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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.16.19

Florida politics — and more — you can read in as much time as your first cuppa joe.

Before diving into the day’s stories, we’d like to take a moment to wish Senate President Bill Galvano a happy birthday.

The Republican statesman is an attorney by trade, having graduated from the law school at the University of Miami after picking up his undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Happy birthday to Senate President Bill Galvano. 

The Bradenton Republican’s B-day wish could have come early; a transportation plan he’s pushing to create or expand three toll roads will be taken up by the Senate on Wednesday.

First Lady of the Senate Julie Galvano and her three children — Michael, William and Jacqueline — gave birthday props to pops: “We love you with all our hearts! Thank you for everything you do and for making our lives so special!”

Next up: Some words from Sen. Rob Bradley, Galvano’s trusted budget chief.

“Here’s to a great leader, husband, father, golfer, storyteller and friend,” Bradley said.

“You show us all what it means to be a leader,” Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto added. “Thank you for the exceptional amount of time you give in service to the great state of Florida. Wishing you the very best of birthdays my dear friend!”

Sen. Wilton Simpson, to whom Galvano will turn over the gavel in 2020, invoked Don Corleone while wishing his Italian friend well: “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.”

As for what to get President Galvano for his birthday? We hear he enjoys a nice scarf.

Fresh off embargo Jane Castor appears poised to win big in next Tuesday’s Tampa mayoral runoff.

A University of North Florida poll released Tuesday shows Castor 36 points ahead of her challenger, philanthropist David Straz. Of more than 650 likely voters polled, 64 percent said they planned to vote or had already voted for Castor. Only 28 percent were voting for Straz with the remaining 9 percent still undecided.

It appears as if Tampa is preparing to pass the torch. Image via Twitter.

If the polling numbers are indicative of actual voting trends, Straz would still lose even if he captured support from all remaining undecided voters.

The polling results echo those from the March 5 municipal election in which Castor led Straz by 33 points.

The poll also suggests Straz’s negative campaign tactics aren’t working. Of the more than 700 respondents asked whether Tampa was headed in the right direction, 78 percent said it was.

That counters Straz’s narrative that the city is being run by a “good ol’ boys” network and needs to be cleaned up.

Castor also leads voters on issues identified as top priorities in the city. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said access to public transportation is their top priority. Of those who ranked transportation at the top of their priorities, 72 percent supported Castor.

— “2nd poll shows Castor with lead by Straz performing well with black and young voters” via the Tampa Bay Times

Sun Sentinel wins Pulitzer for MSD coverage — Sadly, mass shootings defined the awarding of some of journalism’s top honor.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel won the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism “for exposing failings by school and law enforcement officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” the Pulitzer board announced.

The citation comes with a $100,000 bequest by the Pulitzer Board to be used to further the newspaper’s journalistic mission.

The Broward County-based Sun-Sentinel was the only Florida newspaper to receive a Pulitzer this year.

— Finalists at Florida properties included Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times, in the Investigative Reporting category, “for impactful reporting, based on sophisticated data analysis, that revealed an alarming rate of patient fatalities following Johns Hopkins’ takeover of a pediatric heart treatment facility.”

— Also, Kyra Gurney, Nicholas Nehamas, Jay Weaver and Jim Wyss of the Miami Herald, in Explanatory Reporting, for “an ambitious explanation of a far-reaching criminal operation in which South American gold mining fueled international money laundering, urban street crime, environmental degradation, child exploitation, drug trafficking and a thriving precious metals industry in Miami.”

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@realDonaldTrump: So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!

@SecCivileFrance: Hundreds of firemen of the Paris Fire Brigade are doing everything they can to bring the terrible #NotreDame fire under control. All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral.

@TribeLaw: Watching the spire fall. Nearly 900 years of human history in flames. Words fail.

@JoeBiden: For centuries, Notre Dame Cathedral has withstood wars, revolutions, and the test of time. It is a symbol of faith & a testament to history. And even as our hearts break to see it burn today during the holiest week of the year for Catholics, I have faith that it will rise again.

@NewtGingrich: Tragic loss of Notre Dame. One of Christianity’s greatest churches and symbols. It must be rebuilt “as it was, where it was.” We should all help. Notre Dame belongs to humanity and humanity should rebuild it

Tweet, tweet:

@DJMia00: For context, the #NotreDameCathedral was over 400 years old when the oldest permanent city in the United States, #StAugustine, was founded.

@DavidJollyFL: Happy tax day. Today would be a good day for Ways & Means Chairman [Richard] Neal to make a criminal referral of Steven Mnuchin to the U.S. Attorney for failure to provide the President’s tax returns in response to a Congressional request, as required by law.

Tweet, tweet:

@Rob_Bradley: Free speech for all viewpoints is what America is all about! The Campus Free Expansion Act of 2018 preserves this fundamental right on our state’s campuses. Thank you @GovRonDeSantis for enforcing this law and standing tall to protect our freedoms!

@MDixon55: Not a defense of the policies or politics the store supports/opposes, just have never seen calls for a huge company (Publix) to stay on the sidelines. Also, contributions from companies like this are generally transactional, not philosophical. If Dems were in charge, they’d give to Dems

@LindaTrischitta: Thinking today of the 17 children and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High who were taken from us on Feb. 14, 2018, and the 17 wounded, too. I hope the families and friends who survive them feel that our newsroom has served them well.

@BrittanyWallman: One of the Parkland parents congratulated us just now but asked that when we’re done being happy about winning a Pulitzer that we get back to this story and never give up.

@PatriciaMazzei: Yes, journalism in Florida is incredible.

