Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.25.19

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Snap, crackle, POP your inbox with another edition of ‘Sunburn.’

Good Monday morning. The digital version of the Spring 2019 “Technology” edition of INFLUENCE Magazine is now live.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m more excited about this Legislative Session than any other in this past decade. This edition of INFLUENCE Magazine is one part Session rundown, one part guide to Tallahassee, and one part deep-dive into a policy silo increasingly important to Floridians: emerging technologies.

But if there’s a theme to any of it, it’s the sense of what’s possible under Ron DeSantis, a Florida governor who is probably just as excited as we are about the dynamic nature of Florida politics.

This issue is as jam-packed as any previous edition (how can it not be when it includes a roundtable discussion with Rep. James “J.W.” Grant?)


Here are the Top 5 things I really like about this issue:

#5 — All the tech stuff, obvi. 

#4 — The powerful Hurricane Michael photo gallery by photog great Mark Wallheiser.

#3 — The ‘wow’ infographics on House budget chair Travis Cummings and on lobbying compensation.

#2 — Dave Hart’s mountain climbing experiences.

And #1 — Former lawmaker and longtime lobbyist Mike Abrams telling us “What I’ve Learned.”

Don’t think of this issue as a Legislative Session preview, but a preview of Sessions to come, especially as policy pivots to the emerging tech issues that we highlight.

And here’s a bonus: Advertising is so strong that subscriptions are now free. Subscribe at after you “Like” the Facebook page of our new podcast by clicking here.



Welcome to the world — Carolina Claire Jolly or “CeCe” as her parents, Laura and David Jolly, nicknamed her on Facebook. All 6 lbs. 3oz. of her are happy and healthy, writes Laura, “and we couldn’t be more in love.”

Breaking this morning — Florida State Parks Foundation announced today the hiring of Julia Gill Woodward as their new Chief Executive Officer effective immediately. “I’m honored and thrilled to serve as the Chief Executive Officer for the Florida State Parks Foundation. As a ninth generation Floridian, my love for our state and our award-winning park system runs deep. I can’t imagine a better job than to help protect, preserve and sustain our state’s natural treasures for generations to come,” she said.

The Foundation, working with the Florida Park Service, supports the work of Florida’s award-winning 175 state parks and staff, local Friends’ groups and the 14,500 volunteers who donate 1.2 million hours of their time every year working in them. “The search for a new CEO has been long and thorough because we were determined to wait until we could find the right person for the job. With Julia, we are confident that we now have the right person in place to lead us as we embrace a challenging yet exciting future,” said Foundation president Ben Pingree.


@RealDonaldTrump: No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!

@SpeakerPelosi: AG [William] Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report & documentation be made public without any further delay.

@GGreenwald: The [Robert] Mueller investigation is complete and this is a simple fact that will never go away: not one single American was charged, indicted or convicted for conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election — not even a low-level volunteer. The number is zero.

@MarcoRubio: I said #Putin interfered in our elections since October 2016 & supported & defended the #MuellerProbe. Now that the probe has ended the actions of those who supported Mueller but now attack his conclusions but they aren’t what they wanted them to be will be very revealing.

@Kevinliptakcnn: A “lock her up” chant broke out at Mar-a-Lago [Friday night] during Sen. [Lindsey] Graham‘s speech as he called for an investigation into [Hillary] Clinton and the origins of the dossier. Trump watched on from a table in the ballroom.

—@GtConway3d: Whatever happens this day or the next, or in this investigation or the next or the one after that, we should always remember this: We should expect far more from a president than merely that he not be a probably a criminal beyond a reasonable doubt.

@LawProfBlawg: I’m totally eager to see if the #MuellerReport has two spaces after a period or one.

@MattGaetz: Today’s memo from AG Barr functionally renders every episode of [Rachel] @maddow for the last 22 months TOTAL FICTION.

@AriFleischer: Now that Mueller says there was no collusion, it is time to scrutinize the Obama Administration. They spied on a US campaign, wiretapped Americans, bit on the dossier and unmasked [Michael] Flynn. What did Barack Obama know and what and when did he authorize it?

@SenRickScott: There’s still time to change course, Prince Charles. My invitation still stands: don’t support the Castro regime by visiting Cuba; come to Florida and meet with dissidents who fled the murderous regime. Join the fight for freedom and democracy.

