A top-of-Sunburn happy birthday shoutout to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
First Lady Casey DeSantis keeps announcing new initiatives in her quest to improve mental health care and awareness in the Sunshine State.
On Thursday, she added more to the list.
During a stop at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, DeSantis unveiled H.O.P.E. Innovators — shorthand for “Helping Organizations, Professionals and Educators Transform How Florida Understands Youth Mental Health.”
The statewide community-based team is tasked with developing innovative ways to provide students and parents with information on mental health and available resources.
The other program, Hope Ambassadors, is a bit different. It will recruit student volunteers to work with their peers and help create an environment of kindness and compassion in their schools. While professionals have their place, peer interaction plays an important role, too.
“While the simple act of just saying hello or inviting a fellow student to sit with them at their lunch table may seem small, we believe these Ambassadors will have a significant impact,” DeSantis said.
The professionals who joined the First Lady at the announcement agreed.
“Through our programs at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, we’ve seen how powerful and effective it is when peers reach out to other peers. This type of grassroots effort has tremendous appeal and can do wonders to raise awareness as well as normalize conversations about behavioral health,” said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the center.
Florida is on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. In Pinellas County alone, someone dies from an opioid overdose every 37 hours.
Stop Opioid Silence aims to break the stigma of an opioid use disorder, so more people struggling with addiction seek help. The plan: give those grappling with the affliction, as well as their families, the opportunity to share their stories of addiction and recovery.
They have some backup — six members of Florida’s congressional delegation are on board, as is Facebook, which launched the program in conjunction with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids + Center on Addiction.
“The stigma associated with opioid addiction prevents far too many families from speaking out and joining the fight against this public health crisis,” U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy said.
“It is past time we bring awareness to the devastating effects of opioid abuse and give those battling this addiction the resources they need to recover. We have the power to stop this growing epidemic, and it begins by sharing our stories so that we can help save more lives.”
Facebook plans to spread the word by running ads to encourage people to speak out about the crisis.
Those ads, which feature the bipartisan group of lawmakers, direct people to information and resources.
In addition to Murphy, U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Brian Mast and Daniel Webster are joining the effort.
Why now? According to the Center on Addiction + Partnership for Drug-Free Kids EVP Marcia Lee Taylor, the holiday season can be particularly difficult for individuals and families affected by addiction.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Approximately 1,000 people work for the state as child protection investigators. But almost half of them quit after a year, and only about a fourth of them last for two years. Officials at the Department of Children and Families say they’re working on it.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— State Rep. Ray Rodrigues continues his quest to prove higher education is a breeding ground for liberals that shames conservatives into silence. He is promoting a bill to require annual surveys on intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on campus.
— Republicans in the state Legislature say parents deserve more choices in public schools, so state Rep. Shevrin Jones filed a bill giving parents a choice — to keep their kids taking part in Florida’s battery of standardized exams.
— A conversation with Sarah Mueller, who escaped the Capitol Press Corps once before, and is now returning as a reporter for Florida Politics.
— An average day for Florida Man: Methamphetamine, embezzlement, a sex shop in Hialeah and an 11-foot alligator.
To listen, click on the image below:
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@RealDonaldTrump: Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his great WIN! Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!
—@MarcusHJohnson: [Tony] Blair would have won
—@JCP717: I hope Democrats are watching Britain. Bernie and Warren can’t win here either.
—@AOC: I go back and forth on whether to go on Fox News. The main reason I haven’t is squaring the fact that the ad revenue from it bankrolls a white supremacist sympathizer to broadcast an hourlong production of unmitigated racism, without any accountability whatsoever.
— Gary Fineout (@fineout) December 12, 2019
—@Carlos_Frias: Miami city commission meetings are theater of the absurd.
—@Will_Bunch: I saw ‘Richard Jewell.‘ With “alternative facts” and a plot twist around fake news that smears a dead female journalist, Eastwood dangerously amplifies [Donald] Trump‘s “enemies of the people” rhetoric. Stay away and spend your $$ on your local org.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Sixth Democratic debate — 6; “The Rise of Skywalker” premiers — 7; College Football National Championship — 31; 2020 Session begins — 32; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 32; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 33; New Brexit deadline — 49; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 51; Great American Realtors Day — 52; Iowa Caucuses — 52; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 56; New Hampshire Primaries — 60; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 68; Nevada caucuses — 71; Tenth Democratic presidential debate Charleston — 74; South Carolina primaries — 78; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 91; Florida’s presidential primary — 95; “Black Panther 2” debuts — 144; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 222; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 249; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 299; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 307; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 314; 2020 General Election — 326.
— TOP STORY —
“Florida officially joins national voter database network” via The Associated Press — Ron DeSantis had previously announced his state’s intent to join the national network known as ERIC, but it became official when his office said the state’s application had been approved for membership. Florida joins 28 other states and the District of Columbia as part of a network operated by the Electronic Registration Information Center, which is supposed to help elections officials more efficiently update voter registration records, so the same person does not have multiple records across jurisdictions. The secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections across Florida, has sought to regain public trust ahead of next year’s presidential elections but has revealed little about its examination into the integrity of county-run election systems across the state.
— DATELINE: TALLY —
“Rollback of minimum mandatory sentences advances in Senate” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — A panel of state senators has OK’d a proposal to reduce Florida’s prison population by allowing judges to depart from minimum-mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenses. The Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday unanimously backed a measure by Sen. Rob Bradley. He was inspired by a report lawmakers commissioned two years ago. “The data is clear: Sentencing reform for the lower-risk drug offenders is the right thing to do from the human standpoint and the cost standpoint,” said Bradley, quoting from a 2017 study by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability.
“Lawmakers order audit of Orlando airport” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — The audit of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority was requested by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who said he was concerned by media reports earlier this year of potential Sunshine Law violations when the authority’s seven-member governing board was wrestling over replacing the airport’s top attorney. “We’re just auditing the procurement practices of the airport,” Brandes told other members of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in Tallahassee, who then voted to have the office of the Florida Auditor General launch a review. The Orlando airport authority was engulfed in controversy this summer when the agency’s longtime general counsel announced he would retire, following months of pressure from allies of DeSantis.
