Good morning and Happy Easter.
Thank you for allowing us the privilege to serve you Easter Brunch.
There are just eleven full days (including next Saturday and Sunday) before what is supposed to be the final day of the 2019 Legislative Session. For the Legislature to gavel out on time — and with a budget — the full appropriations bill will need to be on lawmakers’ desks sometime on Tuesday, April 29.
This means there are just nine days for budget writers to hammer out a spending plan of approximately $90 billion.
As of this morning, a handful of Appropriation Subcommittee Chairs we spoke with have not heard what their numbers are, suggesting allocations are not finalized. That’s no surprise since the House and Senate leadership each said they’d get that done right after Easter.
Well, “right after Easter” is tomorrow.
Here are two factors that are suddenly impacting the timeline. The first is that Easter is particularly late this year — the latest day Easter can come is April 25, per the complex rules governing the holiday’s spot on the calendar. There was a lot of movement last week, as was seen in Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But it feels like the momentum that was building last week had to be put on pause for Passover and Easter. Usually, at this point in Session, top lawmakers linger through the weekend in Tallahassee. This weekend, almost everyone is at home (as they should be.)
Which leads to the second, albeit lesser, factor: many lawmakers won’t be getting back into Tallahassee until Monday afternoon. Again, typically this deep into Session, many lawmakers are back in town Sunday night, ready to go Monday morning. That’s not the case this year.
Is all of this a big deal? Probably not. There’s a lot of goodwill going around because of the new administration. And the relationship between the House and Senate is positive enough that small differences can be overcome. But, as you’ll read below, some key lawmakers are beginning to get nervous, especially since there are some big-ticket items — education funding, hospital funding, VISIT FLORIDA — that do not look like they will be quickly resolved.
So, for the sake of everyone’s post-Session vacation plans, let’s hope the leaders of the House and Senate and their budget writers have a restful Easter Sunday and are ready to get back to work by the time the credits to “The Ten Commandments” begin to roll.
—@Pontifex: Today we contemplate the empty tomb of Christ and we hear the words of the angel: “Do not be afraid! He is risen!”
—@RealDonaldTrump: Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels that have killed at least 138 million people and badly injured 600 more. We stand ready to help!
—Twitter account to follow this morning: @BunnyTracking— a service that lets you keep track as the Easter Bunny delivers Easter eggs and candy to children.
— The Tampa Bay Times’ “Winner of the Week in Florida Politics” are Florida firefighters – “It took four years, but it looks like the state’s firefighters will get cancer classified as an occupational hazard that will qualify for full health insurance coverage, including disability and death benefits.” The ‘Loser of the Week’ is the Department of Corrections – “In a stinging 68-page order, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Thursday night the department skimped on the health care of inmates who had hepatitis C infections because the drugs used to cure it were too expensive.
— Game 4 of the Orlando Magic vs. Toronto Raptors series gets underway tonight at 7 p.m. The Raptors lead 2-1. The Tampa Bay Rays host the Boston Red Sox today at Tropicana Field. First pitch is at 2:10 p.m.
—The second episode of the eighth season of Game of Thrones takes place in the days just before the White Walkers, their Night King and his Army of the Dead arrive at Winterfell. They’re headed for a climactic battle against the armies of the living, tenuously united under Daenerys Targaryen and her, um, nephew, Aegon Targaryen a.k.a. Jon Snow. But while the final conflict heads their way, the arrival of Jaime Lannister at Winterfell provides an opportunity to air old grievances. 9 p.m. Watch the trailer for tonight’s episode.
Easter message from the Governor
Here is Gov. Ron and First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Easter and Passover message:
“This Easter Sunday my family and I will join with millions of Christians worldwide in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Casey and I wish everyone a very Happy Easter with family and friends. We also wish all of our Jewish friends a Chag Pesach Sameach. The Passover holiday commemorates the Israelites’ emancipation from centuries of slavery in ancient Egypt. I will continue to defend freedom for all and stand with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”
A Good Friday news dump?
House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings says there a chance an extended or Special Session may be needed this year to finish the 2019-20 state budget.
— “I could see a scenario where we extend Session past Sine Die … if we do not make the necessary progress with our Senate partners in budget negotiations,” Cummings, a Fleming Island Republican, told Florida Politics. “That would occur if we do not begin budget conference shortly after the Easter holiday.”
