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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.7.20

Here’s your morning briefing of what you need to know in Florida politics.

Breaking overnight — 6.4 magnitude quake strikes Puerto Rico amid heavy seismic activity” via the Associated Press — The earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday, and was followed three hours later by an aftershock measuring 6.0. They are the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the U.S. territory in recent days and caused heavy damage in some areas. Eight people were injured in the city of Ponce, near the epicenter of the quake, Mayor Mayita Meléndez told WAPA television. Puerto Rico’s power authority said on Twitter that one of the country’s main power plants, which sits near the epicenter, had been damaged, but officials expect to restore power to the island later Tuesday.

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Americans for Prosperity-Florida is launching a campaign to salute state lawmakers who sponsored legislation to cut red tape in occupational licensing, thereby reducing roadblocks to creating jobs.

As part of the campaign, AFP-FL will release a series of direct mail and digital ads in the respective districts of House and Senate members who are sponsoring a variety of measures to reform occupational licenses.

AFP-FL’s campaign will include State Sen. Manny Diaz (for SB 1238) and state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez (for HB 729) for filing legislation to cut regulatory red tape; as well as Sens. Keith Perry and Diaz (for SB 1124), and Ben Albritton (for SB 474), and Reps. Paul Renner (for HB 707) and Michael Grant (for HB 3).

All those proposals seek to modernize, eliminate or streamline the current process of occupational licensing.

“Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to reduce barriers to opportunity to make it possible for Floridians to reach their full potential,” said AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander in a statement. “We’re encouraged that these principled leaders in the Florida House and Senate are following the lead of Gov. Ron DeSantis to eliminate needless red tape and barriers to work. Our activists look forward to working throughout the upcoming legislative session to activate their communities to encourage their lawmakers to pass these policies.”

AFP-FL argues that undue licensing — many of which don’t have a direct impact on public health or safety — can limit job opportunities and entrepreneurship by keeping people out of occupations that require licenses. The group is urging policymakers to help reduce the scope of these licenses and remove them in areas where there is no discernible impact on public health or safety.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, the only Iranian American serving in the Legislature, gives her take on the fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to take out Iran’s top general with a drone strike

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Medical marijuana may be legal in Florida, but you can still lose your job if you test positive for it. Two South Florida lawmakers are proposing a fix.

— Integrity Florida issues a new report that raises red flags about how the lawmakers tend to pass preemption bills, forcing local governments to do things their way … or not at all.

— On an all-female (and a bird) Florida Man segment, a Hollywood woman was clocked driving 107 MPH on I-275 in Pinellas County, with an open bottle of vodka in the car, as well as Jello shots and beer in the trunk. And Palm Beach County deputies responded to a 911 call in Lake Worth, only to find it was a parrot named Rambo saying, “let me out.”

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@KatieS: When I worked at Twitter, we thought it was a good idea for world leaders to have a platform to speak directly to constituents. The use case of announcing and/or threatening war is an outrageous abuse of the platform and most importantly, the Constitution.

@JulianCastro: Today I’m proud to endorse @EWarren for president. Elizabeth and I share a vision of America where everyone counts. An America where people⁠ — not the wealthy or well-connected⁠ — are put first. I’m proud to join her in the fight for big, structural change.

@PeteButtigieg: The illegitimate takeover of the Venezuelan National Assembly is further evidence that dictator [Nicolás] Maduro will stop at nothing to consolidate his grip on power. I stand behind Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan people as they strive to reclaim their democracy and defend their rights.

@NewsbySmiley: Nothing says “don’t worry, we got this” like accidentally sending a draft letter to another country that suggests you’re withdrawing your troops the day after that country’s parliament took a nonbinding vote for you to withdraw your troops.

@GovRonDeSantis: The U.S. Constitution mandates a national census count be conducted every 10 years and Florida will do its part to support the federal government’s efforts. Therefore, today I announced the designation of Florida’s 2020 Census Statewide Complete Count Committee.

@JeffreyBrandes: The most underreported issue going into Session is the rapidly declining condition of Florida’s insurance market.

@AGGancarski: So George Lopez is pushing the envelope and Rick Scott and the right are all big Ricky Gervais fans. Wow, 2020. Is this year over yet.

— DAYS UNTIL —

College Football National Championship — 6; 2020 Session begins — 7; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 7; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 7; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 8; Sundance Film Festival begins — 16; “Star Trek: Picard” premiers — 16; Annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit — 21; New Brexit deadline — 24; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 26; Great American Realtors Day — 27; Iowa Caucuses — 27; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 31; Capitol Press Corps press skits — 34; New Hampshire Primaries — 35; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 35; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 43; Nevada caucuses — 46; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 47; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 49; South Carolina Primaries — 53; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 66; Florida’s presidential primary — 70; “No Time to Die” premiers — 94; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 133; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 171; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 192; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 199; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 224; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 274; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 282; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 289; 2020 General Election — 301.