“Jeff Brandes introduces legislation to expand electric vehicle options in Florida” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes’ bill (SB 1230) would incorporate emerging innovative technologies into the Florida Department of Transportation’s mission and establish a grant program to increase electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state. “Experts believe that by 2030 up to a third of new cars sold will be electric,” Brandes said. “EV technology can reduce the costs families pay for transportation, mitigate our impact on the environment, and, importantly, reduce our reliance on foreign oil.” Currently, the FDOT must “ensure a cost-effective, statewide, interconnected transportation system,” but does not have to consider innovation in its planning. Brandes’ bill adds a requirement that “improvement of travel choices will include planning and establishment of infrastructure for innovative technologies, including EV charging infrastructure.”
“Seminole Compact impasse lingers, gambling woes mount” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — The House Gaming Control Subcommittee workshopped various gambling issues, including a discussion of the faltering Seminole Compact. Lou Trombetta, Director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, addressed the accord with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, a central tenet of Florida gambling that has lapsed. “As of May last year, the tribe stopped paying … $25 million a month. The tribe has not paid since May of last year,” Trombetta said. Rep. Randy Fine questioned whether the tribe could offer Class III gaming — a federal designation that includes blackjack, slot machines and sports betting — without those compacts going both ways, and Trombetta said that, while not a legal scholar, he shares that read.
“House Pre-K Appropriations hearing’s public comments turn to sex talk” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The House Pre-K Appropriations Subcommittee meeting was pretty routine — until Greg Pound stepped up to the podium to give public comments. He commonly deals with conspiracy theories. He’s also against abortion and spoke in favor of the 2016 anti-abortion bill (HB 865), which would have made abortion completely illegal in the state. Pound seemed to be saying in his public comments that abortion was endangering white culture. Today, he was commenting on State Rep. Patricia Williams’s bill (HB 4219) funding the Save Our Boys Center in Broward County. In his comments, Pound claimed boys are molested more often than girls, drawing the first warning from committee Chair Chris Latvala.
“Ray Rodrigues’ intellectual diversity survey for public higher education passes first hurdle” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — HB 613, which includes a controversial provision to survey students and faculty to measure a campus political leanings, passed the Senate Higher Education Committee 10-4. All but one Democrat, Rep. Joe Casello, voted against advancing the measure. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, and fellow Democratic Rep. Jennifer Webb said the bill had improved from last year, but the survey was still enough to vote no. Webb said Colorado established a political survey recently, but lawmakers noted it did not yield the nuanced results they expected.
“House advances bill to create civics literacy initiative” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — A Florida House committee has advanced a bill that would create a civic literacy practicum that students could complete as part of their U.S. history courses. “It is often said that democracy is not a spectator sport, and for a democracy to continue to function well, it requires citizens to be effective in the skills of citizenship,” co-sponsor Rep. Ben Diamond said in introducing the measure. “This bill is part of an important, continuing and bipartisan effort … to ensure our students are learning the skill of citizenship.” “The best way that students can learn is by doing,” said Diamond.
“Orlando lawmakers seek funding for Pulse survivors and UCF’s PTSD counseling” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — Worried that a center for traumatized survivors of the Pulse nightclub attack will be forced to close in 2020, state Rep. Guillermo Smith has filed a bill seeking $595,000 from Florida’s budget to keep it running, the lawmaker announced. Smith is also introducing legislation requesting $1,050,000 to expand the work of UCF RESTORES — a clinical research and treatment facility at the University of Central Florida that provides therapy to military veterans, first responders, and citizens suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. The funding would allow the center to develop suicide-prevention initiatives targeting four high-risk groups — adolescents, first responders, veterans and the LGBTQ community.
— NAS SHOOTING —
“No quick fix on Pensacola shooting ‘loophole’” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission acknowledged Thursday the issue is more complicated than they thought. “I still don’t think that we have a proposed path,” commission Chairman Robert Spottswood said during a meeting in Panama City. The commission directed staff members to quickly determine actions the state could take to address foreigners using state hunting licenses to buy handguns. Meanwhile, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano said the hunting-license issue would be part of a broader review the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee had already started after incidents of mass violence. But Galvano added the Legislature might not be able to do much about the loophole. “That’s a federal law,” Galvano said.
“Rick Scott calls for accounting of U.S. vetting protocols for foreign military students” via Kevin Robinson of the Pensacola News Journal — U.S. Sen. Scott is calling for a hearing to examine “inadequacies” in U.S. officials’ methods of vetting foreign nationals participating in military training on U.S. soil following the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The gunman — who was ultimately killed by responding law enforcement officers — was a student in a naval aviation training program open to military personnel from around the world. On Thursday, Scott requested a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with leaders from the FBI, Departments of State and Defense, and U.S. intelligence agencies in attendance to drill into the purpose, guiding policies and vetting protocols of the training program.
“Attack was the call the ECSO chief deputy never thought would come” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — It was a normal Friday morning. ECSO Chief Deputy Chip Simmons had finished breakfast, dressed for work, and had just got into his car at around 7 a.m. Dec. 6 when he got a call from a dispatcher that there was an active shooter at NAS Pensacola. Simmons turned on his patrol car and began heading to the scene, thinking that it would be a run-of-the-mill active shooter call, which thus far in his career had mostly turned out to be either a false alarm or a less serious situation. Not this time. On his radio, he could hear law enforcement officers’ urgent communication as 911 dispatchers calmly gave directions to the building on the base where the calls were originating.
“How the hometown of a Pensacola shooting hero is paying tribute to one of their own” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal — There are far fewer than 6 degrees of separation between most Enterprise, Alabama, residents and Joshua Kaleb Watson, the U.S. Navy ensign who sacrificed his life to save others during the NAS Pensacola shooting. “The thing about our town is that everyone has some kind of connection to him even without knowing him,” said Amanda Skinner, a volunteer with Enterprise’s Pea River Historical Society. “My hairdresser’s son graduated with him. So that kind of thing. That’s how Enterprise is.” Those who taught him said Watson’s predominant character trait was selflessness, a characteristic that poured out into the community and affected those within it long after he left town.
