Welcome to our newest email newsletter. It’s a “pop-up,” if you will, and will be coming to you Sundays until Session’s end. After that, it’s gone like a Cadbury Creme Egg.
This isn’t “Sunburn,” with a comprehensive rundown. And it’s not “Takeaways from Tallahassee,” with recaps and review.
Instead, we’re serving up a brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting on the final twenty days of Session. Our goal is to bridge the gap in information which exists between the Friday afternoon news dump and first-thing Monday morning.
So refill your Bloody Mary, Bellini, or Mimosa, settle in for a few moments and enjoy Brunch.
Today is Palm Sunday. Read here for more about the origins and meanings of the rituals surrounding Jesus’ triumphant entry.
Happy birthday to one of our best friends, Stephanie Lewis-McClung, the Director of External Affairs for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
The official Masters Leaderboard is here.
The Tampa Bay Times’ “Winner of the Week in Florida Politics” is Israel for landing “an unprecedented meeting of the Florida Cabinet next month at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.” The Times’ Loser of the Week is Speaker José Oliva for “opposing a bill that would provide cancer coverage for firefighters.”
… This is why we love Session: On a Wednesday, Senate President Bill Galvano — when asked about a gambling bill for 2019 — can say, “I’ve heard around the Capitol today that ‘a deal has been struck’ or something of that nature, but we’re not there yet.” … But wait!
— Life comes at you fast: Two days later, Sen. Wilton Simpson — the man in charge of negotiations with the Seminole Tribe — is telling POLITICO Florida “we should have something nailed down” by the end of next week. Say whaaaaat?
— That’s just one example of the way “the people’s (ha!) business” is transacted. (Look, we love lobbyists too.)
— Because, to borrow a line, people assume that Session is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of lobbying-wobbly, special interest-shminterest stuff.
Take the budget, for instance …
The give and take
Budget conferences could begin as soon as the Monday after Easter, or April 22, according to Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley.
— So, what’s that mean?: A more realistic price tag on the 2019-20 fiscal year budget will be available as soon as conference begins. Bradley and his House counterpart Travis Cummings are ironing out allocations now. “If the allocation process goes as planned then each area of the budget we’ll know how much we’re spending,” Bradley tells Brunch. “Add all those together, and that will be the total budget.”
— Right about now: The House and Senate are about $400 million apart on their proposed budgets. The House’s plan totals $89.9 billion and boasts a decrease in per capita spending. The Senate plan meanwhile, is about $90.3 billion.
— No animosity: Bradley and Cummings (who actually share a room in Tallahassee) have said their relationship has been friendly this Session. “[We] have made very good progress toward reaching an agreement on allocations,” Bradley said. “We have a ways to go, but we’re where we should be at this point.”
— Hurricane Michael?: Bradley said his chamber is moving forward with about a $1.8 billion investment in the communities affected by the near-Cat 5 storm that swept through Northwest Florida on Oct. 10. But currently, there isn’t money for a $315 million cash assistance proposal pitched by nearby Senators to help local governments cover shortfalls next year.
— Federal lag: That’s the narrative of the storm. Bradley has been outspoken in urging Congress to pass a budget. The fault isn’t on President Donald Trump, Bradley noted. After all, he doesn’t control the purse strings. “The piece of the puzzle that’s missing so far is a more robust federal government presence,” Bradley said. “They really need to pass a supplemental bill in Washington, D.C., and not have politics get in the way in making a habit.”
— At the top: From Bradley’s perspective, it looks like the “Senate is focused on education, infrastructure and the environment, and making sure that we make progress in those three areas in the state of Florida.” The House, he added, “appears on health care and education and the environment as well.”
On the subject of priorities
They’re taking swift shape this Session. Speaker Oliva has ushered some health care changes through his chamber. Senate President Galvano, meanwhile, appears on track to fulfill his infrastructure vision, which includes three ambitious toll-road projects through what he has referred to as the “spine” of Florida.
— Just look at the floor: The House this week passed multiple changes to the state’s health care system, including a high-profile piece of legislation (HB 19) that would establish importation programs for Canadian drugs. The concept, supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is expected to lower overall health care costs. This follows the chamber’s all-out repeal of the state’s “certificate of need” process.
— Across chambers: Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is seeing his transportation priorities move swiftly through the Senate. A plan to kick-start funding for three major projects — extending the Tampa-area Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia line, connecting the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and constructing the Southwest-Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties — passed its final committee stop last week and is ready for floor consideration.
