Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email about the 2019 Legislative Session — 5.5.19

Cafe brunch background
A brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting on the final days of Session.

Good morning.

This may be one of the best weekends of the year. The calendar has aligned to give us “May the 4th be with you” aka Star Wars Day, the Kentucky Derby, and Cinco De Mayo all on one weekend. The only problem with all that is that we’re not so sure mint juleps mix very well with margaritas.

For those of us in The Process, this weekend also brought Sine Die. Yes, it was a day later than it should have been, but the relative smoothness of this Session kinda made the delay worthwhile.

Good night and good luck: Sine Die 2019.

Because Sine Die was on a Saturday, we decided to pop out one more edition of “Brunch,” just so that we could share some final thoughts about the 2019 Session. We promise we will not invade your mailboxes again next Sunday — or any other Sunday — for a very long time.

— By the numbers —

According to LobbyTools, the 2019 Session included:

—3,571 bills and PCBs filed

—2,997 amendments filed

—3,765 votes taken

—40 floor sessions

—196 bills passing both chambers

— Everyone’s a winner (not really) —

Florida Politics’ official list of winners and losers is packed to the brim — don’t worry, it’s coming soon. To help you get through the wait a little quicker, here are some of the suggestions we received that just missed the cut.

Winners

Hair gel: Even after a long and grueling day, nobody in the Capital City has better hair than Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva. We need details on their go-to brands, pronto!

Matt Hudson: The former Speaker Pro Tempore went to Florida Southwestern State College’s commencement ceremony Friday, not as a speaker or parent, but as a new graduate. It’s especially fitting that his freshly signed lambskin came from the same school he helped name through legislation.

Aaron Bean’s beard: When Greg Steube was elected to Congress, his beard went with him, leaving a power vacuum in the state Senate. While insiders were placing bets on whether Rob BradleyKeith Perry or Ben Albritton would pick up the mantle, the once barefaced Sen. Aaron Bean came out of nowhere and left them in the dust.

Kentucky Derby Party hosts: The Legislature had to go into overtime this year but after keeping everyone up late Friday night, they quickly — mercifully even — passed the budget Saturday afternoon. The early afternoon Sine Die let those in The Process cool down with a refreshing mint julep to ease the transition into “Sonum Equorum.”

Brad Swanson: Look, we get it — tech is advancing rapidly, more and more communities are getting gigabits and 5G and all that jazz. We just want to know what wizardry Florida Internet & Television used to help their CEO travel faster than light. He was literally everywhere during Session.

Everyone’s cacation plans: Outside of the oddballs who booked a 5 a.m. flight out of TLH, everyone’s vacation plans should be intact.

House and Senate Sergeants’ offices: Talk about public servants! If they’re not relaxing with a pitcher of mimosas this morning, the system has failed. Take a break. You guys have earned it.

Mixed bag

Rick Flagg. Steve Bousquet. Marc Caputo. Mary Ellen Klas. Adam Smith. None of those reporters covered the Legislature full-time through Sine Die this year. Florida lost another one of the institutions of the press corps due to the corporatization of news media: Flagg. We’re going to miss seeing his bylines. On the other hand, he doesn’t have to put up with the Legislature anymore.

Willie Taggart: As the Legislature leaves town, all eyes are on the Seminoles’ head coach. After failing to recruit a QB for two years and posting a miserable record in year one, Taggart needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the fall. No Pressure.

Losers

Tallahassee downtown business: Lawmakers, lobbyists, and politicos have packed their bags. Students are heading home for the summer. Hopefully, Tallahassee’s downtown staples have socked away enough during the busy season to hold strong until fall.

— Money talk —

A $91.1 billion budget is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Legislature backed the 2019-20 spending plan Saturday, a day later than initially planned. Lawmakers were forced to extend Session to the weekend to give lawmakers a required 72 hours to review the fine print of the budget.

A day late, but not a dollar short: The 2019-2020 Florida budget is heading to Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Policymakers have framed the spending proposal as one that puts forth historic investments in education and the environment. Indeed, per-pupil spending on K-12 students increased by almost $243. The Everglades and other water projects are in line to get $680 million.

But: Vetoes are coming. Both policy and budget ones, to be specific. DeSantis told reporters that he’d like to see more money set aside for reserves because the economy could turn sour. “It’s going to be under $91 billion when I get through the budget,” said DeSantis — who proposed a $91.3 billion budget earlier this year. “Don’t worry about that.”