“Old Capitol to be bathed in blue following Pensacola shooting” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Old Capitol building is being lit blue in a show of solidarity with those affected by last week’s shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. DeSantis, a Navy veteran, announced the move on Twitter Thursday afternoon. The gesture is in addition to the Governor ordering flags at half-staff through Dec. 13 at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the state. The Dec. 7 shooting left four people dead and eight injured, including two Escambia County sheriff’s deputies, one of whom killed the shooter.
— STATEWIDE —
“Grand jury scolds school districts, says they’re breaking post-Parkland laws” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A scathing Florida grand jury report said the blatant violation of state laws passed in response to the Parkland shooting is so rampant that local school officials need to be deterred by harsher penalties. “School district noncompliance with state-level laws has been a persistent problem,” the report stated. “It is clear to us that, once our terms end and the threat of public shaming or indictment is no longer on the table, compliance will never be satisfactory.” The grand jury recommended that harsher penalties could include withholding of state money, criminal charges, and the removal of superintendents, administrators or school board members.
“Vaccination efforts slow spread of hepatitis A” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida —The state Department of Health said 33 new hepatitis A cases were reported last week, bringing the total this year to 3,221, as of Saturday. But while the numbers continue to rise, the pace has slowed from this spring and summer when the state routinely had up to 90 new cases reported each week. “I think what we are seeing now is, as we are vaccinating more individuals the number of cases in those areas is going down,” said Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who doubles as secretary of the Department of Health. “This is something we are constantly working on.” Rivkees has overseen an effort to combat the spread through vaccinations and hiring part-time employees, spending $2.9 millio one n since Aug. 1.
— MOTHER NATURE —
Ouch: Special master hands Georgia a victory in water war with Florida — Special Master Paul Kelly denied a recommendation to the U.S. Supreme Court to grant Florida’s request in a 6-year-old water rights case against Georgia for a decree to “equitably apportioning the waters” of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. In his report, Kelly said the evidence has “not shown harm to Florida caused by Georgia; the evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable; the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.” Florida argued that without a steady stream of fresh water from Georgia to grow oysters into the ACF basin, the ecology and economy of the Panhandle region could be permanently damaged.
“The Florida panther could go extinct if this toll road is built, federal biologist says” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — One of the controversial toll roads approved by the Legislature and Gov. DeSantis this year would be a “disaster” for the Florida panther and potentially render the species extinct, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist wrote this year in a candid email to his supervisor. The road, which is proposed to run from Polk to Collier counties and has been referred to as the Heartland Parkway, would run through the heart of some of the last remaining panther habitat and cause more of the big cats to be killed by cars, the biologist wrote.
— PEACHY —
“House panel delays historic Trump impeachment vote” via Lisa Mascaro of the Associated Press — The House Judiciary Committee abruptly postponed a historic vote late Thursday on articles of impeachment against President Trump, shutting down a 14-hour session that dragged with partisanship but had been expected to end with the formal charges being sent to the full House for a vote next week. Approval of the two charges against the president is still expected Friday in the committee. But the sudden turn punctuated the deep split in the Congress, and the nation, over impeaching the president. The committee, made up of some of the most strident lawmakers, clashed all day and into the night as Republicans insisted on lengthy debate over amendments designed to kill the two formal charges against the president but with no hope of winning votes from the majority Democrats. Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the committee would resume at 10 a.m. Friday.
“Democrats jostle for prized impeachment manager gig” via Andrew Desiderio and Heather Caygle of POLITICO — These Democratic lawmakers, hand-picked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will effectively serve as prosecutors making the case to the Senate that Trump deserves to be removed from office over his alleged misconduct centering on the Ukraine scandal. Several members have been seeking out Pelosi — even making a beeline for her on the House floor during votes — to deliver their in-person pitch. Pelosi has divulged little about her plans to allies, even as the House Judiciary Committee begins marking up two impeachment articles.
“Newspapers in swing states have yet to embrace impeachment” via Michael Calderone of POLITICO — The journalistic juices are now flowing, with the editorial pages of The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Orlando Sentinel, Philadelphia Inquirer, and USA Today all calling for the impeachment of Trump. But the recent flurry of editorials hasn’t come close to the level two decades ago when more than 115 newspaper boards called for President Bill Clinton’s resignation after the release of independent counsel Ken Starr’s report, which took place two months before articles were officially drawn up in Congress. And the half-dozen or so editorial boards out front this time remain primarily on the coasts or are geared toward national audiences.
“An inside look at the impeachment case’s most intriguing moments” via Carl Hulse of The New York Times — Democratic and Republican representatives alike granted The New York Times unprecedented access to photograph their preparations for the Judiciary Committee hearing this week and the drafting of articles of impeachment. The photos yield a rare behind-the-scenes look at how Congress really operates — long days fueled by adrenaline, a sense of history and takeout food — and the interludes of quiet from the impeachment pressure cooker. Last weekend, Republicans held a meeting to prepare for the hearings. The Capitol was largely empty save for a few buzzing conference rooms and hallways littered with pizza boxes.
“’Pot calling the kettle black’: Matt Gaetz gets scolded for bringing up Hunter Biden’s substance abuse” via Caitlin Oprysko of POLITICO Florida — Gaetz set off a dust-up during the Judiciary Committee’s markup of articles of impeachment when he brought up Hunter Biden‘s history of substance abuse, prompting a Democratic colleague to scold him. Gaetz quoted a New Yorker profile of Hunter from July that described Hunter Biden wandering through a homeless encampment in Los Angeles in search of cocaine and an instance in which a rental car company said it found a crack pipe in a car Biden had returned. Rep. Hank Johnson then spoke up, but not before taking a pointed swipe at his colleague’s own run-in with the law. Gaetz was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of DUI, declining a Breathalyzer test, and a field sobriety test.