@NikkiHaley: It’s so important to know when a tragedy leaves the news, the suffering remains. Survivor’s guilt and PTSD can last long after a tragedy. These kids need therapy and care. My heart goes out to all who are still suffering from the shooting.

@Scott_Maxwell: Maybe the hardest-fought battle of the tourney so far. @UCF_MBB takes Duke to the wire in heartbreaking 1-point loss when a tip-in rolls out. Says a lot when coaches & players on both sides looked emotional, teary afterward. Strong season, Knights. March Madness rules.


Scott Maddox corruption trial begins (maybe) — 3; Major League Baseball opening day — 4; Final season of ‘Veep’ begins — 6; Masters Tournament begins — 17; Final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins — 20; Easter — 27; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 29; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 39; Mother’s Day — 48; Memorial Day — 63; 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates start — 74; 2019 General Election — 228; Iowa Caucuses — 315; Florida’s presidential primary — 358; 2020 General Election — 589.


Robert Mueller did not find the Donald Trump campaign conspired with Russia, Attorney General says” via Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post — The four-page summary issued by Attorney General William Barr declared: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The letter noted that Mueller’s probe said no such conspiracy was found “despite multiple offers from Russia-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” Barr said he and Justice Department officials separately determined there was insufficient evidence to make an obstruction accusation against the president — though Mueller was not definitive on that point.

The Robert Mueller report gave a partial vindication to Donald Trump, finding no conspiracy or collusion with Russia in the 2018 election.

Florida Republicans crow, Democrats snarl over Mueller report findings” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Marco Rubio said in a tweet: “Now that the probe has ended the actions of those who supported Mueller but now attack his conclusions but they aren’t what they wanted them to be will be very revealing.’’ U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a statement suggesting the issue had been settled: “The thing every American should want is the truth. The truth is not partisan.” But U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee that will determine any future investigations into the Trump administration, had a different take. She responded to Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler’s quoting the portion of the report stating that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

—“Marco Rubio expects redacted release of Mueller report” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

Tweet, tweet:

As Mueller Report lands, prosecutorial focus moves to New York” via Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum, Benjamin Weiser and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Even as special counsel Mueller submitted his confidential report to the Justice Department, federal and state prosecutors are pursuing about a dozen other investigations that largely grew out of his work, all but ensuring that a legal threat will continue to loom over the Trump presidency. Most of the investigations focus on Trump or his family business or a cadre of his advisers and associates, according to court records and interviews with people briefed on the investigations. They are being conducted by officials from Los Angeles to Brooklyn, with about half of them being run by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Disappointed Democrats shrug: 2020 election about health care, economy” via Katie Glueck and Alex Roarty of McClatchy — To Democrats already formulating their party’s message for the 2020 election, the findings were a reminder to get back to the pocketbook issues that delivered the party the House last fall. “Our plan is going to continue to focus on the negative impact Trump’s policies have had on American families,” said Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA. “And that has always been our plan.” Added Dan Sena, who served as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last cycle: “Democrats would be wise to continue to fight/campaign for the economic high ground, protecting access to affordable [prescriptions] and a larger vision for the country.”


Has Ron DeSantis stepped back from campaign vow on immigration?” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — DeSantis has done nothing publicly to support E-Verify legislation that is stalled in the House and Senate, with the Governor now acknowledging it likely will go nowhere this year. DeSantis bristled, though, when asked whether he was surrendering to special interests — just as he accused Adam Putnam of doing. “I’m supportive of E-Verify but we … need to figure out a way to get it across the finish line,” DeSantis said, “It’s not any community winning out over me.” But Florida business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and farming interests, major contributors to the state Republican and individual lawmakers, remain opposed to the legislation making all employers use the federal database before putting anyone on the payroll.

Walkback: Is Ron DeSantis backtracking on campaign rhetoric over E-Verify?

Ron Bergeron: ‘The most important thing I’ve got is my reputation’” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Bergeron said in an interview: “I just look forward to making a difference in something I know about.” The something is the Everglades as a member of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District. DeSantis wants him there, announcing he intended to appoint Bergeron. The actual appointment was delayed so Bergeron’s business interests could be examined for potential conflicts. He is CEO of the Bergeron Family of Companies. “It was my recommendation to the governor that I go through the Ethics Commission because I’m a businessman. My companies are all over America and I wanted to make sure that everything was transparent, and what I would have to abstain from,” he said.