Dust settles: Budget scares for some turned out to fare fine. VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private, tourism-marketing agency that’s drawn criticism in the past, took home $50 million. Affordable housing programs, money for which is typically swept to other parts of the budget, saw a jump in funding this year. Even the Job Growth Grant Fund, which doles out money for economic development, received a last-minute $40 million resurrection.

Coming up short: Loranne Ausley, a Democrat from Tallahassee, argued that the budget did not go far enough for the communities affected by Hurricane Michael. She was one of two lawmakers in both chambers to vote against the spending plan. One other point of sharp criticism in the budget is funding, or a lack thereof, for Florida Forever. The land-acquisition program received just $34.5 million.

— Money for Michael —

Legislators early on expected relief and recovery for the storm-battered Panhandle to be a constraint on next year’s fiscal budget.

The spending plan sent to Gov. DeSantis includes more than $220 million for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts. The Category 5 storm hit Northwest Florida last year.

Ron DeSantis speaks with reporters after Sine Die. His next job, signing a budget with $220 million for Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.

Next year’s budget will bring the state’s total investment in storm recovery to $1.87 billion, reports Jim Turner for The News Service of Florida. That stands in sharp contrast to the so-far goose egg from Congress.

Shots fired: State lawmakers haven’t been shy about calling out Congress. Sen. Rob Bradley, while introducing the budget to the floor last week, said, “rather than wait for D.C. to do its job, we stepped up like we always do.”

Shelter first: The most significant hurricane expenditure is an affordable housing appropriation expressly for Northwest Florida. About $115 million will go for two housing initiatives modeled after statewide programs.

This week could bring some good news for the Panhandle, DeSantis said following the Legislature’s Sine Die.

Trump visit: With the commander in chief coming to Panama City this week, DeSantis is hoping Trump will honor his request to increase the overall federal cost-share from 75 percent to 90 percent.

Rationale: “I think he wants to do it,” DeSantis said. “You know, why would you want to come unless you’re going to announce more good news.”

— Septic blowout —

For all the $700 million in waterworks that made the state budget, there were some unresolved issues in the aquatic world. What happened with sewage treatment?

Broad support: A bill developed in House Committee won over a wide range of stakeholders. The Legislation moved on-site sewage oversight to the Department of Environmental Protection and implemented numerous protections.

Senate schism: But provisions never got lined up perfectly with companion legislation, and a single senator stopped the bill in the other chamber. House negotiators failed to break the legislative logjam.

No second life: Such efforts often come back late in Session as amendments. That nearly happened here, when a thinner version of the bill almost rode another environmental regulation bill to passage. But again the effort got nixed at the last second.

Water under bridge?: Not exactly. With hours of effort into the bill, it sounds like hard feelings remain. The measure could have reduced costs high modern septic tanks and helped curb nutrients feeding algal blooms. But there’s always next catastrophic red tide season.

— Ruling the Rules roost —

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto as Rules Committee chair saw legislation from the moment of inception until, in 171 cases, the moment of passage. So how did the Fort Myers Republican view this session in totality?

Lizbeth Benacquisto giver her take on an exceedingly busy Session as Rules chair.

— Chamber relations? “It was an extraordinary Session. I thought the Senate President and the Speaker worked so well together. It was amazing to see them so interested, engaged and committed to making sure the session was a success both for each other individually in their priorities and for the state as a whole.”

— Ruling from Rules? “I have had the privilege to serve as Rules chairman for both President Joe Negron and now for President Bill Galvano. Both are very thoughtful. Given that both of these president officers and friends trusted me so strongly, I felt grateful and privileged. It’s the honor of a lifetime.”

— Toll road xxpansion? “You see nationally report after report about for Southwest Florida, Cape Coral and Greater Fort Myers is growing at such a pace. This makes sure the infrastructure is there to accommodate those interested in living in Southwest Florida.”

— Water quality focus? “We do have significant challenges in our region. But a lot of solutions in the works are now going to be coming out of the ground. We are poised to make a huge impact on the great challenge. These funds will advance and accelerate that, and help restore our environment and bring it back to what we all want, which is a pristine state.”

— Human trafficking bill? “The bill didn’t bear my name, but working with Sen. Lauren Book on the Human Trafficking bill was a highlight of the session. It was the last bill to pass, just before midnight, and I owe a debt of thanks to Bill Galvano, Speaker Oliva, Wilton Simpson and Chris Sprowls who weighed in to get it across the finish line. The bill was needed and necessary.”