To watch the exchange, click on the image below:
“Val Demings on impeaching Donald Trump: ‘You know what? Nobody is above the law.’” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Demings, who as a member of both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, has been at the forefront of impeachment hearings against Trump, summed up her decision to move forward with two articles of impeachment. Demings called back to her childhood as an African American girl in Florida and her time as the first female police chief in Orlando in stating that she believed Trump’s actions were an impeachable offense. “George Washington was particularly concerned about unprincipled men finding their way into the White House. Well, those times have found us. And we only have one option, and that is to hold this president accountable. Because you know what? Nobody is above the law.”
“Fort Myers billboards pop up demanding Rudy Giuliani, others testify in impeachment inquiry” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A digital billboard challenges Fort Myers voters to question Trump’s reaction to an impeachment inquiry. Paid for by Republicans for The Rule Of Law, the ad shows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump personal attorney Giuliani with duct tape across their mouths. “What is Trump hiding?” the ad blares in loud type. It’s a similar message to the one heard in broadcast ads appearing on Fox & Friends in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. Those spots, which started airing the first week of December, called on U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney to start questioning why the White House won’t produce critical witnesses to testify on Trump’s behalf.
“U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel supports impeachment, blames Mitch McConnell for stalling bills” via Hannah Morse of The Palm Beach Post — Frankel may be in the historically unique position to cast a vote to impeach a president who is also her constituent, but she focused her telephone town hall on Wednesday issues. Pivoting from the drama of the impeachment proceedings, Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, used her call-in with constituents to challenge President Trump’s characterization of “Do Nothing Democrats” and tell her constituents that high crimes and misdemeanors weren’t the party’s sole focus. Much of the hour-long town hall was a rallying cry to blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “refusing” to take up legislation, including bipartisan-approved bills, passed in the House on subjects like equal pay, expanding background checks for gun purchases and voting rights.
Meanwhile … a mystery … “Did Parnas and Fruman take South Korean cash? Court filing is new twist in Ukraine mystery” via the Miami Herald — In another twist to the bizarre political saga involving South Florida businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, a recent court filing suggested that the pair might have drawn on foreign funds from South Korea in addition to Russian funds that federal prosecutors say the pair used as part of a straw donor scheme. The reference to South Korean funds was buried in a 49-page court filing by a lawyer for Andrey Kukushkin, the Ukrainian-born co-defendent of Parnas and Fruman. Federal prosecutors say they, along with a fourth co-defendant, David Correia, were involved in a scheme to use money from a Russian businessman to make political donations in Nevada and elsewhere as part of an effort to win marijuana licenses and create a pot business.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“DCCC unveils Facebook ad targeting Brian Mast vote against prescription drug bill” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — After Democrats voted to approve a measure aimed at lowering prescription drug prices (HR 3), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is releasing a digital ad targeting Republicans who rejected the bill. One of those Republicans is Mast. Mast was one of 191 Republicans to reject the legislation backed by House Democrats, also known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The bill passed by a 230 to 192 vote margin. The digital ad will run on Facebook and is “targeted to persuadable voters in Congressman Mast’s district in English and Spanish,” according to a news release from the DCCC.
“Discussion heats up at SFWMD meeting in response to Mast push for delay of Lake O restoration project” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Mast is voicing concern regarding the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. That restoration is aimed at increasing water storage north of the lake and reducing discharges that can spread toxic blue-green algae. … That position is being challenged by Nyla Pipes, director of the One Florida Foundation. Pipes spoke out against the request at Thursday’s SFWMD meeting and talked to Florida Politics about her position. “This is the first time — in the just shy of a decade that I’ve been involved in this conversation — that I’ve ever seen somebody say, ‘Don’t approve an Everglades Restoration Project,'” Pipes said.
“FL Democrat in Congress to Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos: ‘You are the most unpopular person in our government’” via Robin Bravender of the Florida Phoenix — A Florida Democratic congresswoman told Education Secretary DeVos, “You are the most unpopular person in our government.” Rep. Frederica Wilson was among the many Democrats who berated DeVos at a U.S. House Education Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s controversial rewrite of a student loan forgiveness policy. DeVos appeared on Capitol Hill after a subpoena threat and months of wrangling with House Democrats over her policy. The Trump administration overhauled an Obama-era policy for forgiving loans if their schools defrauded students. DeVos said that policy was too lenient. After taking office, DeVos signed off on claims approved but not finalized by the Obama administration. She wrote when she signed off on those claims that she did so “with extreme displeasure.”
“Why is Obamacare still popular in Florida? Some say Trump has a lot to do with it” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — As Florida leads the nation once again in sign-ups for Affordable Care Act plans, experts say the health insurance marketplace known as Obamacare has stabilized in part because the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the law have backfired and made coverage more affordable for many. After years of political wrangling, the health insurance marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act appears to have stabilized in Florida, which leads the nation in sign-ups again this year by a healthy margin. More than 1 million Floridians have signed up for plans on the ACA marketplace this year as of Dec. 7, nearly doubling the state with the second-highest total — Texas, which has had about 538,000 sign-ups —according to recent federal data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
— 2020 —
“Will Trump debate a Democrat in 2020? He’s not so sure” via Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni of the New York Times — Trump has told advisers that he does not trust the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit entity that sponsors the debates, the two people said. Less of a concern for Trump than who will emerge as the Democratic nominee is which media personality will be chosen as the debate moderator, according to people in contact with him. At a state-of-the-race campaign briefing in Arlington, Va., the president’s advisers declined to comment on what their plan was for the debates. One senior adviser to the president seemed to wince at the question, and said it was not something advisers were prepared to discuss until next year.
“Democratic Party unveils January and February 2020 presidential debates” via Jeremy Barr of The Hollywood Reporter — Ahead of the Feb. 3 Democratic primary caucus in Iowa, CNN will partner with a newspaper in the state on a Jan. 14 primary debate in Des Moines. On Feb. 7, ahead of the Feb. 11 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, ABC will partner with WMUR-TV and Apple News, at St. Anselm College in Manchester. On Feb. 19, ahead of the Feb. 22 caucus in Nevada, NBC News and MSNBC will host in Las Vegas, in partnership with a local newspaper. And, on Feb. 25, CBS News will host in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. The debate will be held in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of the state’s Feb. 29 primary election.