— 2019 SESSION —

House, Senate released competing state budget plans” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — Republican-led House and Senate released competing budget proposals for the upcoming year with major funding differences in areas such as education and the environment — and an uncertain future for millions of dollars in Seminole Tribe gambling money. The legislative plans also differ in many ways with the $91.3 billion spending blueprint proposed by DeSantis. The overall House total is $89.9 billion, while the Senate figure is $90.3 billion. The Senate wants an overall $1.1 billion increase for public schools, while the House increase is $600 million. The Senate amount also includes about $600 million that local school districts could use for teacher raises or other needs.

Tweet, tweet:

Lawmakers may lengthen state’s Medicaid contracts” via News Service of Florida — The state inked new Medicaid managed care contracts worth at least $90 billion last year and has completed the transition of tens of thousands of patients into new plans. But now there’s a move to lengthen the terms of the plans’ contracts from five years to seven. Or eight … Extending the length of the contracts, however, would require legislative approval.

Lawmakers want apology for ‘lives ruined’ by Johns Committee” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Rep. Evan Jenne and Sen. Lauren Book want lawmakers to acknowledge the state was wrong to fund a legislative committee that historians say forced hundreds of students to quit their university studies and professors and public school teachers to lose their jobs. “These people deserve to be apologized to,” said Jenne. “For nearly a decade, the House and Senate went around ruining people’s lives completely and solely based on the color of their skin and their sexual orientation. The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, commonly known as the Johns Committee, existed from 1956 to 1965.

House jumps into fight against human trafficking in hotels” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A companion measure to Sen. Lauren Book‘s bill aiming to combat human trafficking will begin moving its way through the House at a hearing in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen introduced the House version of the legislation (HB 851). Fitzhagen’s measure mirrors what Book says were her four goals in crafting the Senate version (SB 540): training for hotel employees to spot victims of trafficking, establishment of a direct support organization for trafficking survivors, a new curriculum for law enforcement to address human trafficking, and setting up a registry for those who have solicited prostitutes. The bills do differ in some ways. Fitzhagen’s does not mandate training for employees of massage parlors.


Paul Renner wants patients shopping for cheaper health care” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Discussions of health care often revolve around insurance. But Rep. Renner has a bill seeking more transparency in the cost of procedures themselves. “When I looked at everything we shop for, everything we buy, everything that’s in our family budget, we look for and we shop for the highest quality for the lowest price,” he said. “Except for health care.” … Renner’s Patient Savings Act (HB 1113), which will be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee, hopes to inform and incentivize bargain hunting for medical care.

Bargain basement: Paul Renner wants Floridians to be able to shop for cheaper health care.

Could hemp deliver salvation for Florida farmers?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Changes in federal law from the 2018 Farm Bill open the door to growing industrial hemp, and Sen. Rob Bradley hopes to advance legislation to get things growing the Sunshine State. “I want Florida’s agricultural community to have the maximum flexibility to take advantage of opportunities presented,” the Fleming Island Republican said. His bill (SB 1020) lands in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Monday.

Film industry grant program could boast positive ROI” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Every year, bills aiming to bring film crews back to Florida face the same hurdles. They’re maligned as “corporate welfare” or “government handouts.” The latest attempt, SB 526 by Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters, hasn’t been spared those labels. But the 2019 bill is substantially different from past efforts. SB 526 may not resemble the 2018 bill or the 2010 program, but it has some similarities to a little-remembered 2016 bill. That proposal had two components — a revolving loan program and a targeted grant program. The grant portion was axed before the legislation was introduced, though it was analyzed by state economist Amy Baker, who found it would have posted an even-money return from year one. The 2019 effort is even more fiscally conservative — all signs point to SB 526 scoring a significantly positive ROI for Tallahassee and an even bigger one for local governments.

New law expands PTSD benefits for first responders, but is it enough?” via Mary Helen Moore, Eric Rogers, Will Greenlee and Sara Marino of FLORIDA TODAY — A new Florida law, entitled Workers’ Compensation Benefits for First Responders that went into effect Oct. 1, can’t help David Dangerfield now, but it could help save the lives of other first responders suffering from PTSD. The law expanded workers’ compensation benefits, enabling first responders to be paid lost wages as they seek treatment or take time off following a PTSD diagnosis. That diagnosis doesn’t need to include a physical injury. Its passage was fueled by the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, as well as testimony from Dangerfield’s cousin-in-law, state Rep. Erin Grall and Josh Vandegrift, a retired Brevard County fire medic who returned to work despite his own struggles with PTSD.

