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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.13.20

Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

One could be forgiven for thinking the Legislature was considering a slate of controversial proposals this year.

The first half of the 2020 Legislative Session has been fraught with press conferences on parental consent for abortion and backroom conversations on the political consequences of E-Verify.

Yet, according to St. Pete Polls, neither issue is a poison pill — Florida voters are overwhelmingly in favor of both, and more.

The abortion bill that’s created a rift among House Democrats is backed by 63% of Florida voters, more than double the 31% who oppose. Full E-Verify — meaning no exemptions for private employers — is also above water by a 2-to-1 margin, 60%-28%.

Both issues sit atop the priority list for the ever-popular Gov. Ron DeSantis, but despite rating him nearly as high in poll after poll, voters aren’t taking all their cues from his platform. In fact, there’s at least one area where Floridians disagree with the Guv: the minimum wage.

The St. Pete Polls survey showed 62.5% of voters would vote in favor of a hike to $10 — and eventually $15 — an hour when they head to the polls in November. That’s more than the 60% required for passage, but not high enough to be considered a lock.

Voters were less unified when on another 2020 amendment, which purports to keep the state Constitution “clean” by requiring two rounds of voting for future amendments. It registered 54% support with 27% opposed and 19% unsure.

Sentiments on professional sports stadium funding were murkier. About 48% said they don’t want to pump tourist taxes into arenas, while 32% said it was in bounds. A fifth didn’t make a judgment either way.

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Good news about a great personPersonnel note: Converge GPS adds Anna Alexopoulos Farrar” via Florida Politics — Converge GPS has brought on a new Senior Public Affairs and Communications Director. The public strategy firm is announcing it selected Farrar for the position, which includes taking a leading role with the firm’s campaigns and public affairs and communications clients. Alexopoulos Farrar most recently served as a Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, one of the highest positions within the office.

Congratulations to Anna Alexopoulos Farrar, newly hired at Converge GPS.

Her prior experience includes serving as a communications director for the CFO’s office. She has also worked at a public relations agency and spent most of her career working in the communications, public affairs and political realm, having cut her teeth at a young age in Broward County politics.

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Fresh off embargo — “Pro-Donald Trump re-election efforts raise over $60M in January” and have more than $200 million on hand for this year’s general election, shattering fundraising records on the path toward a goal of raising $1 billion this cycle. The Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s campaign have raised more than $525 million since the start of 2019 together with two joint-fundraising committees.

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First in Sunburn: Mike Bloomberg makes key Florida hires — Bloomberg’s Florida team is announcing new leadership hires, which includes veteran Florida political strategist Brice Barnes, who will serve as a Senior Adviser to the campaign. Barnes is one of the region’s most renowned political strategy and finance professionals, best known for her work with Democratic candidates and causes. Additional members of the Florida leadership team include Political Director Will Washington and Constituency Director Lindsay Pollard.

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Another Bloomberg get in Florida — Rep. Ted Deuch, a Boca Raton Democrat, is expected to endorse Bloomberg today. Expect Deutch, whose district includes Parkland and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community, to cite the former New York Mayor’s work on gun control, including backing groups like Everytown for Gun Safety.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Members of the House Education Committee approved a bill to turn New College into a branch campus of Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic goes to the University of Florida.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The House and Senate take up their respective budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The Senate wants to spend about $1.5 billion more than the House.

— Lawmakers spent a lot of time in the first half of the Session talking about regulating vaping. Still, the House has just come up with a new plan NOT supported by either the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association.

— Rep. Chip LaMarca talks about compensation for college athletes, butts on the beach, the size of wine bottles, and being a red representative in a bright blue county.

— A Florida Man who stopped a deputy to ask for directions ends up in jail.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JohnPodesta: What happened? YOUR Justice Department closed the case because, unlike your pal Roger Stone, my brother didn’t lie to Congress, intimidate a witness, and obstruct a federal investigation.