— We’re hearing the toll-roads project could be taken up during Week 8 of Session. An identical measure in the House is also moving through The Process.
It’s kind of amazing to think that, in the space of only a couple days, we went from “it would be premature to comment” (Galvano) to “our absolute deadline is the end of next week” (Simpson) on a gaming bill.
But that’s what happens when you’re talking about a deal that could be worth as much as three-quarters of a BILLION dollars every year into the state’s purse.
But oooooh there’s a catch: Turns out DeSantis has let it be known he won’t sign a bill if it has internet gambling in it. That’s a problem. More on that in a bit.
First, let’s recap what we reported (that no one has yet knocked down, btw):
— The Seminole Tribe gets: Craps and roulette at all of the Tribe’s facilities in Florida and exclusive rights to offer online gambling.
— The state gets: A $750 million a year cut of the gambling revenue (still unclear: is that gross or triple net?).
— The pari-mutuels get: A 10% reduction in slots taxes, the ability to keep card rooms open 24 hours and the OK to offer sports betting.
We’ll see how much of this makes it into the final package that Simpson says will drop by the end of week 6.
What happens next: With DeSantis back-channeling he won’t sign anything with internet gambling, the math gets a whole lot harder, insiders say.
“They have to throw out a big number to get the votes,” more than 500 million bucks to the state each year, one lobbyist told us.
The Catch-22: Speaker Oliva, like Richard Corcoran before him, and a lot of House members don’t like gambling. To get to a big number, “you need a lot of gambling,” the lobbyist says.
The end game: “We’ll be on day 60 and someone will be talking about dumping what’s left of this bill into budget proviso language.” Indeed, at this rate, we won’t even be surprised if somebody offers the tracks bingo games.
Sen. Travis Hutson goes into the final weeks of Session with a couple of practically minded education bills. One honors fallen Sen. Dorothy Hukill while the other strengthens Florida’s vocational education path. How does the economics major feel heading into the end of Session?
Why’s the Dorothy Hukill Financial Literacy Act key? Dorothy Hukill and I were very close. She was a dear friend, and she worked on this as her legacy. But from a strict policy perspective, it’s the right thing to do. Right now students learn these things but they do it in a crash course over a couple of weeks in economics. It’s a little more important to learn these skills that students need in life with a little more of an in-depth knowledge base. Every young adult I’ve talked to said they wished they learned these life lessons of growing up when back when.
How would the workforce-focused SB 770 impact education? Vocational education had a bad rap before. For years, we were pushing kids to go college-bound, get a degree and then get a job. But not every kid is meant for college. There are vocational, good jobs for them. Many of our business leaders who worked their tail off and were very successful weren’t in fact college bound. They used common sense they learned outside of earning a college degree. Right now, schools, if kids aren’t college-bound, they forget about them. This provides a new pathway for those students to get a degree where the school doesn’t get dinged on performance assessments.
VISIT FLORIDA blues
Sunrise, Sunset? Budget talks never feel like a trip to the beach for VISIT FLORIDA these days (get it?). Once again, funding for the state’s de facto tourism bureau stands among the most significant budget discrepancies between chambers. House leadership posture suggests a willingness to let the agency sunset. But that’s only part of the story.
— Lousy forecast: Certainly, the fact the House failed to agenda Rep. Mel Ponder’s bill reauthorizing VISIT FLORIDA generated some concern among tourism advocates. Ponder said the fact Olive came out early and expressed a willingness to fund through the fiscal year but then the organization dies its natural death. “The Speaker has just been out-front on it the entire time,” Ponder said. There’s not been so much as a meeting notice with the House bill on it. “It doesn’t look good,” Ponder confessed.
— But seriously: There just hasn’t been the same type of outward animosity for VISIT FLORIDA as seen, say, in 2017. There’s no Pitbull contracts or even those assertions Florida beaches sell themselves. Considering the newly installed Republican governor budgeted a full $76 million, is zeroing out the agency in October really in the cards?
— Across the rotunda: Legislation re-upping the agency meanwhile cruises in the other chamber. Senate Commerce and Tourism Chair Joe Gruters carried his VISIT FLORIDA bill through three unanimous committee votes. “I fully anticipate it being funded,” Gruters said. He pointed toward grants from VISIT FLORIDA helping Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael and Southwest Florida bounce back from red tide. The Senate has $50 million set aside now, and many senators want the full $76 million.
— Hearty travels: Plus, the agency right now is led by a former lawmaker, ex-Sen. Dana Young. Word is she’s visited countless House members rallying support for the bill, noting the agency ultimately needs 0.08 percent of the state budget to prop up Florida’s No. 1 industry. There may be some serious budget conference negotiations ahead, but few expect the agency to vanish before the next Session.
