On Thursday, Florida Politics first reported about these three storylines: the latest developments in the professional life of former lobbyist Adam Corey; a former state Senator filing a $10 million lawsuit against the Tampa Bay Times for defamation; and the Department of Management Services exiting its arrangement with Motorola Solutions as the vendor for the next generation Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System.
Mind you, these are not life-or-death stories. These are very inside-the-bubble stories tailored for a specific audience. Yet, a few years ago, at least a couple of other news organizations would have followed-up our reporting with their own. And in doing so, they probably would have fleshed out even more information. The Tallahassee Democrat should be interested in whatever Corey is doing as he was at the center of the controversy that engulfed Andrew Gillum and Tallahassee’s City Hall.
Is Corey having a new job in Amsterdam front-page news? Probably not. But an enterprising reporter could have made hay out of it.
A while back, if Jose Lambiet or Florida Playbook had the scoop about Joe Abruzzo suing the Times and reporter Steve Bousquet, it would have screamed from the top of their websites. And if Abruzzo was suing any other newspaper other than the Times, it would have been the top item on “The Buzz.”
But those outlets are shuttered or have changed hands, so it’s more of a “Zzzz” than a buzz.
As for the wonky item about DMS canceling a nine-figure negotiation with Motorola, it’s hard to believe that the food fight over that contract all but shut down the Legislature in 2016. Today, there hasn’t been a report from any other news outlet about DMC cancelling the contract.
My point here is not to trumpet a trio of scoops; everyone at the top of the reporting game gets their scoops in. Matt Dixon of POLITICO had one on Friday about the Ron Rubin harassment case. Ana Ceballos of News Service of Florida broke the news about a possible compromise among Florida lawmakers over the issue of E-Verify. Since moving to the Orlando Sentinel, Jason Garcia seems to pull a scoop out of his pocket every week.
And I’m not complaining that other outlets aren’t piggybacking on our reporting. That’s fine with me. We’ll take the traffic. We’ll take the advertisers.
No, my lamentation is that there is hardly anyone left in Tallahassee guarding the chicken coop. It’s the start of Session, and if you went by the coverage you read in traditional newspapers, you’d be forgiven if you thought the Legislature was still on the schedule of convening in March.
The great John Kennedy of Chorp had the front-page story for more than a dozen newspapers on Sunday. His framing of the upcoming sixty days as an election-year Session is a solid overview, just as you’d expect from one of the Capitol Press Corp’s finest writers.
But once you get past Kennedy’s story, there’s not much there in the Jacksonville Times-Union (which, to its credit, has been doing meritorious work covering local politics) or the Naples Daily News or the Ocala Star-Banner or the Palm Beach Post or any of the Gatehouse Gannett USA TODAY newspapers.
I can’t believe that’s what their readers want. Especially not in this era, which is as politically charged as any in America’s peacetime history.
Imagine, if you will, if the newspapers had a special section on Sunday that led with Kennedy’s table-setter, but then included one piece from each of the Gatehouse Gannett USA TODAY newspapers that had a regional starting point but also a statewide hook.
Maybe the Times-Union reporter talks to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who happens to be from that region. Perhaps the NDN reporter talks to the future Senate President, who is in NDN’s backyard, about her expectations for the Session. Perhaps one of the newspaper chain’s reporters based in South Florida interviews the House Democrat leader who is from that part of the state.
Put all of that — and much, much more — together and remind readers and lawmakers about the extraordinary power of the media to shape the narratives of Session.
Ah, if only Mike Fernandez would bankroll me …
Anyway, until a few years ago, the Tampa Bay Times had a special offering like this in its Sunday Perspective section. It was called something like, “For a better Florida …” or “For a better Legislature …” and it was a collection of reports, features, and op-eds advancing the Legislative Session. It was the kind of newspaper section that you put off to the side so that you could pay appropriate attention to it when you had the time.
Unfortunately, the Times no longer publishes the Perspective section, much less that special section.
BUT … IN THAT SPIRIT … I asked Florida Politics reporters and contributors to, in addition to their already incredible work, produce as many curtain-raisers as possible in advance of the Session. We’ve already started publishing them on FloridaPolitics.com, while most of them are going live Monday morning.
However, here is our collection, which I guess I’ll frame as: “For better coverage …”
“Teachers, tourism & environmental spending: a preview of Ron DeSantis’ agenda for 2020 Session” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — The budget includes “bold and meaningful” educational reform elements in what is being called The Year of the Teacher. These include radical and controversial changes in teacher compensation that make up $900 million of an extra billion dollars in FEFP education spending. All told, spending would rise to $300 per student, reaching $7,979 per capita. The Governor envisions $600 million for new teacher pay, pushing minimum salaries up to $47,500 in every district. The House has indicated resistance on this front, with Speaker José Oliva and Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings spotlighting resistance.
“Nikki Fried wants action on guns, conservation and climate” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Fried is putting her support behind several proposed bills ranging from retaining fingerprints from concealed carry applicants to aims to reduce food insecurity in Florida’s schools. The first comes from Sen. Oscar Braynon II (SB 1566) and Rep. Javier Fernández (HB 809). Those measures allow the state to retain fingerprints whenever a person applies to renew his or her concealed carry permit. Fried’s office oversees those applications. She is repeating calls for a $500,000 grant that would go toward food recovery. Fried is also backing Democrats’ calls for action on climate change, which would be addressed via several different pieces of legislation.
“Bill Galvano wields gavel with signature civility one last time” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “My plan right now is to be the best possible Senate President that I can and empower the Senators,” he said. It’s representative of the philosophy of a Senate President known as much for his dedication to a smooth process as he is to rigid philosophical goals. And yet, Galvano’s first Session as Senate President saw an expansion of school vouchers, a ban on so-called sanctuary cities, restrictions on amending the Florida Constitution. Some of these were issues that had failed to move in the Senate for years, even when Republicans held a much wider majority than convenes there today. But as Galvano describes the proceedings, he’s just opening a path for his members to carry bills forward.
“Rob Bradley optimistic about 2020 Legislative Session” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — “The Senate and the House aren’t that far apart on major budget issues. We kind of have a template with last year’s budget — both sides were comfortable with where we ended up last year. So, I don’t see huge shifts from last year’s budget,” Bradley noted. Of course, there are areas of House and Senate disagreement. One such is the Governor’s $600 million proposal to raise the base salary for teachers to $47,500 per year, a controversial canard that has gotten criticism from unlikely comrades: the teachers’ union and the House. Bradley disagreed that the proposal may be stalled.
“Tom Lee reflects on another Session, open primaries and ‘political weeds’” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Lawmakers will try to grapple with rising Medicare and Medicaid costs that Lee said are “major cost drivers in state budgets and businesses.” “We are under a lot of pressure to create more competition in the marketplace,” Lee said. He serves as Chairman of the Committee on Infrastructure and Security. It had hearings on sea-level rise and mass violence in Florida. He said the committee would soon roll out a bill that will include what he called “some common-sense gun safety provisions.” That’s a lot to do in 60 days, and the tradition lately has been to take the part of the bill a lawmaker likes and hold their nose about the rest.
“Jeff Brandes leads the way on criminal justice reform in 2020 Legislative Session” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes sponsored 18 bills for the 2020 Legislative Session relating to criminal justice reform including reducing mandatory sentencing requirements, early prison release efforts for certain qualifying inmates and reforms to the juvenile justice system. “We think these are areas where we have more competency in policymaking,” Brandes said of his slew of bills. Among his efforts is a package of bills aimed at diverting more individuals from state prisons, a fight Brandes has been waging with bail bond agents for years. Two bills (SB 550 and SB 552) would change the state’s criminal points formulas to allow judges to have more discretion in how to sentence criminals and to carry out those sentences in nonstate facilities like county jails.
“Kathleen Passidomo optimistic members will work toward one another’s priorities in Session” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “My priority is to make sure my caucus and their priorities are front and center,” the Naples Republican said ahead of the Legislative Session’s start. That includes her own priorities, of course. The Southwest Florida Senator has been excited to see DeSantis focus so much political energy on water quality. That has meant some record spending on Everglades restoration, and she anticipates more funding this year. But she expects issues like school safety, criminal justice reform and infrastructure to be key issues, too. She’s especially hopeful something can be done in Florida’s beleaguered prison system, one she thinks houses many people who should be on different paths.