“Democratic presidential candidates to join Florida Democrats in battle over former felon voting rights” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Florida Democrats are ramping up their attacks on Republican Gov. DeSantis and members of his party over felon voting rights — and six presidential candidates are joining them. Democrats are holding a Twitter town hall on Friday using #LetUsVoteFL that will include Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, according to the Florida Democratic Party
“Amy Klobuchar set to meet with union leaders in South Florida” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Sen. Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, is set to visit South Florida Friday for a meeting with union leaders. “Klobuchar will join the Presidents of SEIU Local 1991, United Teachers of Dade, United Faculty of Miami Dade College, Transport Workers Union Local 291, and South Florida AFL-CIO at a roundtable to discuss her pro-worker record and plans to support our unions and stand up for workers’ rights,” a release from the Klobuchar campaign said. That event will take place at the SEIU Local 1991 headquarters in Miami, located at 1601 NW 8th Ave. The event is scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m.
“Elizabeth Warren beefs up Florida campaign with Andrew Gillum alums and progressive activists” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — The list includes: senior strategist Zach Learner, the former Gillum deputy campaign manager; organizing director Allie Brown, previously with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy; community organizing directory Aida Mackic, who worked on campaigns for Gillum and Bernie Sanders; training director Devan Cheaves, recently at ACLU of Florida; mobilization director Jaime Lopez, who worked on digital strategy in Florida for Hillary Clinton; and data director Joe Haas, another alum of Sanders’ campaign. The campaign also formally unveiled state director Kimberly Diaz Scott, previously the director of public policy for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates and a veteran of Charlie Crist’s 2014 campaign. Scott has been with Warren in Florida since the end of September.
“Twitter to verify all congressional and gubernatorial primary hopefuls” via Nancy Scola of POLITICO — “A significant factor in expanding verification to these races was to ensure a level playing field,” Twitter spokesperson Nick Pacilio said in an email. Under the plan, the onus will not be on the candidates to seek verification, which gives their Twitter profiles a blue checkmark indicating that the company has confirmed their identity. Instead, Twitter will go looking for candidates to verify. The politician verification program isn’t wholly new. Twitter first rolled it out in the spring of 2018, but only for candidates on the general election ballot. Giving primary candidates the blue checkmark conveys an advantage to a broader pool of political aspirants.
— THE TRAIL —
“Raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15 an hour? Here’s who gains and who loses” via Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — You’ve probably seen the protesters and signs calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage nationally. Now there’s a Florida bid to increase the minimum wage. But while welcomed by underpaid workers, the proposed amendment is likely to face opposition from some employers and business groups in the state. Proponents argue that the increase would be gradual, over six years, and would benefit the economy, as minimum-wage workers tend to spend what they earn. Opponents say a higher minimum wage in the state could hurt jobs. Employers may seek to curb labor costs by reducing employees’ hours or moving to automation where they can. Consumers could pay, too, in higher prices at their local restaurant or store.
“Vern Buchanan endorses Judson Sapp for CD 3” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Republican U.S. Rep. Buchanan weighed in on the race for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, throwing his support behind Sapp. “Judson is a husband, father, and successful businessman who knows what it takes to lead and get the job done. I endorse Judson Sapp for Congress because he will fight for Florida and stand up for conservative values,” Buchanan said in a news release. The nod is the latest in a string for Sapp, who is running for the North Central Florida district currently held by U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, who will not run for reelection in 2020.
“Rhonda Rebman Lopez adds $30K for HD 120 bid” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Lopez is one of four Republicans seeking the seat currently held by GOP state Rep. Holly Raschein. Raschein is term-limited in 2020, making the race an open one. Former Agriculture Commissioner candidate Roy David Walker is also running in the race as a Democrat. Lopez entered the race in September and started strong in the money game, adding more than $60,000 in her first month. Through November, she’s raised over $131,000, more than triple her closest competitor. That competitor is Islamorada Councilman and former Mayor Jim Mooney. Mooney, also running as a Republican, pulled in more than $18,000 in November.
— LOCAL —
“Universal Orlando launches lobbying campaigns for $125 million in public money” via Jason Garcia and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — At issue is $125 million that Orange County may give to Universal to help pay to extend Kirkman Road through the 750-acre property upon which Universal plans to build Epic Universe, which will be its third Central Florida theme park when it opens in 2023. Commissioners are expected to vote on the package Tuesday. Universal representatives have been distributing flyers in Tangelo Park and other communities surrounding the Epic Universe land in an attempt to both promote the project and beat back criticism of the road deal.
“It takes her 3 hours to travel 15 miles by bus. Orlando’s public transit is failing workers” via Gabrielle Rouson of the Orlando Sentinel — Nicky Wilkins’ alarm clock sounds at 4 a.m. for her 8:30 a.m. shift as a cabana attendant at Walt Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park. On a good day, her commute from West Orange County will take three hours each way. She is one of the thousands of people who depend on the underfunded Lynx bus system to get to work. Lynx, which estimates just under half its riders work in the service industry and runs some of its busiest routes to major tourism destinations, doesn’t have enough buses to cover the agency’s three-county landscape adequately, officials say. Central Florida’s public transit system is failing the low-wage workers who help drive the region’s $75 billion tourism economy.
“JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, utility lobbyist are partners in Westside land deal” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — Zahn and Deno Hicks, whose firm recently received a $120,000 contract from the city-owned utility, are co-owners in an undeveloped Westside property they are preparing as a site for an industrial warehouse and trying to sell for nearly $2 million. Corporate filings list Zahn as the sole manager of Legacy Industries of Jax, LLC, the entity listed by property records as the landowner. While Hicks isn’t named in any of the company’s corporate filings, he has applied for environmental permits from the state and federal government on the company’s behalf and identified himself as the company’s manager. Hicks confirmed that he and Zahn have owned the land since “early 2018” and are equal partners in the venture.
