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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.19.19

Get scorched with the day’s first ‘hot takes’ on Florida politics.

Happening right now:

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The Legislative Session is in full swing, but that didn’t stop Gov. Ron DeSantis from releasing a video Thursday celebrating his first 100 days.

The video, under three minutes long, pivots from one early-term accomplishment to another. And DeSantis, who enjoys strong numbers in public polls, spotlighted his schedule of public events.

“During my Inaugural Address, I agreed with Hamilton that, ‘Energy in the executive is the leading character in the definition of good government,’” he said. “That’s why I’ve held 100 public events during my first 100 days in office. I will continue working with the Legislature and Floridians should know I will do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.”

To view the video, click on the image below:

The video spotlights an array of decisive moves in the early going, some of them at odds with some expectations that DeSantis would represent a continuation of the Rick Scott era.

“The Governor is doing what the people want … reaching across the aisle … impressing his Democratic opponents,” asserted a trio of voices early in the video. Environmental reforms were a key focus of the video, including hiring a chief science officer and paying attention to red tide and green algae and recommending $2.5 billion in four years for Everglades restoration.

DeSantis also spotlighted his signing of smokable medical cannabis legislation. “I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved” was the pull quote.

Additionally, the pardoning of the Groveland Four (something the previous Governor and Cabinet couldn’t find a way to get to) was noted. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” was the quote on that item.

More: A response to the opioid addiction problem. A push for Canadian pharmaceutical imports.

DeSantis “blazed a trail over these last 100 days for the people of Florida,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, chair of the Florida GOP. “As we near the end of the legislative session, I cannot wait to see what is collectively accomplished by Governor DeSantis, President [Bill] Galvano, Speaker [JoséOliva and the Florida Legislature on behalf of all Floridians.”

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— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Jim_Jordan: The Left’s partisan attacks on the Attorney General are disgraceful. Bill Barr has conducted himself in exactly the way the American people want their AG to act. He followed the law, provided as much of the Mueller Report as possible, and erred on the side of transparency.

@MaggieNYT: An irony of the picture painted by the second volume of the Mueller report — for all the ‘burn it to the ground’ populism that Bannon is publicly associated with, he repeatedly is cited as preventing Trump from potentially crossing legal lines re Mueller.

@MikeGrunwald: The Mueller report is what it is, a compilation of lies and bad acts by the president plus lies and crimes by his aides. What’s really odd is the firm belief by leading Democrats that a more intense public airing of these lies, bad acts and crimes would hurt Democrats.

@CHeathWFTV: Page 51 of the Mueller Report, “In November 2016, the GRU (Russian military) sent spearfishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida County officials responsible for administering the 2016 US election”

@RepJoseOliva: Congratulations @BlaiseIngoglia @scottplakon @repmattwillhite and thank you CFO @JimmyPatronis on the unanimous passage of the firefighter cancer legislation out of committee. After many many years, this is the year it gets done.

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@Javierfor114: Thinking of Ralf Garcia and his family today. Proud to see this good bill passed through the process. Congrats to @repmattwillhite for his quiet and essential leadership in the critical issue.

@ChristineSexton: Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on It’s called certificate of need or C.O.N. Can we please stop referring to it as “con?”

@MDixon55: Passing rewrites to entire statutes that have not been touched in 30 years during the hurried, frenetic final moments of a marathon budget meeting is peak Florida Legislature

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— DAYS UNTIL —

Easter — 2; Frank Artiles is eligible to register to lobby the Legislature — 3; Tampa mayoral runoff election — 4; “Avengers: Endgame” opens — 7; White House Correspondents’ Dinner — 8; 2019 Legislative Session ends (maybe) — 14; Mother’s Day — 23; Florida Chamber Florida Business Leaders’ Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 34; Memorial Day — 38; Florida Democratic Leadership Blue conference and fundraiser — 50; U.S. Open begins — 55; Father’s Day — 58; Florida Chamber Learners to Earners Workforce Summit begins — 60; First Democratic presidential debates in Miami — 68; Independence Day — 76; Second Democratic presidential debates in Detroit — 102; St. Petersburg primary election — 131; “Joker” opens — 168; Florida Chamber Future of Florida Forum begins — 192; Scott Maddox trial begins — 199; 2019 General Election — 200; 3rd Annual Florida Internet and Television FITCon begins — 202; Iowa Caucuses — 290; Florida’s presidential primary — 333; 2020 General Election — 564.

— TOP STORY —

Robert Mueller’s (redacted) report is out! Florida pols react” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Justice Department today released a highly anticipated report by Special Counsel Mueller. The document wraps up relevant findings of a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. Political leaders in Florida quickly offered their own reactions to the report. They varied widely from Greg Steube (“The report confirms what we knew all along — there was no collusion and no obstruction) on the right to Debbie Wasserman Schultz (“It is clear to me that the President and his team worked with the Russians”) on the left, with widely different readings of the same report.

A light redaction: Robert Mueller’s report is finally out. Well, most of it.