Florida may boost regulation of cosmetic surgery clinics” via Ellis Rua of The Associated Press — Complications and even deaths of several out-of-state women in recent years have spiked concerns over the safety of cosmetic procedures, prompting a bill before the Florida Legislature this year to impose stricter regulations. The bill, which was approved by a House committee and had support in both chambers, would require facilities and doctors to demonstrate financial responsibility to pay out claims when deemed at fault for serious inju2ry. The legislation, proposed by Miami-area Republicans Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, also would give the state Health Department authorization to suspend or place five-year bans on facility owners and physicians who fail to comply with the rule changes, preventing new clinics from being opened under another name.

Study predicts high costs for pretrial release” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — As Florida lawmakers consider expanding pretrial release programs, a new University of Tampa study suggests that the cost could be prohibitive. David Krahl, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, said sticking with bail will save the justice system considerable dollars. His study shows surety bonds cost the state almost nothing. Other forms of unsecured pretrial release, meanwhile, cost more than $95 million over three years. “The notion that large numbers of defendants are languishing away in jail simply because they cannot afford the cost of a surety bond to secure their pretrial release is sheer fiction,” Krahl said.

Dontrell Stephens, PBSO battle for $25M plays out in capital” via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post — At a hearing in Tallahassee next week, Stephens will once again face off against his unintentional but powerful nemesis, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. Three years after a federal jury awarded Stephens $22.4 million, Bradshaw will try to convince top legislative attorneys that the jury got it wrong when it agreed that Deputy Adams Lin used excessive force when he shot the young man seconds after stopping him for riding his bicycle erratically on Haverhill Road. If Bradshaw is successful, Stephens could get none of the millions the jury said he deserved. With interest, the award has ballooned to roughly $25 million.

Assignment editors — We Are Florida Coalition, made up of 70 member organizations across the state, will have more than 300 constituents urge legislators to oppose the various bill that would separate Florida families, 11 a.m. 4th-floor Rotunda. March starting point: FL People’s Advocacy Center, 603 N Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Tallahassee.


Florida unemployment rate at 3.5 percent in February” via The Associated Press — Figures show that 357,000 Floridians were jobless in February out of a total workforce of about 10.3 million. Florida’s unemployment rate remains below the national rate of 3.8 percent for February. Florida added 24,300 private sector jobs last month. In February 2019, Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.4 percent, followed by St. Johns County at 2.9 percent and Okaloosa and Wakulla counties at 3 percent. Gulf County had the highest unemployment rate at 6.2 percent, followed by Citrus County at 5.3 percent and Hardee County and Sumter counties at 5.1 percent each.

Tweet, tweet:

Five months after Hurricane Michael, demolition and doubt hang over Mexico Beach” via Zachary Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — Mexico Beach was beginning to feel like a place caught in between, where it was easy to imagine the potential in open spaces but impossible to forget what was missing. As residents begin another month living in campers, swatting at mosquitoes as big as thumbnails that grow in the lingering muck, apprehension has seeped in. The air carries a whiff of mildew, like towels left too long in the washer. Officials now expect to spend $60 million just for debris removal, money that should be reimbursed by the federal government. On the vast beach, where sometimes a stray couple walks or a fisherman casts a line, excavators carve a slow path along the water, scooping sand to sift out rubble.

Planned Hurricane Michael tax breaks to be retroactive” via Patrick McCreless of the News-Herald — Federal tax breaks for people impacted by Hurricane Michael are unlikely to pass before the current tax season ends, but will be available retroactively next year. Rep. Neal Dunn co-sponsor of the tax break bill filed last month, said the legislation has congressional support and has moved through committee, but probably won’t pass until after the April 15 tax filing deadline.”

Universities say they support First Amendment after Trump executive order” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Twice this month, students stole a ‘Build the Wall’ banner displayed by the conservative student group University of Florida Young Americans for Freedom on the Plaza of the Americas. YAF members videotaped the second attempt and chased two people running off, and University Police and the Dean of Students office intervened.

Delete your account: SunTrust shuts down banking for Medical Marijuana Business Association” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — SunTrust Bank notified the Medical Marijuana Business Association it is closing down its bank accounts on April 16. “We continuously monitor our clients’ accounts to protect not only their interests but also SunTrust’s interest,” reads a letter from the bank to the MMBA. “With that said, we regret to inform you that due to information obtained during our review of your account(s), we have determined that it is necessary to close your account relationship.” The MMBA, which lobbies lawmakers about regulations on the burgeoning industry, characterized the move as politically wrongheaded. The association has banked with SunTrust for five years.