“Miami’s top administrator survives push to fire him but will be investigated” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — In a tense political showdown where he was not even present, Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez narrowly survived an attempt to remove him from the most powerful position in the city’s day-to-day operations, a post that oversees a $1 billion budget and a 4,000-person municipal workforce. Though three of five commissioners voted to fire him, the removal of the manager requires four votes under city law. Thursday’s hours-long proceeding represented an eruption of tensions at the highest levels of Miami’s government that amounted to a vote of no confidence in Gonzalez by a majority of the commission. Commissioner Joe Carollo, one of Gonzalez’s most frequent and loudest critics, moved to fire Gonzalez after presenting images and permitting records that suggest Gonzalez might have falsified a land survey while applying for a permit to repair a deck in his backyard earlier this year.
“How Miami-Dade collected $3 billion and still can’t afford to expand Metrorail” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — If spending of Miami-Dade’s transportation tax had gone as planned nearly two decades ago, the county would be preparing for a milestone in 2021: the fifth anniversary of a new elevated Metrorail line running 10 miles north along 27th Avenue to the Broward County line. Metrorail’s “North Corridor” expansion was originally supposed to open by 2016 under a construction timeline laid out in 2002 on how to spend a transportation sales tax then-Mayor Alex Penelas pitched to voters in a referendum that year. Far from celebrating, Miami-Dade’s elected leaders and transit advocates are still pointing fingers over how a half-percent sales tax that’s generated more than $3 billion failed to deliver more than 3 miles of additional rail.
“FIU bridge victims or their families will get their cut of $102.7 million, judge affirms” via Carli Teproff of the Miami Herald — After months of litigation, the families of the six people killed and the 10-plus people injured when a bridge collapsed at Florida International University will receive their share of nearly $103 million. On Thursday, A. Jay Cristol, senior bankruptcy judge, confirmed a plan of reorganization filed last month by Munilla Construction Management (MCM), the project’s general contractor. The $102.7 million settlement should be divvied up by mid-January if no one appeals the plan by Dec. 28. “While no dollar figure can replace those who were lost, MCM emphasized expediting the process to make substantial funds available for the claimants so that the length of this difficult judicial process could be significantly reduced,” MCM President Jorge Munilla said in a statement.
“Pinellas officials ask Tampa Bay Economic Development Council to reconsider name change” via Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times — The Pinellas County Commission is asking the newly renamed Tampa Bay Economic Development Council to reconsider its decision, saying its rebranding “does great harm to the progress we have made on regional collaboration.” The commission “is deeply disappointed” in the decision by the former Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “to begin doing business as the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council,” commission chairwoman Karen Seel wrote to council chief executive officer Craig Richard this week. “Years of effort and expense have established ‘Tampa Bay’ as a regional brand for all economic development interests in our area.”
“Osceola jail inmate released early after miscarriage ordeal: ‘It was torture’” via Grace Toohey of the Orlando Sentinel — A 20-year-old pregnant woman who said she bled and cramped for days in the Osceola County jail before miscarrying in a toilet — only to be returned to the same room following a trip to the hospital — was granted an early release from custody. In a hearing, Osceola County Circuit Judge Greg Tynan modified Kenzi Marie-Makanalan Dunn’s sentence to have her released from the jail immediately, citing the ordeal she underwent during her incarceration, as well as a state law that allows him to alter sentences within a specific time frame. Dunn testified that she began feeling pain and was bleeding for four days before she miscarried Sunday, but the jail’s nurses only gave her Ibuprofen when she asked for help.
“Redistricting lawsuit accuses Sarasota County of discriminating against black voters” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Three black residents of northern Sarasota County filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court alleging the county, and a trio of county commissioners discriminated against black voters when they approved a redistricting plan last month. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by shifting the boundaries of Commissioner Mike Moran’s District 1 — which is up for election in 2020 — so that it removes a significant number of black voters and a black candidate, former Sarasota Mayor Fredd Atkins, from the district.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Pensacola restores online payment systems following cyberattack” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The city of Pensacola has restored the ability to accept online payments in the wake of a cyberattack against the city’s computer network. Online payment systems for Pensacola Energy and the city’s sanitation services have been restored, the city announced on its Facebook page. “We are currently in an assessment and recovery mode, and IT staff continue to work diligently to check all computers and fully restore our network,” the city’s statement said. As of Wednesday, the city was still assessing if personal data was exposed in the cyberattack, which began in the early hours of Saturday. Anyone who had a bill due while the system was down should contact customer service at the city, a city spokeswoman said.
“Preliminary tests point to burial grounds at Tallahassee’s Capital City Country Club” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — The National Park Service began testing near the 7th hole of the golf course in mid-November and finished Monday, in coordination with the club’s staff and the city. “The preliminary results of this testing appear to confirm the presence of a cemetery at the site,” archaeologist Jeffrey Shanks said. Historic records suggest the cemetery is associated with a former plantation once owned by the Houstoun family. “The cemetery likely includes burials of enslaved persons who worked on the plantation,” said Jonathan Lammers, a historian consultant who has done extensive research on the once sprawling plantation site.
“Randazzles Hair Company upended by severed sewer line from neighboring construction job” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Construction work on a downtown renovation job severed a sewer line about a week ago and uprooted operations at the Randazzles Hair Company. Devastated, owner Michelle Posey said she was forced to let go of her entire staff since she’s unsure when it can reopen. Thursday morning, a trench exposing a white pipe in the ground replaced what would be a tiled walkway in the narrow shotgun salon. Mounds of loose dirt are everywhere. Clear plastic tarps are protecting the receptionist desk, hooded dryers and work stations. She’d normally see between 20 to 30 customers per day in December, the salon’s busiest time of year. Now she estimates her business will take a $5,000 per week hit.
“A mayor was accused of sexual assault. He won’t be charged, but a lawsuit continues” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis is something of an institution in South Broward. Now, as Ortis campaigns for what he says could be his final term at age 76, he faces not only his biggest political challenge yet from Commissioner Angelo Castillo, but also an allegation of sexual assault in a civil lawsuit that will play out in Broward County court as the March election approaches. A former employee at a Pembroke Pines restaurant that Ortis co-owns, Mayor’s Cafe & Bagel Emporium, says the mayor sexually assaulted her in his car in April 2016 and then harassed her repeatedly at work. The mayor claims the incidents never happened and is counter-suing for defamation.