@ChelseaLDH: Tallahassee, I need you to decide what season it is. Still winter or can we just stop being flip-floppers and settle for spring?!

— DAYS UNTIL —

Easter — 5; Frank Artiles is eligible to register to lobby the Legislature — 6; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 7; “Avengers: Endgame” opens — 10; White House Correspondents’ Dinner — 11; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 17; Mother’s Day — 26; Florida Chamber Florida Business Leaders’ Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 37; Memorial Day — 41; Florida Democratic Leadership Blue conference and fundraiser — 53; Florida Chamber Learners to Earners Workforce Summit begins — 63; First Democratic presidential debates in Miami — 71; Second Democratic presidential debates in Detroit — 105; St. Petersburg primary election — 134; “Joker” opens — 171; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 195; Scott Maddox trial begins — 202; 2019 General Election — 203; 3rd Annual Florida Internet and Television FITCon begins — 205; Iowa Caucuses — 293; Florida’s presidential primary — 336; 2020 General Election — 567.

— TOP STORY —

Bar exam blues: Florida pass rate falls again” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Like a bad roller coaster, the passage rate for first-time takers of the Florida Bar winter exam has dipped again. Results of the February 26-27 examination released Monday by the state’s Board of Bar Examiners show 57.3 percent passed out of 599 first-time takers — down from last February’s pass rate of 57.9 percent out of 637 first-time takers. The reigning champ of recent pass rates continues to be 80.2 percent from February 2013, when there were 819 first-timers.

— THE ADMINISTRATION —

Ron DeSantis seeks free speech resolution allowing controversial speakers at Florida universities” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis said all of Florida’s colleges and universities should adopt a resolution similar to the “Chicago statement,” a statement on campus free speech that declares that all viewpoints should be allowed to be discussed on college campuses, even if they are ones students may “loathe” or find “deeply offensive.” “We are here today to affirm our commitment to ensuring that all Florida’s public universities and colleges and protect student speech and the open exchange of ideas on our campuses,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Florida State University.

DeSantis upbeat about education priorities” via the News Service of Florida — DeSantis took time to rally support for his education priorities at a Tampa Christian school. He told a crowd that he thinks his administration is on track to deliver on a number of his priorities this session, his first as governor. His education agenda includes proposals that would expand school choice with a new voucher program, give bonuses to teachers, put in place a bad-actor list for certain education employees and bolster vocational training programs. “I think that when we are committed to that broad mosaic in Florida, we are going to have an array of options for people so that the parents can look and make the best decisions for their kids,” DeSantis said.

Ron DeSantis visits Tampa Bay Christian Academy where he held an educational roundtable and discussed his priorities for Florida’s education system.

DeSantis downplays chances of offshore drilling” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis downplayed growing concerns that Donald Trump is putting Florida’s coastal waters back in play for oil exploration. DeSantis said he will “be raising Cain” if drilling plans advance that includes Florida waters, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico Range Complex, a military testing range that stretches from the Florida Panhandle to Key West. DeSantis said he anticipates “accommodations” will be made to shield Florida from drilling, as was first announced early last year by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

DeSantis shortlists eight nurseries for new medical cannabis licenses — The governor has issued a brief list of eight nurseries that the state could permit to grow and sell marijuana, part of a proposed settlement with companies that in 2018 challenged how the state selects medical marijuana applicants. As first reported by Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida, the short list of nurseries — chosen from an initial group of 28 — include Bill’s Nursery, DeLeon’s Bromeliads, Dewar Nurseries, Hart’s Plant Nursery, Perkins Nursery, Redland Nursery, Spring Oaks Greenhouse and Tree King Tree Farm. The pool of nurseries had applied for licenses under a 2014 law, Sarkissian writes, which led to the choice of Trulieve and Surterra, which now hold the lion’s share of the state’s medical marijuana market

Assignment editors — DeSantis will deliver remarks on the environment, joined by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and Chief Science Officer Designate Dr. Thomas Frazer, 8:30 a.m., Steinmetz Hall Courtyard Atrium, 1881 Natural Area Dr., Gainesville.

Schedule change — Assignment editors — DeSantis will make an announcement, joined by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Valenstein, Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, Valenstein and Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson, 1 p.m., USCG Station Marathon, 1800 Overseas Highway, Marathon. It was originally set for 12:30 p.m.

VISIT FLORIDA: Tourism saves each Florida family more than $1,500 yearly — The state’s official tourism marketing corporation, reminded Floridians that “without the tax revenues generated by travel and tourism to the state, every Florida household would have to pay an average of $1,549 in additional taxes every year in order to keep state funding levels the same.” VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young added in a statement, “Saving $1,549 in taxes is a great deal for Floridians and something the tourism industry is proud to generate … A cut in funding could place a heavier tax burden on Florida citizens and strain state budget revenue. The Legislature should reauthorize and fully fund VISIT FLORIDA at $76 million.”

— SESSION —

José Oliva draws fire as firefighter cancer insurance bill gets bottled up in House” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — A bill requiring local governments to provide insurance and death benefits to firefighters with cancer would cost less than $5 million across a $90 billion state budget, and it has the support of the Senate and more than two-thirds of the House membership. But the bill isn’t moving. House Speaker Oliva said it hadn’t had a committee hearing because he’s concerned about the cost to local governments. But rumors are that his motives have more to do with politics than policy, something Oliva strongly rejects. Oliva suggested for the first time that a compromise is possible. “Session is not yet over,” Oliva said, suggesting even a possible floor vote. “With some adjustments, I believe it is possible.”

Firefighters are accusing José Oliva of politicizing health benefits for firefighters with cancer. Oliva firmly denies the accusation.