Russians gained access to Florida county through spear-phishing” via Alex Daugherty, Steve Contorno now and David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times — Mueller’s report said the FBI concluded that the GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, sent spear-phishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for overseeing the 2016 election. The emails contained an attached Word document that included malicious software that gave the GRU access to the infected computer. While the hacking attempts were previously reported, the spear phishing effort’s apparent success in at least one Florida county was newly revealed. The county was unnamed.

Florida election officials dispute Mueller report of Russian hack” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Russian attempts to access county election offices in 2016 had been previously reported, but state officials had maintained that none of the efforts were successful. Special counsel Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election contradicted that claim and apparently stunned state officials. “The Florida Department of State has no knowledge or evidence of any successful hacking attempt at the county level during the 2016 elections,” said Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Laurel Lee. “Upon learning of the new information released in the Mueller report, the department reached out to the FBI to inquire which county may have been accessed, and they declined to share this information with us.”

Attorney General William Barr goes on the offensive just hours before the release of the Mueller report.

—“Mueller report’s 30 Florida mentions include Donald Trump Jr. retweeting fake Russian claim of Broward election fraud” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Mueller’s findings on Roger Stone remain a mystery” via Raychel Lean of the Daily Business Review — There’s little mention Stone, who served as Donald Trump’s political adviser and longtime ally, but what few mentions endured linked him to two mysterious Russian citizens with Florida ties. The report revealed numerous links between the Trump campaign and people connected to the Russian government but finding no collusion or conspiracy. The DOJ blacked out certain information in the report, including classified material, secret grand jury testimony or information that could hinder related investigations. Some of the heaviest redactions centered around connections to WikiLeaks, with entire pages shielded from view. After Stone made statements about WikiLeaks publishing emails hacked from the Democratic Party during the 2016 election, questions swirled about whether he knew about it in advance.

President arrives amid partisan debate over Mueller findings” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post —While special counsel Robert Mueller’s report pointedly notes that it “does not exonerate” President Donald Trump, the president and supporters who cheered him wildly as he arrived here Thursday evening declared full vindication in the Russian collusion and obstruction probe.

— THE ADMINISTRATION —

DeSantis: Senate should decide Jackson’s fate quickly” via Heather Osbourne of the NWFDailyNews.com  DeSantis says he will call for a special session if the Florida Senate does not decide the fate of suspended Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson by May 3.

DeSantis delivers remarks at Gulf Power Economic Symposium — The Governor outlined his economic priorities while speaking at the Symposium in Miramar Beach. It’s focused on “strengthening collaboration across Northwest Florida communities and fostering discussions and engagement in community and economic opportunities,” a news release said. “We are taking bold steps to strengthen our economy and create new opportunities for all Floridians. Florida is the most business-friendly state in the nation, and that will not change,” he said. “We are seeing a migration of people, jobs and wealth away from states that tax excessively, regulate unreasonably and spend profligately. They are going to states which tax lightly, regulate reasonably and spend conservatively. Florida will stay in the latter category as long as I’m Governor.”

Ron DeSantis outlines his economic priorities while speaking at the Gulf Power Economic Symposium in Miramar Beach.

DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis visit patients, families at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital — The DeSantises visited with patients and their families at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital this week. Joined by special superhero guest Spider-Man, the Governor and First Lady toured the facility, and handed out comic books donated by Marvel Entertainment. “To all the staff and professionals who help care for these kids, the First Lady and I thank and congratulate them for their tremendous work. We will be visiting more hospitals across the state and harnessing our public and private resources to ensure kids and their families are getting the best level of care possible,” the Governor said in a statement.

Ron and Casey DeSantis visit the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, joined by special superhero guest Spider-Man. Image via Twitter.

— SESSION —

’It stinks to high heaven’: Senate makes sweeping changes to proposed hospital regulation repeal” via Lawrence Mower and Elizabeth Koh of the Tampa Bay Times — In a bout of political horse-trading that disgusted some lawmakers, a Senate committee reversed weeks of work and passed sweeping changes to hospital regulations. The move had the extraordinary effect of having Republicans grilling each other about the wisdom of making massive changes to the state’s health care landscape with just days left in the Legislative Session. “I just have to say the process stinks to high heaven,” said Sen. Tom Lee after voting for the bill. “To have a radical, radical shift in a first committee of reference chairman’s bill, in appropriations, makes a mockery of the entire committee process of this institution.”

Senate moves toward House on higher ed projects” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida One of state education budget chief Sen. Kelli Stargel’s bills (SB 190) was rewritten to include some of the higher-education changes proposed by the House, which particularly wants to revamp spending rules that pertain to construction projects. In their proposals, the House and Senate agree that the state university system’s Board of Governors and the State Board of Education should be required to develop a “points-based prioritization” method to rank construction projects the boards want to recommend for state funding. The House and Senate also agree that there should be a mandate to train state university trustees about oversight of building projects and agree that a standard should be used to justify space needs for new construction.