— OPINIONS —
“The House should vote to impeach Trump, and the Senate should remove him from office” via the Editorial Board of the Orlando Sentinel — The question was never if Trump did something wrong. Of course, he did. The president of the United States got on the phone and asked the leader of a foreign power to investigate a domestic political opponent. Only the most cynical partisan would think that’s OK. The question is whether he ought to be impeached for it, and the answer is yes. The evidence offered during a series of hearings made clear the president used the power of his office as leverage to have Ukraine announce it was investigating Biden and his son. It requires a fantastic leap of the imagination, and the suspension of everything we know about this president, to accept he was using the powers of his office to ensure Ukraine was rooting out corruption.
“Where is Matt Gaetz’s humanity?” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — His voice dripping with derision, young Gaetz read from a July New Yorker profile of Joe Biden’s son in which Hunter Biden confessed his decadeslong struggle with substance abuse. Some Democrats shook their heads in disbelief. Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s jaw dropped. Was he really doing this? Yes, Gaetz was. There really is no bottom. Rep. Johnson responded with an oblique reminder about Gaetz’s DUI arrest several years ago. There are good people on both sides of the aisle, but in the quarter-century I’ve covered Washington, Gaetz is among the most vulgar I have ever encountered. Forget politics for a moment. Forget about impeachment. As a parent, as a person, I wonder: Where is Matt Gaetz’s humanity?
“Yes, Gov. DeSantis, it’s time to throw away pillow regulations” via Alex Muresianu for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis is looking to relax occupational licensing requirements for several occupations, particularly barbers, hair braiders, and most unusually, interior designers. As Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation Halsey Beshears said earlier this year, as these regulations have expanded, they’ve become “more of a gate and less of a gateway” to well-paying work. DeSantis and Beshears are right to reform these regulations. They reduce opportunity for low-income Floridians, don’t improve public safety, slow down economic growth, and even cost state governments tax revenue. If these regulations fail to improve public safety, what good are they? As it stands, they’re just blocking low-income Floridians from new job opportunities and reducing economic growth.
“Doug Izzo: Colorado showed us why we cannot gut tourism marketing” via Florida Politics — Some legislators do not understand the important role VISIT FLORIDA plays in our state economy. They don’t listen to their constituents, nonpartisan State Office of Economic and Demographic Research, or DeSantis’ request to reauthorize and fund this vital organization. Some of our legislators say people will come here for the beaches without marketing. That is the same thing Colorado said. Colorado legislatures cut tourism marketing funding because they said people would come for their world-class skiing no matter what. However, that was not the case. It took Colorado ten years to recover the level of tourism they had before they cut funding.
“George Zimmerman’s ‘appalling’ lawsuit poses legitimate questions” via David Whitley for the Orlando Sentinel — Zimmerman filed a $100 million lawsuit against Trayvon Martin‘s family last week, and the reaction was predictable. Those were the descriptions in major papers and on TV networks. Social media wasn’t nearly so nice. Much of America believes Zimmerman is a racist vigilante. I’m not here to change that view, but the lawsuit raises interesting questions whether the star witness against him was a fraud. Those questions can be easily cleared up — if people deign to answer them.
“The Impeachment Problem for Never Trump, Anti-Trump, Democrat, and Progressive Alike is Quite Simple” via Erick Erickson of The Resurgent — There are 21 Republican members of Congress retiring in 2020. That amounts to more than 10% of the total number of Republicans in the House. Many have private contempt for Trump. They blame him for the 2018 losses. They are convinced he will cost the GOP further. They dislike his tone and behavior. They even have concerns about the call with Ukraine’s President. Someone like Will Hurd should be persuadable. Francis Rooney has expressed concerns about the President’s behavior and said he is perfectly happy voting for impeachment if he thinks it is warranted. A few of these Republicans might change their minds by next week and give the Democrats a bipartisan vote on impeachment. Right now, however, it looks like the Democrats will lose more votes on impeachment than they will gain from Republicans.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Joy Cooper back as Hallandale Mayor after acquittal” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Cooper, the mayor acquitted of corruption charges after being snared in an FBI sting, credits God, her family and her legal team. “The one greatest lesson I have learned from this is an abundance of patience,” she said, just hours after Florida’s Governor reinstated her as mayor of Hallandale Beach. “It’s time for a new day in Hallandale, to say all of this is truly behind us.” For nearly two years, Cooper lived under a cloud. Accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions in a corruption sting, she was arrested on Jan. 25, 2018, and removed from office the next day. State prosecutors accused Cooper of accepting $5,000 in illegal campaign contributions in 2012 from two FBI agents who posed as out-of-town developers.
Spotted — Ballard Partners founder Brian Ballard on The Hill’s lengthy annual list of top lobbyists. This year is the first time Ballard made the list, which highlights the broad range of talents needed to succeed in the influence industry.
— LISTEN UP —
Battleground Florida with Christopher Heath: The USMCA (NAFTA 2.0) is out, and that means it’s time to unpack what is, and is not, in the newish trade deal. Trade expert Josh Zive from Bracewell joins the podcast with three cheers for maintaining the status quo on trade.
Biz & Tech with Aegis CEO Blake Dowling: This week’s guest is Brad Swanson, head of the Florida Internet & Television Association, to discuss collaborations, FloridaPolitics.com, elected officials, and lots of internet chatter.
Dishonorable Mention: State Rep. Latvala, activist Becca Tieder, former Tampa Bay Times Columnist Ernest Hooper and communications expert Dr. Karla Mastracchio discuss politics and culture. The hosts lean into the poli-tainment aspect of the pod with a funny story from Tieder and DNA kits. What have the hosts accomplished this week? Hooper finished his first week with the American Cancer Society-Southwest Florida. The importance of not-for-profit organization work, especially during this time of year, and how everyone can be engaged. Mastracchio gets fired up on comments regarding astronauts and gender.