— TOP STORY —

State economist: Expect ‘intense slowdown’ of property tax collections” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Florida’s Revenue Estimating Conference looked at trends in ad valorem collections, working through competing estimates and refining the five-year taxation outlook. The forecast regarding new construction is “significantly lower” going forward for nonresidential construction overall, with the worst coming in the second half of 2020 and next year. 2021 will essentially see flat growth rates in construction across the board, with more optimism in the outlook for out-years. These expectations jibe with the theory that a recession looms in the coming year.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Ron DeSantis assembles team to prep for census count” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — DeSantis appointed Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez to lead Florida’s 2020 Census Statewide Complete Count Committee, a 25-person panel which includes a cross-section of members representing local governments, small employers, homeless advocates, and other interests. Some projections suggest Florida could gain as many as three congressional seats. Florida Democrats months ago called on DeSantis to take steps to ensure the state’s residents were accurately counted in to guarantee that the state received its full share of federal funding. The Governor’s spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said today hat DeSantis was responding to a query on whether the census should include a question on citizenship, not a question about whether Florida should play a role in ensuring an accurate count.

Ron DeSantis responded to a query about Florida’s accuracy in the 2020 census.

Jeanette Nunez says GOP will work out differences on immigration, Visit Florida during session” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel. — Nunez said she’s confident Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican state House and Senate leaders will work out their differences when the 2020 legislative session begins next week. ‘I wouldn’t necessarily call them divisions,’ Nunez said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel on Monday of issues including E-Verify immigration checks for workers and funding for the tourism agency Visit Florida.

State moves forward with CBD regulations” via News Service of Florida — As sales boom in retail establishments throughout Florida, state regulators are now keeping tabs on CBD products that marketers claim can ease arthritis, anxiety and sleeplessness. Florida lawmakers during the 2019 Legislative Session put Fried’s office in charge of establishing the regulatory structure for hemp, along with products containing CBD being sold at gas stations, grocery stores and flea markets. “Prior to these rules being adopted and taking effect, we didn’t have regulatory authority. Now we do, and we have that up and going so that we can make sure consumers are protected,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s cannabis director, Holly Bell.

Report: Preemption legislation driven by ideology, campaign contributions and lobbyists” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — A Integrity Florida report examined lawmakers’ increasing use of preemption legislation to reduce the authority of local governments. As of Dec. 10, 16 preemption bills — nine in the House and seven in the Senate — have been filed for the 2020 Legislative Session. Both Republicans and Democrats filed bills, dealing with issues such as local occupational licensing (HB 3), permitting standards for mobile home parks (HB 647), vacation rental properties (HB 1011) and home-based businesses (SB 778). Already drawing heavy attention are HB 113 and SB 172 to prevent local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens and cosmetics. The report offers some policy solutions like requiring a supermajority vote for preemption legislation and having a single-subject requirement for those bills.

Happening today — The Social Services Estimating Conference meets to discuss Florida’s Medicaid spending, 9 a.m., Knott Building.

— LEGISLATION —

Darryl Rouson targets boating safety and environmental protection in proposed legislation” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — His bill (SB 1378) requires boaters to operate at slow speed, minimum wake near emergency vessels or construction operations in the water. Slow speed, minimum wake defined as a vessel operating fully off plane and completely settled into the water. If passed, a person could not operate a vessel faster than slow speed, minimum wake if it is within 300 feet of an emergency vessel including law enforcement, fire rescue, U.S. Coast Guard or towboats that have their emergency lights activated. The speed restriction also applies to approaching within 300 feet of construction vessels or barges that have an orange flag displayed.

Happening today — Rouson and state Rep. Ben Diamond will unveil legislation to foster arts education, 9:15 a.m. at The Dali Museum, 1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg.

David Simmons bill would create DUI diversionary program” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Senate Bill 1396 would authorize a pilot program in each judicial circuit. They would allow qualifying drivers who have been charged with a first offense of driving under the influence to agree to have alcohol-detection ignition interlock devices installed on their cars. They also would have to work at least 50 hours of community service, to attend a substance abuse treatment class, and other requirements. Also, the drivers would not be permitted to possess or consume alcohol or illegal drugs during the program. The driver would be in the program for a year. During that time, the driver’s license would not be suspended.

David Simmons is pushing diversion programs for some DUIs, instead of license suspensions. Image via Colin Hackley.

No ‘intellectual diversity’ survey in Senate higher ed bill — A measure that would require state universities to survey faculty and students’ “intellectual diversity” annually was not included in a higher education bill put forward by Senate Education Committee Chair Diaz, reports Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida. While the idea has some traction among House Republicans, it hasn’t gained much steam in the Senate. Last year, Senate President Bill Galvano said some Senators have “strong opinions in opposition” of the plan and that it would have a hard time getting an OK from the chamber. The absence of the survey requirement could make for a repeat of last year’s tough higher education budget negotiation.