@MikeMemoli: On Capitol Hill today, @WhipClyburn with a vote of confidence for @JoeBiden in SC. Says of his ‘firewall’: When I left there, it was strong.” On results in IA and NH: “If he finishes in fourth in a demographic that doesn’t reflect the electorate then it is not that important.”

@DaveWeigel: Deval Patrick did not run the shortest 2020 presidential campaign. The title belt still belongs to Richard Ojeda, who ran for 75 days; Patrick ran for 89 days.

@BaseballCrank: So Max Boot, who only recently became a Democrat, is getting yelled at for preferring Mike Bloomberg, who only recently became a Democrat, over Bernie Sanders, who only recently became a Democrat, to stop Donald Trump, who only recently became a Republican.

@MarcACaputo: Winning begets winning. Losing begets losing. Yet you can learn more from losses than victory — but that’s usually true if you’re intensely committed to winning

@AlxThomp: [Rush] Limbaugh today on Pete: “gay guy, 37 years old, loves kissing his husband on debate stages. Can you see Trump have fun with that? They’re saying, OK, how’s this going to look, 37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage next to Mr. Man Donald Trump?”

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@MDixon55: Way too early for this, but could you imagine with a week left all of a sudden lawmakers get a wave of like $650m? There would be gold statutes of @Rob_Bradley and @Travis_Cummings on every Clay County street corner.

Tweet, tweet:

 

— DAYS UNTIL —

South Beach Wine and Food Festival — 6; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 6; Roger Stone’s sentencing — 7; Nevada caucuses — 9; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 10; Suits for Session — 12; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 12; South Carolina Primaries — 16; Super Tuesday — 19; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 29; Florida’s presidential primary — 33; “No Time to Die” premiers — 53; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 62; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 63; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 92; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 134; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 151; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 155; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start — 162; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 187; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 193; First Presidential Debate in Indiana — 229; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 237; Second Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 245; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 252; 2020 General Election — 264.

— TOP STORY —

PBC elections office hit by ransomware before 2016 election” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — Weeks before the 2016 election that would usher in Trump as President, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office was subject to a ransomware attack, elections supervisor Wendy Sartory Link said. The attack more than three years ago happened while Susan Bucher was elections supervisor, but Link said she was unsure how the virus infiltrated the system. “We weren’t part of that, but have we been hacked in Palm Beach County? Yeah, we have,” Link said during an interview. But Link said she does not believe the ransomware attack against the county is one of the two Russian hacking attempts in Florida revealed in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report last April.

Wendy Sartory Link, the new Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, admitted there was a ransomware attack right before the 2016 election.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Cutting backlog by half, Ron DeSantis imposes ethics penalties on Andrew Gillum” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis imposed fines and other penalties against 14 public officials who transgressed Florida’s ethics code. Among those final orders executed were a $5,000 fine and public reprimand against his one-time political rival, Gillum. The backlog can be attributed to a policy discussion rather than an oversight, said Helen Aguirre Ferre, the Governor’s spokeswoman. DeSantis has had a busy year with two legislative Sessions and two budgets, hurricane cleanup, Supreme Court positions to fill and lawsuits to deal with, but also has had “a healthy internal discussion over the proper role of the Governor’s Office as it relates to the enforcement of judgment by the Ethics Commission,” said Ferre.

Ron DeSantis cleared off half of the 30 ethics issues on his desk.

House, Senate budgets set to advance to talks” via Jim Turner and Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — With relatively little criticism, the House positioned its proposed $91.37 billion budget (HB 5001) for a final vote, while the Senate earlier in the day did the same with its $92.83 billion spending plan. Both proposals top the $90.98 billion budget for the current fiscal year. “We have a lot of challenges with explosive growth, a lot of challenges that come when you have to meet the needs of 21.8 million Floridians, and I think that this budget meets that challenge,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Bradley said. House Appropriations Chairman Cummings called his chamber’s spending plan “the best budget that we could have imagined.”