“Joe Gruters focused on preserving Florida’s superior business environment” how can it’s via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The chair of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee will take on some big lifts this year. He hopes to convince colleagues Florida should start assessing online sales taxes, holding polluters more accountable for sewage spills, and funding VISIT FLORIDA. “We still have an economy based on tourism,” Gruters said. That’s likely to be one of the big fights of the session, with House Speaker José Oliva making clear he thinks VISIT FLORIDA is a waste of money. But chairing a committee focused on tourism, Gruters stands with tourism leaders across the state in supporting Florida’s de facto tourism agency’s continued existence. “At the end of the day, when we have a limited budget, everything becomes competitive,” the Sarasota Republican said.
“Lauren Book seeks protections for women, vulnerable students as 2020 Session nears” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Book identified a trio of bills that will be among her top priorities as the Session readies to kick off. On Jan. 6, Book filed the first of those bills (SB 1470), which would require express consent before a pelvic examination is performed on a female patient at a hospital. “In teaching hospitals, it has apparently been a practice where they perform pelvic examinations on women without their express consent or knowledge and don’t tell them after the fact,” Book said. “People are like, ‘What? This is not real. This is not possible.'”
“Kionne McGhee expects plenty of ‘red meat’ from GOP in 2020 Session” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — “This is an election season,” McGhee noted. “For political gain, what they would do, to be honest with you, I don’t know. But I am expecting that a lot of red meat will be used this Session in order to turn out political bases.” In addition to leading his party into the fight, McGhee has some goals of his own, one of which seems to have bipartisan support. One goal is a measure (HB 251) that would allow college athletes to make money off their likeness. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates those athletes, has rules barring students from doing that. “It’s a fairness bill,” McGhee said. “It’s also my personal priority.”
“Chris Latvala’s 2020 legislative agenda is all about child welfare” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Latvala’s top priority in this year’s Legislative Session is Jordan’s Law, named for young Jordan Belliveau. In Jordan’s case, the warning signs of abuse and neglect were all there, but they went either ignored, unchecked, or swept under the rug. Latvala’s bill (HB 43) would provide a way to notify law enforcement officers when they are dealing with someone who is the subject of an open child welfare investigation. It would require anyone who responds to child welfare cases to undergo training on how to identify traumatic brain injury. It also would increase oversight of how children are reunited with parents, create a pilot program to install specialized caseworkers for children under six, and reduces social workers’ caseloads.
“Jason Fischer talks vacation rentals, drones, and dissolving ‘corrupt’ cities” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — 2020 sees Fischer again carrying several bills. One such piece of legislation: HB 1011, a bill that would preempt local regulations on short-term rentals, leaving the regulatory authority with the state. Fischer notes the “patchwork quilt” of local regulations, saying his bill would offer “clarity and consistency” statewide to what currently is a muddled mosaic of laws varying from one town to another. The Jacksonville legislator also seeks to expand the use of drones with a bill (HB 659) that would allow state agencies, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to use the unmanned aircraft over swamps and other people-free places where invasive species and other nuisances have proved problematic.
“Jackie Toledo has a bold agenda for the 2020 Session” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Toledo is pushing several bills focusing on public safety, transportation and health care reform and is proposing several funding requests to support affordable housing, increasing STEM education in Hillsborough County public schools and conservation and restoration for Florida’s environment and natural resources. One of Toledo’s most aggressive bills seeks to reform the Pharmacy Benefit Manager program in the state. Toledo’s legislation aims to crack down on what she describes as overcharges on prescription medication caused by predatory practices among PBMs who serve as pharmacy middlemen established to facilitate claims approval for medications that require authorization in real-time.
“Nick DiCeglie packs 2020 legislative priorities with pro-business initiatives” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — “I’m very excited for the 2020 Legislative Session and am looking forward to being part of another historic Session where we will once again lead the United States in transformative, conservative policies that will continue to attract residents and businesses to our great state,” DiCeglie said. One measure (HB 441) seeks to increase opportunities for businesses to bid on public projects. “For example, a City plans to update the paint in all of their city-owned buildings. Those are technically multiple, but almost identical projects. The City can lump them together, as a continuing contract to paint the Library, the Fire Station and City Hall,” DiCeglie explained.
“Here’s what Tampa Bay leaders are watching for during the 2020 Legislative Session” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — This year, local governments are eyeing funding projects for museums, hospitals and other amenities as well as legislation that supports building new infrastructure, preserving and honoring remains lost in abandoned cemeteries and preserving funding intended for affordable housing that has for years been pilfered by other projects. The city of Tampa’s top budget priorities this session includes protecting the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. For years lawmakers have been raiding the fund to pay for other state projects, leaving affordable housing initiatives lacking funding that should have gone to those projects. The city of St. Pete also lists preserving Sadowski as a top priority.
“Southwest Florida wants to keep its influence growing and its water flowing” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The region is home to some of the area’s most powerful state lawmakers, from Senate President Galvano to Republican Party of Florida Chair Gruters to Senate Republican Leader Passidomo and House Republican Leader Dane Eagle. So what does the region need this Legislative Session? As much as it can get. “In appropriations, we need to come together and bring back as much as we can,” said Gruters. Gruters knows representing a community next door to Galvano’s Bradenton home had made it easier to secure funding this year, but sees a future soon where that influence wanes a little bit. In the meantime, he’s pushing for what he can with road improvements to Interstate-75, environmental spending, and economic attention.
“Criminal justice reformers looking for ‘second step’ following 2019 success” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Removing some mandatory minimum sentences, earlier possible releases for model behavior and aggravated assault resentencing didn’t make last year’s cut. But Republican Sens. Brandes and Bradley want to revitalize those measures — and have the Senate’s support. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee, led by Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry, has already passed most priorities in pre-Session meetings. And Bradley, a former prosecutor, chairs the Appropriations Committee, a panel critical for bills that change the justice system’s expenses. Brandes filed 18 criminal justice bills ahead of the Session. His package includes giving judges broader sentencing discretion (SB 550 and SB 552) and increasing the amount of possible gain-time inmates may earn each month (SB 572).
“Republicans focusing abortion efforts on parental consent bills” via Renzo Downey Florida Politics — The Legislature looks set to come out swinging on Republicans’ parental consent for abortions proposal Wednesday, the Session’s second day. But that proposal, which would require minors to get parental consent before obtaining abortions, is about as far as Republican leaders are willing to go on the issue. No other abortion regulation proposal, including Rep. Mike Hill’s heartbeat bill (HB 271), has yet received a committee hearing date. Senate President Galvano indicated abortion bills other than parental consent would be tougher to pass. But the parental consent measure, an apparent Republican priority that has been expedited through pre-Session meetings, likely will.
“Take 2: Film production rebates back for 2020 Legislative Session” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A proposal by state Sen. Gruters, SB 530, would create what many consider a conservative film production program — it requires studios to apply ahead of time and adhere to a long list of requirements, including holding 70% of filming days in Florida and 60% of those on the job must be state residents. If everything measures up, a production could receive a rebate for the lesser of $2 million or 20% of their qualified expenditures, which include wages paid to Floridians as well as equipment rental costs and catering bills, so long as the money goes to a Florida-based business. Industry advocates say these elements in the program ensure the required positive return on investment for the state.
“10 bills filed for the 2020 Session that will make you go ‘Hmm’” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — HB 319 — A Florida guide to a healthy marriage. HB 613 — Intellectual freedom in state universities. HB 341 — Bible study in schools. Critics question whether the measure is constitutional, separation of church and state and all. HB 335/SB 908 to elect the President by popular vote. HB 6001 — Relating to guns on campus. The bill “eradicates the gun-free zones of college campuses.” HB 271 — Abortion. Senate Memorial 1652 — To add another U.S. Senator to any state that has more than 6 million population. HB 119 — Sensory Deprivation Tanks. HB 635/SB 756 — Donor Breast Milk. Senate Resolution 214 — White Nationalism. If anyone votes against this resolution or fails to put it on the agenda, well, shame.
“Tallahassee businesses see fewer profits with January start dates of Legislative Session” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Lawmakers attract plenty of other visitors to the state Capitol, including lobbyists, community activists, and special interest groups. But a pattern has emerged in the years since the dates have started alternated between March and January, said Kerri Post, executive director of Visit Tallahassee. Post said all their tourism indicators such as hotel occupancy and the number of visitors appear to show there’s a weaker economic impact to the Tallahassee area when it convenes at the beginning of the year. Post said that their tourism indicators show economic activity for a March-April Legislative Session is 10-15% higher, compared with a January start date.