Senate ready to move on ‘Florida First Step Act’” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The measure (SB 642)  cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee, the last stop for the bill. It includes a series of changes, all with an eye toward reducing prison populations and helping the incarcerated transition back into society. Dubbed “The Florida First Step Act,” the bill takes its namesake from a federal reform package signed into law last year by Trump. Like its national counterpart, the bill would give judges discretion in sentencing some criminals charged with drug crimes that carry mandatory minimums. Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor, has called the concept a “safety valve” for the special group of nonviolent offenders the provision applies to.

Tax break on school, hurricane supplies advances” via The Associated Press — The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill to hold a sales tax holiday on hurricane supplies from May 31 through June 6 and on school supplies from Aug. 2 through Aug. 4. The hurricane supplies sales-tax holiday would apply to items like batteries, coolers, generators, and other items residents might need during and after a storm. The school supplies sales-tax holiday would apply to items like clothing, shoes, backpacks, laptops, notebooks, pencils and more.

’This is really a big day’: House committee unanimously approves firefighter cancer bill” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Emotions ran high as the House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill to provide insurance coverage and death benefits for firefighters who get cancer on the job — 15 years after the committee rejected a similar measure. “The last time this bill was scheduled in this committee was in 2004 and it was TP’d, so this is a really big day,” said Rocco Salvatore, vice president of the Florida Professional Firefighters. CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis, a former legislator from the Panhandle, said: “We moved forward a bill that is going to let them know 24/7 365 they got our backs and today was the day we told them we have theirs.”

State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis joined lawmakers and advocates at the State Affairs Committee meeting to advocate for cancer benefits for Florida firefighters. The bill passed unanimously.

Senate bill to support PTSD treatment for vets clears last committee — The measure (SB 1518) by GOP Sen. Tom Wright of New Smyrna Beach, called “Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans” was OK’d by the Appropriations Committee unanimously on Thursday. It is now available for the floor. It will “allow for a study to review alternative avenues for veterans who currently suffer from service-connected injuries that have resulted in diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury,” a press statement said. The bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to team with a state college or university to study the effectiveness of music therapy and service-animal training therapy, among others.

Senate version of incarcerated women hygiene bill clears final committee” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Senate version of a bill ensuring women inmates are provided with necessary hygiene products cleared its final review panel Tuesday. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill, the third such committee to do so. The legislation (SB 332), also known as the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” was sponsored by Sen. Jason Pizzo. A companion measure (HB 49), also sailed through its final stop in the House on Tuesday. The proposal would mandate that feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and toilet paper are provided at no cost. It would also seek to shield women inmates from abuse by restricting the use of pat-down searches by male correctional officers.

In wake of UCF misspending, Senate joins with House to place new rules on university construction” via Gray Rohrer of Orlando Sentinel — The University of Central Florida and other schools throughout the state are a major step closer to facing new construction rules after the Senate moved Thursday to join a House effort to crack down on spending in the aftermath of the UCF Trevor Coburn Hall scandal.

Right to grow veggies at home is headed to the House” via Samantha Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — HB 145, filed by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff was approved at the House State Affairs Committee’s last meeting. Fetterhoff’s bill prohibits local governments from regulating of vegetable gardens on residential property, and voids any existing ordinances or regulations that tell people where they can and can’t grow their own produce. The bill doesn’t apply to general ordinances or regulations that are not specific to vegetable gardens, such as limits on water use during drought conditions, fertilizer use, or control of invasive species Local governments, however, can still adopt a local ordinance or regulation that doesn’t specifically target vegetable gardens, like regulating water during drought conditions, limiting fertilizer use or controlling invasive species.

— MORE SESSION —

There’s heated, partisan debate over bill to limit citizen-driven ballot initiatives” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — A bill that would make it far more difficult to gather the signatures needed to get constitutional amendments before Florida voters has turned into a heated partisan fight. Republicans say the bill preserves the sanctity of the constitution by limiting who can amend it. Democrats say the stronghold of conservatives in the Legislature makes ballot initiatives the only way for their progressive constituents’ voices to be heard. After a rather rushed one-hour debate where members were allotted 30 seconds to speak, a dramatically amended bill passed along party lines in House State Affairs. The strike-all amendment was filed at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, during a House floor session that ended at 10:40 p.m.

Coaching legends implore lawmakers to help hurricane-ravaged Panhandle” via Florida Politics — A trio of collegiate coaching legends came to the Capitol Thursday to ask state lawmakers to pony up funds to get the Panhandle back on its feet six months after Hurricane Michael. Steve Spurrier, Cliff Ellis and Mickey Andrews took to a microphone and a gaggle of cameras in the 4th floor Rotunda, asking lawmakers “to immediately support disaster relief efforts in Northwest Florida,” as the media advisory put it. “More than six months after the Category 4 impact of Hurricane Michael, residents and businesses have yet to recover from the devastation, leaving Floridians unable to rebuild their communities and their lives.”