Budgets set for votes, but real work about to begin” via John Kennedy of the GateHouse Capital Bureau — The real work of the Session is just about to begin. Settling scores of differences between spending proposals that span 425 pages will dominate the two-month Session’s closing weeks. Here are five critical areas that negotiators must decide. With its budget weighing in at $92.8 billion, the Senate spends $1.4 billion more than the House. The House has touted its plan as costing taxpayers less per capita than last year’s budget and may be intent on keeping the bottom line below a thrifty $92 billion. Along with teacher pay, the Senate is seeking a 3 percent pay raise for all state workers; and the House $1,800 for those earning $50,000 or less.

Enterprise battles peer-to-peer upstarts in car rental fight” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — The clash between traditional car rental companies such as Enterprise and upstart “peer-to-peer” online platforms, connecting car owners looking to rent out their car to drivers in need of a vehicle, is back in the Legislature. After failing to gain momentum last year, a bill to regulate and tax the peer-to-peer platforms like traditional companies is moving in the House and Senate. “I’m not trying to put anyone out of business,” said Rep. Chris Latvala, sponsor of HB 377. “I want peer-to-peer companies to thrive in Florida … but they call themselves a rental car company.” The House panel passed the bill by an 11-6 vote after a lengthy debate over how to incorporate the new online platforms into state laws.

Hopes dim for gun control measures in Legislature” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would close Florida’s so-called “gun show loophole” is in trouble. Halfway through this year’s legislative session, the bill has stalled, and key lawmakers aren’t sounding optimistic it will be heard again. “It is very clear that it is an uphill battle,” said Senate President Bill Galvano who supports the bill. Blame election-year politics in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature. GOP lawmakers have focused on churning out bills meant to fire up their base, including controversial measures limiting abortion and cracking down on companies hiring undocumented people.

’Anguish in the Aftermath’: Parkland shooting confronts lawmakers, visitors to Capitol” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — “Anguish in the Aftermath,” a collection of 52 photos, text and audio of excerpts from interviews, was displayed at the Coral Springs Museum of Art last year. Now, six of the 52 are on display this week at the Capitol. Ian Witlen, a freelance photojournalist, was called by the Miami New Times to rush to the scene to take photos. He had graduated from the high school. “I went out there figuring ‘Oh, it’s just going to be another bomb threat like we always had when I was there,’ ” he said. “I wish that were the case.” Now, the shooting’s aftermath has consumed Witlen’s life: “I knew from the 15th I wanted to do a project like this.”

‘Local voices’ descend on Capitol to advocate for home rule — More than 250 municipal officials traveled to Tallahassee for the Florida League of Cities’ annual Legislative Action Days. Their mission was to advocate for the right to local self-government. From short-term rentals, impact fees to balanced property rights, the group believes that local issues require local solutions. Municipal officials met with legislators and testified in committees to share real-world examples of regional impacts of proposed legislation. “We are here, as city leaders, to remind legislators about the importance of Home Rule,” said FLC President Isaac Salver. “Our communities are at their best when their policies reflect the values of the people who live and work there, not those of distant politicians or self-interest groups. Let local voices make local choices.”

More than 250 municipal officials traveled to Tallahassee for the Florida League of Cities’ annual Legislative Action Days. Their mission was to advocate for the right to local self-government — from short-term rentals to impact fees to balanced property rights.

Bipartisan coalition calls for Equal Rights Amendment adoption” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — This year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Yet, proponents of the ERA say women are still not protected in the U.S. Constitution. Critics of the ERA often claim women are already protected under the 14th Amendment, but supporters push back, saying that is not the case. Democratic Reps. Fentrice Driskell and Dotie Joseph are the primary co-sponsors of the House resolution (HCR 239), while Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson filed its companion (SCR 392). And Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen backed the measure to show bipartisan support. “The problem is over 70% of Americans think it’s already a thing,” Joseph said. “They think we already have equal rights for many women.”