— Cummings made similar points a few weeks ago, amid multiple differences between the House and Senate budgets. That included VISIT FLORIDA, which the Senate authorized at the $76 million levels sought by DeSantis, while the House once again aims to sunset the program.
That said, there still may be, Cummings allowed, room to move. You can read the full story on Monday at Florida Politics.
To be sure, Cummings may be using the old “we may not finish on time” line — which always seems to come up at this point in Session — as a negotiating ploy. But Seth McKeel knows budgets too.
Now a lobbyist for Southern Strategy Group, the Lakeland Republican served in the House 2006-14 and was Appropriations Committee chair his last two years under then-Speaker Will Weatherford. We sat down with him Thursday morning to talk about what happens in budget negotiations in the closing weeks of a Session.
— What is likely going on behind the scenes right now? At this time in Session, we were at the large silo level called allocations: education, human services, criminal justice, general government, etc. They’re likely attempting to resolve the differences in the bottom line spending. In other words, what are the total amounts? They’re trying to arrive at an agreement on joint allocations, and then they can start the conference. The conference process goes on for several days and it’s anticipated they have seven to eight days, sometimes longer, before the budget is on the desks. That would put us at Tuesday morning (of week 9).
— Do you foresee the Legislature having to go into overtime because of the budget? You can look to recent history where it’s (gone) much, much later and they’ve gone really down to the wire, but as of now, they have plenty of time. Even if they get the conference started (this) Monday or Tuesday. I think they are making good progress this year. The differences may look big, but they’re resolvable … That’s pretty normal when education and health care are where you have the biggest differences. But again, from my perspective, they’ll get out on time, and I think there’s a desire to get out on time and not have any unnecessary quarreling. There’s always going to be differences of opinion on how to do spending in each (chamber) … Another thing that helps speed up the process is that, I think it was in between my first and second year, we went from printing the budget to delivering it electronically, so that’s a major time saver. Sometimes it would take 24 hours just to make all the copies.
On strike-alls and shortfalls
Over at the Senate, leaders are painting a rosy budget picture. Appropriations Chair Sen. Rob Bradley has told reporters that the two chambers are “making great progress on allocations.” That might be true — and maybe for a few policy-related reasons.
— Last-minute fixes: During the day-long and likely final Senate Appropriations meeting last week, the Senate moved toward the House’s health care and higher ed priorities. The Senate picked up more substantial language that would repeal the state’s “certificate of need” (CON) process for certain health providers, something the House swiftly passed earlier in Session. While not identical, the Senate certainly altered course quickly on the CON issue — a priority for House Speaker José Oliva. The Senate panel also adopted more oversight on university construction projects, which the House has been vocal about addressing.
— “Groundhog Day”: That’s how Bradley described the feeling after the marathon budget meeting. He maintained that zero trades had been made, suggesting instead that the quick changes are custom. “When we revisit this place in 30 years, and I come back for a reunion, there is going to be Week 7 in Session; there are going to be people complaining about strike-alls,” Bradley said. “And somebody is going to be lamenting the injustice of it all.”
— Where’s the money?: Allocations — which tell us how much money will be in each silo before conferencing begins — hadn’t surfaced by the weekend.
— Don’t worry: That’s Senate President Bill Galvano’s message. The Bradenton Republican told reporters this week that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to “say we can’t get to a deal on allocations.”
— Some resistance: In the same breath, Galvano hinted that Oliva’s pursuit of a budget that decreases overall per capita spending might be misguided. “He’s taken a fiscally conservative approach in putting that out there, which I completely respect,” Galvano said. “We are looking at issues that really shouldn’t be included in per capita that are outside of the norm so to speak, like Hurricane Michael — last year we had Parkland — other things [like] population surges, things of that nature.”
— For those keeping score: The spending plan approved by the House is about $89.9 billion and had at one point boasted a per capita (or per-person) spending decrease from $4,232 to $4,194, just shy of one percentage point. The Senate’s plan is about $90.3 billion.
Time to ante up?
Sources continue to tell different stories about how a gambling bill could still come together by the end of Session.