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Bill Husfelt: we’ve got to get help for our people” via Eryn Dion of the Panama City News-Herald — The clock is winding down on the  Legislative Session, and on the hope that disaster relief money will be coming to help Bay District Schools and stave off massive layoffs and closed schools. The district is facing a huge shortfall. The hole for this year could go as high as $12.4 million, and come next year, that amount likely doubles. Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt put the odds at “50/50” if the county would see the money. “Our challenges are real,” Husfelt said. “I know that some people in Tallahassee don’t understand that. I know some people in Washington, D.C., don’t understand that. But we’ve got to get help for our people in this community.”

Needle exchange program pioneered in Miami-Dade may soon grow to other Florida counties” via Elizabeth Koh of the Miami Herald — The legislation — CS/HB 171 in the House and CS/SB 366 in the Senate — would allow injection drug users to trade dirty needles for clean ones without cost, distributed overdose-reversing naloxone and connected users to wound care and drug treatment. More than 250,000 needles have been collected since the pilot program began, and the program has signed up more than 1,000 participants since the end of 2016. It has also reversed more than 1,000 overdoses through naloxone it distributes to those served, and the county’s number of opioid-related deaths has dipped despite a rise in those numbers elsewhere across the state.

More secrecy than sunshine: Lawmakers push for exemptions to public records, open meetings laws” via Diane Rado of Florida Phoenix — The nonprofit First Amendment Foundation in the state capital has been tracking 111 bills that would create new exemptions or extend current exemptions to open meetings and public records laws, according to President Barbara Petersen. The proposed exemptions in the 111 bills relate to court records, colleges and universities, ethics and elections, investigations and examinations, home addresses, licensing information, personal information, proprietary information, public meetings, public records, public safety and security, transparency and voter information, according to the foundation’s tracking. And if many of those exemptions get approved this Session, they’d add to more than 1,122 exemptions already in the law. Petersen says there haven’t been comprehensive reforms to bolster transparency laws for nearly 25 years.

— SCHEDULE —

The Revenue Estimating Conference will hold an “impact” conference, which typically involves estimating potential costs of legislation, 8 a.m., 117 Knott Building.

The Financial Impact Estimating Conference will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage in the state, 9 a.m., 117 Knott Building.

— AIR WAR —

The Partnership for Safe Medicines has unleashed a second volley in its campaign to stop lawmakers from allowing Canadian drugs into Florida.

Last week, the group announced it was launching a statewide ad campaign warning Floridians that allowing import drugs could open the door for dangerous counterfeit medications that may not even be Canadian sourced.

On Thursday, PSM doubled down with an ad featuring quotes from former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, both of which have blasted the plan.

The ad comes in 15-second and 30-second varieties and will begin hitting TV today. PSM’s prior media buy included Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, and Tallahassee media markets.

“Too many have already died from counterfeit drugs. Are you willing to take that risk? Tell your state senator to vote no on SB 1528,” the ad says after warning viewers their prescriptions could end up coming from China.

The bills that would allow drug imports have zoomed through the Legislature and have the backing of DeSantis. The House version was cleared by the chamber last week.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

— TRIUMPH —

The Florida Senate reading clerk has a story of “improbable triumph.” 

Fiorella Riccobono penned a personal essay about growing up in a Spanish-speaking household and not taking to English as quick as her contemporaries did. 

Fiorella Riccobono has been the reading clerk for the Florida Senate since February. Image via Florida Senate.

But now, at 22, Riccobono is in charge of reading bills onto the record. “That one-time shy, silent little girl actually pursued and landed a job that now requires me to regularly stand in front of 40 state senators and read proposed legislation — in English,” she wrote. 

Holding on: Invoking words from author Malcolm Gladwell, Riccobono suggested that her situation growing up did not put her at a disadvantage. “Being the daughter of two Venezuelan immigrants made me the professional woman I am today, and that identity has been a driving factor in my success,” she said. 

Helping out: Riccobono discussed a bill heard in committee this week that prompted a lot of Spanish speakers to call. “So I answered the phones and spoke with the Spanish citizens, communicating about their opinions on this piece of legislation,” Riccobono wrote. “I helped the voices of non-English-speaking citizens be heard.”

— STATEWIDE —

More medical marijuana licenses on horizon” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — State health officials are preparing to revamp the application process for medical-marijuana businesses, with the hope of issuing up to seven new licenses before the end of the year, DeSantis’ office said. The state Office of Medical Marijuana Use is expected to withdraw a series of proposed rules, which were never finalized, and restart the process with a new set of proposed regulations as early as May. The start-from-scratch approach is another indication that DeSantis is charting a markedly different medical-marijuana course than the much-maligned path adopted by his predecessor, former Gov. Scott. DeSantis’ administration settled drawn-out litigation and agreed to award eight new medical marijuana licenses to applicants that lost out on the first round of licensing in 2015.

