s troubled history. Those concerns were realized last year, when Conduent started processing state tolls and botched the job, leading to overbilling and a backlog of millions of unpaid tolls. Details about the $3.6 million haven’t been scrutinized until recently. Former employees involved in the bid protest said the payment to San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems was unprecedented. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” said Jon Ramirez, a former Cubic executive.
“Voucher plan could be key test for Florida Supreme Court” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Florida lawmakers are racing ahead with another private-school voucher plan that could soon emerge as a critical test for a state Supreme Court recently recast by DeSantis. The proposal pushed by DeSantis and Republican leaders is aimed at covering a 14,000-student waiting list for the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which has been around since 2001. But the plan, which cleared the Senate Education Committee, would also prove a dramatic — and some say illegal — shift of taxpayer money from public schools to students bound for private or parochial classrooms. Defenders of traditional public schools are alarmed by what they hear at The Capitol. They fear the new voucher could open political floodgates if it winds up before the new-look Supreme Court.
“If Army Corps stops Lake Okeechobee discharges soon, St. Lucie River suffers little harm” via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm — Two weeks of Lake Okeechobee discharges haven’t caused much damage to the St. Lucie River estuary, but an environmental expert says extending the releases much longer could be devastating. The Army Corps of Engineers, which started discharging lake water to the river estuary Feb. 25 at an average daily rate of about 323 million gallons, plans for the releases to continue at least until March 16. They’d better not last much longer, said Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. The environmental education, research and advocacy nonprofit gave the river’s overall water quality a “B” or “good” grade but an “F” to the river’s South Fork, where discharged Lake O water enters the estuary.
— LOCAL —
“Prostitution in plain sight? ‘It’s so obvious’ to spas’ neighbors” via Lulu Ramadan of the Palm Beach Post — Brothels disguised as massage parlors are no secret in Palm Beach County. Neighbors see the signs all the time: Asian women cooking food on hot plates, hanging laundry behind suburban strip centers and rarely, if ever, leaving. A cavalcade of customers almost entirely older men. Heeding warning signs spelled out by police — Asian ownership, offers of sex acts on adult websites and complaints from neighbors — The Palm Beach Post identified 95 massage parlors in the county that matched the pattern of those busted last month in Jupiter and Martin County. “It’s so obvious like it’s not even a secret,” one neighbor of a Boynton Beach-area massage parlor told The Post.
“Prosecutors point to Las Vegas trip as they swat back at Scott Maddox motion to drop charges” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Federal prosecutors swatted back at a request by suspended City Commissioner Maddox for a judge to toss out many of the public corruption charges against him. The federal government denied recent assertions by Maddox’s attorney, including that the indictment does not allege any quid-pro-quo agreements and that the stream of benefits theory of bribery is no longer legally valid. The government’s motion points to Maddox’s 2016 trip to Las Vegas with businessmen who turned out to be undercover FBI agents. Maddox was photographed during the trip with the agents, local developer John “J.T.” Burnette and an entertainer.
What Joe Jacquot is reading — “Waste Management’s lawyers shut down deposition of Broward’s top executive” via Dan Christensen of FloridaBulldog.org — Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry was supposed to testify Thursday afternoon in a high-profile lawsuit that pits Davie recycling businessman Ron Bergeron against trash-disposal giant Waste Management. But Henry’s videotaped deposition was abruptly canceled when Waste Management’s attorneys walked out after objecting to the presence of a reporter for Florida Bulldog. “The reporter refuses to leave the room,” said Waste Management attorney Brian K. Hole, before he and his colleagues picked up their boxes and briefcases and departed.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Massage parlor magnate helped steer Chinese to Trump NYC fundraiser, attendee says” via Nicholas Nehamas, Caitlin Ostroff, and Sarah Blaskey of the Miami Herald — Cindy Yang, whose family owns a chain of South Florida day spas where prostitution is said to have taken place, also runs a Florida-based consulting business called GY US Investments that promises to introduce Chinese investors into the president’s orbit. Yang was present at the Dec. 2, 2017, fundraiser, held at Cipriani restaurant in Manhattan, according to a photograph that circulated in Chinese-language media at the time. The source, who asked for anonymity to discuss the private fundraiser, said Yang identified herself as an official At the National Committee of Asian-American Republicans, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee founded in the summer of 2016.
“Rick Scott scoffs at Democrats’ assertions of his TPS stance” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Staff for U.S. Sen. Scott scoffed at assertions the Florida Republican hasn’t done enough regarding the protected status for Venezuelan refugees. The freshman senator publicly called for Trump to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to those fleeing the nation. And on Thursday, he pressed Elliott Abrams, the U.S. envoy to Venezuela, on the issue in a Senate hearing. But on Friday, the Florida Democratic Party slammed Scott for “refusing to support TPS for Venezuelans.” The catalyst for issuing that statement appears to be Scott’s absence from a letter to Trump on the matter.