“Associated Industries of Florida to celebrate 100 years at annual pre-Session reception” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — players from the legislative process gather for one last reprieve before putting their heads down for 60-day Session. “AIF is excited to be hosting our annual reception honoring the Florida Legislature …” AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney said. “This year, we are celebrating 100 years of serving as the voice of Florida’s business community; and what better way to kick off the 2020 Legislative Session than to have thousands of our friends and colleagues in the business community come together for this time-honored tradition on the eve of Session.” This year, AIF is backing DeSantis’ proposed $91.4 billion budget and its $300 million in tax cuts. AIF also supports environmental restoration, to affordable housing and hurricane recovery plans and more laid out in the budget.
“John Legg: Teacher pay, student performance must be Job One for 2020 Session” via Florida Politics — Lawmakers should tackle increased teacher pay along with equally significant, yet less covered education issues, such as how to address Florida’s stagnant school performance and how to close the educational opportunity gap for all students. After witnessing significant gains from previous decades, the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores among 4th- and 8th-grade students dropped from 2017, the last time the test was administered. Also, Florida’s math scores did not move at all for both groups.
Here are links to some of the curtain-raisers from the state’s newspapers:
— “10 issues to watch during the 2020 Session” via Jim Saunders and Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida
—“Back in Session” via John Kennedy of the USA Today Network
—“Florida’s 2020 legislative preview” via Amy Keller of Florida Trend
—”Florida’s GOP Legislature might buck DeSantis in his second year” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO
—“Florida lawmakers convene in Tallahassee next week. Here are the issues to watch.” via Emily Mahoney, Lawrence Mower and Elizabeth Koh of the Tampa Bay Times
—“Florida Matters: Previewing the 2020 Legislative Session” via Robin Sussingham and Christy Oshana of WUSF
—“From coconut patties to guns, lawmakers ready for Session” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press
—“Here are nine key things to watch for during the 2020 Legislative Session” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel
—“Local legislators gear up for Session” via Tom McLaughlin of the NWF Daily News
—“The key issues entering the 2020 Legislative Session” via Lynn Hatter of WUSF
—“DeSantis drives agenda as lawmakers take on teacher pay, abortion, school safety and more in 2020 Session” via Gray Rohrer and Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel
—“DeSantis goals: teacher pay, E-Verify, environmental action” via The Associated Press
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
On the eve of the Session, thousands of teachers will converge on The Capitol to push for better education funding. While DeSantis is recommending close to a billion dollars in new money for salaries and bonuses, the Florida Education Association says it doesn’t go far enough, though it’s a good start.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— The Florida Sierra Club releases its report card on the Gov.’s first year in office. Although DeSantis has received glowing reviews on environmental issues, after eight years of Rick Scott, it’s almost impossible not to do better.
— Bear poachers are in the crosshairs. A bill seeking to increase penalties for people who kill bears out of season is already moving in the Legislature. There is no season now, and there hasn’t been a legal bear hunt in Florida in almost four years, but poaching is a problem — thanks to sky-high prices in China for bear bile and gall bladders.
— State Rep. Byron Donalds is a pro-Donald Trump, pro-gun, anti-abortion Republican running for Congress, which is nothing unusual. However, he is African American, making him something of a political unicorn.
— Today’s Florida Woman update: A former beauty queen accused of keeping the Social Security money that was supposed to pay for her mom’s nursing home.
To listen, click on the image below:
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@BarackObama: Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico can use our support after this week’s earthquakes. They’ve shown their enduring spirit over the past couple years, and it’s up to us to pull together for one another once again. I hope you’ll support their recovery
—@MarcACaputo: I trust @jdawsey1 reporting, but I wonder if jealous WH sources are more angry than their boss & making stuff up. @repmattgaetz said on Tucker [Carlson] last night he checked w/Trump who said he had no hard feelings. (Sen [Rand] Paul similarly checks w/POTUS)
—@EWarren: Florida teachers are rallying for fair pay and better funding for schools, and they won’t be intimidated or undermined. I stand with the teachers — and I’ll fight so that teachers get the fair pay and well-funded schools they need and deserve.
—@LoriBerman: As we enter what I like to call the 60 most dangerous days in Florida (Legislative Session), we truly have an opportunity to make things right. Increase teacher salaries with commensurate pay for veteran teachers, comprehensive gun control, climate change resiliency and mitigation, Medicaid expansion & mental health funding, etc. Florida has a budget of over $90 billion — we can achieve all this and more if we set our priorities straight!
—@CindyPoloFL103: Stop thinking good fundraisers automatically equate good lawmakers!! When you work for the People and not special interests, it’s about sweat and hard work. NOT just checks. Maybe that’s why GOVT is so messed up!
See you in 2 months HD2 pic.twitter.com/DPziR3hPxC
— Alex Andrade (@RAlexAndradeFL) January 12, 2020
— Trent Phillips (@TrentPhillips_) January 13, 2020
Thank you!! 😭 pic.twitter.com/4vAhsRUZdl
— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) January 13, 2020
—@DJGroup: If you have not bought @KevinCate stock yet, will put in a kind word for you, before it … surges.
—@EversTre: Big win for @FeamanPeter being reelected as Florida’s National Committeeman 102-71
—@AGGancarski: Can’t believe Bestbet is still using the Ally McDeal character. I’m assuming Ally McBeal still has cultural cachet in Northeast Florida?
—@SMarstiller: # Find some time to just be quiet. Spend a few minutes in silence, let your mind wander, see what comes to the surface.
— DAYS UNTIL —
2020 Session begins — 1; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 1; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 1; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 2; Sundance Film Festival begins — 10; “Star Trek: Picard” premiers — 10; Annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit — 13; New Brexit deadline — 18; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 20; Great American Realtors Day — 21; Iowa Caucuses — 21; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 26; Capitol Press Corps press skits — 29; New Hampshire Primaries — 29; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 29; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 37; Roger Stone’s sentencing — 38; Nevada caucuses — 40; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 41; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 43; South Carolina Primaries — 47; Super Tuesday — 50; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 60; Florida’s presidential primary — 64; “No Time to Die” premiers — 88; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 127; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 165; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 182; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 186; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start — 193; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 218; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 224; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 268; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 276; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 283; 2020 General Election — 295.
— TOP STORY —
“Could Florida teachers rallying at the Capitol be punished for a strike?” via Emily L. Mahoney and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — As Florida lawmakers prepare Monday for the looming start of the 2020 Legislative Session, thousands of teachers are expected to descend upon the Capitol with a call for improved support of public education. The “Take on Tallahassee” rally, sponsored by the Florida Education Association, has generated plenty of enthusiasm among educators who say they’ve felt ignored and dismissed for too long. It also has raised a question among some observers: Shouldn’t those teachers be at work that day? Florida law is crystal clear that organized work stoppages by public employees, such as teachers, for the purpose of trying to change their work conditions are not allowed. In other words: strikes.
“Polk teachers could be fired if they attend education rally in Tallahassee, state lawyer says” via Leslie Portal of the Orlando Sentinel — The top attorney with the Florida Department of Education is warning that if 1,600 Polk County teachers take a day off to attend an Florida education rally in Tallahassee on Monday, their action could constitute an illegal strike, and they could be fired. The attorney’s warning, in an email sent to the Polk school district late Friday, created a furor over the weekend, with many educators and parents posting angry messages on social media, arguing the state and the school district were scheming to keep down attendance at a legal gathering.
“Road closures planned for public education march, rally in Tallahassee” via the Tallahassee Democrat — With thousands of teachers and others expected to protest for more funding for Florida’s public schools, the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) will close two of the main thoroughfares around the Capitol. Monroe Street will be closed between Gaines Street and College Avenue, and westbound Apalachee Parkway will be blocked to traffic at the Franklin Boulevard exit, according to Officer Damon Miller Jr. The closures will be in effect from 1 p.m. till around 4:30 p.m. for the “Take on Tallahassee” march and rally. “Motorists are encouraged to avoid the area and take alternate routes,” Miller said in a Sunday news release. “TPD will advise when the roadways reopen.”
— DATELINE: TALLY —
“New survey shows unusually strong support for DeSantis’ teacher pay initiative” via Karen Cyphers for Florida Politics — We asked 1,000 Florida voters what they thought of DeSantis’ proposal to raise base teacher pay from about $37,600 to $47,500. Overall, an overwhelming majority (84%) of Florida voters support the Governor’s proposal. Just 8% disagree. That’s better than 10-to-1 support, almost unheard of in today’s divided and divisive political environment. Only 8% are unsure. Looking only at those who expressed an opinion on the matter, the portion in support is even higher: 92% of them support the measure. This is the case among 97% of Democrats, 92% of nonpartisan voters, and 85% of Republicans. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Floridians believe these raises will “improve the quality of teaching in Florida.”