John Thrasher, Mike Norvell bring garnet and gold spirit, wish list to FSU Day at the Capitol” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Crowds gathered an hour early for the noon event, where they were entertained by the Seminole Sounds pep band, the Golden Girls and FSU cheerleaders and a trio of jugglers from the FSU Flying Circus. While the atmosphere was festive in nature, it all was designed to put FSU in the spotlight as its team works through a legislative Session and to send a message that continued funding for Florida State and the State University System is critical to Florida maintaining bragging rights for the best state university system in the nation. Florida State’s legislative priorities include $25 million for national ranking enhancement, $25 million in preeminence funding, and $6.5 million for advancements at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

— LEGISLATION —

Senate interested in Medicaid block grant — The Senate would “love” to have a Medicaid block grant, Sen. Aaron Bean told Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida. The comment from the chamber’s health care budget chair jibes with the Legislature’s historical support for Medicaid block grants, which allow states more flexibility in how they administer the federally funded program. Though the Republican majority is in favor, Democrats say it would mean cuts to both funding and quality. Bean’s comments were a couple of weeks after the White House asked states to submit plans for block grant demonstrations. However, neither chamber has included language in the 2020-21 budget giving the Agency for Health Care Administration the latitude to do so.

Massive bill to change scholarships, merge colleges advances in Legislature over bipartisan objections” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would drastically alter the state’s higher education system, requiring several colleges to merge and making sweeping changes to different scholarship programs passed its first committee in the Florida Legislature, despite bipartisan opposition. The bill caught both some university presidents and even high-ranking Republican lawmakers by surprise. But sponsor Rep. Randy Fine said it is needed to reduce the cost per degree at smaller institutions and repurpose some state money currently being used for student grants. The bill would transform the requirements for a tuition assistance grant for students attending private colleges or universities, called the Effective Access to Student Education program.

Florida TaxWatch comes out against university merger plan — Rep. Fine’s plan to fold Florida Poly into UF and New College into FSU is aimed at saving taxpayer money, but Florida TaxWatch isn’t sold. “Florida TaxWatch urges the Florida Legislature to reconsider moving forward with the proposed merger of Florida Polytechnic University with the University of Florida and the proposed merger of New College of Florida with Florida State University at this time. The reason for these proposed mergers is ostensibly to reduce the cost of education at state universities; however, any cost savings are as yet ‘indeterminate,’ as the House staff analysis states. It is also unclear what effect the mergers would have on achieving the state’s economic and workforce goals. The legislature should ‘pump the brakes’ on this proposal,” FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

Honoring ailing Kristin Jacobs, House waives rules to add shark fin bill to agenda” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — House Speaker José Oliva has agreed to waive the rules so ailing Rep. Jacobs’ legislation can be added to the agenda of the House State Affairs Committee. State Affairs Committee Chair Ingoglia said he got Oliva to sign off, and the chamber approved the change. Jacobs is battling colorectal cancer. Jacobs’ bill (HB 401) would ban the sale, import and export of shark fins. It’s the final committee stop before a floor vote. The Senate companion (SB 680) is waiting to be heard in its second committee.

Could iguanas be banned in Florida? A bill is moving swiftly in Tallahassee” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — A proposal that would ban ownership in Florida of more than a dozen exotic reptile species, including green iguanas, is plowing through Senate committees despite pleas from pet shop owners and breeders that it will kill a multi-million dollar industry. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, is aimed at reducing populations of damaging invasive species in the wild and would prohibit their possession except for purposes that include education, research or eradication. Opponents of the bill, SB 1414, said bans on invasive species already established in South Florida will be about as effective as “banning mosquitoes.”