Jeff Brandes files Senate companion for ride-sharing digital advertising bill” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes’ bill (SB 1 352) is the Senate companion to the House version (HB 1039) filed by Rep. Bob Rommel. The bill also includes protections to ensure advertisements are not offensive or overly obtrusive and provides benefits to local governments and nonprofits by making advertising available to them free of charge. The bills place limits on the sign’s size, restricting them to no taller than 20 inches and no longer than 54 inches. Regardless of the size, the sign could not extend beyond the rear of the front windshield or otherwise impair the driver’s vision. The signs could only operate while the vehicle is running.

Senate bill seeks to protect Electoral College” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — SR 1458, filed by Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley, posits that to “consider the abolishment of the Electoral College, in which Florida has 29 electors, would further enable the destruction of the remaining balance of power between the 50 states and the Federal Government and effectively dissolve the United States constitutional republic.” The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would accelerate such an erosion. This existential threat to elections as currently conducted has been enacted by 16 states with 196 electoral votes, putting it just 74 votes away from taking effect. The filing also contends that the national popular vote movement would lead inexorably to a nonrepresentative, even un-American pool of voters.

Spencer Roach wants transition for children of addicted parents to reenter their lives” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Roach said he’s working to make sure there’s a better transition for kids when an absent parent shows up suddenly in the picture. Roach has a bill in the House (HB 185), which aims to address such situations. As written, the law would give some legal authority allowing an extended family member temporary or permanent custody of a minor in such a case. The process would involve petitioning the court to ensure the parent of a child is fit to take the child back. If necessary, a judge could put requirements in place for the parent to provide proof.

Resiliency, sea level proposal emerges in House” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — HB 1073, filed by St. Johns County Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, would create a Statewide Office of Resiliency in the Governor’s office and create a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force. The language in the bill matches a Senate committee bill already moving through the process, legislation that codifies the Resiliency Office. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Dr. Julia Nesheiwat as Florida’s first Chief Resilience Officer. The committee bill also establishes a sea-level rise task force that will include Nesheiwat, the Chief Science Officer from the Department of Environmental Protection, and others.

Jason Fischer files bill for elected Duval County school sup’t” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — If HB 1079 passes, Duval voters in November 2020 would be able to vote on whether they want an elected Superintendent, setting up a potential 2022 election to select a replacement for a position that had been appointed for decades. The Duval legislative delegation supported Fischer’s bill in a 6-2 vote last year. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also supports the measure, but the bill does have some opposition. The Duval County School Board voted in unanimous opposition to the proposal. The Jacksonville City Council declined to pass a resolution opposing Fischer’s bill, deadlocking on the vote.

Jason Fischer is one step closer to getting an elected Ducal School Superintendent.

Dotie Joseph joins effort to create a tax credit for carbon farming” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The carbon farming process aims to not only to cut emissions but also to keep carbon stored inside a farm’s soil. HB 1069 will serve as the companion to legislation filed by Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez in the Senate. Carbon farming is still somewhat new, and the benefits are not yet proven. But advocates argue that farmers can engage in practices that will release less carbon into the atmosphere, instead of keeping it stored in the soil, which could help slow the process of climate change. The measures from Joseph and Rodríguez would endorse those goals.

Jennifer Webb files legislation to curb ‘unnecessary’ Baker Acts in Florida schools” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Webb’s bill (HB 1083) would require better mental health crisis training for school safety officers, launch new reporting and tracking requirements for students removed from school or school events and increase parental or guardian notification requirements. A Tampa Bay Times investigative report last month found that over the past seven years, more than 7,500 students were taken from public schools and put into mental health facilities. Of those, many were removed using handcuffs and transported in the back of police cars. The report found that some of the children were as young as six years old. And the incidents are on the rise.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida recognized marriage equality 5 years ago” via Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times — It’s now been five years since history was made and same-sex marriage became legal in Florida. In August 2014, a federal judge in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s 2008 voter-approved ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. But the decision wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 6, leaving time for appeals. Then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi fought to stop the change, trying to get the court to uphold the 2008 ban and block the marriages. She even tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Ultimately, she was unsuccessful. The monumental milestone for LGBTQ rights in Florida was solidified Jan. 6, 2015. Couples would finally be allowed to wed. Reports estimated over 1,200 couples exercised their new right on that first day.

Marriage equality in Florida turns 5.

Florida firefighters ‘stand ready’ to help Australia” via WFLA — The Florida Forest Service says they are on standby to send firefighters to assist the devastating fires ongoing in Australia. This comes following a crew of 20 veteran firefighters based in California that left Monday to help battle the country’s wildfires that have killed at least 23 people and scorched millions of acres. More than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained Monday. Officials have warned that the rain won’t put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again. The last time U.S. firefighters worked in Australia was 2010.

Florida saw record federal health insurance enrollments in December” via Kelsey Sunderland of WFLA — With open enrollment complete as of Dec. 17, a weekly report showed that Florida had the highest number of people enrolling in the federal health insurance marketplace in the country. A record 1.9 million Floridians found insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace between Dec. 8 and Dec. 17. That’s an additional 125,000 from 2018. The number dwarfs the state with the second-highest number of new enrollments — Texas with 1.1 million — as well as North Carolina, with less than half of its residents enrolling. Among the 39 states in the federal marketplace, enrollment was down nationally from 8.5 million in 2018 to 8.3 million this year.