— Nothing’s over ‘til the hanky drops — 

A push to require state insurance plans to cover nutritional supplements for those who need the drinks to survive appeared dead until late Friday. Then the measure became an amendment to a health reform and passed.

Tears of joy: Freshman Rep. Ardian Zika nearly cried tears of joy when the measure covering enteral formulas passed. “This was an opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless,” the Pasco Republican said.

Third time’s a charm: Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republicans pushed for three years for the measure. Last year it had no House sponsor. This year, she worked with Speaker Oliva to make sure it did not die again.

Power of prayer?: Pasco mom Stephanie Walls, whose sone Remington relies on drinks as his sole nutrition, said when the bill died, she felt depressed but took pause and turned to her faith. Now, she credits “God’s will on his timing” for measure’s success hours before session’s end.

— Brunch ‘toon —

— Craft distillers, others come up short —

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘train’ bill on booze died. The measure by House Republican Anthony Sabatini (HB 1219), which absorbed a whole bunch of provisions from different bills this year and past years, passed the House last Friday — only to drown in a sea of late committee references in the Senate.

Here’s what you’re missing because the bill failed:

You can’t buy wine in containers of more than 1 gallon.

You can’t take home an opened bottle of wine unless you first consume a full meal (under what’s called “merlot to go.”)

You can’t buy cider in growlers.

Craft distilleries can’t yet host public tastings, produce 175,000 more gallons of spirits per year and still be considered “craft,” or ship bottles out of state.

Beer manufacturers can’t advertise in large Florida theme parks. Specifically, they can’t sponsor a concert or festival within parks such as Universal Orlando, Sea World, Walt Disney World or Busch Gardens.

The only thing that matters: You can’t bring your cat to a craft brewery, which would have been allowed, with some provisos, under the bill. WE DID NOT MAKE THIS UP.

The upshot: No tabbies in the taphouse this year.

— Maybe next year —

While lawmakers celebrate bills that made it to the Governor’s desk, here are 10 measures that weren’t so lucky this Session:

— Fracking ban: Sen. Ben Albritton and Rep. Holly Raschein had worked on the legislation which would aim to ban the controversial practice. Environmentalists had voiced concern the measures still permitted other drilling techniques. Gov. Ron DeSantis had backed a fracking ban, but the bills died before reaching either chamber’s floor.

— Parental consent for abortions: This was a hotly-debated measure that failed to get out of committee. Republicans sought a requirement to have parents sign off on the procedure, save a court finding a child would be harmed by seeking that consent. Democrats railed against the measure and argued it was unconstitutional.

— Child welfare reform: Dubbed “Jordan’s Law” after the death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau, the measure from Rep. Chris Latvala was approved unanimously by the House but failed to receive a Senate vote. The law would have set a caseload maximum for welfare workers and aimed to streamline communication regarding reports of child abuse.

— Recreational marijuana: While legislation allowing smokable medical marijuana was approved, lawmakers weren’t quite ready to “legalize it” just yet. A House proposal from Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Michael Grieco died before receiving for hearing. A measure from Sen. Gary Farmer suffered the same fate.

— THC cap for medical cannabis: A bill that would have set a 10 percent cap for THC levels in medical marijuana fared better than full legalization. After stalling initially, Republicans attempted to attach the measure to a larger Department of Health bill, but that faltered as well. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried opposed the cap.

— Licensing deregulation: This too was a priority of Gov. DeSantis that failed to reach his desk. The measure would have eliminated licenses for certain professions and reduced requirements in others. But despite clearing its committees on both the House and Senate side, neither body took the bill up for a vote.

— Parkland victims’ compensation fund: The measure would have set up the fund for victims of the 2018 shooting to get around a provision capping the funds available to them through the court system. But companion measures from Rep. Kristin Jacobs and Sen. Lauren Book didn’t get far. The sponsors have indicated they’ll revisit the effort next Session.

— School board term limits: This legislation would have stopped school board members from serving more than eight consecutive years. The effort received push back during committee hearings from local officials, who rejected the state-level mandate.

— Out-of-state school license plates: Sorry, Rep. James Grant. The lawmaker’s efforts to allow specialty license plates for Auburn University (and, oh yeah, the University of Georgia and University of Alabama) failed in the Senate after receiving unanimous approval in the House. Those novelty plates are currently limited to Florida schools.