Virgin Trains USA reveals more plan details in new prospectus” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The new prospectus, issued Wednesday, provides newly-released or revised details for the company’s plans to run passenger trains in Florida, including suggesting it may seek second stations in Miami, at PortMiami, and Fort Lauderdale, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, to expand the passenger train service already connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. The company, formerly known as Brightline, and before that as All Aboard Florida, had filed a request to the Florida Development Finance Corp. to approve a total issuance of up to $2.7 billion worth of private activity bonds.


Attorney, judge argue over school shooting evidence” via Terri Spencer of The Associated Press — Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill accused Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer of misrepresenting her arguments during a hearing over whether prosecutors are turning over in a full and timely manner evidence McNeill and Nikolas Cruz’s other attorneys have requested. Scherer accused McNeill of being disrespectful. The argument began as McNeill told the judge the Broward County State Attorney’s Office is frequently slow in turning over officers’ reports and police body camera video taken in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz’s attorneys are entitled to that evidence so they can interview witnesses and prepare Cruz’s defense before his trial, which is tentatively scheduled for early next year.

There must be some misunderstanding: Melisa McNeill says the judge is misunderstanding her arguments defending Nickolas Cruz.

Second Parkland shooting survivor killed himself, police confirm” via Monique Madan and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — A Parkland sophomore took his own life, according to Coral Springs police. “Now is the time for the Florida Legislature to help,” said Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director and a former state representative from Parkland. “Mental health is a bipartisan issue,” he posted on Twitter. He told the Miami Herald that school, county, city and law enforcement officials, as well as mental health specialists, met to “discuss what help may be requested of this state.” Helen Aguirre Ferré, the communications director for DeSantis’ press office, said the Governor is aware of the reports of suicides and is monitoring the situation.

Miami police chief rejects proposed anti-sanctuary city policy” via Samantha Gross and Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said would rather be thrown out of the police department than forced to comply with the proposed law. “The truth is I’d prefer not to have this job if I have to ask fellow officers to go check where someone came from before helping them,” he said. Colina appeared on a popular Spanish-language radio show for political discourse in Miami. When the conversation moved to SB 168, Colina made his stance clear. “I don’t care if you have papers or don’t have papers, where you came from, or who your parents are,” Colina said. “That’s not my job. My job is to make sure everyone in this city is safe.”

Questionable hires, low morale plague Palm Beach police” via Ian Cohen of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach has hired at least three officers with questionable backgrounds — two with criminal histories. The hires came as the town scrambled to fill vacancies in a department charged with protecting more than 40 of the world’s billionaires, including the President. One officer lost his Air Force security clearance after being accused of stealing a military vehicle. Another falsified military documents and was investigated for child abuse. A third failed a polygraph exam about sexual crimes against children. “The crap that goes on over there, it’s just ridiculous,” said one former officer who left in the past two years to work for another agency in Palm Beach County. “I could write a novel on this place.”

Mother Russia: South Florida sees a boom in ‘birth tourism’” via Iuliia Stashevska of The Associated Press — Every year, hundreds of pregnant Russian women travel to the United States to give birth so that their child can acquire all the privileges of American citizenship. The Center for Immigration Studies estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country. The Russian contingent is clearly large. Anton Yachmenev of the Miami Care company that arranges such trips, told the AP that about 150 Russian families a year use his service and that there are about 30 such companies just in the area. South Florida is popular among Russians not only for its tropical weather but also because of the significant Russian-speaking population.

Fisher Island residents needed a lobbyist. They hired Miami’s Mayor.” via Douglas Hanks and Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Weeks after he was elected mayor in November 2017, Francis Suarez’s law firm sent the Fisher Island Residents Association a letter that laid out the terms for hiring Suarez to represent the group’s interests before the county. The first page of the Dec. 20, 2017 letter from Carlton Fields partner Richard Linquanti carries the heading “Re: Miami-Dade Lobbying,” and cites previous discussions about the legal work being offered. The firm already represented the association, and the letter laid out two new areas of representation in Miami-Dade to be handled by Suarez. The firm said it would “use our efforts” in the county’s zoning process to prevent Fisher Island’s developer from building a new tower higher than 76 feet.