Florida gas prices rise as tensions with Middle East heighten” via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — Tensions in the Middle East are starting to hit the wallets of motorists in the United States. According to AAA, the Auto Club Group, Florida gas prices averaged $2.53 a gallon Monday, up 7 cents over the week. The current hike was expected because of higher oil prices last week, AAA said. But the late-week announcement that the U.S. killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani sent crude oil prices spiking. “Even though the U.S. is producing oil at a record pace, that oil is bought and sold on the stock market, which is heavily influenced by global supply and demand,” Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman, said. “Crude prices rise when there’s a threat of war, because of concerns over how the conflict could hamper supply and demand.”

No O.J. for you! Florida’s welcome centers aren’t so welcoming without free juice” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — For decades, Florida provided orange juice to anyone who stopped at a handful of welcome centers. The freebie was a liquid hello designed to get visitors’ vacations off to a memorable start. Countless families made the welcome center a mandatory stop, toasting their arrival in the Sunshine State with 4-ounce paper cups filled with orange juice. Kids knew pulling over for juice meant the long drive was nearly done. No wonder so many people miss it. The free orange juice stopped flowing in July, though a lot of visitors didn’t notice until the recent holiday travel season.How often do visitors ask, Where’s the juice? “All day, every day,” said T.J. Gilliam, assistant manager at the welcome center on Interstate 95.

— MOTHER NATURE —

Hurricane Dorian: Florida residents help clean up mess left in storm’s wake” via Max Chesnes of Treasure Coast Newspapers — For four months, some Treasure Coast residents have joined with volunteers from around the world to help clean up the mess left in the wake of the historically powerful storm. Youth on a Mission, a Vero Beach service-based ministry, has raised $100,000 and spent 33 days in Marsh Harbour since the hurricane made landfall Sept. 1, said the group’s director Richard Schlitt. Forty volunteers from around the Treasure Coast, ranging from 18 to 68 years old, have worked on the ground with Bahamians and international organizations to rebuild homes, churches and schools, Schlitt said. The ministry group has worked alongside All Hands and Hearts Smart Response, an international nonprofit organization with volunteers from 144 countries.

Treasure Coast volunteers pitch in to help the Bahamas clean up after Hurricane Dorian. Image via TCPalm.

New Audubon site shows bird declines due to climate change” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — In a world that is 3 degrees Celsius warmer, the wood thrush likely would never fly this far south to sing its flutelike songs in Florida. And fat chance of ever hearing the staccato pecks of a redheaded woodpecker. Those are among the scenarios the National Audubon Society warns of, and seen, on the nonprofit’s new Survival By Degrees website. Users can search the site by county or ZIP code to find which bird species in their neck of the woods are most vulnerable to climate change. Two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from the ill effects of climate change, Audubon warns.

Dan Peterson: Aging and neglected sewer pipes are polluting environment” via the Ocala Star-Banner — Here’s a shocking truth. Over the past decade, 23,000 sewage spills have occurred in Florida. As a result, 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater were released to the environment (either into waterways or onto land) due to the failure of aging sewer pipes, lift stations and wastewater treatment plants. More than 370 million gallons of that number were completely untreated. It’s just one of Florida’s obvious environmental problems demanding attention. Even when aging sewer systems do not catastrophically fail, they still leak or exfiltrate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 10-17% of raw sewage leaks directly into the environment and groundwater from aging sewer pipes. In Florida, 1.5 billion gallons of wastewater are treated every day.

— PEACHY —

John Bolton says he is prepared to testify in Senate trial if subpoenaed” via Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post — Former national security adviser Bolton, highly sought by Democrats as an impeachment witness, is prepared to testify in a Senate trial if a subpoena is issued — a move that could be damaging to Trump. The development came as Trump called for a quick end to the impeachment process and congressional Republicans stepped up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to transmit articles to the Senate, allowing a trial to begin in the chamber. Pelosi has been holding on to the documents as Democrats seek guarantees about the scope of a Senate trial, including witnesses.

John Bolton is signaling he would testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

Lisa Murkowski: Decision on impeachment witnesses should wait until after start of trial” via Jordain Carney of The Hill — Sen. Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, supports delaying a decision on which, if any, witnesses should testify until after the start of Trump’s impeachment trial. With that decision, Murkowski aligns herself with the process advocated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and bolsters the chances that Republicans — absent an eleventh-hour deal with Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York — will be able to force through their own impeachment rules. “I think we need to do what they did the last time they did this … and that was to go through a first phase, and then they reassessed after that,” Murkowski told reporters after leaving McConnell’s office.