— Legalized gambling: This was a long shot in Florida after the Supreme Court ruling turned the issue back to the states. Though rumors rumbled at various points during Session that work on a bill was underway, nothing ever materialized. But as plenty a sports fan will tell you, there’s always next year.

— Tardiness a sure bet —

A winning strategy is emerging in the annual guessing competition to see who can come closest to the Sine Die, or last adjournment of the Legislative Session.

Known as #CateSineDie, the tradition is brought to us annually by communications guru Kevin Cate, who founded CATECOMM. Ninety political junkies participated this year.

Alec Polansky, this year’s victor, tells Brunch it’s a political “pessimism” that led him to overshoot his prediction this year (correctly, it turns out). Polansky forecast a 3:25 p.m. Monday finish when lawmakers’ game plan at the time had been to end Friday. Thanks to the egregious “Price is Right” rules Cate so dearly loves, Polansky is the winner.’

Congrats to #CateSineDie winner Alec Polansky, the beneficiary of some ‘Price is Right’ rule-making.

“Even though all the Republicans are in control they still can’t get a budget out in a time, so I knew that was going to happen,” quipped Polansky, a spokesperson for Florida House Victory, which helps elect Democrats to the House.

Origin story: “We started doing in 2013, but like most good ideas, it’s not new or original,” Cate told Brunch. “I stole the idea from Michael Carlson. We did this for fun in [former CFO] Alex Sink‘s office when we worked together back in the day. #CateSineDie just made it so everyone could play for fun and charity.”

Good cause: The closest guesser gets to pick a charity to which CATECOMM will donate $300. Polansky hasn’t picked one yet but plans on dedicating it to some form of Hurricane Michael relief — “somehow providing help in that recovery effort, whether it’s shelter or any of that good stuff for people that were displaced.”

Controversy?: Polansky jokingly acknowledged how his timely entry had been omitted from the Sine Die competition (and in our initial report). “I won fair and square; I wasn’t going to let the fake news take this from me,” he laughed, suggesting everyone needs some humor after a week of day-long-and-then-some floor sessions.

Fashionably late: Both Polansky and two-time #CateSineDie winner Greg Tish agreed that it’s better to bank on a lack of punctuality when it comes to the Florida Legislature. Tish, in his first victory, had overshot the Sine Die by a mile, and his July 16 prediction this time around came close. “The first year I did it as a joke and then won,” he said. “So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

— Speaker’s race update —

Florida Politics previously reported nearly halfway through session that Rep. Danny Perez had “13 members firmly in his corner and could already have up to 15 backers” in the race for the 2024-26 House Speakership.

The race had been a slow burn since then. Until earlier this month.

That’s when a class email was sent out calling on freshman Republicans to meet July 1 in Brevard County and cast their votes.

As a precursor to that email, Perez’s allies have been working behind the scenes to get their fellow freshmen to coalesce behind the Miami Republican. Florida Politics can now say with confidence that Perez no longer has 13 to 15 backers … 15 is on the low end.

For those following at home, there are 27 freshman Republicans in the House, so the Miami lawmaker has enough pledges to win the designation outright on the first ballot. That doesn’t mean the race is over — a couple of months could make all the difference.

As of now, though, it’s safe to pencil in Perez.

— Facebook status of the day —

— Unlikely duo —

They’re a brunch favorite, but did you ever wonder how chicken and waffles became a thing?

There’s no definitive answer, but there are lots of intriguing theories.

How is this a thing? Chicken and waffles have become a well-known brunch treat — how’d that happen?  Image via Rochelle Ward/Tallahassee Table. 

The history: Some sources say the waffle came to America with European colonists in the United States then got a boost when founding father Thomas Jefferson brought home a waffle iron from France. It’s believed that enslaved African-American cooks served fried chicken with waffles and after emancipation, the dish moved north.

The hub: Well’s Restaurant, the hot spot in Harlem, was famous for chicken and waffles in the 1930s. And let’s not leave out the Pennsylvania Dutch, who made its dish with stewed chicken and gravy. Traditionalists may prefer bone-in fried chicken, but you’re unlikely to find it in Tallahassee. Nevertheless, here are five spots where you can indulge in this sweet-savory-crisp-crunchy treat.