A man of many talents: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is also a registered lobbyist for Fisher Island.

Confederate monument removed from downtown Lakeland” via Sara-Megan Walsh of the Lakeland Ledger — The Confederate soldier has been removed from his post in the center of Munn Park. Lakeland officials watched with bated breath as contractors began the delicate process of disassembling the 109-year-old Confederate monument. Onlookers of all points of view gathered to watch as the statue’s face was covered in a black cloth, padded and tightly bound inside a metal frame. Bob Donahay, the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, has said dismantling the monument and relocating it to its new home in Veterans Park, adjacent to RP Funding Center, is scheduled over four days.

Welcome to Babcock Ranch, the Sunshine State’s first solar-powered town” via Janine Zeitlin of The Washington Post — “Climate change has been linked to Florida’s most recent environmental disasters. In the summer, the strongest red tide in more than a decade drove away tourists and killed hundreds of sea turtles, manatees and dolphins on the Gulf Coast. Millions of pounds of fish and wildlife piled up on world-renowned beaches. Algae choked waterways. Hurricanes, which grow stronger with warm water, remain a constant threat. In a state whose government is known for lax pollution controls and an aversion to even mentioning climate change, Babcock Ranch is a groundbreaking concept that residents say they hope will catch on in other parts of Florida.


How did this middle school teacher stay so long while girls said he was molesting them?” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — Middle school physical education teacher Wendell Nibbs sat down with a detective looking into allegations that he had asked a 14-year-old student when she would let him see her genitals. He spoke like a man who had been here before — and he had, many times. It was the fifth allegation of sexual misconduct involving a student Nibbs had faced in 11 years. Four more students would come forward after that. The Department of Children and Families was contacted three times. But as that detective would later write — repeatedly — “nothing came of the allegations.” Nibbs rose into the teachers union’s inner circle. He spent eight years as a building steward and was a forceful advocate for the current UTD leadership.

Chronic offender: Brownsville Middle School P.E. Teacher Wendell has been accused of sexual impropriety for several years.


Rubio on Trump’s North Korea tweet: ‘It shouldn’t have happened that way’” via Victoria Guida of POLITICO — Rubio on Sunday said President Donald Trump’s tweet that he would reverse sanctions on North Korea that had just been imposed by the Treasury Department could cause people to second-guess future announcements of sanctions. Rubio said sanctions go through ‘a long interagency process’ and must be OK’d by the president before they are announced.

From Jeb Bush to Donald Trump: How Cindy Yang’s China-linked circle gained access” via Lulu Ramadan of the Palm Beach Post — Yang wanted a new life, a life away from running massage parlors, a life that eventually would put her in the orbit of powerful politicians. So, she donned a red dress adorned with a white “Jeb!” sticker and attended Bush’s presidential campaign kickoff in Miami. At the time, the Chinese-born American citizen had never voted and she certainly had never donated to a political campaign. Photos from the rally show Yang posing with Chinese-American friends who, like Yang, would appear at future events with political bigwigs including Trump, DeSantis and U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott. National security experts say her behavior exhibits signs of Chinese influence. And she’s not the only one.

Player: Cindy Yang decided to insert herself into Florida politics, and soon she was found nearly everywhere.

Lindsey Graham delivers laughs — and loyalty — at Mar-a-Lago dinner” via Andrew Restuccia, Daniel Lippman and Marc Caputo of POLITICO — With Trump looking on, Graham lavished the President with praise, ticking off a list of his accomplishments, including the booming economy, the elimination of Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “There will be a Trump hotel there in 10 years,” Graham said, according to three people present. Two stressed that the comment was clearly a joke, and the crowd laughed in response. Graham recounted how his relationship with Trump went from rocky to warm. “We found a lot in common. I like him and he likes him,” Graham said. But Graham did not mention Trump’s repeated criticism of his longtime friend, the late Sen. John McCain.

Chuckles: Lindsey Graham brings a few laughs — and deep loyalty — to Mar-a-Lago.

Marco Rubio’s pragmatic thinking on China” via Robert Atkinson of The Hill — An important new report from Rubio, “Made in China 2025 and the Future of American Industry,” makes three key points. First, the Washington establishment turned a blind eye to the China challenge for far too long, so now it’s time for decisive action. Second, the choice should not be between rolling back China’s notorious practice of innovation mercantilism or spurring more innovation and productivity at home. America must do both if its economy is to thrive. Third, and perhaps most important, the report argues it’s a mistake to posit that the only two choices for domestic policy are laissez-faire, free-market capitalism or heavy-handed “industrial policy.” That was always a false dichotomy, but never more so than now.