Assignment editors — DeSantis will make a major announcement, joined by Ambassador John Rood, 9 a.m., Florida State College at Jacksonville, Advanced Technology Center Building, Room T140 & T141, 401 West State Street, Jacksonville.
“Democrat lawmakers plan to counter DeSantis’ State of the State address with progressive plan” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The group plans to unveil its Sunrise Agenda, which is a series of proposals aimed at building a Florida that works for all Floridians, not just what they describe as the wealthy and well-connected. “The tone-deaf majority has lorded over our state government for some twenty years plus and has failed to lead on the issues that matter to everyday Floridians,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson. “Instead, the bend has been toward those with buckets of money. The Sunrise Agenda gives Floridians a government that works for them.” Gibson is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Reps. Anna Eskamani, Carlos Guillermo Smith, Dianne Hart, Fentrice Driskell, Geraldine Thompson and Shevrin Jones.
“Tougher gun laws could cause legislative divide” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — As lawmakers prepare for Session, Republicans are split on how — or even if — to address one of the nation’s most divisive political and policy issues: guns. Two years ago, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed gun-control laws for the first time in decades. Now, Senate President Galvano, who played a key role in crafting the 2018 legislation, wants to go further and shut down what he and many other people consider loopholes in state laws regarding background checks and gun sales. “There are myriad things in play, but the background checks are very much being looked at,” Galvano said in a recent interview.
“Possible E-Verify compromise emerges” via News Service of Florida — The bill, filed by Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd, would require government employers — such as state agencies and county school districts — to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to check the legal eligibility of new workers. Private employers, other than government contractors, would not be mandated to use the E-Verify system.
“A simple exit strategy for Republicans in beach access battle” via Steve Bousquet of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Scholars at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law who studied the issue describes a “sandstorm of controversy” driven partly by frenzied media coverage. As the authors write: “One reason for repealing the statute would be to eliminate the confusion it has created. A repeal without further action, however, seems likely to produce conflicting and confusing counter-narratives — narratives opposite to those narratives generated by the statute. These would likely be infected by the same distorted understanding of the statute.” Two years ago, many legislators had no idea what they were voting on until HB 631 became law and by then, it was too late. They shouldn’t be allowed just to stick their heads in the sand.
“Proposed cut could save consumers $2.1M in state communications taxes, more in local taxes” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Florida customer buying phone service or video or audio streaming services pays state Communication Services Tax (CST), local CST and gross receipts tax. Proposed legislation (SB 1174/HB 701) would drop the state CST rate, 4.92%, to 4.9% while lowering most local rates. The combined Florida CST rate, with gross receipt and state taxes, is currently 7.44% — which doesn’t count varying local taxes. Florida last dropped its CST rate in 2015. The legislation would cap local rates at 5% next year, making an effective maximum statewide rate of 12.42%. But in 2022, the state would mandate a 4% rate, if any, for municipalities and charter counties and 2% for non-charter counties.
“Motorola Solutions out as next-gen SLERS vendor?” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — After months of uncertainty, the Department of Management Services is ditching Motorola Solutions as the vendor for the next generation Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System. The move comes after DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter gave the company an ultimatum. In a letter sent late last month, Satter told Motorola CEO Gregory Brown that the company could either agree to the terms DMS had put forward, or the department would yank the contract. Motorola didn’t agree, and on Thursday, Satter followed through. “Since Motorola has failed to execute a contract as a result of the competitive procurement, the Department will initiate conversations with stakeholders to evaluate options and move toward the new procurement of a next-generation system.”
State settles Ronald Rubin harassment complaint, but other battles continue — The Office of Financial Regulation employee who filed a sexual harassment complaint against former OFR head Rubin has received $150,000 from the state. Separately, another lawsuit has been filed by Rubin claiming CFO Jimmy Patronis mischaracterized one of the sexual harassment complaints against him, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. It also alleges Patronis was part of a “criminal enterprise” attempting to solicit campaign contributions from Rubin’s father. Patronis’ Chief of Staff, Peter Penrod, rebutted the lawsuit, arguing it contained “far too many misleading statements and outright falsehoods to independently address.”
— LEGISLATION —
“Brandes files (another) criminal justice reform bill, this one to reduce sentences for re-offenders” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — His latest bill (SB 1716) seeks to reduce sentences for former inmates who reoffend within three years of being released from prison. The measure would allow qualifying inmates to apply for a resentencing hearing to reduce their sentences. People who are considered prison release re-offenders faces tougher penalties than first-time offenders. The bill maintains that consequence, but provides a path to reduce mandatory minimums under that provision slightly. The measure would reduce life sentences to 25-years, first-degree felony minimums from 30 years to 20 years, second-degree felonies from 15 to 10 years, and third-degree felonies from five to three years.
“FAFSA bill among flurry of last-minute education legislation” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Sen. Janet Cruz has filed legislation (SB 1550) that would require all high school students, beginning with the Class of 2025, to file a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to get their standard diploma. The bill is identical to one filed by Rep. Richard Stark in the House. Cruz said her measure has become necessary considering current events. Too many stories have emerged about Floridians who take loans they can’t repay to attend unaccredited, for-profit colleges that prey upon peoples’ lack of financial savvy, she said.
“Kelli Stargel education bill adds dollars for schools” via Kimberly Moore of the Lakeland Ledger — A bill proposed by Stargel would, among several things, provide additional funding to school districts. The proposal includes: Giving permanently to 29 school districts additional funding that they have received for the past two years temporarily. Mandating that any county surtax passed in the future for school building projects be shared proportionately with charter schools. Increasing full-time equivalent funding for students dual-enrolled in college. And providing a minimum of $100,000 for mental health services for each school district, in addition to $100 million the governor has requested from the legislature for the entire state.
“Law proposed ensures health care for expectant mothers behind bars” via Blaise Gainey of WUSF — West Park Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones wants to ensure pregnant incarcerated women are given proper medical attention. He’s filing a bill named in honor of Tammy Jackson, a former Broward County Jail inmate who was forced to give birth in solitary confinement last April. Last year lawmakers approved another bill by Jones to help incarcerated women. It ensures they receive feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes, and other sanitary products for free.
“Insurers could face new limits on use of genetic information” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — Insurance companies would be barred in Florida from using genetic information now widely available through such popular services as 23andMe and Ancestry, under legislation filed by House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls, who said the ban is needed as a consumer protection, safeguarding both privacy and access to life, long-term care, and disability insurance. “It’s kind of a new frontier of privacy,” Sprowls said. “As more genetic tests are done, you want to make sure that we protect them from having that information used inappropriately in a life or disability insurance situation.”
“These bills would help the environment” via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm — There are several pieces of proposed legislation that, combined with a significant chunk of money in DeSantis’ proposed budget, should go a long way to pleasing the glass-half-full types. Like the Indian River Lagoon it’s designed to protect, Senate Bill 712 is lauded by the half-fullers for being broad — with measures to deal with pollution sources including septic tanks, leaky sewer systems, sewage sludge and farm fertilizer runoff — but chided by half-emptiers for being a missed opportunity for doing much more.
“Bill filed to repeal controversial HB 631” via Tom McLaughlin of the NWF Daily News — The bill shredded Walton County’s customary use ordinance and afforded private owners, many of whom hold deeds to the mean high water line, the right to call out beachgoers for trespassing on the dry sand behind their homes. Chaos ensued. Law officers still don’t know exactly how to enforce the trespassing provisions, and public works officials were told they couldn’t pick up garbage in some beach locations. But state Rep. Brad Drake, who represents Walton County, wasn’t the lawmaker who introduced the legislation. That fell to state Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Hollywood. Jenne said he would meet with Northwest Florida lawmakers this week to gauge their support for his repeal bill.
“Ed Hooper bill aims to lower costs for mobile homebuyers” via Florida Politics — A bill filed by the Clearwater Republican (SB 818) would make several changes to the cost of owning a mobile or manufactured home. At the top of the list is a sales tax exemption for the domiciles. Under current law, the entire purchase price of a mobile home is subject to sales tax, which can add up quick for such a large purchase. Hooper’s bill would make it so buyers only must pay sales tax on half the purchase price of a mobile home. And, if the mobile home is intended to be permanently affixed to a lot, then the exemption would cover the full purchase price. The bill will be heard today in the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee.