Card games could be key in finalizing gambling bill” via News Service of Florida — Sports betting, “designated player” card games and bingo are all on the table as a future Senate president tries to nail down a gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as early as Friday. The state and the tribe are back at the negotiating table in hopes of finalizing a revenue-sharing agreement, called a “compact,” in which the Seminoles would pay the state millions in exchange for the exclusive rights to operate certain types of gambling.

Jeff Brandes beefs up ‘Florida First Step Act’” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — State Sen. Jeff Brandes filed an amendment to his “Florida First Step Act” proposal, making it more comprehensive and incorporating provisions in the criminal justice package put forward in the House this year. The strike-all amendment to SB 642 would add provisions bumping the felony theft threshold from $300 to $750 and changing the “Truth in Sentencing” rule requiring convicts serve 85 percent of their sentence down to 65 percent. “Florida’s criminal justice system must find a better balance between punishment and rehabilitation,” Brandes said in a news release. “This legislation offers the opportunity to implement proven strategies that will hold offenders accountable and promote rehabilitation to achieve our goal so that everyone who goes to prison leaves better than when they entered.”

House bill could invalidate school tax referendums” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A tax package moving through the Florida House could force traditional public schools to share more money with charter schools. HB 7123 would require funds collected via voter-approved referendums be split with charters on a per-student basis. Current law allows public schools to choose if referendum money gets dispersed to charters. If passed, however, the bill would retroactively change referendums that went before voters, such as the 2018 Palm Beach County plan that specifically excluded charters in its ballot language. It is unclear whether HB 7123 would invalidate referendums.

House panel eyes ‘PIP’ medical fees” via the News Service of Florida — Changes could be coming to a House proposal to alter rules in the personal injury protection insurance system. Under an 18-page amendment to a bill (HB 1317) that will be considered by the House Health & Human Services Committee, hospitals and physicians would be limited to the Medicare fee schedule for providing services to people who have been injured in auto accidents. The amendment would restrict hospitals to 200 percent of the Medicare prospective fee payments for emergency services. Also, physicians and dentists providing emergency services at hospitals would be limited to 200 percent of the Medicare fee schedule.

License plate bill could end FAU gravy train” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A Senate bill changing the rules on specialty license plates could be amended to send money collected through sales of the Protect Wild Dolphins and Protect Florida Whales tags to the actual organizations working to save those animals. The tag funds paid out by Florida drivers were originally intended for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and through 2007, HBOI disbursed the tag fees statewide and to several stranding organizations, which was the intent of the Legislature. HBOI has since been folded into Florida Atlantic University, which now receives every dime of the whale and dolphin tag collections. That could change, however, if an amendment to SB 1104 put forward by One Ocean One Health gains traction. If so, HBOI would have to share the wealth with stranding organizations statewide.

— MORE SESSION —

Are the ‘sanctuary city’ bills dead in the FL Legislature?” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — The contentious bills will be heard in the House Judiciary and Senate Rules committees Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon respectively. These meetings are the last stops the bills need before heading to the chamber floor. The House and Senate have not yet worked out a technical disagreement related to whether policy bills should be allowed to be tied to the budget, which has slowed some policy bills, including a contentious school safety bill that would allow classroom teachers to be armed on campus. In the House, Speaker Oliva said there’s still time to hear the bill, nodding to what he said would be a hectic schedule in the last three weeks.

The controversial anti-sanctuary city bills could meet a legislative end for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Medical marijuana insurance in Florida? Lawmakers, agriculture commissioner pushing for it” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 212,000 people on Florida’s medical marijuana patient registry cannot get health insurance to cover the cost of their medicine. “Our constitution recognizes that marijuana is medicine, and if it is in our constitution then companies that provide health insurance to Florida patients should be covering it,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told the Democrat. Rep. Ramon Alexander agrees with Fried: That needs to change. “We need to have a comprehensive review to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes for health insurance coverage,” said Alexander. “The therapeutic value of medical marijuana may be able to treat and alleviate symptoms of a variety of serious medical conditions … that many of our state employees face.”

Gayle Harrell would make insurers cover vaccinations for ‘at-risk’ hepatitis A group” via Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State News — Harrell said if it’s not too late, she will try to amend one of the Legislature’s 2019 insurance bills to mandate all insurers inoculate at-risk people in areas identified by the Centers for Disease Control as having been hit by hepatitis A. “Local health departments usually insure Medicaid patients, the uninsured and the underinsured,” said Harrell. “But this is a rising epidemic, and we have to look for the vulnerable who might otherwise fall between the cracks.” Hepatitis A is sweeping Florida … there have been 1,200 confirmed cases across 26 counties, and the number is rising. DOH considers a community “high risk” when there are five or more confirmed cases.

Randy Fine accuses radio host of white nationalism, calls for removal” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Republican state Rep. Fine is accusing a Brevard County radio station talk-show host of anti-Semitism, racism, and white nationalism, as the Brevard lawmaker called for his removal in a letter he sent to the chairman and chief executive officer of the station’s corporate owner. Fine sent his letter Monday to Bob Pittman, leader of iHeartMedia Inc. of New York, which owns WMMB, a news-talk radio station broadcasting from Brevard County. In it, Fine spelled out his accusations against local talk show host Bill Mick. “Even retyping this makes my skin crawl,” Fine wrote. In an email response to Florida Politics, Mick declined to comment.

On Tax Day, news conference held in Capitol to support ‘Working Families Tax Credit’ — Advocates, faith leaders and legislators gathered at the Capitol on Tax Day for a news conference to ask the Legislature to support the Working Families Tax Credit (HB 1411/SB 1786). It would create a program at the state level to grant additional funds to Florida’s working families that already qualify under the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Federal EITC is the most effective anti-poverty program, advocates say. Expanding it in Florida would increase the benefit to the state’s working families struggling to make ends meet. “While Florida is and should be a low-tax state, we should not be a low benefit state,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.