Hopes dim for gun control measures in Florida Legislature” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would close Florida’s so-called “gun show loophole” is in trouble. Halfway through this year’s legislative session, the bill has stalled, and key lawmakers aren’t sounding optimistic it will be heard again. “It is very clear that it is an uphill battle,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, who supports the bill. Blame election-year politics in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature. GOP lawmakers have focused on churning out bills meant to fire up their base, including controversial measures limiting abortion and cracking down on companies hiring undocumented people.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Washington attorney general sues timeshare exit team for allegedly deceiving more than 32,000 consumers” via Chabeli Carrazana of the Orlando Sentinel — Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the company’s large upfront fees have swindled consumers out of thousands of dollars with the promise of freeing them of their timeshares, but has failed to deliver on more than 17,000 cases. Timeshare Exit Team’s highly publicized 100% money-back guarantee is also a sham, the attorney general’s complaint said, luring consumers into a false sense of security only to continuously deny refunds. Ferguson claims in the suit that in the past eight years, the company’s practices violated the Consumer Protect Act. Timeshare Exit Team denies the allegations. According to Ferguson: Of the estimated 38,000 exits Timeshare Exit Team has been contracted to perform since 2012, the company has only delivered on about half.

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

Assignment editors — Communications Services Tax bill sponsors Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Jason Fischer, along with Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and Florida Internet & Television, will host a ‘Cut the Tax on Tech’ news conference, 8:30 a.m., 4th floor Rotunda, House side.

The House scheduled a floor session, 1:30 p.m., House Chamber.

The Senate scheduled a floor session, 2:30 p.m., Senate Chamber.

The House State Affairs Committee meets, 8 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Commerce Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building,

The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee meets, 9 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 10 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets, 12:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee meets, 12:30 p.m., Room 401, Senate Office Building.

The House Rules Committee will meet, Room 404, House Office Building 15 minutes after the floor session adjourns.

— GOV. CLUB. LUNCH BUFFET —

Tomato basil soup; mixed garden salad with dressings; marinated vegetable salad; Waldorf salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and breads; cilantro lime grilled chicken with strawberry salsa; grilled flank steak, caramelized onions and red wine demi; beer-battered cod and fries with tartar sauce and malt vinegar; roasted red bliss potatoes; steamed broccoli; grilled summer squash with lemon scallion dressing; chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert.

— VISIT FLORIDA VALENTINES —

Destinations Florida is sending Valentine’s Day cards to lawmakers warning against eliminating VISIT FLORIDA.

According to the group, which represents the state’s destination marketing organizations, says without the efforts of VISIT FLORIDA, tourism competitors can poach visitors from the Sunshine State

Among the cards are “love letters” from California and Arizona, two markets that would most likely benefit from drops in Florida tourism.

“Tourism is an increasingly competitive global industry. We’re not only competing with other states, but also with destinations all around the world. Potential visitors to our state have many options from which to choose — many of those destinations can also boast year-round sun and beaches, and many of them are far more affordable, especially for international travelers,” said Destinations Florida Executive Director Robert Skrob. “Our competing destinations would love nothing more than to see VISIT FLORIDA eliminated, which would clear a path for them to steal visitors currently looking at Florida as their vacation destination.”

Destinations Florida is sending love letters to lawmakers for Valentine’s Day.

In a recent report, Destination Promotion: Empowering Florida’s Growth, Destinations Florida highlighted case studies — such as Colorado and the state of Washington — illustrating the disastrous effects of eliminating state tourism promotion.

Destination Florida believes the state needs this visitor-generated sales tax revenue to maintain its current tax structure, keep taxes low, and continue offering existing programs and services. A study by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR), found the most recent sales tax forecast relies heavily on strong tourism growth, and any drop would put Florida’s economic outlook in jeopardy.

VISIT FLORIDA’s most valuable efforts are effectively promoting the Florida brand both nationally and internationally, as well as supporting the state’s small and medium-sized markets.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida has new school standards. Did it dump the Common Core?” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — As expected, the Florida Board of Education unanimously replaced the state’s expectations for language arts and math with new ones that DeSantis has touted as eliminating the Common Core. Before the vote, though, some board members had some concerns that the changes were not as monumental as advertised. Board member Michael Olenick noted social media chatter that suggested the new standards, called Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST), were substantively not that different. “Could you just answer that question whether or not this is Common Core Phase 2?” Olenick asked K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva, who presented the standards to the board.