“Tom Wright wants EMS to save police dogs when possible” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Senate Bill 842 is the next effort by Wright to raise support for police K-9 dogs. SB 842 authorizes both public and private services to transport wounded or injured police or fire department dogs, and to treat them, provided there are no wounded or injured humans around needing the services first. The Republican from Port Orange said it’s currently illegal for public EMS and paramedics to take K-9s to an animal hospital.
“Lawmakers to try again to ease restrictions on wine containers, craft distilleries” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Floridians could soon buy wine bottles that rival the size of toddlers. There are several bills introduced for this Session that aim to relax regulations surrounding beer, wine and craft distilleries. Attempts to get these through previous Sessions have been unsuccessful. Currently, state law prohibits selling more than a gallon of wine in a single container. A bill (HB 6037) sponsored by Republican State Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point would repeal that restriction. That would allow wine bottles in much bigger sizes. The standard size is 750 milliliters, which is about five servings. But the bill introduced by LaMarca and others open the door to containers holding the equivalent of 6,8, or 12 bottles of wine.
“David Smith bill would increase penalties for bear poaching” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Smith’s HB 327, increasing criminal penalties for the illegal taking, possession, and selling of bears, is moving quickly through House committees, having been approved by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, it now heading for a hearing by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. The issue has emerged both because the Florida black bear population has grown significantly and because there is an international market, particularly in certain Asian countries such as China, for bear bile as folk medicine. Overseas it sells for thousands of dollars per gram. In the past five years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission criminally charged 22 people with bear poaching and issued warnings to five others.
— TODAY IN THE CAPITOL —
Assignment editors — A joint meeting of House Commerce, Education and Judiciary Committees will discuss equal treatment of all student-athletes and compensation for use in their name, image and likeness, 11:30 a.m., 212 Knott Building (Webster Hall).
Assignment editors — Senate Democratic leader Gibson and members of the Democratic Caucus will hold a news conference to announce a major education initiative, 12:15 p.m., Senate Democratic Office Conference Room, 200 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education Commission meets to consider SB 1088 from Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., which seeks to increase teacher pay, 1 p.m., 412 Knott Building.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SB 1114 from Sen. Bill Montford, to provide yearly cost-of-living raises to state employees who meet performance standards, 1 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee meets to consider SB 1128), from Sen. Diaz Jr., which would prevent local regulation of vacation rental properties, 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider funding for several projects, 3 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee meet to consider several bills on local projects, 3 p.m., 306 House Office Building.
The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider funding for several programs and projects, 3 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.
The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets to consider funding for several projects, 3 p.m., 404 House Office Building.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 630, from Sen. Debbie Mayfield, which allows cities and counties to regulate smoking in city-owned public parks, 3:30 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Education and Natural Resources Committee meets to consider SB 7016, which creates a Statewide Office of Resiliency in the Governor’s Office as well as a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force, 3:30 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building.
The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee meets to consider SR 214 and SR 222, resolutions to condemn white nationalism and white supremacy, 3:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building.
— PRE-SESSION FUNDRAISING RUNDOWN —
State Sen. Lori Berman — 4 p.m., Florida Dental Association, 118 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee.
State Reps. Scott Plakon and Rene Plasencia — 4 p.m., Jacob’s on the Plaza, 101 South Adams Street, Tallahassee.
State Reps. Melony Bell, Tommy Gregory, Anthony Sabatini, LaMarca, David Smith, Mike Beltran, Toby Overdorf and Alex Andrade — 5 p.m., DoubleTree Hotel, 101 S. Adams Street, Tallahassee.
State Reps. Jason Shoaf and Jay Trumbull — 5 p.m., The Governors Club, Capital Room.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg — 5 p.m., the home of former Rep. Irv Slosberg, 121 N. Monroe St., Apt. 1208, Tallahassee.
FRSCC Welcome Back Reception 2020 with Senate President Galvano and President-Designate Wilton Simpson, as well as Sens. Ben Albritton, Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Bradley, Brandes, Doug Broxson, Diaz Jr., Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Gruters, Gayle Harrell, Hooper, Travis Hutson, Lee, Mayfield, Leader Passidomo, Keith Perry, President Pro Tempore David Simmons, Kelli Stargel and Wright — 5:30 p.m., DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel — Ballroom, Tallahassee.
State Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez in her bid for the Florida Senate — 511 N. Adams St., Tallahassee.
Florida Senate Victory with state Sen. Audrey Gibson and Gary Farmer — 6 p.m., The Governors Club, Library Room.
State Reps. James Buchanan, Mike Caruso, Lawrence McClure and Josie Tomkow — 6 p.m., Il Lusso, 201 East Park Avenue, Suite 100, Tallahassee.
Speaker Oliva, Speaker-Designate Sprowls and state Rep. Paul Renner host State Reps. James Grant, Cord Byrd, Bobby Payne, Jayer Williamson and Shoaf — 6 p.m., The Governors Club, Governors Board Room.
State Sen. Diaz Jr. and Better Florida Education PC — 6:30 p.m., 511 N. Adams St., Tallahassee.
State Rep. Ray Rodrigues in his bid for Florida Senate — 6:30 p.m., 511 N. Adams St., Tallahassee.
Republican Alex Rizo, in his bid for House District 110 — 6:30 p.m. 511 N. Adams St., Tallahassee.
State Rep. Bryan Avila — 6:30 p.m., 511 N. Adams St., Tallahassee.
— AIF RECEPTION —
Associated Industries of Florida’s annual pre-Session reception is back again this year, giving those in The Process a brief (but stylish) reprieve before jumping headfirst into the 60-day Session beginning tomorrow.
Once again, Uber is making things a bit more convenient for the annual soiree; riders can enjoy a free trip (up to $10) to and from the 2020 AIF Reception. Just the Uber promo code AIF2020 to redeem.
Due to the lobbyist gift ban, this offer is not available to public officials and employees.
The exclusive event starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday at AIF Headquarters, 516 North Adams St.
Well known as the “Voice of Florida Business,” AIF is a commanding presence in Tallahassee and the halls of The Capitol. Each year the enterprise association chases down several priorities that typically seek to better business in the Sunshine State.
— STATEWIDE —
“Clemency fight is moot after Amendment 4 vote, court rules,” by News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam: “As a legal battle continues over a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons in Florida, a federal appellate court Friday ended a separate, bitterly fought challenge to the state’s clemency process. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided the lawsuit, filed in 2017 on behalf of James Hand and eight other convicted felons, was moot because Florida voters in November 2018 approved the constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to felons who have completed terms of their sentences.”
“Why are so many women and Hispanics serving outdated drug sentences in Florida prisons?” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Women, Hispanics and residents from a handful of counties were given lengthy prison sentences for trafficking prescription painkillers at higher rates than other Floridians. The analysis examined an estimated 935 prison inmates who are serving mandatory sentences of 15 and 25 years that are no longer in state law because the Florida Legislature has since eased the penalties for their crimes. National research has found that women in state prisons are more likely than men to be serving time for drug offenses. Since 1978, the number of women in state prisons nationwide has grown by more than 800% — double the pace of men. Researchers have cited the war on drugs as a driver of that explosion.
“Taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars on Scott Israel report — that Florida Senate ignored” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida taxpayers are on the hook for more than $87,000 to cover the services of a former state lawmaker who served as the state Senate’s special master, with most of the cost stemming from the case involving the removal of Israel as Broward Sheriff. A Dec. 26 bill from Dudley Goodlette, amounting to $72,090, brings the total cost of time and travel for Goodlette and his associate to $87,130. The lawyers’ hourly rate was $225. In September, Goodlette said DeSantis hadn’t proved his case. In October, the Senate voted 25-15 to uphold the suspension.
— MOTHER NATURE —
What did he do? — U.S. Rep. Brian Mast has always stayed close with environmental activists, some who doesn’t mingle often with the GOP. But when the Stuart Republican agreed to keynote an event for the Everglades Coalition Conference, that set Southwest Florida conservatives off. Michael Thompson noted online that Mast spoke Friday, the same night a “Conservationist of the Year” award was given to Jaclyn Lopez in Captiva. The honor came because Lopez coordinates campaigns focused on protecting imperiled species and ecosystems. But she’s also Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has on its website a Pledge of Resistance labeling President Donald Trump “an unprecedented threat to our nation’s democracy, health and environment.” Mast’s office, for its part, made clear his attendance was no endorsement of the Center, and he would have no role in handing the award to Lopez. “Congressman Mast was invited to speak at the Everglades Conference, which is a non-partisan event, and is attending to discuss his efforts to secure federal funding for Everglades restoration projects,” he said in a statement to BizPAC Review. “He is not presenting an award to anybody.” But his presence agitated activists in one of the most pro-Trump regions of the state. Thompson organized a group of protestors before the event to question why Mast support the dinner and speak there. “Brian Mast has to go,” Thompson wrote on Facebook, noting other left-leaning groups also connected to the event.