For your radar — Bills to allow prescription drugs to be imported and sold in Florida pharmacies are advancing, but a new ad campaign is urging voters to tell their lawmakers to vote it down. The Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSM) says there’s no guarantee the pills and capsules that would flow into Florida would be authentic, or even from Canada. Instead, Floridians could end up taking lower-quality — and possibly dangerous — counterfeit drugs. PSM is taking its message to the public with TV, radio and print ad buys across the state. “Some politicians in Tallahassee want a law that could flood Florida with dangerous uninspected drugs,” PSM’s video ad states. “We all want to pay less, but we can’t risk dangerous counterfeit drugs. Call senators. Stop Senate Bill 1528. We just can’t take the risk.”

To watch the video, click on the link below:

— LEGISLATIVE SCHEDULE —

Assignment editors — Brandes will hold a news conference on the “Florida First Step Act” (SB 642) and the strike-all amendment filed to it that will serve as the Senate’s criminal justice package for the 2019 Legislative Session, noon, in front of the Florida Senate Chamber, 4th-floor Rotunda.

Assignment editors — Students and participating partners “will have the opportunity to showcase their passion and knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with Florida legislators, while demonstrating the advantages that STEM programming can have on economic development across the state,” a news release announcing STEM Day. Technology displays and science demonstrations will be featured throughout the Capitol and “will reinforce how science centers and museums light the spark of curiosity, promoting STEM careers and instill important 21st-century skills through engaging hands-on programs,” 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Capitol courtyard and Rotunda.

Students and participating partners will have the opportunity to showcase their passion and knowledge in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with Florida legislators while demonstrating the advantages that STEM programming can have on economic development across the state.

Committee hearings:

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would eliminate the Agency for State Technology, 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a proposal that would lead to county courts handling more lawsuits, 9 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would allow high-school students to substitute one computer-science credit for a science credit needed to graduate, 9 a.m., 412 Knott Building.

The House Appropriations Committee will consider a tax-cut package reducing the tax rate on commercial leases and holding back-to-school and disaster-preparedness tax “holidays,” 10 a.m., 212 Knott Building.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will consider a proposal to create a regulatory framework for “telehealth” in Florida, 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill that would provide $300 million for a loan program that would help counties, cities and school districts cover repair costs from Hurricane Michael, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee will consider a proposal that would place restrictions on local sales-tax referendums, 1 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building.

The House Education Committee will take up a bill that would create a public-records exemption for information about applicants to become presidents or provosts of state universities or colleges, 1:30 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee will consider a proposal to prevent so-called sanctuary cities in Florida, requiring the state, local governments and law-enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, 1:30 p.m., 404 House Office Building.

The House Health & Human Services Committee will take up a bill that would revamp regulations for office surgery centers, 2 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will hold confirmation hearings for several officials, including Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew and Public Service Commission members Julie Brown and Gary Clark, 4:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building.

— GOVERNORS CLUB MENU —

Crawfish chowder; mixed garden salad with dressings; black-eyed pea salad; red bliss potato salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and breads; Ronnie’s fried chicken; blackened redfish with Cajun rémoulade; grilled pork tenderloin with housemade applesauce; rice pilaf; collard greens; traditional succotash; moon pie for dessert.

— STATEWIDE —

Ex-felons in Florida should be able to vote without limitations, influencers say” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — In a new survey of the Florida Influencers, a group of 50 prominent political and policy figures from across the state, a majority (54 percent) said former felons should not have to pay back all fines, court fees, and restitution before being eligible to vote. “I am opposed to the denying returning residents of a fundamental right under the constitution due to delinquency with financial payments,” said Barron Channer, CEO of the Woodwater Group. “This is not in line with the ethos of our democracy, and it was not in line with the understood intent of the referendum and subsequent amendments that were widely supported.”

What Danny Burgess is reading —Florida ranks only 33rd nationally as ‘good home for veterans’” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The report, from the consumer advocacy firm MagnifyMoney, ranks Florida 33rd nationally as a good home for veterans, based on the company’s assessment of veterans’ population trends, availability and ratings of care through Veterans Affairs facilities, and several economic factors such as median incomes and property taxes. Florida officials dismissed the report arguing that Florida is a far better place for veterans than the report suggests and contended it does not adequately account for such Florida initiatives as in-state tuition rates for veterans and their families, several layers of property tax exemptions, and expanded veterans’ preference in government contracting.

— STORIES OF SUICIDE —

The Daytona-Beach News Journal is out with a series examining all aspects of shootings in Volusia and Flagler counties.

One installment, “Shooting Suicides” by Frank Fernandez, explores why a growing number of people are turning guns on themselves.

It also spotlights suicide victims and their family members — something that traditionally is not reported on.

Rethinking stats: Suicides made up the largest share of all shootings in Flagler and Volusia counties.

Older, white: “Of the 89 cases of firearm suicide in Volusia and Flagler counties, 59 were 50 years old and older,” Fernandez reports.

Unsettling: The use of firearms in suicides is effective. “Records gathered from all 15 police agencies and the medical examiner show that all 89 people in Volusia and Flagler who used a gun in 2018 to attempt suicide died,” Fernandez writes. “In contrast, last year there were 419 suicide attempts without the use of guns in the two counties. Of those attempts, 63 were successful.”