Maybe Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment delay is working” via Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg — One striking thing about House Speaker Pelosi’s decision to delay sending articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate is that she doesn’t actually have any real leverage. Senate Republicans are free to ignore the articles passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives Dec. 18. Pelosi’s move calls to mind the threat by Sheriff Bart in “Blazing Saddles” to kill himself when he’s about to be lynched. And yet … that’s not quite the end of the story. What Pelosi and House Democrats want is to use the Senate trial to force new information about Trump’s actions to be revealed. Delaying the trial, which might have started this week had Pelosi acted promptly, might achieve that in two ways.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Congress’ health agenda barrels toward 2020 buzz saw” via Adam Cancryn and Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO — Republicans and Democrats are positioned to cut big deals on drug pricing and surprise medical bills — just in time for 2020 electoral politics to drive them apart. Congressional leaders are feeling renewed urgency, but they fear impeachment, and escalating tensions with Iran could swamp the agenda. “If we couldn’t come to a consensus in 2019, it’s hard to imagine for 2020,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, who flipped her district for the first time in nearly two decades. The first test is likely to come within weeks, when a bipartisan group of House members will meet to try to break a lengthy impasse and finalize plans for protecting patients from being charged thousands of dollars if they get out-of-network care.

— 2020 —

A test for Latinos for Trump as Pence heads to heart of Florida Puerto Rican community” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Vice President Mike Pence is heading to Central Florida to hold a Latinos for Trump campaign event in Osceola County, home to Florida’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans. The campaign stop at a non-denominational, Spanish-language church could give Pence an opportunity to woo voters who comprise one of Florida’s most-coveted voting blocs — and also may be one of Trump’s biggest stumbling blocks. While Puerto Ricans have emerged as a crucial swing demographic in a state known for narrow election margins, Trump enters his reelection campaign with the support of barely one in five island transplants. And Central Florida’s politics are different from Miami, where conservative Cubans greeted Pence warmly last June.

Joe Biden secures backing from several swing-state Democrats” via Sarah Ferris of POLITICO — Biden’s presidential campaign won the backing from Reps. Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Elaine Luria of Virginia — three centrists with military backgrounds — as he seeks a breakout moment in the purple state of Iowa next month. All three of the House Democrats referred to Biden’s foreign policy experience, which the former vice president himself has repeatedly touted in the wake of the Trump administration’s killing of Iran’s top military commander last week. “Our country needs a steady hand, someone who can help heal the country, an experienced and proven leader who can build teams with deep expertise and work across the aisle,” Houlahan, who served in the Air Force, said in a statement.

Several swing-state Democrats are lining up behind Joe Biden.

Mike Bloomberg bets early — and big — on Florida” via Matt Dixon of Politico — First came the ads. Then came the staff. Former New York Mayor Bloomberg has spent weeks flooding Florida media markets with ads touting his business acumen and jabbing President Trump, but his operation now is expanding in a state that could make or break the billionaire media mogul’s presidential aspirations. Bloomberg has made a round of key state staff hires. Over the next two weeks, 50 organizers will begin work at more than 20 regional campaign offices across the state. The blitz is part of Bloomberg’s unconventional, skip-the-early-states strategy, which puts its focus on delegate-rich March primary states, including Florida and its 219 delegates. “Florida is a critical March state and key battleground state for beating Donald Trump this fall,” said Bloomberg states director Dan Kanninen.

TikTok wants to stay politics-free. That could be tough in 2020.” via Georgia Wells and Emily Glazer of The Wall Street Journal — TikTok has been flooded with political content in recent weeks, much of it related to Trump’s reelection campaign. Advisers from both major parties now say they are looking at ways to use the app as a platform for reaching young voters. That puts TikTok in a tough position. The company last year banned political ads, and it says it remains committed to its mission to “bring joy” to users. TikTok’s political content is mostly homemade and posted by users, rather than being formal messages from campaigns. “I’m not optimistic that the cat ever goes back in the bag,” said Joseph Seering, a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University who studies content moderation.

— THE TRAIL —

Ford O’Connell’s CD 19 campaign adds Sean Kempton O’Connell, a Republican running for Florida’s 19th Congressional District, announced he’s lured Kempton away from DeSantis’ administration to serve as his deputy campaign manager. Kempton is an alum of DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, where he served as a regional field director for a territory covering six counties in Southwest Florida, including the whole of CD 19. “I’m coming home to join O’Connell’s campaign because I care deeply about Southwest Florida and I don’t want to see this seat fall into the hands of another career politician. Ford is positioned to win, and he will deliver for us in Washington.” O’Connell is one of several Republicans running for the open seat currently held by exiting U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney.