Ashley Moody warns against cyberattacks” via Julia Laude of WCJB — Moody was in Ocala to speak on the importance of cybersecurity. She touched on internet safety and her encounters as a judge, mother and as the state’s attorney general. In partnership with Cyber Florida, she hopes to share the best ways city and county leaders can prevent, respond to and recover from cyberattacks. “Every time we have an election, every time we go through a particular crime or a threat against one of our local governments, we get better at protecting ourselves, and that is across the board in Florida,” she said. Recently, the City of Ocala recovered funds lost from an email phishing scam. It’s situations like this that Moody hopes governments can avoid.

Moody announces the 2019 Law Enforcement Officers of the Year — Attorney General Moody named Franklin County Sheriff’s Sergeant Jeff Hewitt and Deputy Jared Hewitt as 2019’s Law Enforcement Officers of the Year. The Moody’s office recognized the father and son duo, along with eight other law enforcement officers across the state for their dedication to protecting Floridians: Officer Schiefer Buckles, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; Detective Andrew Goodlet, Polk County Sheriff’s Office; Sergeant Chris Nichol, Panama City Police Department; Corporal Mithil Patel, Florida Highway Patrol; Officer Michael Rice, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Detective Sean Sweeney, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office; Detective DeWayne White, Florida Department of Financial Services; and Special Agent Jennifer Wolf, Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Jimmy Patronis hosts ‘Fire Ops on the Hill’ — Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Patronis joined fire service professionals from around the state for the First Annual Fire Ops on the Hill at The Capitol. Patronis called it “a unique opportunity to see firsthand the lifesaving techniques used to protect our communities.” The event provided live demonstrations on how firefighters decontaminate their uniforms following a fire incident. The event also featured presentations of fire extinguishers and CPR safety procedures.

Jimmy Patronis hosts a demonstration of firefighting safety equipment.

What Scott Shalley is reading — “Supreme Court won’t hear Styrofoam fight” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — In a victory for retailers, the Court declined to take up an appeal in a battle about the city of Coral Gables’ attempt to ban the use of Styrofoam food containers. The decision effectively let stand a ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal that upheld the constitutionality of state laws that blocked a 2016 Coral Gables ordinance on polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. Coral Gables was the only city affected by the Legislature’s decision to make the law retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016, spurring arguments that it was unfairly singled out. The city’s attorneys also argued that the Legislature improperly delegated regulation of polystyrene to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and created a “regulatory vacuum.”

Florida’s first black state attorney defends opposition to death penalty” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — Aramis Ayala gave an impassioned, defiant speech to a group of about 80 people at the Center for Health Equity in St. Petersburg as part of Legacy Week, a yearly celebration during Black History Month of African American culture, history and success. She defended and promoted the work she’d done since her 2016 election. She cited the Brady policy she put in place to try to better flag unreliable witnesses including police officers, her creation of a conviction integrity unit, and her implementation of bail reform that would allow some defendants accused of more minor crimes to be released on their own recognizance. “When we treat people like human beings, we begin to propagate human beings,” she told the group.

— COVID-19 — 

The illness now has a name, COVID-19” via The New York Times — The World Health Organization proposed an official name for the illness caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019, as the illness was first detected toward the end of last year. The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted that the new name does not refer to any of the people, places or animals associated with the coronavirus. The goal was to avoid stigma. Under international guidelines, the WHO “had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.”

Health Officials check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan at the airport in Beijing, China. The new coronavirus has a name — COVID-19.

Fall in new cases raises hope in virus outbreak in China” via Ken Moritsugu of The Associated Press — The number of new cases of the coronavirus in China dropped for a second straight day, health officials said in a possible glimmer of hope amid the outbreak that has infected over 45,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,100. Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization, said it is “way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end” of the crisis in China. But he said: “The stabilization in cases in the last number of days is very reassuring and it is to a great extent the result of the huge public health operation in China.”