Will you AOB mine?
— The battle lines are clear: On the Assignment of Benefits issue. Insurance companies and some contractors want to curb what’s been described as “abuse” of the practice. Independent restoration contractors and attorneys think the reform is misguided.
— Common ground: Stakeholders on both sides suffered hits this week. Sure, the House passed its AOB reform bill — but not before dropping language that extended the reforms to auto glass companies.
— ‘Get-rich-quick’: That’s how Consumer Protection Coalition (CPC) spokesperson Edie Ousley (also the VP of public affairs at the Florida Chamber described auto-glass AOB lawsuits to us. But “lawmakers are continuing their discussions on protecting consumers from these AOB auto glass scams.”
— Meantime: CPC has launched an ad blitz urging crackdown on auto glass assignments.
— A different perspective: If you ask anyone from the Restoration Association of Florida (RAF), they’ll tell you Florida would be better off without change.
— Phaseout: RAF lobbyist and spokesperson Amanda Prater told us that the legislation at stake would only “give insurance companies more leverage.” She said provisions — such as the House plan to allow insurance companies to offer cheaper premiums that don’t include AOB’s — seek to eventually eliminate the practice altogether.
— So, what now?: RAF is working overtime to convince lawmakers to drop caps on AOB work and recission periods from the bills. The Senate version is scheduled for a 2 p.m. hearing Wednesday in the Rules Committee. As they stand, the bills make it “almost impossible” for an AOB to be validated, Prater said.
Lee’s never shy
Sen. Tom Lee knows what the end of Session looks like both as a longtime lawmaker and a former Senate President. What does he expect in the coming weeks, and why will it happen? We asked.
What will be the biggest factors in conference negotiations? (Speaker Oliva and President Galvano), while they definitely have their differences, I don’t see them rising to the acrimony we have seen in the past. The things that matter are whether capitulation results in the process being forsaken for the benefit of policy. But the other thing is whether these presiding officers have the ability to walk away. That is ultimately the most powerful weapon in negotiations. I believe they have the confidence, the principles and the value system to walk away from a deal if necessary to avoid accepting something undesirable to their members.
What other factor that’s still unclear could impact discussion? The other dynamic is the role the Governor will play in mediating disputes as we get to the end of Session. Gov. DeSantis comes in with people skills and a likability that has reduced the level of tension in this process. He’s proven to be the kind of guy you can work with. He has tremendous respect and deference for the legislative process and possesses a healthy respect for the separation of powers as opposed to seeing legislators as part of his staff. That puts him in a position where he’s much more effective at being a neutral mediator to some of these things on the margins.
Food fight rundown
What’s a proper brunch without a food fight? As time winds down on Session, there remain clear battles ahead. While most Capitol observers expect the hottest servings to be dished out after Thanksgiving, a couple of insiders say to expect knives drawn to squash these beefs.
Hospital food: The hospital industry feels an all-out barrage from the House, which seems intent to change licensing and regulatory procedures. One insider sees a strategy of throwing everything and seeing what sticks. Then there’s the fight between HCA and the rest of Florida’s hospitals. The Senate has a plan to reallocate $400 million across all of Florida, delivering a heavy hit to for-profits to lift the so-called “safety net” hospitals that turn nobody away. Expect a conference fight.
Rental roast: Hopes of pre-empting local regulations on vacation rentals will be dashed a fourth consecutive year, as HB 987 stalls. One insider says that’s mainly because Airbnb, the biggest player in the vacation rentals game, keeps shooting itself in the foot politically (see West Bank policies).
Home rule drool: But on other fronts, the home rule argument fell flat, especially in the House. There, assaults on local licensing, sunscreen rules and straw bans faced resistance even among Democrats. One insider suggests Florida leaders want the state leaning tech-forward on everything from self-driving cars to 5G telecom, while local favor 20th-century norms. But another suggests this explanation: the Florida League of Cities won’t give an inch. That makes it easier to shut their arguments down.
Scooters scoop — HB 453 scooted through its committees of reference with nearly unanimous support and is ready for the House floor. SB 542, a slimmed down bill due to some Senator’s concerns over local regulatory control, is waiting to be heard in its final committee stop, Appropriations. While it may not be as prescriptive as the House bill, SB 542 still provides critical guidance on safety and the use of micro-mobility devices, something current law currently does not do.