Beans at Betton and Food Glorious Food: You can order chicken and waffles in Beans at Betton, the cozy upstairs bar area at Food Glorious Food, except for Sunday when it’s served upstairs at Food Glorious Food. The dish: fried chicken breast, a waffle dusted with powdered sugar and a strawberry garnish. Brunch at Beans at Betton is served 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at FGF; 1950 Thomasville Road; 850-224-9974

Blue Halo: Chicken and waffles are part of the feast. This version is with fried chicken tenders, a vanilla bean Belgian waffle and country gravy with a side of a maple bacon bourbon glaze. It is served 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 3431 Bannerman Road #102; 850-999-1696

Kool Beanz: Executive chef/owner Keith Baxter dishes out the boneless fried chicken with sweet potato-pecan waffles. It’s not a family recipe, says the native of England. “I’m pretty sure no one in England eats fried chicken and waffles, much less sweet potato waffles,” said Baxter. 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; 921 Thomasville Road; 850-224-2466.

Liberty Bar & Restaurant: The laid-back venue, popular for its tasty food as well as its drinks, serves boneless fried chicken and waffles with honey butter, toasted pecans and blueberry compote, served with bacon or sausage. Chef/owner Jesse Edmunds theorizes that the dish “is “popular because it’s delicious, if ya ask me.” 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1307 N Monroe St.; 850-354-8277.

Table 23: Sit on the restaurant’s charming patio and chow down on Mr. B’s (chef Brandon Miller’s) “secret recipe” for chicken and waffles, made with fried chicken tenders, a waffle, blueberry sriracha syrup and fried sage leaves. 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday; 1215 Thomasville Road; 850-329-2261.

— Cinco de Mayo —

Rosanne Dunkelberger tells a brief history of her experience with tequila and of the margarita itself.

Celebration in order: May the Fourth was with us Saturday as the hanky dropped and we were able to drive a stake into the cold, black heart of Session 2019. And since today is Cinco de Mayo, what better way to kick off brunch than with huevos rancheros and a margarita.

Liquid fire: My brother, who cooked and occasionally tended bar at college favorite CJ’s in Gainesville, once told me the margarita — a mixture of lime, salt, and orange liqueur flavors — was concocted to mask the nasty taste of tequila. I pooh-poohed his cynical take until tasting from a bottle my other brother had sitting around his Texas home. This rotgut had a gasoline-forward taste and a burning flame finish that queered me on the spirit for a couple of decades.

Tequila: The spirit of Cinco de Mayo.

Buzzin’ again: But the spirit with a centuries-long history in Mexico has had a resurgence in the 2000s, and is now distilled and marketed with strict quality controls that created a generation of aficionados devoted to tequila and its elevation into the realm of super-premium brands. Fans include actor George Clooney, who teamed up with Rande Gerber (aka Mr. Cindy Crawford) to create their individual blend. It became a brand, Casamigos, which was later sold to a British multinational company in a billion-dollar deal.

Some history: As with many cocktails, the origins of the Margarita are murky, but it dates back to Prohibition, when Americans crossing the border in Tijuana in search of alcohol would drink the cocktail. Its ingredients offer a refreshing mix of sweet, salty, sour and bitter tastes. The historical record of the frozen Margarita better documented. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired the first frozen margarita machine, invented in 1971.

Close to home: All of the tequilas served at Tallahassee’s Liberty Bar & Restaurant are 100 percent blue agave, says bartender Kyle Paula. Cheaper brands are usually mixtos, which are only required to have at least 51 percent blue agave, a plant native to central Mexico that looks like a cactus, but is actually a cousin of asparagus.

For refined palates: Blanco or silver tequila is double distilled and not aged. If you want to taste the tequila in your Margarita, this is your best bet, says Paula. Tequilas aged in oak barrels — reposado, añejo, and extra añejo — are “are a lot smoother … Sip on it like you would a bourbon,” he advised.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates a battlefield victory over France and is more celebrated in America than Mexico. So hang onto those limes and tequila for Mexico’s real Independence Day, Sept. 16.

Bonus round: The Liberty Margarita — 1.5 ounces Espolon tequila; 3/4 to 1-ounce fresh lime juice; 1/2 ounce agave syrup; one-half ounce Cointreau; 1.5 ounces Espolon tequila; 3/4 to 1 ounce fresh lime juice; 1/2 ounce agave syrup; and 1/2 ounce Cointreau. Shake well with ice and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of lime. Instead of salting the glass rim, you can add a few drops of a saltwater solution into the drink itself.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also 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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