— THE TRAIL —

Medicaid expansion bid gathers signatures” via the News Service of Florida — With more than $400,000 in backing since the beginning of the year, a political committee seeking to expand Medicaid through a constitutional amendment has submitted more than 21,000 petition signatures to the state. The committee, Florida Decides Healthcare, Inc., is proposing a constitutional amendment for the November 2020 ballot that would expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults who currently are not eligible. Florida lawmakers have repeatedly rejected such an expansion, which is optional for states under the federal Affordable Care Act. The proposed constitutional amendment would expand eligibility to people whose incomes are up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Brian Mast campaign earns $230K in first quarter contributions” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Mast has pulled in just over $230,000 in contributions for his 2020 re-election campaign in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. Mast’s campaign also received $110,000 in transfers from other committees. Take Back the House 2020 poured in $80,000. Another $27,000 was received from Mast Victory Committee, while Protect the House added just over $3,000. Those numbers leave the campaign with more than $363,000 cash on hand, according to numbers from the Federal Election Commission. The latest fundraising totals cover the first quarter of 2019, or from Jan. 1 to March 31. Mast’s campaign also showed more than $155,000 in expenditures during the same period.

Ka-Ching: Brian Mast draws in more than $230,000 in Q1 contributions.

Mario Diaz-Balart claims $256K in newest fundraising reportvia Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — GOP U.S. Rep. Diaz-Balart has reported more than $256,000 in contributions in the first quarter of 2019, bringing his cash on hand to nearly $265,000 in total. That includes $5,000 each from PACs representing AT&T and Comcast, $4,000 from Florida Citrus Mutual, and $2,500 each from General Electric and Florida East Coast Industries. His brother and former congressional colleague, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, also put $2,000 toward the campaign. In all, more than 2/3 of the money from donations listed on Diaz-Balart’s itemized contributions came from various PACs and political organizations. His campaign also reported nearly $140,000 in net operating expenditures.

Donna Shalala reports $237K in 1Q — with assist from ActBlue” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Shalala brought in more than $237,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). And more than half of that money was donated to Shalala through the Democratic fundraising nonprofit ActBlue. A list of the itemized contributions shows dozens of those submissions sent through ActBlue. The site acts as a conduit between campaigns and supporters, allowing individuals to use the website to give money to their campaign of choice. In total, more than $121,000 was donated to Shalala’s operation through ActBlue. According to FEC reports, Shalala has nearly $229,000 on hand after the first quarter.

Jason Brodeur clears $143K in March fundraising” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Former Rep. Jason Brodeur raised more than $143,000 last month in his bid to take over for term-limited Sen. David Simmons in Central Florida’s Senate District 9. Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, brought in $37,625 in hard money with another $106,050 coming in through his committee account, Friends of Jason Brodeur. The committee report included 40 contributions, anchored by a $50,000 check from Friends of Matt Caldwell. Brodeur has now raised $336,755 in campaign cash and has $193,730 banked. His committee has $214,485 on hand.

Shevrin Jones earns more than $56K in March for SD 35 run” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Jones hauled in more than $56,000 in March as continues his push for the open Senate District 35 seat in 2020. Jones’ campaign itself earned nearly $38,000 in the month of March, according to numbers filed with the Florida Division of Elections. His PC, Florida Strong Finish, tacked on an additional $19,000 in fundraising. Money is pouring into Jones’ campaign from several different corners. In addition to dozens of individual contributions under $100, Jones also received $1,000 each from the AT&T Florida PAC, the Florida AFL-CIO Fund, Pfizer, Inc. and a pair of organizations associated with the Disney organization in Central Florida. Former congressional candidate Matt Haggman also made an appearance, dropping $1,000 into the Jones campaign.

Election fraudster Josue Larose joins SD 35 race” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Larose, who has previously been pegged for more than 2,000 violations of state election law by the Florida Elections Commission, has jumped into the 2020 race for Senate District 35. Larose is now listed as a candidate in the race on the Florida Division of Elections website. He most recently ran for Mayor of Miramar, where he was handily defeated by incumbent Mayor and now-presidential candidate Wayne Messam. Those 2,000-plus violations stemmed from Larose’s lies about raising millions of dollars from made-up donors during a 2010 gubernatorial run. He was operating more than 300 political committees at the time. The transgressions ended with fines totaling more than $500,000.

Josue Larose, who had amassed more than 2,000 FEC complaints, is back on the campaign trail. 

— LOCAL —

Jane Castor might be Tampa’s next mayor. Her partner, Ana Cruz, is a lobbyist. Does it matter?” via Charlie Frago and Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Cruz, a powerful lobbyist, would be in a position to influence development, city contracts and other big-money scores at City Hall. The reality is far different, Cruz says. She says she won’t do any lobbying involving the city, a position echoed by Castor. What about the perception that Cruz could still steer lucrative city business to clients of her firm, Ballard Partners? The firm’s president Brian Ballard sent out a companywide memo on Feb. 6 saying Cruz wouldn’t be involved in any city business nor would she profit from any business done with the city. Cruz, 46, bridles at the idea that she would behave unethically. It comes down to trust, she said.

John Dingfelder dominates spending in Tampa City Council races” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Dingfelder has raised $167,000 in his bid for the citywide District 3 race to replace outgoing council member Yolie Capin who is leaving office due to term limits. While $50,000 of that haul came from a personal loan and several thousand from family members, Dingfelder is the only candidate to exceed six-figures in City Council races in the runoff election and one of only three to exceed $100,000 in all seven races on the municipal ballot last month. Incumbents Charlie Miranda and Luis Viera also blew past that mark.

John Dingfelder is spending some solid cash in his bid for Tampa City Council.