Turo tarts: One last industry fight? Rental car services against new business models like Toro. Although, observers increasingly say it’s just Enterprise Rent-A-Car fighting the battle. There could still be an argument waged that a complete change in dealer rules will alter the industry. But most dealers decided it’s best to keep on driving. SB1148 and HB 1111 hence both passed first stops, albeit with divided votes both times.
The GOP, the bad, and the money
At first glance, the fundraising news this week was (and still is) good. A quick recap:
— The Republican Party of Florida had a strong first quarter of 2019, bringing in $5.1 million to open the year and the 2020 election cycle.
— The haul: It’s the first mostly under new Chair Gruters, and it swamps what the Florida Democratic Party did during the same three-month period.
— More importantly for Gruters’ status, it returns the Republicans to a pattern of strong starts to election cycles after an unusually low performance, for the Florida GOP, in the first quarter of 2017.
But sources close to the party say that of the money in the quarter raised by the party, around $2.3 million was actually raised by the House (thank Chris Sprowls).
There was some “drips and drabs” that came in via CFO Jimmy Patronis and AG Ashley Moody, and the “remainder by the Governor with a few straggling commitments from Inaugural coming in.”
It’s fair to point out, one insider says, that “the House’s very successful quarter and the Governor’s steady progress (not at all blockbuster) in the face of just arriving in the Governor’s Office in early January and keeping a whirlwind schedule.
“Not to diminish anyone, but rather to make sure the House gets credit where it is absolutely due. The next report will be very interesting because the Gov. will have hit his fundraising stride and it will then test Joe since Session will be over.”
Audrey’s big gaffe
Oopsies: Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson had to walk back comments that offended her colleagues after she voted ‘no’ on a bill against anti-Semitism, calling it “an intentional piece of legislation to divide.”
— The ‘rebuke’: On Wednesday, Gibson — who is black — called a news conference to “rebuke all religious discrimination and discrimination of any kind.”
— The defense: She said she spent her “entire career working on behalf of people who have been marginalized, working on behalf of poor people, people who are discriminated … because of the color of their skin and because they don’t have sufficient means.
She went on: “It was never my intention to insult, in any way, the Jewish community or my Jewish colleagues.”
BUT … sources close to the Senate Democrats say ten members gathered in Sen. Kevin Rader‘s office to watch Gibson’s news conference and they were “mortified” by Gibson’s non-apology apology.
So why wasn’t the coup — informally launched in Sen. Lauren Book‘s office Monday evening — successful in knocking off Gibson? As one of the plotters admits, “Every successful coup either succeeds in the first 24 to 48 hours or it dies of a lack of momentum. Audrey was able to run out the clock.”
— Another conspirator says they could not get to the next signatures they needed to instigate a caucus meeting where Gibson certainly would have lost a vote of confidence. “Three of my colleagues were along for the ride, but then they wouldn’t put their names on the paper. They screwed us!”
First in Brunch — Dems behaving badly
It started ‘amicably’: A workplace harassment investigation by House General Counsel Adam Tanenbaum into an incident between Democratic Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anika Omphroy is over. It is, shall we say, inconclusive.
— What happened: In February, the Florida Democratic Party’s executive committee met in Orlando, and the two Democrats “greeted each other amicably before the meeting commenced,” Tanenbaum wrote.
— The windup: Omphroy was there “to cast the FDP’s mandated, weighted ‘gender-balanced’ votes as part of (House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee’s) proxy on behalf of House Victory, FDP’s House campaign effort which he leads … She carried 10 of House Victory’s votes.
— The pitch: “A controversial resolution was under consideration (Tanenbaum doesn’t say what) … McGhee opposed the resolution because he feared it would require publication of House Victory’s campaign strategies.” Omphroy was asked to cast the Leader’s votes against the resolution.
— The swing: When Omphroy spoke against the resolution, saying she “spoke for the House,” Smith then went to her table to ask what that meant. He admitted “being animated” and even “bringing (his hands) together forcefully” to make a point, but denied being “aggressive.”
— Going, going: Omphroy said she “felt that Smith was speaking loudly enough so that others could hear him ‘put her in her place.’ ”
— Gone: Neither lawmaker “felt that the other was engaged in a true conversation with the other,” they told Tanenbaum. “Each felt ‘talked at’ by the other” and walked away.
— What’s next: Omphroy isn’t letting the matter drop, we’re told. Speaker Oliva may appoint a hearing officer, known as a ‘special master,’ to determine if House rules have been violated.