William Figlesthaler ad declares Washington sick, pundits spineless” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “Isn’t Washington sick?” Those are the first words uttered by the Naples urologist in the ad, which depicts him watching a clip of MSNBC before making a candidate pitch. The cable footage shows GOP strategist-turned-MSNBC anchor Nicole Wallace lamenting why more Republicans won’t criticize Trump. Figlesthaler promises both to defend Trump and fight establishment figures in both parties. The physician calls Washington “a disgusting swamp filled with store-bought politicians, spineless media hacks and out-of-touch political pundits. It is imperative that we send a member to Washington who is going to get stuff done and be a leader.” Figlesthaler was among the first candidates to file in Florida’s 19th Congressional District after Rooney announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Oscar Braynon II backs Shevrin Jones as SD 35 successor” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — State Sen. Braynon is endorsing state Rep. Jones as his successor in Senate District 35. Jones is one of six candidates vying to replace Braynon, who is term-limited in 2020. Jones has been the most robust fundraiser among the SD 35 candidates. Braynon’s decision to back Jones could further elevate the West Park lawmaker in the crowded Democratic primary field. “I’m thrilled to endorse my good friend Shevrin Jones in his campaign to represent Senate District 35,” Braynon said in a statement, scheduled to be released Monday. “I have the distinct honor to serve the people of this district and know that Shevrin will fight for all of our interests as our next Senator.”

Wengay Newton to forego another term in Florida House, will run for Pinellas Co. Commission” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Newton will seek the District 7 seat currently held by Ken Welch representing south St. Petersburg. Newton will face Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers and former Rep. Frank Peterman Jr. During an announcement at his 13th annual Appreciation Barbecue at Dell Holmes Park, Newton said he’s running for local office to bring his activism back into the community where he grew up. Newton also announced his legislative aide, Michelle Grimsley, will run for his District 70 seat. Grimsley has served with Newton since July of 2018 after the two met when she reached out to him through her church for community outreach.

Happening tonight:

— LOCAL —

City attorneys request more time to investigate suspended JEA CEO Aaron Zahn” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — JEA’s board of directors will postpone a special meeting scheduled Tuesday to discuss the terms of ousted CEO Zahn’s termination after the city’s Office of General Counsel requested two more weeks to investigate whether the board has grounds to fire him for cause. Although the board has said they intend to terminate Zahn based on his role in several controversies, they’ve yet to decide whether to terminate him with or without cause. The board suspended Zahn with pay Dec. 17, and city attorneys have since begun investigating whether Zahn did anything that would allow the board to fire him for cause.

Feds accuse Miami financier and college-bribery defendant of running DMV scam website” via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — Robert Zangrillo is wrapped up in his second legal scandal with federal authorities in just eight months. Zangrillo was one of 53 people accused of bribing college admissions administrators to let their kids attend top-flight colleges. Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says Zangrillo also has helped run a series of high-profile scam websites. The sites — including the high-traffic DMV.com — purported to be affiliated with state or local governments, but, per an FTC complaint filed in December, actually just took customers’ money and data and directed them to other information that was publicly available online. Zangrillo’s lawyers dispute the charges and claim the FTC has some basic facts wrong, including its claim Zangrillo owns the company.

High-profile Miami real estate developer Robert Zangrillo faces yet another federal investigation. Image via CBS Miami.

What is this urban scrawl? It’s from Miami’s building boom — and it’s not graffiti” via Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald — If it’s not graffiti, or secret code or treasure hunt clues, what exactly is the tangle of spray-painted, multicolored hieroglyphics defacing sidewalks in downtown Miami? Call it urban scrawl. The squiggles, lines, numerals, circles, diamonds, arrows, dots, blobs and Xs — proliferating by the day — are utility markings, used to show electrical contractors, telecommunication companies, water and sewer engineers and construction workers where underground lines, cables and pipes are located. Miami’s building boom, combined with the rapid installation of 5G technology on newly erected poles in hastily patched concrete, has intensified paint mark pollution, especially in denser neighborhoods. It looks like an army of kindergartners has used Miami pavement as its canvas.

Virgin Trains ends 2019 “ramp up” year nearing 1 million South Florida riders” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — Virgin Trains finished November with almost 900,000 passengers — less than half its initial projected estimate. But the company says it is still on track to its goal of 2.9 million riders by 2021. Total ridership through November climbed above 885,000, with 100,627 riders for the month. It was the first-time ridership topped six figures in a single 30-day period since Brightline began South Florida operations in May 2018. But Virgin says it continues to project reaching 2.9 million riders over the next three years in what it is calling its “ramp-up” period. It said it intended to reach 80% of its target ridership in 2020 and 100% by the conclusion of 2021.

4 cars hit by gunfire on I-4, days after 15 cars damaged by air gun” via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — Four vehicles were damaged by gunfire along Interstate 4 in Orange and Osceola counties, after more than a dozen vehicles were struck last week in Central Florida. Monday’s shootings happened about 5 a.m. on a stretch of I-4 westbound near the Osceola County line, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said it is working with Orange County after learning two of the shootings took place in its jurisdiction. In 911 calls, victims described their shock after being shot at. One woman said the sound of her rear window shattering was like an “explosion.” Another caller told dispatchers glass had fallen on his son in the back seat, though the boy was not injured.

Happening today — State Sen. Linda Stewart and Commissioner Rachel Saunders Plakon will hold a news conference regarding the State Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, 11:30 a.m., Orange County History Center, 65 E. Central Blvd., Orlando.