What Noah Pransky is reading — “Kathy Castor effort to end ‘zombie campaigns’ approved by U.S. House” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A bipartisan measure from U.S. Reps. Castor and Gus Bilirakis of Florida to end so-called “zombie campaigns” was approved as part of a larger measure by the U.S. House on Friday. Castor’s legislation mandates campaign accounts be closed within two years of a candidate no longer seeking office. It was added to the “For the People Act” (H.R. 1), which contains several different election reform measures proposed by Democrats. The For the People Act passed on a 234-193 vote along party lines. Though Bilirakis, a Republican, from Florida’s 12th Congressional District, co-sponsored the Castor proposal, he did not support the overall bill. Senate Republicans have also signaled they would not give the legislation a vote, which would kill the bill.
“Stephanie Murphy draws first 2020 opponent, Armani Salado” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Salado, a 23-year-old University of Central Florida political science student, has filed paperwork to run against Murphy. Salado, who will turn 25 in 2020 making him eligible for Congress, is a Republican from Winter Springs, seeking to take on the two-term congresswoman in Florida’s 7th Congressional District. He’s banking in part on the youth vote, offering himself as likely the youngest congressional candidate of the cycle, declaring “The Next Generation Offers a Leader!” in an email. In a tweet, he describes his ambition to be “a force for my generation in the future and be a wall protecting the people against tyranny, socialism, oppression, and big government!” Salado also is a veteran of DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign.
“Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz visit Venezuela border” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Reps. Wasserman Schultz and Shalala, a pair of South Florida Democrats, say a weekend trip to the Venzuela-Colombia border shored up their support for Venezuelan Opposition Leader Juan Guaidó. The U.S. has backed Guaidó over a power struggle with the country’s elected President Nicolás Maduro. Guaidó serves as the leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, but has recently been recognized by the U.S. and several other nations as the country’s rightful President. “As the people of Venezuela continue to face a catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by the dictatorial Maduro regime, the United States and our allies in Latin America stand united as we work together to help the Venezuelan people receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance,” Shalala said.
— 2020 —
“2020 vision: ‘Hundred-year storm’” via Mike Allen of Axios — “The enthusiasm that propelled Democrats to a decisive takeover of the House in the midterms is still surging, driving crowd sizes and intensity typically seen in the days before the first caucuses and primaries, not a year ahead of them,” The New York Times’ Sydney Ember reports from Iowa City. Democratic voters are delighting in populist “calls to spurn big donors, the policies to fight wealth inequality and the promises of relief from college debt and steep medical bills.” Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who studies voting data, said that in the general election, “We may see a hundred-year storm for turnout.”
“For Democrats, 2020 race for Florida cash and talent is ‘wide open’” via Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Democrats lining up to challenge President Trump have barely begun to tap fundraisers or woo voters in Florida, leaving money and campaign talent up for grabs in the nation’s largest swing state. Only two — California Sen. Kamala Harris and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — have active finance operations in Florida, and some veteran operatives in the state say they haven’t heard one word from the Democratic field.
With cameos from Oscar Branyon, Justin Day, Alex Heckler, Brad Carlson, Dan Gelber, Ben Pollara, Steve Zack, and Christian Ulvert.
“Amy Klobuchar, first Democratic presidential candidate to visit Tampa Bay, talks climate change in Tampa” via the Tampa Bay Times — Klobuchar said it’s her challenge to convince people from across America, not just in Florida — which she called “ground zero” — and not just progressive believers, to care about climate change. Local politicians and activists at her event encouraged a message that highlights the economic cost of not addressing the earth’s warming — higher energy bills, the death of commercial and recreational fishing industries, and lost tourism from environmental calamity. Klobuchar said as president she would rejoin the Paris climate accord. She would also readopt the Clean Power Plant rules instituted under President Barack Obama. Trump has worked to undermine both because he does not believe in climate science.
“Joe Biden eyes fundraising challenge amid new sense of urgency” via Steve Peoples and Julie Pace of The Associated Press — Those close to the former vice president believe he would start at a fundraising disadvantage compared to would-be rivals, whose campaigns have benefited from an early flood of small-dollar donations from the most liberal wing of the party. Biden, a 76-year-old lifetime politician with strong connections to the party’s establishment, would be forced to rely on an ‘old-school grind-it-out’ plan to generate campaign cash from wealthy individual donors, according to a person with direct knowledge of Biden’s thinking. Questions about money are among the nagging issues Biden is still considering as he weighs launching a campaign.
“Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 strategy: Stand out by ‘nerding out’” via Astead Herndon of The New York Times — Almost one month into her presidential campaign, Warren’s passion for policy minutiae has become her way of standing out in an increasingly crowded Democratic field, establishing herself as a wonk’s wonk whose expansive ideas and detail-oriented speaking style is her bid for a good first impression on voters. Warren is making a personal and political wager that audiences care more about policy savvy than captivating oration. In what promises to be a nomination contest featuring many candidates with broadly similar ideologies, a strategy of highlighting even the smallest differences in policy could pay off, especially with liberal voters who want firm and thorough positions rather than squishy generalities that could be setups for compromise.
“Bret Baier urges Democrats to reconsider Fox News ban” via Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel — “We’ve proven over the years that we are fair,” Baier said, citing his work and that of Chris Wallace. “We’re tough but fair. We’ve proven ourselves in Republican primary debates.” Baier also pointed to the large Fox News audience. “One would think that a party would want to talk to that audience,” he said. In excluding Fox News, DNC Chairman Tom Perez cited a New Yorker article, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” by Jane Mayer. She explores the close ties between the cable news channel and Trump. “We’re one company, but we have two different jobs,” Baier said. “One is an opinion side that advocates. There are many advocates on that side for Trump.”
— OPINIONS & ANALYSIS —
“Open government is in more jeopardy than usual this Session” via the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board — Barbara Petersen, the long-time attorney who heads the First Amendment Foundation of Florida, counted 97 bills she will be tracking in the next two months. Some are ominous — and in our view, unnecessary — intrusions on First Amendment freedoms and the taxpayers’ right to hold government accountable. We have a conflict over “Marsy’s Law,” the constitutional amendment voters approved last November to assure crime victims and their families a voice in court proceedings. The Tallahassee Police Department and Leon County Sheriff’s Office disagree on whether the amendment requires withholding of names of victims, among other facts in a case. “We can’t depend on government to police itself. That’s why we need access to those documents,” said Petersen.
“SB 168 insults Florida’s history as a state that welcomes immigrants” Victor Torres for the Miami Herald — SB 168 is a dangerous family-separation bill that marginalizes our immigrant neighbors. It does so at the expense of local law enforcement. It is an unfunded mandate that fails to adequately address the costs of detainment and hands over the tasks of federal authorities to local police officers. Protecting our streets is not an easy task, and it requires an extensive amount of training and trust in all communities. Law enforcement needs victims and witnesses, regardless of their status, to report crimes. SB 168 would require a new reporting and archiving process that would deter many people from coming forward. It also requires university and college police to comply with ICE, when they should be keeping students safe.
“Dennis Baxley’s anti-abortion law targets only women, should hit both sexes” via Lauren Ritchie of the Orlando Sentinel — What the heartbeat bills have in common is that they all seek to deny women the right to an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Since that usually happens between five and six weeks after conception, many women won’t even know they’re pregnant. So, the bills effectively would end a woman’s choice of whether to carry a child to term, leaving her with an infant to give up or bring up. And the man? He walks away to spread his precious virile seed to the next woman. Disgusting. Baxley’s simplistic approach would encourage this cycle, which has proved to be expensive for the taxpayer. Baxley’s bill also doesn’t address who would raise these babies.
“Facts are in — Florida must remain committed to quality care” via Patti Spears for Florida Politics — Through a comprehensive study of state-by-state data, the Quality Care Report assesses improvements being made by long-term care centers in Florida, highlighting progress and pinpointing where further development is warranted. What we found was that quality care in Florida is good — and on the rise. While we are certain our caregivers are among the best and most hardworking in the nation, none of these improvements could have been possible without the resources provided by the Florida Legislature. The Florida Health Care Association wants to see that trend to continue. Through dedicated caregivers and resourceful lawmakers all working toward the highest possible level of quality care, we believe it will.
“Florida must take the lead when it comes to sea level rise” via Ellyn Bogdanoff for Florida Politics — Sea level rise has brought a whole new challenge to our region and our state. This does not diminish our need to plan and act now. Fixing our flood control system is just one piece of the big resiliency puzzle. Resilience is a buzzword that encompasses too much sometimes, but my favorite definition is “preparing on the good days for the not-so-good days.” For our region, our greatest challenge is flooding and sea level rise. Florida has a chance to lead the world once again. We have seen great strides in just the first few weeks of the new state administration. The Governor has announced an Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection focused on sea level rise and flooding. This is a huge step in the right direction.
— MOVEMENTS —
Governor orders Ron Book DUI case transferred — The Governor on Friday issued an executive order moving the case from Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz to State Attorney Amira Fox, who prosecutes crimes in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Glades and Lee counties. Satz told DeSantis that Book —- a well-known and veteran lobbyist in Tallahassee and South Florida —- is a “personal friend.” He disqualified himself, and asked to give the case to another prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest. Police arrested the 66-year-old Book after he crashed his Lamborghini near Book’s Broward County home and charged with driving under the influence, refusing to take a DUI test and damaging property. The assignment is for one year.