Where #FlaPol does brunch
The Blu Halo — It’s worth the drive almost to the Georgia line to enjoy brunch here. They have all the favorites: French toast, Chicken and Waffle, as well as classic and country-style eggs Benedict. In addition to Bloody Marys (served in a tall glass with a spiced rim and stuff olives) and Mimosas, there’s a special menu of brunch cocktails such as Watermelon Agua Fresca and Grapefruit Sour. Whatever you order, add a side of Gouda grits with your meal. They’re that good. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 3431 Bannerman Road.
The Edison — Sit above the fray and a mile away from the Capitol here, with a beautiful view of the goings-on in Cascades Park. Bring your appetite; the selections include a Deviled Crab Benedict, Southern Breakfast Board and Stuffed French Toast. On the lighter side is a Florida Fresh Fruit Salad dressed up with a refreshing brown sugar vinaigrette. Bottomless Mimosas are $15. Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 470 Suwanee St.
Azu Lucy Ho’s — When you can’t decide between your brunch favorites, Azu is the place to be. Their brunch buffet features 16 different entrees as well as appetizers, sushi rolls, nigiri, soup, salad and dessert. Sunday, 10:30 to 2:30 p.m.; 3220 Apalachee Parkway.
Lucilla — While the entrees are superb here, pace yourself to include appetizers and desserts too. The Pimento Cheese Fritters with a bourbon peach glaze are to die for, and the housemade desserts are a treat. We suggest the Salted Butterscotch Pots de Crème. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 1241 E. Lafayette St.
It’s finally here — Regular readers of Florida Politics and fans of Sunburn are well-aware how much we love “Game of Thrones,” and how excited (and a little melancholy) we are that its eighth and final season begins on HBO tonight.
Yes, we are hotly anticipating what is expected to be the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film. Shooting took an incredible 11 weeks, employing 750 cast and crew members, Entertainment Weekly reports.
And we are certainly looking forward to when the Starks finally reunite, as well as Arya and the Hound, Jon and Sam, Sansa and Tyrion, and many more.
We will also be reveling in the dramatic musical ensemble, which Variety says comprises of a 60-piece orchestra, 40-voice mixed chorus, and 12-voice children’s choir.
But not everyone shares our enthusiasm with the progression of GoT over the years.
— For example, take James Poniewozik of The New York Times, who comments on the evolution of GoT, saying: “Over time, ‘Thrones’ evolved into an example of the next age of TV drama, defined by hit action spectacles … and especially the binge model of Netflix, in which TV series were structured less like collections of episodes than unitary, sprawling mega stories where one hour just bleeds into the next.”
— “With a few exceptions, [GoT] was memorable more for visually stunning or shocking scenes than for well-constructed episodes,” Poniewozik writes. “People describe its signature moments like ‘Friends’ titles: ‘The One Where the Mountain Smooshes the Viper’; ‘The One Where Danaerys Says, “Dracarys”’; ‘The One With the Ice Dragon.’”
— “Less blabbing, more stabbing.”
In the past few years, David French of the National Review attempted to explain to outsiders the GoT phenomenon, mainly by examining its mix of high-fantasy elements. Ultimately, however, French declared GoT as “more House of Cards than Lord of the Rings.”
— Or more precisely: “It was House of Cards when House of Cards was consistently awesome.”
— But despite French’s optimism, “Season Seven came, and after a promising start, things began to unravel.”
— The most obvious issue with GoT lies with its creator, George R.R. Martin, who created a massive fictional universe, developed a story equally ambitious, and then “seem to have essentially given up on finding a way to end it.”
— Basically, HBO show creators ran out of books to guide them in the universe.
— Now, according to French, the troubling part is GoT is beginning to become more like Lord of the Rings, “and I’m not sure it’s up to the challenge.”
— On a positive note, French suggests that if anyone can pull off an impressive final season, it is creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
And ScreenRant doubles down on the GoT love-to-hate bandwagon, by rating some of the worst relationships in the series, which include:
— Cersei and Jaime Lannister: While Jaime and Cersei Lannister certainly love one another that doesn’t change all the bad things they’ve done or how they feed into one another’s fears.
— Sansa Stark and Ramsay Boulton: Ever since Sansa was left trapped in Casterly Rock after her father’s execution, life hadn’t gone well for her. She’s wed to the horrible and bloodthirsty Bolton, who assaults her on their wedding night.
— Tyrion Lannister and Shae: At first, Tyrion and Shae had a sweet relationship forged between two outcast souls. However, the second Tyrion brought Shae to King’s Landing, and the situation got progressively worse.