— MORE LOCAL —

Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen warn of ‘information dystopia’ at Palm Beach event” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — “Rich or poor, you have access to more information about any topic facing humanity — in any nation, about any nation — in text, audio or video for free because of the internet,” VandeHei told the audience at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches event. “Everybody in this room has the ability to recall facts and figures that would make a Jeopardy champion blush thanks to Google, for free.” But he argues that the breadth of information actually has the potential to cause more harm than good. “We all should be getting smarter faster. So why is everyone getting dumber quicker?” VandeHei asked. He said that with the abundant amount of information available online and in the media at large, it’s too easy to find information that simply offers confirmation bias.

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei warn against an online ‘information dystopia’ that leans heavily toward confirmation bias.

Rick Kriseman announces eight-week parental leave for employees starting this month” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg city employees will soon have access to eight weeks of paid parental leave. Mayor Kriseman sent a memo to employees Monday announcing the city was expanding its paid parental leave policies up from the previous six-week allotment Kriseman launched in 2015. “Family comes first. This is a belief I’ve always held and an area of leadership where we’ve worked hard to align the city of St. Petersburg’s practices with our values and philosophies,” Kriseman wrote. The policy change takes effect Jan. 15. It applies to any employee experiencing the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. The city is working with its labor relations department to update rules and regulations and any applicable labor agreements.

Tampa General sets record for safe kidney, liver transplants” via Florida Politics — The record 358 transplants is a 42% increase from 2018 and makes Tampa General the No. 6 busiest center for kidney transplants in the country. It also adds to TGH’s reputation as one of the premier transplant hospitals in the nation — by the middle of the year, the facility had surpassed 10,000 transplants over its history, one of about two dozen U.S. transplant centers to hit that mark. The high volume doesn’t only look good on the hospital’s brag board; it’s also vital to patient outcomes. Numerous nationwide studies have shown that high-volume transplant centers offer improved safety records and care for patients, along with lower costs. That has proved true for Tampa General.

— OPINIONS —

Stop suspending Florida driver’s licenses because of unpaid tickets and fees” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Here in Florida, we’ve built a de facto financial prison by routinely suspending the driver’s licenses of people who don’t pay traffic tickets, toll violations and criminal fines and fees. As with debtors’ prisons, a person who can’t drive because of a suspended license may not be able to keep their job. No job means no money to repay what they owe. Suspending licenses satisfies our table-thumping rhetorical instincts: If those deadbeats would pay what they owe, they wouldn’t lose their license! Like a lot of table-thumping rhetoric, that observation fails to consider that not everyone has the luxury of paying a fine right away. If you’re wealthy and get a speeding ticket, you pay up. Problem solved.

— MOVEMENTS —

Greg Black and Brian Jogerst launch new lobbying firm” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Black and Jogerst won’t be working solo anymore. The two lobbyists announced that they have joined forces under the name Waypoint Strategies. “This collaboration allows us to combine our relationships and substantive knowledge to ensure we exceed our clients’ core needs and goals through a smart political and legislative strategy,” Jogerst said. Black added, “Brian and I have worked together, and against each other, on issues for a number of years. After many legislative battles, we both realized we enjoyed that collaboration, and our skillset and work styles complemented each other. It was the perfect synergy and natural next step for our firms.”

No longer working solo, Greg Black and Brian Jogerst are teaming up to launch Waypoint Strategies.

Ken Wilkinson, author of ‘Save Our Homes,’ to retire as Lee Property Appraiser” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Wilkinson won’t run for reelection this year. The decision opens a major political office in Southwest Florida’s most populous county; Wilkinson already suggested he would like to see former state Rep. Matt Caldwell succeed him in office. But Wilkinson’s retirement also means the exit of one of Florida’s most influential voices on tax policy and homeowner protections. “I’m not a revenue agent for government, I’m an advocate for the taxpayer,” Wilkinson told Florida Politics. “I’ve shown that over the years, more than any living Florida citizen.” As part of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, he wrote three constitutional amendments ultimately approves by voters, most notably Save Our Homes.

— ALOE —

Disney World, Disneyland now offering ‘Baby Yoda’-inspired cocktails — but only if you know where to look” via Michael Bartiromo of Fox News — Following the debut of multiple “Baby Yoda”-inspired cocktails, eateries at both Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., are apparently jumping on the bandwagon with their own little green libations. The drinks, which are crafted to resemble the breakout character from “The Mandalorian,” have since been spotted at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney’s Polynesian Village in Walt Disney World and Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel in Disneyland, as first noted by The Orange County Register.“ This is a great example of just how creative and passionate our cast members [employees] are,” a Disneyland representative said in a statement to the outlet.

Baby Yoda cocktails are all the rage.