Scholarship administrators spar over voucher rules — Two groups that administer the state’s private school voucher programs are seeking changes to how donation money is stored, reports Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida. One group, Step Up For Students, is looking for lawmakers to allow unused motor vehicle tax credits collected for the new Hope Scholarship Program to be rolled into the larger Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. A smaller scholarship administrator, AAA, wants the authority to keep more of the money it raises. State law requires AAA and Step Up to surrender donations that amount to more than 25 percent of their total collections, a threshold that has been breached at AAA because of its small size. Step Up opposes that change, though the money AAA surrendered last year was shifted to Step Up.

Judge blasts Florida in final order requiring treatment of inmates for Hepatitis C“via Emily Mahoney of the Times/Herald — Blasting the Florida Department of Corrections ‘long and sordid history of neglecting’ inmates who have Hepatitis C infections, and citing a ‘risk of such deliberate indifference reoccurring in the future,’ a federal judge ordered Thursday evening that the state must treat all inmates with the disease.

Supreme Court reverses itself, rules Orange Co. elections partisan” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — In a rare and stunning turn of jurisprudence, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday reversed itself on a ruling made just three months earlier and declared that Orange County’s elections for constitutional officers such as sheriff and property appraiser must remain partisan. The 6-1 decision hands a considerable advantage to Democrats, who dominate the county’s voter rolls. Essentially what happened is the court with three new justices appointed by DeSantis reversed what was decided in the last week of the Supreme Court that had served under former Gov. Rick Scott. The decision may throw into flux the status of elections in other counties, notably Hillsborough County.

What was to blame for 2018’s awful red tide? USF researchers say it wasn’t pollution” via Mark Young of the Bradenton Herald — Researchers at the University of South Florida published a new study on red tide, finding ocean circulation to blame for the 2018 red tide outbreak and that land-based pollutants were not the cause. Marine scientists at USF showed that ocean circulation played a controlling role in both the intensity of red tide and its widely impacted range on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts. The report states Tropical Storm Gordon played a major factor in helping red tide spread from the Florida Panhandle all the way to Palm Beach County on the East Coast. Robert Weisberg, USF professor of physical oceanography, said the findings dispel “the myth that land-based fertilizers are to blame.”

Florida domestic maritime jobs grow 25 percent” via Jon Shumake of American Shipper — Florida has seen a 25 percent growth in domestic maritime industry jobs and ranks second behind Louisiana for the number of jobs in the industry, according to a study published earlier this month conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of the Transportation Institute (TI). The sector employs more than 65,990 people and generates $3.73 billion in worker income in the Sunshine State and produces $14.6 billion annually for the state’s economy, the study found. Since 2011, the domestic maritime industry has created nearly 14,000 additional jobs in Florida, said Sara Fuentes, TI’s vice president of government affairs, at JAXPORT’s Talleyrand Terminal.

— GETTING TO THE BOTTOM —

The SunPass saga can be a bit confusing. 

A recent story from Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower lays the timeline out neatly. 

Origin: It all started in 2012, when the state set requirements for bidders seeking to run the toll system and handle customer service issues. “But then, Florida officials lowered those minimum requirements — twice,” Mower wrote. 

Speculation: Companies competing with Conduent, the troubled victor of the bidding process, suggested the state walked back requirements to benefit Conduent. Former Gov. Rick Scott has made money in hedge funds linked to Conduent. 

Payoff: Cubic, a company snubbed in the bidding process, was paid $3.6 million from the Florida Department of Transportation to settle an appeal over the bid. 

— LOW ENERGY —

Florida Chamber joins legal fight against Energy Choice amendment” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Florida Chamber of Commerce has filed a legal brief with the Supreme Court in opposition to a proposed 2020 amendment aiming to reduce control over the energy market by Florida’s largest power companies. That effort has already been opposed by Attorney General Ashley Moody, who says the proposal misleads Florida voters. Adopting Moody’s line of argument, the brief argues that an amendment purporting to expand competition in the market cannot also exclude investor-owned utilities from participating. “We cannot secure Florida’s future with regulatory policies that will make Florida less competitive and electricity more expensive,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Ashley Moody is one of many high-profile names vocally against the proposed ‘energy choice’ amendment.

PSC says energy amendment would be ‘cataclysmic’ — The Public Service Commission told the state Supreme Court that a proposed “energy choice” amendment would provoke a “cataclysmic” change in utility regulation. As reported by Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida, the PSC said that rather than providing electricity choice, the amendment would deny customers of investor-owned utilities the ability to choose their current energy providers. “This is a significant ramification that the voter should be made aware of in the ballot summary before casting his or her vote,” the regulatory panel wrote. The commission was one of several groups that filed briefs in opposition to the measure Thursday.