“League of Cities takes aim at crisis in water quality and supply” via Laura Cassels of Florida Phoenix — Rebecca O’Hara, the League’s Deputy General Counsel, told reporters that Florida faces a “water quality crisis and water supply deficiencies” that must be addressed now to meet future water needs for human consumption, wastewater treatment, agriculture and environmental sustainability. “This need is gigantic,” O’Hara said, calling for “a comprehensive and need-based assessment” of Florida’s water needs and a plan to secure funding to improve quality and expand capacity at the state, regional and local levels. She said the state’s approach to water management is too often political and based on “crisis management” rather than being based on identified needs, objective criteria and intergovernmental partnerships and coordination.
#DEPNews Fl. DEP has acquired a 3,562 acres conservation easement, which is part of the Williams Wetland Preserve.This protects many plant & animal species and increases wildlife movement- it's a conservation win!🏆 We thank the Williams family for supporting #floridaforever ☀️ pic.twitter.com/sqUyOQrNif
— Florida DEP News (@FLDEPNews) January 11, 2020
— D.C. MATTERS —
“U.S. plans expulsions of at least a dozen Saudi military students whose colleague killed three at Pensacola naval base” via Devlin Barrett and John Hudson of The Washington Post — Federal law enforcement and military officials are preparing to announce developments in the case in a matter of days. The FBI has been treating the shooting as a terrorist incident, particularly after discovering an anti-American screed posted by the gunman just before the shooting. Several of the Saudis were found to possess child pornography, while others were found to have been a part of a social media conversation that included alarming support for extremism, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.
— 2020 —
First in Sunburn: FDP rolls out billboard campaign ahead of Mike Pence visit — With Vice President Mike Pence set to headline a “Latinos for Trump” rally in Kissimmee, the Florida Democratic Party is looking to remind voters of the Trump administration’s track record following Hurricane Maria. The party on Monday put up a billboard featuring Trump tossing paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans during a trip to the island following the devastating storm. Accompanying the image are the words “PROHIBIDO OLVIDA” — or “never forget” in English. FDP is betting the ad will make an impact in Osceola County, where the Puerto Rican population saw a 22% spike in the aftermath of Maria. “When the Americans in Puerto Rico needed Trump the most, he threw paper towels at them instead of releasing federal emergency funds,” FDP Executive Director Juan Peñalosa said, adding that the billboard is part of a campaign to highlight the Trump administration’s “broken promises.”
“Will Puerto Ricans new to Florida swing state to Democrats?” via The Associated Press — The Trump campaign is aggressively courting the Hispanic vote, especially religious conservatives, in Florida. Traditionally, Puerto Ricans on the mainland have been considered stalwart Democrats. But — as shown by the unexpected Puerto Rican support of Scott in the 2016 U.S. Senate race — such generalizations may not hold in 2020. Democratic-aligned voter registration group have been blanketing Polk County, and the I-4 corridor, hoping to sign up tens of thousands of new voters. According to the Florida Secretary of State, there were about 107,600 newly registered Hispanic voters in 2019. A majority — 46% — were registered as NPA. Thirty-three percent registered as Democrats, and 18% as Republicans.
“’They could be influenced.’ Why Donald Trump’s Iran moves matter for Florida’s Jewish voters” via Alex Doherty of McClatchy DC — His rhetoric after the 2017 Unite the Right rally — Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” after a neo-Nazi drove a car into counterprotesters and attendees chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was widely condemned. Now, Iran has complicated the picture even more. Authorizing the strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and then vowing to use sanctions instead of further violence to punish Iran after it attacked U.S. bases in Iraq could help Trump’s standing with Jewish voters in Florida — and around the country — who care deeply about Israel and Middle Eastern affairs.
“Barack Obama campaign guru: Trump would love to run against Bernie Sanders” via Natasha Korecki of POLITICO — Jim Messina predicted that Trump would exploit Sanders’ stamp of socialism in battleground states needed to defeat Trump, keep control of the House and have a shot at winning the Senate. “If I were a campaign manager for Donald Trump and I look at the field, I would very much want to run against Bernie Sanders,” Messina said. “I think the contrast is the best. He can say, ‘I’m a business guy, the economy’s good and this guy’s a socialist.’ I think that contrast for Trump is likely one that he’d be excited about in a way that he wouldn’t be as excited about Biden or potentially Mayor Pete or some of the more Midwestern moderate candidates.”
“Two polls frame the Democratic race and the power of African American voters” via Dan Balz of The Washington Post — The latest Iowa poll conducted by J. Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Register and CNN shows Sen. Sanders now leading there with 20 percent support, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent and Joe Biden at 15 percent. The other poll tells the other side of the story. The Washington Post conducted this one along with Ipsos. It represents one of the most extensive surveys of African American attitudes about the 2020 campaign. When viewing the race through the prism of the African American vote, it’s a different story. Among black Democrats, Biden stands at 48 percent.
“U.S. probes if Russia is targeting Joe Biden in 2020 election meddling” via Chris Strohm of Bloomberg — The probe comes as senior U.S. officials are warning that Russia’s election interference in 2020 could be more brazen than in the 2016 presidential race or the 2018 midterm election. Part of the inquiry is to determine whether Russia is trying to weaken Biden by promoting controversy over his past involvement in U.S. policy toward Ukraine while his son worked for an energy company there. A Kremlin strategy to undermine Biden would echo its work in 2016, when American intelligence agencies found that Russia carried out a sophisticated operation to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately help Trump, according to the officials.
“Around the country in 17 hours with Michael Bloomberg” via Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times — There is a way that people generally run for president. And there is whatever Bloomberg is doing. Looking past Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on the delegate-rich contests that come in the months that follow, Bloomberg is betting that his zag-while-they-zig electoral strategy and functionally bottomless resources can make him the standard-bearer of a Democratic Party whose 2020 primary has been defined in part by progressive disdain for the billionaire class. It is not quite, as admirers present it, that Bloomberg is a chess-master whose opponents play checkers; he is more accurately working to bury the board with a gusher of cash so overpowering that everyone forgets how the game was always played in the first place.
“This is what the Democratic presidential primary looks like in Florida right now” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Compared to the large apparatuses getting all the attention in early nominating states like Iowa and New Hampshire, the campaign efforts so far in the nation’s largest battleground are minuscule. And they don’t come close to the massive, well-funded machine to reelect Trump. But the footprints for the Democratic candidates are growing here as their campaigns grapple with the likelihood that the nomination won’t be decided by the time Floridians cast ballots March 17. It means Florida’s Democratic voters could be in a strange position: They might have a say in picking the party’s nominee. That hasn’t happened since 1992.
“Florida GOP officials slam state chair Joe Gruters, Republican leadership” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The Republican Party of Florida is taking heat from current and former county GOP leaders for what they claim is a pattern of ignoring and stonewalling local parties. A former state committeeman from Lafayette County claims the party repeatedly held up requests for information on the party’s annual audit. An Escambia County GOP vice chair resigned out of frustration because he said he was prevented from joining the Trump campaign. And a Brevard state committeewoman claims dozens of party members were disqualified from voting the day before a membership election. Their main complaint is that the state party ignores local party committees, dictates which candidates can run in local races, and has a stranglehold on fundraising.
— THE TRAIL —
“Democrats attack Carlos Gimenez as ‘el corruptito’ ahead of U.S. House campaign” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — With Gimenez telling people he’ll roll out his campaign Wednesday, the Florida Democratic Party released an ad that criticizes some of Gimenez’s actions during his decade as the strong Mayor of Miami-Dade County and refers to Gimenez as “el corruptito.” “Once upon a time in Miami, a man of power, a man of fame, a politician, abused his power to make himself and his family rich, and that man’s name is Corrupt Carlos Giménez,” says the unnamed narrator. The ad — developed in the weeks after Gimenez first signaled his interest in a possible campaign for Florida’s 26th Congressional District — highlights Gimenez’s 67 percent pay raise in 2019 after taking a pay cut when he was first elected during a recession.