Gradebook from the Tampa Bay Times with hosts Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey Solochek: As Florida government leaders look to enhance students’ civics knowledge, they might want to talk to Hillsborough County senior Haley Manigold. She and some of her schoolmates at Armwood High identified a concern with the state’s graduation requirements and how they affect teens still learning English. Rather than just complain, the group decided to urge the Legislature to action. This past week, Manigold was among those testifying before the state Senate Education Committee about the proposed legislation, which is being carried by former Senate President Tom Lee. In this podcast, Manigold explains her efforts, her views on the importance of civic education, and her suggestions for getting teens to understand the system better.
REGULATED from hosts Christian Bax and Tony Glover: The cannabis industry presents several challenges that make acquiring “out of the box” operational know-how, branding, and other support systems attractive. Between licensing deals and acquisitions, the industry has already seen some savvy operators gain a quasi-national profile. Is franchising a good fit for cannabis and CBD?
The Rotunda with Trimmel Gomes: Leon County Republican Party chairman Evan Power discusses his campaign to become National Committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida. Power explains the loyalty-mindset of Trump voters and why he thinks the GOP brand is untarnished, despite critics.
— 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 will host a roundtable with Tampa Bay Times reporter Caitlin Johnston; James Chan, Florida director of SiX-State Innovation Exchange; attorney Natalie King and Florida Politics Publisher and Editor-In-Chief Peter Schorsch.
In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez will discuss initiatives regarding domestic violence, education, and health care.
Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: This week’s show will discuss the impeachment inquiry and the House Judiciary Committee vote; host Al Ruechel will talk to Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, and PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter will rate a claim made the Florida GOP chair on health care.
The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Gary Yordon talks with attorney Sean Pittman and pollster Steve Vancore.
This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Jacksonville City Council Member Brenda Priestly Jackson; former Congressman Jason Altmire, author of “Dead Center” and Dr. Ann Shortelle, St. Johns River Water Management District executive director.
— ALOE —
“Will ‘Star Wars’ stick the landing? J.J. Abrams will try” via Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times — Abrams knows what audiences think of him. “I’ve never been great at endings,” the filmmaker said just hours after delivering a finished version of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” With some hesitation, Abrams added, “I don’t actually think I’m good at anything, but I know how to begin a story. Ending a story is tough.” This is an unusual admission for Abrams, having just directed and co-written the “Star Wars” film that, when it opens Dec. 20, promises to be the final installment in a nine-movie narrative about the Skywalker clan. Like the stories told within the films themselves, the story of this “Star Wars” film is one in which inadvertent decisions lead to unintended consequences.
— HOLIDAY CHEER —
“Bah humbug! Christmas in Florida is a big lump of coal, study says.” via David Selig of the Orlando Sentinel — Stringing lights on our palm trees apparently isn’t doing enough to mask the fact that Florida has some of the least Christmas spirit in the country. That’s according to GetCenturyLink.com, which ranked the 50 states’ excitement for X-mas based on “online activity and area culture” and had Florida 47th. Only California, Hawaii and Nevada are bigger grinches, the study found. If you’re looking to find the most holiday cheer, you’ll want to head to Tennessee, which ranked No. 1, followed by North Carolina, Utah, Ohio and Alabama.
“Brace for crowded highways and airports as Floridians help set new holiday travel record” via Marcia Heroux Pounds of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — More than 6.1 million Florida residents will take planes, trains and automobiles over the coming holidays to visit family, friends and vacation destinations, according to AAA. A total of 115.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1, which would be the largest travel volume since AAA began tracking in 2000. Floridians are expected to help set that record, due to 300,000 more residents traveling this holiday season over the last, AAA said: 5.5 million, or 200,000 more than last year, will travel by cars; 332,500, or 15,500 more than last year, will travel by planes; 230,600, or 9,300 more than last year, will travel by train, bus or cruise ship.
“Secret Service issues warning over new fake $100 bills during holidays” via Jeff Tavss of Local 10 — With the holiday season in full swing, the Secret Service is warning consumers about new fake $100 bills being found in circulation. The new bills are produced by counterfeiters who have figured out how to avoid detection by marker pens used to determine whether a bill is fake or not. The bills are most likely being created by using 3D printers. “Sometimes they bleach the $1 bill, and they print $5 or $20 on top of that, and when you use the pen, it doesn’t work, it shows that its good currency,” said store owner Vincent Emmanuel. Law enforcement authorities say a number of businesses have been victims of the bogus $100 bills, as well as other denominations.
— LOOKUP —
The meteor shower that typically puts on a good show year after year peaks this weekend.
The Geminis meteors originate from an asteroid as opposed to a comet but produce similar results because the asteroid still leaves a trail of dust on its orbit.
On an average year, this shower produces up to 60 meteors per hour. Under ideal conditions, it can produce up to 150 meteors per hour on the peak night.
This year will be quite different. The December moon, that’s still largely full, will shine bright in the sky 96% illuminated. The moon will block out many faint meteors and astronomers this year predict about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. However, those 10 to 20 meteors could be extra bright and colorful if they are able to be seen through the moonlight.
The other problem for folks in the peninsula of Florida is that clouds and a chance of rain are in the forecast Friday night. While the peak is technically Friday night, Saturday night should offer up a few shooting stars as well.
If you decide to venture out, you can pretty much look anywhere in the sky but it will be best away from the moon. Stare up at a 45-degree angle and give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness.
This meteor shower, like most, will have periods of high activity and low activity, so it is best to give yourself an hour or so to catch a few highs and lows of the shower.
Saturday night will be cooler than Friday night, so you may need a light jacket. Happy hunting!
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Paula Cobb, General Counsel at the South Florida Water Management District, Hayden Dempsey of Greenberg Traurig and Mike Millner. Early happy birthday wishes to Rep. David Santiago, Elizabeth Boyd, Julie Ingoglia, Kyra Jennings, Sara Pennington, and Terry Lewis.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.