Urban Leagues denounce ‘deceptive’ energy choice amendment” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Business groups, the League of Cities and Attorney General Moody have already come out against a proposed constitutional amendment to bring “energy choice” to the Sunshine State. The Urban Leagues of Jacksonville, Central Florida & Palm Beach County joined the choir. “The ‘Energy Choice’ ballot initiative will tear down the progress we’ve made over the last 70 years and leave vulnerable Floridians exposed to lousy consumer choices. The ballot measure does nothing more than saddle our members with higher costs, increased fraud, and a less reliable energy system,” said Jacksonville Urban League President and CEO Richard Danford. The committee backing the amendment, Citizens for Energy Choices, says it will save Floridians $5 billion a year, but most other groups say a “retail energy market” will drive up prices.

— THE TRAIL —

Assignment editors — Tampa mayoral candidate Jane Castor will speak at the Café con Tampa meeting, 8 a.m., upstairs at Oxford Exchange, 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

— LOCAL —

Child abuse investigators competed to cut their caseloads. The winner got a pizza party.” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — The Broward Sheriff’s Office’s child welfare unit wanted to lower its caseload as quickly as possible last month, so leaders launched a contest. They called the competition “March Madness” after the college basketball tournament. They challenged child abuse investigators to close as many cases safely as they could. And they offered awards to the winning investigators and their bosses. An email flier promised a pizza party — punctuated by three exclamation points — to the top unit. Experts on child protection warn that it is unwise to incentivize investigators to cut corners or act quickly when they are tasked with determining the safety of children who may have been abused or neglected.

Nikolas Cruz’s lawyers ask judge to allow ‘informal’ interviews with mental health clinic staff” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — The defense team made the case at a hearing for Cruz, 20, who is facing the death penalty for the slaughter at the Parkland school in February 2018. As with all death-penalty cases, defense lawyers are hoping to uncover “mitigation” that might sway jurors to spare their client execution. In Cruz’s case, the mitigation will focus on his long-documented past of mental-health treatment, and troubling behavior that included killing animals, emotional outbursts, threats against classmates and a fixation on weapons and violent imagery. But Henderson Behavioral Health, which is facing a slew of civil lawsuits over the Parkland massacre is requiring a subpoena that would allow prosecutors to be present during any conversations with employees.

Nikolas Cruz’s lawyers want ‘informal” visits from mental health experts. 

Broward Health ousted its auditor after hospital drew fire for compliance failures” via Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida — Broward Health fired its federally mandated auditor after the firm found the taxpayer-funded hospital was failing to live up to promises made as part of a $70 million fraud settlement with the Justice Department. The auditor has called the dismissal an illegal act of retaliation, and possible obstruction of justice, accusations Broward CEO Gino Santorio has labeled “slanderous.” The clash follows months of executive upheaval and has surfaced as the hospital labors to meet a looming compliance deadline imposed as part of Broward’s agreement with Justice.

Booed, hissed at and harassed: Veteran targeted for speaking out against Marco police via Devan Patel of News-Press — Alex Popoff stood unafraid as an army of one at the Marco Island City Council podium. A disabled veteran medically retired from the U.S. Air Force, Popoff was the lone resident to speak out Monday against the Marco Island Police Department and support City Manager David Harden’s decision to seek new leadership at the helm.

Ocala might stop adding fluoride to city water” via Carlos Medina of the Ocala Star-Banner — Staff plans to recommend that the City Council repeal the fluoridation ordinance. A repeal ordinance is set for introduction at the May 7 council meeting, according to an email sent by Ken Whitehead, Ocala assistant city manager, to a representative of the American Fluoridation Society, which advocates fluoridating public water systems. While the issue was not on the agenda at the regular council meeting, several residents, including a few local dentists, expressed their opposition to the plan. The council asked staff to schedule a workshop to explore the issue more thoroughly. A date for the workshop was not immediately set.

Uber, Mears reach taxi-app deal in Orlando” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — That “Taxi” option will be available only in Orange County and the theme parks, which include the small portion of Walt Disney World that is in Osceola County. It’s the second phase in a strategic partnership Mears and Uber first began last year when Mears’ limousines became available through the Urban Technologies’ platform in Orange County, a service called “UberBlack.” Uber also offers a service called “UberXL” that provides large SUVs, some of them through Mears. Orlando is just the fifth city in the nation in which Uber has arranged partnerships with taxi companies, following San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. However, Orlando will be the first where the arrangement is with just one taxi company.

Poll: St. Pete’s headed in the right direction, residents like Rick Kriseman” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Two years into his final term in office, St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman’s citywide approval rating is strong, according to a new poll by SEA Polling and Strategic Design. Of the 350 residents polled, 70 percent rated Kriseman’s job performance positively with only 26 percent giving him negative marks. The poll also gave Kriseman a 75 percent positive rating compared to 21 percent unfavorable. Those approval ratings are up from two years ago when he was running for re-election. The poll also asked about residents’ opinions on the city’s Complete Streets program. Nearly 70 percent of respondents supported it, and 38 percent said they strongly support it. Only 27 percent opposed such projects.

What’s not to like about Rick Kriseman?