Matt Gaetz drafting ‘Green real Deal’ climate resolution” via Zack Colman of POLITICO Florida — The resolution acknowledges climate change as a threat to national security and says the government should promote innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it does not set any targets for future carbon cuts and calls for keeping the door open to all types of energy production. It would be the most detailed GOP response to the Green New Deal resolution, H. Res. 109 (116), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced last month. Republicans say the Green New Deal would invite big government solutions and an expansion of public spending, but many in the party are increasingly acknowledging the reality of climate change and looking for alternative approaches.

Vice President Mike Pence to visit Ave Maria University” via Rachel Fradette of the Naples Daily News — Pence will visit campus and address the school March 28. It is truly an honor for our young university to have the privilege of welcoming Vice President Pence to our campus to share his thoughts with our students,” Ave Maria University President Jim Towey said. During his visit, Pence will tour Ave Maria’s Mother Teresa Museum, which was dedicated in February.

— 2020 —

Cory Booker wrestles with primary field lurching left” via Burgess Everett and Natasha Korecki of POLITICO — As 2020 competitors warm to dramatic reforms like eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold and adding justices to the Supreme Court, Booker is plainly wrestling with whether to follow suit. In an interview, he laid bare what he is grappling with: He’s been in the minority most of the time he’s been in the Senate and seen the power of the filibuster block the conservative agenda. And he’s worried that if Democrats make changes to the Supreme Court, it will be exploited to potentially greater effect by Republicans in the future. “You have to understand that a lot of these that are talked about: If we do it when we have the control to do it, they can do it again.”

Leaning left; Democrat Cory Booker is resisting a push to the left during his presidential campaign.


Green New Deal litmus test makes it harder to deal with climate change” via Marco Rubio for the USA Today — Politicians, journalists, celebrities and left-wing activists are touting the Green New Deal as humanity’s last chance to save the planet. And while the plan is quickly becoming a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates, it does not mean it is a serious policy proposal. In fact, the Green New Deal includes proposals that have nothing to do with Earth’s climate or environment. Progressive elites and “democratic socialists view the plan as a grab bag of their radical agenda to transform America into the kind of socialist utopia that only exists in fiction. Free health care? Check. Free college? Check. Free child care? Check. Free paycheck? Check. It appears the effort to “save the planet from melting” is really just a cynical publicity stunt by people who think America is a planet. Reality check: America is not a planet, and countries like China would happily watch us jump over the cliff by destroying our economy with the Green New Deal.

Florida Republicans are trying to thwart both justice and the will of the people” via The Washington Post editorial board — After last year’s referendum, headlines promised that more than 1 million people would finally get the right to vote again. But Florida Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make this great re-enfranchisement substantially narrower than it seemed. Republicans insist that politics is not their motivation. But their actions are still wrong. The bill would deny voting rights to felons who have not paid all the court fines and fees they owe. Insisting that ex-convicts pay off fines associated with a judge’s sentence is one thing. Denying released felons the right to vote because they still owe public-defender fees, drug-testing fees or probation supervision fees is clearly not what voters had in mind when they passed the constitutional amendment.

Joe Henderson: Florida GOP wants to place more hurdles on Amendment 4” via Florida Politics — Florida Republicans just couldn’t accept the vote on Amendment 4 and let it go. I’m not surprised and don’t know why anyone would be. Floridians approved Amendment 4. It restored voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. The Florida House responded with a thinly disguised shakedown. They are attempting to clarify what it takes to get those rights restored. Yeah, Mr. or Ms. Felon, you spent a lot of time in jail and then completed your probation. But unless you can pay all these outstanding fees that weren’t necessarily part of your original sentence, you’re still a felon in the GOP’s narrowed eyes. Good lord, people. That is pathetic.

Here’s why Florida can’t afford private school vouchers” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The Florida Constitution says, “Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high-quality education …’’ Using public education money to pay for private school tuition would violate that provision. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Holmes in 2006 that a similar voucher program that directly used tax dollars and was pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and approved by the Legislature violated that provision. There already are six different tax sources for contributions to the current Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program for students from low-income families.