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
“Jim Boyd enters 2020 with massive war chest as Amanda Linton turns to small donors” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, entered the race in August and since that time raised $179,025. Of that, a good $32,757 has already been spent on consulting, advertising and media. That’s more than Linton, a Hillsborough County teacher, raised in 2019. In the race since July, she pulled in $12,214. That includes $2,654 raised in December. Some $1,000 came from Manatee County philanthropist Susan Shirkey. The rest of it came from small donations, mostly from within the district. In contrast, Boyd continues to draw on big-money players around the state.
“As 2020 begins, Javier Fernández‘s lagging bid for SD 39 could invite a primary” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Pinecrest Vice Mayor Anna Hochkammer had initially attempted to run for the seat. And she started strong, pulling in more than $100,000 in her first month as a candidate. However, Hochkammer’s campaign was cut short a few months later. Enter state Rep. Fernández, who quickly earned the backing of the entire Senate Democratic caucus. Despite that support from leadership, Fernández has failed to match Hochkammer’s monthly high of $100,000. A failure to meet that lofty bar wouldn’t be as troublesome if the GOP’s candidate of choice, state Rep. Rodriguez, hadn’t repeatedly either exceeded or approached that number.
“Joe Harding maintains lead in HD 22 contest” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Harding kept pace with Russ Randall in December, maintaining his lead in the Republican primary to succeed term-limited Rep. Charlie Stone in House District 22. Harding added an even $6,000 in December, bringing his overall fundraising total to $123,000 since entering the race in February. Spending has been light so far, leaving him with about $118,000 in the bank heading into January. His total includes $14,200 in candidate loans. Randall came in just behind with $5,235 in new money, including max checks from Chiropac PC and Douglas Murphy, an Ocala physician. The report brings his to-date total to $91,579. Less $1,747 in spending, he has $89,831 banked.
“Chuck Clemons, Kayser Enneking start 2020 with $100K+ in the bank” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Republican Rep. Clemons and Democratic challenger Enneking each finished 2019 with more than $100,000 in their campaign accounts, new campaign finance reports show. Clemons is running for a third term in House District 21, which covers much of Alachua County as well as all of Dixie and Gilchrist Counties. In December, the incumbent raised nearly $50,000 — $31,350 in hard money and another $18,000 through his affiliated political committee, Florida Shines. Clemons entered 2020 with $108,500 in hard cash banked and $67,000 in his political committee. Enneking, who filed for the seat on Sept. 30, added $17,365 to her campaign account last month, bringing her to-date total to $111,140 through three months in the race. She also has about $20,000 in her political committee, Florida Knows Excellence.
“Make it four straight: Rhonda Rebman Lopez again leads HD 120 monthly fundraising to close out 2019” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rebman Lopez joined the race in September and has led her opponents in fundraising every month since. She’s competing in the Republican primary against attorney Alexandria Suarez and Islamorada Councilman and former Mayor Jim Mooney. Lopez ended 2019 with more than $162,000 raised in four months as a candidate. She’s seeking to replace term-limited GOP state Rep. Holly Raschein. Lopez will enter 2020 with nearly $155,000 still on hand. That’s more than enough to put her ahead of the rest of the HD 120 field.
“HD 114 candidate Demi Busatta Cabrera makes a mark in first month with $56K haul” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Busatta Cabrera entered the contest in early December and blew away her opponents in terms of fundraising in her first month as a candidate. Democrats Jean-Pierre Bado and Michael Hepburn are also competing in HD 114. Bado collected just $2,000 in December, giving him more than $14,000 raised since joining the race in November. Hepburn, meanwhile, added less than $900 in his first month as a candidate for HD 114. Hepburn had initially sought a rematch against U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala in Florida’s 27th Congressional District. The two competed for the Democratic nomination in CD 27 in 2018. Hepburn eventually swapped over to run for state House instead.
— LOCAL —
“Dollar amount of offers for JEA remain a mystery” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — How many billions of dollars would Jacksonville have gotten from selling the “crown jewel” of city government? NextEra Energy, Duke Energy, Macquarie, and American Water all redacted how much they would pay for JEA by putting heavy black lines through that part of their offers. The city’s Office of General Counsel is reviewing the justifications made by the companies for the redactions. Assistant General Counsel Kyle Gavin said he would research whether court rulings support keeping the dollar amounts in the offers from being released. “I’d be surprised if that ultimately is confidential, but they’re claiming that it is,” Gavin said.
“Again, two prominent Jacksonville breakfasts will simultaneously honor Martin Luther King Jr.” via Beth Reese Cravey of the Florida Times-Union — For the second year in a row, Jacksonville will have two major Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfasts Friday, but some community leaders said having dueling events is not necessarily a bad thing. Thirty-two years ago, the first King breakfast was founded by the Jacksonville NAACP, the Urban League and JAX Chamber, according to local NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin. Later the chamber pulled out, and, at the NAACP’s invitation, then-Mayor John Peyton agreed to the city becoming a sponsor, Rumlin said. So in 2019, the group organized its own event and will continue to do so “until we can come to some type of agreement” that includes civil rights groups being the lead sponsors,” he said. “If the city wants to join us, we would love that.”
“Seminole commissioners applied pressure to reject controversial River Cross development, according to testimony” via Martin Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — The morning after a Seminole County advisory board rejected plans in mid-2018 for the controversial mega-development River Cross, the panel’s chairwoman received an angry phone call from former county commissioner Randy Morris. “He was screaming at the top of his lungs,” Michelle Ertel testified in a deposition as part of a federal lawsuit filed by developer Chris Dorworth after county commissioners followed up on the decision by the planning and zoning commission, an advisory board, and rejected the development within the county’s rural area. “It was screaming and cussing to the point where I just hung up on him,” Ertel said.
“Boca Raton will consider ending its medical marijuana ban” via Lois Solomon of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — City Council member Andy Thomson wants to end the city’s ban on dispensaries, which has been in place since 2014. At his urging, the City Council will introduce a law to allow the stores in commercial districts. Thomson said city residents should not have to travel to find medical marijuana, especially since they are already sick. He said his mother has lived with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years and wonders how her life could have been improved if marijuana were legal years ago. “I can’t help but think life would have been different for her,” Thomson said.
“Trulieve sues investment company for libel after it slams marijuana grower in scathing report” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Trulieve filed a libel suit in Gadsden County against Grizzly Research, a short-sell company that posted a scathing report about the state’s largest purveyor of medical marijuana. The report alleged the company overinflated the value of its crops, rigged the political system to get its medical marijuana license somehow, and failed to disclose ties to an ongoing federal corruption probe that involves the spouse of the company’s CEO. Immediately after the report was made public, Trulieve’s stocks took a one-day 23 percent nose-dive to a low of $9.18 on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE). Just as the stock was beginning to recover to previous levels, it dipped again after investors filed a class-action lawsuit against the company. It closed at $10.10 Friday.
“Vero Beach man sentenced to 90 days in jail after spitting on man wearing ‘MAGA’ hat, court rules” via Max Chesnes of TCPalm — Judge David Morgan accepted a no-contest plea and determined Matthias Ajple, 43, was guilty of battery on 67-year-old Robert Youngblood. Surveillance footage released Nov. 6 showed Ajple place what appears to be a paper towel on the head of Youngblood, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat at the Hurricane Grill & Wings, 943 15th Place in Vero Beach. Several moments later, the video shows Ajple spitting on the man, according to sheriff’s deputies. Youngblood told a deputy he was sitting with two friends in the restaurant when Ajple walked over and said, “You should go back to Russia you … communist,” according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s Office arrest affidavit.
— OPINIONS —
“Will the Legislature support vital Florida businesses — or foreign businesses?” via Scott Shalley for the Miami Herald — The Legislature must act now. Since the rise of the internet, consumers have gradually moved from shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores to find what they need online. Many Florida retailers — always aiming to meet the needs of their consumers — have expanded their online platforms and services. Consumers can now easily support their favorite Florida stores in person or online. Florida’s tax laws have not been modernized as quickly. As a result, foreign and out-of-state businesses are able to avoid collecting and remitting taxes on Florida consumers’ purchases. Florida is one of just two states that has not fixed this problem. Until we do, Florida retailers will continue to lose out to the foreign businesses.