Fastest-growing metro in the nation? The Villages” via Kate Santich and Adelaide Chen of the Orlando Sentinel — The Villages’ population has ballooned by nearly 38 percent since 2010, according to data by the U.S. Census Bureau. Orlando clocked in at ninth-fastest nationally, at a clip of over 20 percent since 2010, putting the Orlando area at No. 22 in population among U.S. metros. The July 2018 population of nearly 2.6 million nudged past Charlotte, N.C., and was closing in on Baltimore. The latest report shows that counties with the largest growth in sheer numbers are all in the nation’s South and West, with counties in Texas taking four out of the Top 10 spots.

Dave Aronberg to attend Atlanta summit on opioid crisisvia Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Palm Beach County State Attorney Aronberg says he’ll be attending an upcoming conference addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic throughout the country. The Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit begins on Monday, April 22, and runs until April 25. It will take place at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Aronberg will speak on Wednesday, April 24, along with D.C.-based attorneys Stacey Worthy and Daniel McClughen. The trio will give a presentation entitled “A Sobering Task: Protecting the Health and Safety of People in Treatment and Recovery.” “I am honored to be participating in this prestigious conference and look forward to sharing Palm Beach County’s success in saving lives from the opioid epidemic by cleaning up fraud and abuse in the drug treatment and sober home industries,” Aronberg said.

Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer medical cannabis debuts at Surterra wellness in Tallahassee” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — On Friday, a tropical-themed kick-off celebration takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. at Surterra, 1639 Village Square Blvd. The new product line will be exclusively sold in Surterra sites statewide. “It never dawned on me that Coral Reefer would be anything other than a cool name for a tropical band born out of the Key West lifestyle in the mid-70s,” said Buffett, in a statement. “But life is supposed to be about having fun and staying healthy enough to enjoy it. I think Coral Reefer will help a lot of folks do that.”

Brexit drama also playing out in South Florida” via Catherine Lackner of Miami Today — Because Britons are the second-largest group (after Canadians) of international tourists to visit Florida, and also likely homebuyers here, the effects on a no-deal Brexit would be intense, observers say. “If the US dollar becomes more valuable, it will become more expensive for Britons to come here, to buy here,” said Frank Gonzalez, a principal in charge of the audit department and leader of the financial institutions and SEC practices group at the MBAF accounting firm. But the complications don’t end there. Bankers here that have relationships with bankers in the United Kingdom are pondering what will happen to those relationships, and deals that may be pending between residents of the two countries, he said.

— 2020 —

Joe Biden is running for president” via Isaac Dovere of The Atlantic —The former vice president will make his candidacy official with a video announcement next Wednesday, according to people familiar with the discussions who have been told about them by top aides. … Biden’s announcement video will draw in part on footage shot two weeks ago outside his old family home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he likes to bring people and tell stories about how his grandfather would sit at the kitchen table, talking about making ends meet. But the campaign is still making key decisions on what will happen next, including whether to go cute for a launch event by doing it on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, famous for the training montage from ‘Rocky,’ or whether to go for a powerful challenge directed right at Trump by heading to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Trump infamously blamed ‘both sides’ of a neo-Nazi march in August 2017.

2020 Democrats seek voters in an unusual spot: Fox News” via Michael Grynbaum and Sydney Ember of The New York Times — The expedition into what many liberals consider enemy territory picked up this week after Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont appeared at a town hall on the network, drawing the biggest television audience of any 2020 Democratic candidate so far — more than 2.5 million people — while pitching himself to Trump-leaning viewers who may be willing to cross party lines next year. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she had agreed to a Fox News town hall-style event next month. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., is in advanced talks with the network. Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, is close to signing on, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey say they are open to the idea.

Bernie Sanders at a Fox News Town Hall could be the start of a wave of Democrats to the right-leaning network.

Florida insider poll: Pennsylvania, not Florida, will be THE swing state in 2020” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — More than 70 percent of the 175 campaign operatives, fundraisers, political scientists and other veteran politicos polled said Pennsylvania would be more important than Florida in 2020. Why Pennsylvania? Trump was victorious there in 2016. It marked the first time a Republican put the Keystone State in the win column since 1988. Democrats, though, won the governorship there two years later. And it still has 20 electoral college votes, a hefty haul for either party. Mostly, Democrats will fight hard for it because it’s hard to imagine the party can win back the presidency without it. And that goes for many of the Midwest states that made up Hillary Clinton’s failed firewall.

— OPINIONS —

A welcome focus on prison reform” via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board — Brandes condensed into one pithy statement what could and should be the beginning of a new policy direction in Florida. Referring to SB 642, which he sponsored, Brandes said: “This is the first step of turning the Department of Warehousing back into the Department of Corrections.” May it be so. Florida’s 96,000-inmate prison system is the third-largest in the U.S. and commands a $2.4 billion budget. But other states have demonstrated that public safety can be protected, and possibly enhanced, by sentencing reforms and a long-term commitment to programs that can make inmates less dangerous upon their release. So, there is a reason to hope that Florida will take its first step toward being smart on crime.