Personnel note — Louis Trombetta now state’s top gambling regulator — The University of Florida law graduate and former World Series of Poker player is now director of the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He had been the division’s chief attorney. He replaces Robert Ehrhardt, who had been in the position since 2017. Trombetta has been with the state since graduating from law school in 2013. “A product of the poker bubble, I have transitioned from the felt to the office and have been able to turn a passion into a career,” he says on his LinkedIn page. “My time playing poker online, and in casinos around the country, including multiple trips to the WSOP, has given me a deep understanding of the gaming industry.”
“In the billion-dollar education industry, lobbyists abound: ‘everybody is trying to get a piece of that pie.’” via Diane Rado of Florida Phoenix — There’s a plethora of non-traditional charter schools, private schools, for-profit firms that do education work and “scholarship” or voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools with public money. Those entities, many of which didn’t even exist decades ago, have hired one or more of their own lobbyists. Overall, dozens of the public and private groups are using lobbyists to influence lawmakers who craft education policy and disburse billions for education programs. That’s because, in the state Capitol, education is not only about kids, teachers and classrooms — it’s also about money. “Everybody is trying to get a piece of that pie,” said Ronald Meyer, a lawyer and a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
New lobbying registrations:
Brian Ballard, Brady Benford, Chris Dorworth, William Turbeville, Ballard Partners: Crown Castle and its Affiliates
Ellyn Bogdanoff, Mike Grissom, Becker & Poliakoff: Hunt Guillot & Associates, National Health Transport, Polliwog Kitchens
Ronald Brise, Larry Williams, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: School Board of Gadsden County
Kevin Cabrera, Edgar Castro, Rachel Cone, Chris Dudley, Southern Strategy Group: Sunshine Rebuilt Inspections, Bay County Board of County Commissioners, IBM
Jodi Bock Davidson, Nicole Graganella, Katherine Webb, Colodny Fass: American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Florida Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Association, WellCare Health Plans and Its Subsidiaries
Charles Dudley, Floridian Partners: Broward County
Kimberly Fernandez, Kelley Kronenberg: Florida Justice Reform Institute
Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Jim Boxold, Justin Day, Megan Fay, Ashley Kalifeh, Andrew Ketchel, Daniel Newman, Scott Ross, Chris Schoonover, Capital City Consulting: Larkin Health System, ROADIS USA Holding
Esther Jacobo: 11th Judicial Circuit State Attorney
Gaylen Morgan: University of Florida
Rhett O’Doski, Sean Stafford, McGuireWoods Consulting: Harvest Enterprises
Rick Parker, Butler Weihmuller Katz Craig: Florida Justice Reform Institute
Kirk Pepper, GrayRobinson: Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services
Robert Schenck, The Legis Group: First Tee of Miami
“Miami Herald’s editor steps in as publisher moves to lead Baptist Health’s foundation” via the Miami Herald — Aminda Marqués González, executive editor of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, will expand her leadership role with the Miami Herald Media Company as its editor and publisher, the news organization’s parent company, McClatchy, announced. Alexandra Villoch, current president and publisher and also the publisher for McClatchy’s East Region, is stepping down to take on a new role as a chief executive officer for the Baptist Health South Florida Foundation. McClatchy also named Sara Glines as regional publisher of the company’s Carolinas and East regions, which is comprised of seven local media outlets. Marqués and Glines will step into their new roles on April 15.
— ALOE —
“With Fox, Disney will have an even bigger footprint in Hollywood” via Ryan Faughnder of the Los Angeles Times — The long-anticipated $71.3-billion acquisition will put the X-Men, Homer Simpson, the Avengers, Buzz Lightyear, Kylo Ren and the gang from “Avatar” under the same roof, giving the Burbank company an unprecedented share of film and television franchises. The deal would boost Disney’s share of the domestic box office to at least 40 percent and reinforce its stronghold in toys, theme parks and cruise lines. The Mouse House will have an unrivaled say over when and how movies are released. “Basically, they become the 800-pound gorilla in the media landscape,” said Lloyd Greif, chief executive of L.A. investment bank Greif & Co. “It gives Disney even greater clout from a streaming standpoint, and even greater clout from an exhibitor standpoint.”
— BIRTHDAYS —
We’d like to assign the benefit of a belated birthday wish to Sen. Doug Broxson. Celebrating today is Emily Jeanne Barber, Floridian Partners’s Nichole Geary, and Tampa International Airport’s Janet Scherberger.
Today’s Sunburn was written by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.