“Will 2020 be the year of the teacher in the Legislature?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The Governor’s ambitious proposal calls for raising the minimum salary for teachers by nearly $10,000. Any bold goal comes with messy details, and this one is no exception. DeSantis has not directly addressed how to ensure veteran teachers are fairly treated, and a fair minimum salary does not compress the salary range between beginning teachers and more experienced ones. Teacher pay is set by each school district, not the state. And it’s unclear what would happen to collective bargaining between each school district and its teachers’ union. But those are issues lawmakers can work out if they aim high, and it will be up to the Governor to make sure they do.
“Teachers need money — and more — to be successful” via Mandy Clark for the Tampa Bay Times — As the Florida Legislature works with the governor to hash out the details of a teacher compensation package, we urge a comprehensive approach to equip teachers with the conditions for student achievement. By working with school districts, experts, researchers and teachers who achieve exceptional results, Impact Florida has codified the “Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching” school leaders can engage to support excellent instruction. In addition to improving teacher compensation, we encourage state leaders to make sure they are supporting Florida school district leaders to address all five conditions.
“Why doesn’t Tallahassee care about justice?” via Daniel Ruth of the Tampa Bay Times — If the Governor goes ahead in his quest to execute Death Row inmate James Dailey, all of that blood on DeSantis’ hands could make those bill-signing ceremonies a bit messy. Dailey has been imprisoned for more than 30 years, even though prosecutors could not produce a single piece of physical evidence. Jack Pearcy, a friend of Dailey’s, has admitted to killing the girl alone and is serving a life sentence. Dailey awaits his last meal. DeSantis has at least three years left in his term. Dailey isn’t going anywhere. What the governor can do is order an exhaustive review of the case.
“Desmond Meade, Neil Volz: Session offers hope for Florida’s returning citizen community” via Florida Politics — This year’s Legislative Session will see increased involvement in the policymaking process by Florida’s returning citizen community. Amendment 4 received the majority of votes in every House district in Florida because voters in each of those districts had a loved one that deserved a “second chance.” Voters throughout Florida understood that giving someone a “second chance” also meant giving our communities the opportunity to be great. When returning citizens are given the opportunity to vote, to work, and to have housing, every Floridian benefits. When returning citizens are given the opportunity to shoulder their fair share of taxes, build a business, buy a home, and contribute to our economy, Florida will thrive even more.
“Legislature has one more chance on voting rights” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The court was right to give lawmakers another chance to fix the mess they created with their narrow implementation of Amendment 4. The easiest option would be to change the state’s voter registration form to allow felons to declare themselves as indigent. Other options include allowing felons on payment plans to vote or waiving costs as a precondition to voting. The whole intent of Amendment 4 was to help felons reintegrate into society. But lawmakers created hurdles that effectively maintained the status quo. This Legislative Session offers a face-saving opportunity to respect the voters’ will before the federal courts do it for them.
“Change law to follow voter intent on felon voting rights” via Pat Frank the Tampa Bay Times — When Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4 to automatically restore voting rights to those who have completed all terms of their sentences, I doubt many realized that 90 percent of fines, fees and court costs are never paid. After all, voters thought they were removing a barrier to voting, not erecting a new one. So what’s the solution? The Florida Legislature should amend the law so anyone convicted of a felony reclaims the right to vote upon the completion of their prison sentence, parole or probation. Those with past convictions would still be required to pay outstanding obligations, including restitution, even as they are allowed to vote. That would remove the unconstitutional financial barrier and maintain the judge’s original sentence.
“Is this the year Florida lawmakers stop diverting affordable housing money to other uses?” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — For 12 straight years, the Florida Legislature has taken at least half of the money set aside for affordable housing in the Sadowski trust fund and spent it in other areas. With skyrocketing rents across the state and income levels that don’t match up, that money is more needed more than ever for its intended use. Legislators should follow Gov. DeSantis’ recommendation this Session, spend the full amount on affordable housing and address the crisis the state has ignored for years. Spending the full amount on affordable housing would be significant. In 2019, Pinellas County received about $1.4 million from the trust funds. It should have received $11.7 million. It’s the same story in Hillsborough.
“Emmett Reed: Are we ready? The Legislature must make nursing centers a top priority in 2020” via Florida Politics — As we enter Session, it is crucial that lawmakers don’t neglect the seniors living in our state’s nursing centers. To ensure that this continues, legislators must properly fund our state’s nursing centers to keep pace with wages and other rising costs. Florida’s nursing homes have been under a rate freeze since 2016, with no increases in their rates even to keep up with inflation. The Legislature provided a one-time $138 million boost in the 2018 budget, and that certainly helped — but that funding expired, and providers once again find themselves operating at 2016 funding levels. The ability of nursing centers to recruit and retain quality staff is directly connected to the level of quality care they can provide.
“Life insurers should not get your DNA” via Chris Sprowls for the Tampa Bay Times — Already in state and federal law, health insurance companies cannot access genetic testing results outside of what is already included in an individuals’ medical history when assessing rates or coverage. Unfortunately, that same prohibition does not extend to life insurance, disability or long-term care companies. In fact, some genetic testing companies can sell consumers’ information to these third parties. In turn, it is conceivable these life, long-term care or disability insurance companies could alter, deny or cancel any policies based on the results of genetic testing.
“Chip LaMarca: PACE offers Florida families added flexibility, safety” via Florida Politics — One of the key reasons why I support the PACE program is because it gives people the flexibility to make upgrades to their homes, with the ability to repay those costs over time at an affordable fixed-interest rate. With PACE, interest rates typically range from 4% to 8%. That’s a steal compared to what most credit cards or personal loans charge, often upward of 20%. Better yet, eligibility for PACE is based primarily on a property’s equity — not an applicant’s credit score. That makes PACE an attractive option for many families who have built up equity in their homes but are not in a financial position to make a large down payment to get a project started.
“Human trafficking fight has an unlikely new ally: Pinellas bus drivers” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — Bus terminals are known to be a favorite hunting ground for human traffickers seeking young people who are on their own. So it makes sense that bus drivers are now on the lookout for victims of trafficking, say officials with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. The bus agency recently launched an initiative dubbed “Eyes of the City” to teach its nearly 400 drivers how to identify passengers who may be victims of trafficking, child abuse or domestic violence.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Joe Abruzzo sues Tampa Bay Times for libel, defamation” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Abruzzo sued the Times and reporter Bousquet for a “smear campaign” against him. The Boynton Beach Democrat seeks $10 million damages. The complaint revolves around a 2017 article publicizing tweets by Abruzzo’s estranged wife, Brandy, whom he has since divorced. “The false statements and scandalous tweets are, standing alone, unsettling and disturbing,” reads the complaint. “But, when published to the Tampa Bay Times’ 240k plus readers, they are offensive, insulting, humiliating, demeaning, and damaging to Plaintiff Abruzzo and his reputation.” The lawsuit, filed on Dec. 24, called Bousquet and Times editors unapologetic for the story.
“The Capitolist gets fresh coat of paint, staffs up for Legislative Session” via Florida Politics — Those who visit The Capitolist on Monday will notice a few changes. The site helmed by Brian Burgess has been revamped with a fresh, mobile-friendly design that was previously only available through The Capitolist’s iOS and Android apps. Enhancements are also coming to the breaking news feed, which has been redesigned to include icons to speed the skimming of news stories. But the changes aren’t only skin deep. Though The Capitolist has stepped back for a breather in the months since the unfortunate loss of lead reporter John Lucas, who died in August, it has unveiled a new lineup of reporters heading into the 2020 Legislative Session. Alyssa Parker will give the outlet a presence in the Capitol, while Maggie Clemmons will focus on money and influence in politics.
— ALOE —
“‘Jeopardy!’ contestant James Holzhauer whiffs on FSU team colors” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — The answer was, “This birthstone is in abrasives for polishing and grinding. The color pairs with gold as an official one for Florida State.” “Jeopardy!” contestant Holzhauer, one of the three most successful contestants ever on the show, didn’t know the answer and lost out on 10,000 points on the third match night of the “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament. Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are amid a three-person game tete-a-tete-a-tete to determine exactly what the name of the tournament suggests: which player of the answer-and-question game is the best of all time. The 10K flub didn’t help Holzhauer’s cause, as he ended up losing to Jennings in the third night of the tournament.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Rep. Charlie Stone, attorney Tony Glover (be sure to check out his REGULATED podcast), Francisco Gonzalez, the director of philanthropy at the National Review Institute, Toni Smith Large of Uhlfelder & Associates, attorney Matt King, Marco Pena, Chester Spellman, the director of AmeriCorps, Kyle Ulrich of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, and Lucy White.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.