— One angle touted Friday: The Senate’s language, including a package with the Seminole Tribe, would come as an amendment on a House bill (HB 629) that mandates printing a warning on all lottery tickets. It passed there and is teed up in Senate Rules on Tuesday.
— The warning: In all caps: “WARNING: PLAYING A LOTTERY GAME CONSTITUTES GAMBLING AND MAY LEAD TO ADDICTION AND/OR COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR. THE CHANCES OF WINNING A BIG PRIZE ARE VERY LOW.”
— The catch: State revenue estimators ruled it a buzzkill on Lottery playing and said it would pinch revenues by as much as $64.4 million by the end of 2021. And Lottery money is what funds a lot of education priorities, including the Bright Futures Scholarship Program.
But even later on Friday, another industry source called poppycock on the play, saying that to get any reception from House Speaker Oliva, gambling has to be a stand-alone bill.
— “They are moving it as yet another negotiating chip to play with Speaker Oliva, so they have as many tools available as possible,” that person said of Sen. Wilton Simpson’s team. (This year, Simpson is the point man on gambling.)
— A gambling bill is “still possible” this Session. But as of late Friday afternoon “there is no deal,” and Oliva and Gov. DeSantis’ staff hadn’t gotten a status report. “Nothing is done on any of it.
Raucous for nothing?
We thought the tussle between Republican Rep. Randy Fine and Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson might have been the last we heard about the Senate’s anti-Semitism bill.
But maybe we were wrong.
— Background: Fine’s bill to combat campus anti-Semitism passed the House unanimously. Gibson, however, voted against a Senate version in committee. That prompted criticism from Fine. Other Democrats were left frozen, mostly silent, not wanting in any way to share their leader’s stance opposing a bill that essentially bans anti-Semitic statements and actions in public schools and colleges, but certainly not wanting to support Fine’s attack on her.
— After all that fuss: The bill has stalled in the Senate. It got assigned to the Education Committee on April 10, and that committee doesn’t meet anymore. Was it dead? Would Gibson’s stand be the last statement Senate Democrats could make on the bill?
— But wait: Word from Senate President Galvano’s office is that he intends to take Fine’s proposal from House messages and offer that on the Senate Floor.
Ready to roll?
The Senate has the House insurance train in its hands, but the upper chamber bill added some new language in its last lap and insurers are worried it could be a “suicide stop” for a package they’ve spent months working on.
— The issue: An amendment filed by Sen. Aaron Bean to help out skating rinks. That’s not an insider term for insurance runarounds — skating rinks are getting squeezed by run-of-the-mill slip and fall lawsuits. Customers come in, hit the deck and leave with a broken bone.
— Then the lawsuits come: According to lobbyist Jeff Hartley, rink owners are getting rolled over. Before the cast even sets, the billboard attorneys swoop in, and subpar skaters start seeing dollar signs. Insurance companies are quick to hash out a settlement. The payouts lead to skyrocketing premiums for mom and pop rinks, most of which are already struggling to stay on two legs.
— The amendment: It starts off a bit flowery — skating is “a wholesome and healthy family activity” — but it sets out some straightforward guidelines. Rinks would have to post warning signs, comply with safety standards set by the Roller Skating Association International and have a supervisor on lookout. Skaters would have to “know the range of his or her own ability.”
— Wipeout? Hartley says no. If the Senate falls in line with the House bill, no harm no foul. If the House decides skating is a sticking point, rinks will stay in their lane for another year.
McGhee goes forth
He’s in charge of the minority party, but House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee has plenty of insight on how the end of Session will play out. He told Brunch what’s on his radar heading into the home stretch.
— More money for Michael?: There’s an appetite for what’s necessary, he said. “There have been talks with House Tourism and Economic Development Chair [Jay] Trumbull about the increase in funding for the Panhandle and those who were affected by Hurricane Michael. He has given his commitment that he’s going to review that during conference to make sure those resources are given.”
— What about Sadowski?: The House wants to use all of its affordable housing dollars on the Panhandle while sweeping about $200 million from the Sadowski affordable housing pool. The Senate doesn’t want any sweeps and would pepper the rest of the money across the state. McGhee supports sending money to the Panhandle and recommends using bonds to fully fund affordable housing. “Right now, the state has the bonding capacity to bond out $300 million,” he said. “That would actually assist with the recovery and the rebuild of that area. The state can actually tap into its rainy day funds. We have billions of dollars there.”