Jacksonville City Councilman: Mayor’s staffer threatened retaliation for Berkman criticism” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — A Council member said Brian Hughes, Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff threatened retaliation against him after he criticized an incentive-rich proposal to redevelop downtown’s vacant Berkman 2 property. In a story about $11 million in financial judgments against companies tied to the Stewart family, whose family trust is the main investor of the now-foiled project, Matt Schellenberg said he was “disappointed” and called for an investigation into the company. Hours after the story published online, Hughes sent Schellenberg two text messages: a screenshot of Schellenberg’s quote in the story and a cryptic statement. “I hope Matt gets everything he needs prior to June 30.”

Local cops thought crime would be down because of ‘Game of Thrones.’ They were wrong.” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office reported its weekend crime stats, and the law enforcement agency had hoped maybe some criminals had stayed home to catch up on the latest intrigues in Westeros. “We thought it was going to be a slow weekend because of the return of #GameofThrones but nope, we were wrong!” PBSO tweeted. The numbers are slightly higher than a daily average based off 2017 statistics reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the latest year for which data is available.

St. Petersburg housing agency accuses Mayor Rick Kriseman of interference, threatens lawsuit” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — Housing agency board members, including the three at threat of removal, voted or agency attorney Charlie Harris to try and negotiate a compromise with city attorneys. But if that fails, Harris is authorized to file a lawsuit that will claim Kriseman is overstepping his authority by removing members because he does not agree with their actions. Harris, an attorney with Trenam Law, said Kriseman’s motive appears to be to remove board members who support embattled CEO Tony Love.

First on #FlaPol — “Plato Academy Schools, with nine charter schools in Tampa Bay, break from management company” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Plato Academy Schools voted to end its relationship with Superior Schools. “Unfortunately, based upon the performance of Superior since the passing of Superior’s founder, Steve Christopolous, in the summer of 2018, the Plato Board voted to terminate its relationship with Superior immediately,” reads a message sent to parents. “Our Plato Academy schools stand strong, capable, and will continue to stay true to our mission of putting students first and ensuring we all reach our highest potential.” Plato Academy Schools operate nine K-8 charter schools around Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Superior Schools was established in 2005 to provide management oversight for the Plato Academy Schools, which currently serve about 7,000 students.

FDLE won’t pursue criminal investigation against Lee Sheriff Marceno for alleged ‘threats’ in paternity suit” via Brooke Baitinger of the Fort Myers News-Press — According to the January complaint, Sheriff Marceno threatened Deanna Lynn Williams when she told him she was pregnant with their baby. He allegedly told her she had to have an abortion. Reached by phone Friday night, Marceno declined to comment.”

EEOC complaint details Marco police discrimination, information leaks, potential perjury” via Devan Patel of the Marco Eagle’s Devan Patel — Explosive allegations contained in an EEOC complaint filed against the Marco Island Police Department not only allege gender discrimination but state Chief Al Schettino leaked information about a battery investigation into the former city manager and along with a former councilman, sought his ouster. Police records clerk Heather Comparini filed a complaint with the EEOC-Miami District Office in December which outlines a history of discriminatory action taken against her by Schettino and the city’s failures to properly investigate her claims. “Schettino is highly resistant to having women under his command or on his staff, and he utilizes bullying tactics and harassment to target women because he perceives their gender as weaker,” Comparini wrote.

— D.C. MATTERS —

’Up to something nefarious.’ Judge orders lockup of Chinese woman arrested at Mar-a-Lago” via Sarah Blaskey, Caitlin Ostroff, Jay Weaver, and Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald — A federal judge ordered the detention of Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested trying to enter Mar-a-Lago. “It does appear to the court that Ms. Zhang was up to something nefarious,” Magistrate Judge William Matthewman said, adding that he considered Zhang a flight risk and believed she would return to China if released before trial. Matthewman said the weight of the evidence against Zhang — who pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of making false statements to federal officers and entering restricted property — is “quite strong.” Prosecutors had asked to keep her locked up. It’s Although no allegations of espionage have been made against Zhang, federal prosecutor Rolando Garcia said more charges are still possible.

Donald Trump plans to spend Easter weekend at Mar-a-Lago” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Easter trip is slightly longer than his usual long weekends at his favorite winter-season getaway. He’s expected to be in town starting Thursday, for a stay that includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The president’s plans can be discerned through an air advisory issued Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration. It indicates air restrictions because of VIP travel in the Palm Beach area from Thursday to Monday. That means Air Force One is headed to Palm Beach International Airport and Trump will be in and around Palm Beach.

Rick Scott and Chuck Schumer feud over Puerto Rico” via Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Scott campaigned on standing up for Puerto Rico. But with President Trump warning senators not to provide more aid to the island, the Florida Republican is caught between his party and his promises. And Democrats are eager to exploit that tension — blasting Scott for sticking with the president on a critical disaster relief bill and throwing the freshman senator into the middle of a broader fight over stalled assistance for millions of Americans devastated by wildfires, flooding and hurricanes. Scott, meanwhile, is lashing out at his Democratic critics, feuding in particular with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in increasingly personal terms. “This is a great example of why people hate politics. Not only did @SenSchumer block a bipartisan bill, now he’s lying about it,” Scott tweeted Sunday evening. “Our bill doesn’t strip funding for P.R. It includes $600 mil in nutrition assistance funding for P.R. that I fought to get in the bill.”