From a rumor to 1,000 deaths: How the coronavirus outbreak unfolded for Americans at the epicenter” via Grace Hauck of USA TODAY — For Americans living in or visiting Wuhan, the virus has brought a mix of fear, panic and boredom. They’ve had to battle a lack of information, government quarantines, and cold, long flights. Some have celebrated birthdays and going-away parties. Others have been sick or stranded. Over six weeks since the virus emerged, four Americans detail a new reality in Wuhan, the journey back to the U.S. and life in quarantine on a military base.

As health experts sound the alarm, Donald Trump fights coronavirus with alternative facts” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — Trump has never been one to embrace expert opinion, whether on climate change or windmill cancer. “By the way, the virus,” Trump told supporters at a rally. “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” He told a meeting of Governors that he “had a long talk with President Xi” of China. “He feels very confident. And he feels that, again, as I mentioned, by April or during April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus. So that would be a good thing. But we’re in great shape in our country. We have 11, and the 11 are getting better. OK?” OK!

U.S. travel industry sector multibillion-dollar hit from coronavirus” via Keiko Morris and Austen Hufford of The Wall Street Journal — Airlines have canceled flights between the world’s two biggest economies into April, and the U.S. has banned noncitizens who traveled recently to China from entry. That effective freeze on visitors from China is a blow to hotels, retailers, and other businesses that have come to rely on their spending. Residents of mainland China made 2.7 million entries into the U.S. in the first 11 months of 2019, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, the third-highest tally among overseas countries after the U.K. and Japan. Chinese tourists contributed $35 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s latest estimate.

Rick Scott grills health officials on coronavirus risk  Florida’s junior U.S. Senator posed questions to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Wednesday including whether the U.S. should regulate or block Chinese imports, if and for how long the virus could live on objects and whether China was accurately reporting incidents and fatalities related to the coronavirus. Dr. Scott Gottlieb answered most of his questions, saying it was possible the virus could live on inanimate objects, but only for a couple of hours. He said he had “a very low level of concern” about spreading the virus through imports. Gottlieb also said he doesn’t trust the accuracy of China’s reporting, but those numbers are not “as relevant right now” as to how the U.S. protects the epidemic from spreading within its borders.

The CDC sent novel coronavirus testing kits to Florida. They might not work” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — Florida health officials received testing kits for novel coronavirus earlier this week but can’t use them yet because it’s unclear whether the tests are working. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday morning said issues with the tests the agency has developed for the respiratory illness spreading rapidly through China surfaced after they were sent out to state labs. After state labs receive testing kits from the CDC, they must verify their accuracy, but the labs flagged “inconclusive results,” or returns that were neither positive nor negative, CDC officials said on a call with journalists Wednesday. The CDC is remanufacturing a faulty testing agent to correct the problem.

— 2020 —

Trump to court ‘God-fearing, country-living Americans’ at Daytona 500” via Daniel Lippman and Anita Kumar of POLITICO Florida — The President is expected to attend the annual NASCAR race, one of the most famous on the auto racing circuit. From being booed at the World Series to cheered at the college football championship game, Trump has spent the last few months popping up at various sporting events around the country — to mixed reactions. But Sunday’s event promises to be a favorable landscape for a President trying to court voters in an election year. A Trump adviser said the Trump campaign had always planned to do a NASCAR event to appeal to the sport’s fan base, which includes many middle-class male southerners who supported Trump in 2016. “It’s the base,” the person said. “God-fearing, country-living Americans.”