— Arming teachers?: Lawmakers are poised to consider extending the state’s controversial “guardian” program to teachers, meaning willing and trained educators would be able to carry in the classroom. But in the Senate, there’s been pushback from Republican Sen. Anitere Flores. “We stand in full support of Sen. Flores in saying that we do not believe that teachers should be armed with a gun,” McGhee said. “There are some [Republicans in the House] with reservations. But again, will that reservation be seen on the board when we vote in favor or against it? We will just have to wait and see.”
While Florida Republicans pick their legislative leaders far in advance, Democrats tend to take their time. This week, the caucus will make its decision for 2020 Democratic leader, and the race has come down to Bobby DuBose or Evan Jenne.
Both represent Broward County and both are in their third term — third consecutive, at least. Word is the contest has heated up since lawmakers convened for the 2019 Legislative Session.
A month ago, Jenne was considered a lock to take over for McGhee. Today, he’s still the favorite, but not prohibitively. But that doesn’t matter as much as his standing on Wednesday evening when Democrats meet in their caucus room to cast their votes.
2020 leader won’t be the only contest on the ballot, either. Dems will also make the call for 2022 leadership, and that’s looking like a three-way race between Kamia Brown, Ben Diamond and Al Jacquet.
Caucus rules dictate a runoff for the top-two in a three-way race, and the smart money says Diamond makes the second round. Does he have the support to win the whole thing? Maybe. That depends on whether he picks up some votes from the black caucus or those members decide to rally behind Brown or Jacquet instead.
Brunch at home
Brian Knepper, the former chef of the Governors Club, is now in charge of the kitchen at Savour, now in the former Avenue Eat+Drink on Park Avenue in Tallahassee. We asked him for a Sunday brunch recipe — and he delivered. “After cracking hundreds of thousands of eggs, whisking gallons and gallons of hollandaise and chilling cases of Champagne for the masses, Brunch is a great Sunday meal,” he told us. “I just prefer to do it at home with friends and family and a great easy do-ahead recipe like this one.”
— What you’ll need: 3 cups of whole milk; 1/4 cup of unsalted butter; 3/4 cup of uncooked Bumpy Road Farm Heirloom grits; 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, divided; 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, divided; 4 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup); 4 ounces of shredded smoked Gouda; 4 ounces of Velveeta, cubed; 8 ounces of Jimmy Dean with sage breakfast sausage; 8 large eggs; 1 cup of heavy cream; 1 tablespoon of Creole mustard; 1/4 cup of thinly sliced scallions (from 2 scallions); and 1 ounce of Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup).
— Prep: Simmer milk and butter on medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, stir in grits, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir often and let that cook for about 45 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened and the grits are tender. After, remove from heat and stir in the Gouda, cheddar and Velveeta. Pour batter into a lightly greased 9-inch springform pan. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and chill 8 to 24 hours.
— More prep: Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, breaking sausage into small pieces, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and chill 8 to 24 hours.
— Get cookin’: Preheat oven to 325°F. Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Whisk together eggs, cream, Creole mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Fold in scallions and cooked sausage. Pour evenly over grits mixture in a prepared pan. Bake in a preheated oven until just set, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and let stand for about 30 minutes.
— Bon Appétit: Run a sharp knife around edges of the pan and remove the outer ring. Cut in 8 to 12 slices using a serrated knife.
Peter Cottontail could bring in some profit for Florida retailers.
— Forecast: The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) is anticipating near-record spending, with the average person dropping $151 on Easter-related items. That’s the second-highest forecast in survey history.
— A good thing: FRF president and CEO Scott Shalley pointed to a healthy economy in which “consumers have more money in their pockets to spend.”
— The big picture: Nationally, consumers are expected to spend $18.11 billion, just under last year’s $18.16 billion total. Shoppers are also projected to spend $5.74 billion on food, $3.27 billion on clothing, $2.87 billion on gifts, $1.29 billion on flowers, just over $1 billion on decorations and $780 million on greeting cards.
— Breakdown: A little more than half (54 percent) of respondents said they’d cook a holiday meal. Less than a third had planned an egg hunt. Respondents from the youngest age group (18-34) were more inclined to celebrate Easter than respondents aged 35-54.