Tweet, tweet:

Vern Buchanan visits with troops in Ukraine” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Buchanan said Eastern Europe remains under threat of brazen aggression by Russian forces. “Rising authoritarianism and extremism are a threat to emerging democracies and our national security interests,” he said. The Sarasota Republican issued his comments after leading a bipartisan delegation of Congressmen to meet with troops in Ukraine. House members visited with American soldiers at the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. “I was pleased to hear from our troops on their mission and objectives to keep America safe,” Buchanan said.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins with students and representatives for the local chapters of Moms Demand Action, the Brady Campaign, and March For Our Lives on the background checks bill that recently cleared the U.S. House, 4 p.m., Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 600 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa.

— 2020 —

Amy Klobuchar plans stops in Miami, Tallahassee” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate Klobuchar of Minnesota is slated to make her second trip to Florida since jumping into the 2020 race. That visit will happen Tuesday, April 16, as Klobuchar has scheduled stops in both Miami and Tallahassee. Klobuchar is first slated to attend a health care roundtable at CIC Miami. Klobuchar will sit down with local medical professionals, health care leaders, and advocates to discuss the issue of health care starting at 10:45 a.m. After her South Florida stop, Klobuchar will be headed to the capital for a press availability at 5 p.m.

Amy Klobuchar is making a Florida swing this week.

Joe Biden Spanish-language ad becomes ‘hot mess’” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO — In the run-up to his expected presidential campaign announcement, Biden’s supporters cut a Spanish-language ad in South Florida emphasizing health care, education, and his biography. “We are in a hot mess with campaign and client because someone leaked footage,” read an email to the actors. The email surmised that the footage was from “some moms taking photo/video of their kids while they were being filmed.” Biden’s spokesperson, Bill Russo, said his team “wouldn’t comment on that” when asked about the commercial shoot. It was unclear who was behind the commercial, whether it was Biden, his American Possibilities political committee or another group.

Bernie Sanders releases 10 years of tax returns” via Axios — Sanders released 10 years of his tax returns, fulfilling his promise to release the long-awaited disclosure on Tax Day. The filings show he has made $1.7 million in the two years after running for president. “These tax returns show that our family has been fortunate. I am very grateful for that, as I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I know the stress of economic insecurity. That is why I strive every day to ensure every American has the basic necessities of life, including a livable wage, decent housing, health care and retirement security.”

The big idea? Beto O’Rourke doesn’t have one.” via David Siders of POLITICO — O’Rourke’s most distinctive policy position? To be determined. There’s no signature issue yet, no single policy proposal sparking his campaign. Convening crowds — and listening to them — is the central thrust of his early presidential bid. And one month into the race, even some of O’Rourke’s supporters are starting to worry about persistent criticism that the charismatic Texan is missing big policy ideas of his own. “Many of your critics often believe that you’re not clear or firm on your policy positions,” a caucusgoer told O’Rourke at a town hall-style meeting in Iowa recently. “What should we, as supporters and caucusers, say to rebut these claims?”

— OPINIONS & ANALYSIS —

Importing bad ideas on drug prices” via the Wall Street Journal editorial board — The Florida Legislature has been moving on a plan pushed by Republican Governor DeSantis that directs the state health agency to set up a prescription drug importation program. The thinking is that prescription drugs are too expensive, so the U.S. should import them from countries like Canada that impose price controls on medicine. One question is why Canada would allow the U.S. to siphon its drug stocks. Canada’s drug supply for 37 million residents isn’t brimming with extra products to sell to 21 million Floridians, even on a limited scale. Democrats once pushed importation as disguised price controls, but Republicans who understand markets helped to stop it. With Republicans now aping Democrats, this is a dangerous moment for the world’s most productive and dynamic market for medicine.

Allan Bense, Will Weatherford, Gwen Graham and Ron Sachs: Hurricane Michael victims need ongoing priority attention from state, federal governments — and all of us” via Florida Politics — Much has been done to start helping those communities recover — with debris removal and efforts to restore infrastructure as the most significant accomplishments — and still it staggers anyone about how much remains to be done. The work will go on, potentially for generations. We all want the region to rise to its feet again, but it will never be the same. The lives of its residents and its communities have been altered forever. What we all do now will directly impact the future for the Michael region, for better or worse. Rebuild 850 was created to keep the focus of Florida and the nation on the needs of this nonurban area, one that already was so economically challenged.

End VISIT FLORIDA subsidies? Yeah, right. I’ll eat this column if that happens” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — After receiving hundreds of millions of public dollars, the state’s tourism-promotion agency now needs legislators to reauthorize its existence. Fortunately for VISIT FLORIDA, that’s precisely what everyone expects them to do. Why do we expect that? Because tourism bosses like having you subsidize their advertising budgets. And what tourism bosses want from Florida politicians, they usually get. In fact, I’ll offer this: If the Legislature actually defunds VISIT FLORIDA, I will deep-fry this column and eat every word. Now, I reserve the right to add Frank’s Red Hot wing sauce to make the Kentucky-fried column little more palatable.

Meet Florida’s Mean Gang” via Julie Hauserman of the Florida Phoenix — If there’s one notable hallmark of this legislative session (and this political era of national Republican leadership), it is a combination of elite toxic entitlement and sheer meanness. … Every day as the legislative session winds on, lawmakers take their seats for afternoon committee meetings (post-lunch with their campaign cash rainmakers at the Governor’s Club, where the prying press and public are forbidden), and they often strike a cynical and weary tone at how the public they are elected to serve just doesn’t seem to “get it.”

Ten million Florida homeowners are watching vacation rental bills” via Mark Anderson for TCPalm — Homeowners voluntarily pay more than $2 billion every year through enforcement and compliance through deed restrictions. Renting out one’s home or a bedroom on a short-term basis is nothing new. However, our laws have not kept up. In fact, Florida actually went the other way to benefit those who exploit home-sharing as for-profit, commercial businesses under the false pretense of “property rights.” And guess where those unregulated, commercial businesses with no offices are headquartered? Right inside Florida’s neighborhoods. These unregulated businesses then went even further and convinced our Legislature to remove what little oversight that existed leaving our neighborhoods exposed as a last line of defense against unregulated proliferation of these commercial businesses.