Publicly funded education options should be within reach for every family” via Erika Donalds for the Tallahassee Democrat — Publicly funded education is not a headquarters building. It is not school boards or school superintendents or administrators or teachers’ unions. Instead, publicly funded education should be viewed as an ideal, one that says we must provide every child with the capacity to succeed in life. How that is accomplished should not matter. Only the desired outcome. Our years in public education taught us that people sitting in faraway buildings are not qualified to make profound decisions about children they do not know. Deciding how a child is educated is a highly personal task that should be reserved for those who know the child best — the parents.

The right to a structurally sound school” via Anna Eskamani for Florida Politics — There is currently no law in Florida to ensure that the schools our children attend every day are structurally sound. This has to change, and we plan on doing so through the Students’ Bill of Rights. Today, the Florida Building Code requires traditional public schools to meet certain safety standards, but some other schools that accept taxpayer dollars don’t need to adhere to these requirements. This means that some private schools and some charter schools are offering kids unsafe playgrounds, deficient air conditioning systems and equipment prone to electrical and mechanical malfunctions. The potential risks are of course further exposed during a natural disaster.

The arrogance of a three-judge panel imperils the Everglades” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — A deeply disturbing decision to allow an exploratory oil well in the Everglades came from a three-judge panel at the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Its content appears to leave little, if any, room for an appeal to the seven justices at the state Supreme Court. In an act of judicial arrogance, the appellate panel refused without comment to refer the case to the entire 15-judge district court or certify it to the Supreme Court as a “question of great public importance.” If protecting the Everglades from the messy consequences of oil drilling isn’t a matter of great public importance, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

The fight for policyholder rights” via Chip Merlin for Florida Politics — Insurance is one product all Floridians purchase which results in so much anger when it comes time for the insurance company to fulfill its end of the bargain — full and timely payment with no hassle. Florida legislators are currently proposing laws which make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to hold these wrongfully acting insurers responsible for their actions. Proposed laws by state Reps. Alex AndradeHolly RascheinDavid Santiago and Sen. Jeff Brandes are bad public policy because they make it harder for Floridians to stand up to insurance companies that harm them. They are trying to change long-standing laws that will provide more loopholes for insurance companies to break the law and get away with it.

Congratulations Doctor Bense” via Don Gaetz for the Panama City News-Herald — Doctor of Humane Letters is an ancient honorific. According to academic sources, it is bestowed on only a very few highly valued leaders whose accomplishments cross over and rise above any single discipline like government, education, law, business, or religion to encompass distinction in many. That’s Allan Bense. Litterarum humanarum doctor is one whose life is defined by compassion, excellence, responsibility, and civic virtue and whose achievements inspire us to be better, stronger citizens. That fits Allan Bense. Congratulations, Dr. Bense. Today we’re all “Allan Bense Republicans.”


New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Mark Anderson: Wexford Health Sources

Brian Ballard, Christopher Hansen, Ballard Partners: Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

Ellyn Bogdanoff, Becker & Poliakoff: US Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research and Development

Jennifer Cunningham: Juul Labs

Theodore Mannelli: 11th Judicial Circuit State Attorney

Douglas Mannheimer, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough: PC Funding

Will McKinley, Angela Dempsey, Fred Dickinson, Erik Kirk, PooleMcKinley: CrowderGulf

Paul Dean Seago: Expedia

James Wylie, Professional Consultants: Florida Funeral and Cemetery Consumer Advocacy

— ALOE —

Apple’s Hollywood moment draws intense interest and skepticism” via Ryan Faughinder and Wendy Lee of The Los Angeles Times — Since Hollywood caught wind of Apple Inc.’s entertainment ambitions several years ago, filmmakers and studio executives have been wondering exactly how the iPhone maker will delve into the streaming video market — and whether it can dominate in the crowded and fast-growing arena. The tech giant has spent the last two years securing deals with show business royalty to create a lineup of programming to compete with Netflix Inc., Inc. and Walt Disney Co. The company is expected to finally provide answers when Chief Executive Tim Cook takes the stage at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino. There, he will pitch Apple’s new streaming video strategy to a crowd of celebrities and studio executives.

Disrupter? Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about Apple TV, which could be part of a new streaming service.


Best wishes to the incredibly talented Sara Clements of Maguire Woods, state Rep. John Cortes, and former Sen. Maria Sachs. Belated best wishes to our friend, Glen Gilzean, as well as state Reps. Adam Hattersley and Anthony Rodriguez.

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

Peter Schorsch

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.


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 @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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