Universal: Annual passholders get own entrance to theme parks” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Universal Orlando’s annual passholders have a new perk. For January, they will be able to enter Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure through turnstiles dedicated to them at the theme parks’ entrances. The change was included in an email to passholders. It says the entry will be available Jan. 4-31. This weekend the passholder lanes were located on the far left of the entrances of both parks, divided from the other checkpoints by a blue barrier with the UOAP logo. Annual passholders can still use the other lines. Walt Disney World introduced dedicated lanes for its annual passholders in late 2016 as an experiment. They are currently still in use at its four theme parks.

Broke after the holidays? Legoland has quite the deal for Florida’s littlest kids” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — If you’ve got little kids who have a hankering to head to Legoland, start doing your happy dance. Tykes (and adults who actually have access to money) are in for quite a deal this year: The Orlando theme park is offering free admission with something called The Preschooler Pass, available through Feb. 3. The pass is just for Florida kids, ages 3 and 4 only. These lucky ducks get unlimited admission with zero block-out dates for a full year. Act quickly, though: The Preschooler Pass can only be obtained through Feb. 3 at the admission ticket window. Bring a copy of your mini-me’s birth certificate or travel passport. Bring the kid, too, say park officials.

SpaceX launches third batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral” via Florida Today — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the company’s third batch of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday.

— THE LATEST FROM CES —

Samsung’s new Sero TV can rotate vertically for your TikTok and Instagram videos” via Chris Welch of The Verge — The company has announced that the Sero, a 43-inch 4K TV that can switch from landscape mode (the default) to portrait orientation, is coming to the US and other global markets. So, you’ll be able to watch Instagram stories, TikTok videos, Snapchat content, and the portrait video recordings from your camera roll blown up on a relatively big screen — without heinous pillarboxing black bars on the left and right sides. The Sero originally made its debut in Korea but is coming stateside and elsewhere in the West this year.

Tweet, tweet:

HP’s updated Elite dragonfly G2 is the first laptop with a built-in Tile tracker” via Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge — From the outside, the Dragonfly G2 looks virtually identical to its predecessor, which is a good thing, given that the original model looks great. Most of the updates here are mostly to put the spec sheet on par with other modern Windows laptops by adding Intel’s 10th Gen Core processors, including a six-core option. There are also new 1TB and 2TB storage options for those who need more space. It’s the two other configuration options that are most interesting, though. First, a Qualcomm X55 LTE + 5G modem will add support for the next-gen wireless standard (compared to the optional LTE support on last year’s model). The other significant addition is an optional integrated Tile tracker.

Lenovo Yoga 5G promises 24-hour battery life, high performance and internet everywhere” via Joshua Goldman of CNET — The Lenovo Yoga 5G isn’t expected to be available until this spring starting at $1,499. Also, it’ll be called the Flex 5G in the U.S. The Yoga 5G supports both millimeter-wave full-band and sub-6GHz 5G networks, which is good because not all networks are created equally. The laptop itself sounds great, too, assuming the new Snapdragon is better than its past Computer Platform efforts, which were great on battery life, but not so much on performance. Lenovo says the Yoga 5G will get up to 24 hours of battery life, which, combined with its 2.9-pound weight (1.3kg) and bright, 400-nit display, should make this 14-inch two-in-one a great all-day work solution.

This foldable phone will have 5G, a 7.2-inch screen and cost less than the Motorola Razr” via Jessica Dolcourt of CNET — Phone brand TCL is working on a foldable phone that will cost less than the $1,500 foldable Motorola Razr flip phone. The phone is relatively square and opens in the center to reveal a 7.2-inch plastic display bordered by thick black plastic bezels. There’s no selfie camera on the inside, but it does have a strip of four cameras along the back. Unlike other foldable phones, this one has enough tension to stand up on its own and any stage of the fold. Because of the relatively square shape, it felt natural to hold it in both orientations. I could even see sitting it up and using one half of the screen to type on.

An affordable foldable phone is on the horizon.

Amazon wants Fire TV in more cars and devices” via Ina Fried of Axios — Amazon’s Fire TV Edition for Automotive will offer a road map for carmakers that want to put Amazon’s TV software into back-seat entertainment systems. BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automotive will be among the first to offer such systems, Amazon said. A similar program for internet service providers aims to make it easier for them to offer Fire TV Edition devices to their customers. Amazon is already working with Verizon in the U.S. and Tata in India. Amazon said it expects more than 150 Fire TV Edition devices in more than 10 countries to be available by the end of the year. Lamborghini is adding Alexa to its Huracán EVO this year.

Qualcomm eyes self-driving cars with Snapdragon Ride Platform at CES 2020” via Shara Tibken of CNET — The San Diego wireless chip giant unveiled its first Snapdragon Ride Platform to make it easier and more power-efficient for automakers to turn their vehicles into self-driving cars. It packs in everything from the hardware to the software needed to run autonomous vehicles, including artificial intelligence technology, power-efficient hardware, and a compact design. The Snapdragon Ride Platform will help with automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist functions, automated highway driving, self-parking, urban driving in stop-and-go traffic, and fully autonomous driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Diane Roberts and Jonny Torres. 

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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