— LISTENS —

Inside Florida Politics from GateHouse Florida with host John Kennedy: Liberal megadonor Tom Steyer eyes Florida again; anti-Semitism bill roils Tallahassee Dems; what’s behind big highway package.

Gradebook from the Tampa Bay Times with host Jeffrey Solochek: Florida lawmakers are trying to impose term limits on school board members. Nick Tomboulides, who is executive director of U.S. Term Limits, has been among the most vocal advocates for the proposal. He explains his support, along with his rebuttal of the arguments opposing the idea.

REGULATED from hosts Christian Bax and Tony Glover: Former regulators Bax and Glover, host a mid-Session check-in on the trends, opportunities, and threats to the cannabis, alcoholic beverage in gambling industries.

The Rotunda with Trimmel Gomes: A look at the student-powered enterprise news operation about Florida government making waves in The Capitol. Gomes chats with student journalists Katie Campione and Max Chesnes at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications “Fresh Take Florida” news service.

— MOVEMENTS —

Alico announces leadership changes including appointment of new CEO” via Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News — The news comes two months after the company’s embattled CEO and president, Remy Trafelet, voluntarily resigned from the Fort Myers-based agribusiness and land management company. In a news release, Alico announced several leadership changes at the top, including the appointment of John Kiernan as its chief executive officer. The changes will take effect on July 1. Kiernan has served as the company’s chief financial officer for the past four years. Richard Rallo, the company’s chief accounting officer, will replace Kiernan as CFO. Additionally, Benjamin Fishman, who has sat on Alico’s board since 2014, will succeed Hank Slack as the company’s chairman. Slack will continue to serve on the company’s board.

Personnel note: Florida Transportation Commission (FTC) appoints Ralph Yoder as Executive DirectorYoder comes to FTC from the Calhoun County School District, where he served as the elected Superintendent of Schools since 2012. He has worked in the private sector in various industries and served as the executive director of an industry association. Yoder was previously employed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and worked as an Intergovernmental Liaison. The FTC serves as the citizen’s oversight board for FDOT, along with the state’s expressway authorities and its regional transportation authorities. The FTC also makes transportation policy recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature.

Personnel note: Erin Hendrix named partner at LSN Partners” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Hendrix, a Senior Director at Miami Beach-based consulting firm LSN Partners, has now been named a partner of the organization. LSN announced the news in a Monday morning news release. Hendrix joined LSN in 2009 and is a graduate of Florida State University. “Erin has played a vital role in the development of our firm by building strong, meaningful and long-lasting relationships with our clients and our community,” said Alexander P. Heckler, Managing Partner of LSN. “Erin is a star within our firm, and we are happy to have her officially join the partnership team.”

— SUNSHINE SPORTS —

It’s not all terrible in Tampa Bay — The Tampa Bay Rays are providing a little solace for shellshocked area sports fans. After an 8-4 victory Sunday at Toronto, the Rays came home with a 12-4 record, the best in baseball.

They have opened a 5 ½ game lead in the American League East.

It gives fans something positive to think about instead of what looks like an epic collapse by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL playoffs. After equaling the NHL record for victories in a single season, the Bolts have folded up like soggy cardboard in their opening-round playoff series with Columbus.

Following Sunday’s 3-1 loss, the Bolts now trail the best-of-seven series 3-0 and face possible elimination tonight at the Blue Jackets.

If they lose, the Bolts would be the first team in league history to lead the NHL in regular-season wins and then get swept in the opening playoff round.

— ALOE —

What Janet Cruz is reading —Tampa seafood restaurant raising money to help rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral” via WFLA — People all around the world watched in horror as a catastrophic fire ripped through the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire came just as Holy Week began, less than one week before Easter Sunday. Just hours after news of the devastating fire surfaced, Big Ray’s Fish Camp in Tampa announced they were stepping up to help by donating some of the money they make on Friday. “On Good Friday we will donate a portion of our sales to the rebuild of Notre Dame,” the restaurant posted on Facebook, adding #theworldwillrebuildNotreDame.

Spotted — At the Florida Internet & Television ‘Game of Thrones’ Watch Party in Tallahassee: Alexis Calatayud, Clayton ClemensMadeline HolzmannLauren Mariano of RubinTurnbull, Christian MinorJulio RodriguezKaley SlatteryCaleb Spencer of the CFOs office, and, of course, Brad Swanson.

What I learned on my vacation to Westeros” via Mark O’Connell of The New York Times — The first time I saw a map of Westeros, I was struck by how much it looked like an inverted map of Ireland. I became fascinated by the relationship between my country and Westeros. This fascination had its origins in a trip I made to Northern Ireland in 2017. I’ll admit that this is not a particularly sophisticated view to take of the historical and cultural complexities of the region, but whenever I am there, I can’t help thinking of Northern Ireland as a place that has been no less imagined into existence than Westeros, only more thoroughly and concretely. Given the fragility of digital records compared with physical artifacts, it was possible to imagine future historians misunderstanding this cross-promotional tie-in as a real historical document.

Tweet, tweet:

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to numbers guru Donna Arduin, currently the Office of Management and Budget Director for the state of Alaska. Also celebrating today are former U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns and Jeb! alum and comms pro Cory Tilley.

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, Dan McAuliffe, and Drew Wilson.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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