Teachers with guns won’t make our classrooms safer. Here’s what would.” via Anquan Boldin for the Tampa Bay Times — So, if SB 7030 isn’t the answer, how could we actually make every student in Florida safer? Well, more than 250,000 Florida students attend schools without counselors, and no district meets the recommended student to counselor ratio of 250:1. So could Florida hire more counselors and other mental health professionals, to more effectively address mental health challenges our students are experiencing, before kids start to lash out at others? Students today are more likely to die of suicide than homicide. Apart from mental health crisis intervention training — there’s actually no minimum required training for police working in our schools. Could Florida take action on that? The Legislature needs to protect every student’s safety.

Ron Matus: School quality rises as school choice expands” via Florida Politics — In its April 7 editorial, the Palm Beach Post perpetuates long-running myths and hides inconvenient facts in condemning a proposed new choice scholarship. “Vouchers” are draining money from public schools, in violation of the Florida Constitution, and while our public schools are being decimated, privateers are cashing in. The tax credit scholarship is worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools. The drain on public schools would come if the program ended. Construction costs alone would surge into the billions if private school students flooded into public schools. The editorial also gives credence to the insights of the Florida teachers union, which is rich. That hasn’t stopped the union from continuing to flood the public arena with the same erroneous claims.

— MOVEMENTS —

Appointed Ashley Coone to the Board of Trustees of Florida Gulf Coast University.

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: CNO Financial Group

Ron Brise, Larry Williams, Gunster Yoakley & Stewart: West Kendall Land Trust

Margaret Mire: Americans for Tax Reform

Paul Mitchell, Katherine San Pedro, Southern Strategy Group: Total Dental Benefits, Krome Grove Land Trust

— WEEKEND TV —

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

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring former state CFO Alex Sink, Orlando Sentinel columnist/reporter Steve Bousquet, activist Stanley Gray, and Tampa Bay Times Government and Politics editor Michael Van Sickler.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion of the rise in HIV cases across the state, and Orange County seeing a 23 percent increase in cases between 2015 and 2017. Joining Walker-Torres are David Poole, director of Legislative Affairs, Southern Bureau, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Marisol Soto, Tampa Outreach Coordinator, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS / CEO, Guided Path Foundation.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: This week’s show will have a breakdown of the Mueller report and the potential implications; Beto O’Rourke will discuss his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination; PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will rate a claim made by Buttigieg.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Gary Yordon speaks with pollster Steve Vancore and Fedrick Ingram from the Florida Education Association.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: This week’s guests are U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida’s 6th Congressional District, and Jacksonville City Council District 10 candidates Celestine Mills and Brenda Priestley Jackson

— SUNSHINE SPORTS —

Easter weekend bodes well for Sunburn readers who want to kick back and watch some sports.

Friday night the Orlando Magic take on the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the NBA playoffs. The series is tied 1-1. Tim Reynolds with The Associated Press reported that it will be the Magic’s first home playoff since 2012. “The atmosphere will be intense and Orlando is 13-1 in its last 14 games at home.”

The Tampa Bay Rays are on fire and will host three games beginning Friday night at the Trop. The Rays lead the AL East and are optimistic heading into their matchup against last year’s World Series champs. “Right now, the confidence that’s buzzing around this clubhouse and in the dugout during the games, we feel really good about ourselves,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier told the Tampa Bay Times.

On the subject of Boston, the Sox are playing shabby. The team’s 6-14 start to the season ties them for the second-worst record of a defending championship program. “If they play like an 89-win team over the rest of the season, they’d still only end up with 85 wins by season’s end,” reported Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight.

For those riding the Tiger buzz, you won’t see him play again until May. Meantime, there’s still golf to be watched — like this weekend’s RBC Heritage tournament in Hilton Head.

The NFL draft begins next Thursday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to look for some defensive depth. The Jacksonville Jaguars need a tight end and a wide receiver — but could tap another stud for their defense. Some are forecasting the Miami Dolphins will pick up Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.

— ALOE —

Disney World’s new solar farm is twice the size of the Magic Kingdom” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — The new giant solar farm at Walt Disney World Resort is on 270 sprawling acres, roughly the same size as two Magic Kingdoms put together. “It goes straight into powering the magic in our parks right now — as we speak, it’s happening,” said Angie Renner, environmental integration director at Disney parks. “We’re really proud of it.” At any moment, more than 500,000 panels that came online in December produce enough electricity to run two theme parks. Under pristine sunny conditions, up to 25 percent of Walt Disney World Resort runs on solar power, company officials said. It comes as the company seeks to reduce emissions by 50% in 2020 compared to its 2012 levels.

To view a time-lapse construction of Disney’s new solar farm, click on the image below:

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to Reps. Colleen Burton and Cord Byrd, our friend Towson FraserJennifer Motsinger of the Tampa Bay Builders, and one of St. Pete’s best, Rob Kapusta.

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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