After Iowa caucus problems, concerns grow over Nevada’s plan” via Christina Cassidy and Michelle Price of The Associated Press — Nevada, the third state to cast votes on the Democratic presidential field, is seen as the first test of a candidate’s strength before a diverse population and strong labor unions. Concerns over elections and voting, in general, come as the nation prepares for the first presidential election since Russia interfered in the 2016 vote. But Iowa’s problems demonstrated that it doesn’t take a foreign government to cause chaos in an election. Nevada Democrats were initially working with the same app developer used in Iowa but scrapped those plans after the company’s app failed there. Instead, loaded on the iPads will be what’s been referred to in training materials as a “Caucus Tool” used to enter results.

After the Iowa debacle, many people are concerned about the Nevada caucuses.

How Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire” via Holly Otterbein of POLITICO — He won a plurality among those who said health care was their top concern, and six of 10 voters overall backed single-payer, according to exit polls. It’s a powerful position to occupy in a party where voters routinely rank health care as their top issue. Throughout the campaign, Sanders has held town halls and asked voters to speak about their problems dealing with the health care industry. In the final days before the first-in-the-nation primary, he often talked about the opioid epidemic, a top issue in New Hampshire: One of his applause lines was when he said that drug manufacturers “hired more salespeople” when they realized their product was addictive.

Elizabeth Warren rejected ‘you win, I lose’ politics. Then she lost in New Hampshire.” via Shane Goldmacher and Astead W. Herndon of The New York Times — How Warren ended up as a fourth-place finisher in New Hampshire now at risk of receding from the national political conversation is the story of a candidate who spent the past crucial week unbending to the realities of a competitive primary happening around her. She evinced little sense of urgency after a third-place showing in Iowa that was a disappointment even as it left her a contender. She resisted calls by allies to confront her opponents and their weaknesses head-on. She spoke relatively little at a turning-point debate Friday after she had dominated airtime at such gatherings last year. When she did speak she mostly stuck to her familiar and comfortable script of “big, structural change” that powered her rise but has not prevented her subsequent fall.

Centrist Democrats rethink alliances as Joe Biden crumbles” via Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — A growing number of Capitol Hill Democrats say they’re turning to billionaire Bloomberg. Publicly, moderate Democrats insist there’s plenty of time until Super Tuesday, when Biden or Bloomberg could emerge as the front-runner. But anxiety is rising on both sides of the Capitol that a Sanders ticket could cost the party not just the race for the White House but also of control of Congress — while exposing raw ideological tensions within the party ahead of November. “I’m feeling a momentum shift to Bloomberg right now,” said Rep. Lou Correa, who endorsed Biden in the summer and plans to stick with him.

As Joe Biden implodes, many Democrats are looking toward Mike Bloomberg.

Democrats are freaking out about Mike Bloomberg” via Edward-Isaac Dovere of The Atlantic — Sanders and Bloomberg each symbolize something much bigger than themselves. They’ve each promised to support the eventual Democratic nominee — Sanders insists that the prospect of another Trump win is more important than ideological differences between Democrats, and Bloomberg has pledged to keep his billion-dollar operation going whether he wins or not. But would Bloomberg really keep his fortune pumping to help elect a socialist, especially after losing at the convention? And would Sanders really back a billionaire moderate? “There are going to be a lot of people who are going to be very upset if they feel like the election was stolen from them by a cabal of corporate types,” Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s top strategist.

Inside Bloomberg’s big play for black voters” via Sara Burnett of The Associated Press — While Bloomberg’s rivals battled it out in majority-white Iowa and New Hampshire, the billionaire presidential candidate aggressively courted the black voters critical to any Democrat’s chance of winning the nomination. The effort, backed by millions of dollars in ads, has taken him across Southern states that vote on March 3, from Montgomery, Alabama, this week in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, states where African American voters can decide a Democratic primary. His pitch is one of electability and competence — hoping to capitalize on black Democrats’ hunger to oust Trump. But as he courts black voters, he’ll also have to reconcile his own record as Mayor of New York and past remarks on criminal justice.

Andrew Yang says he’s looking at other political races” via Myah Ward of POLITICO — “Obviously, right now we’re still taking some time to reflect, but I’m a young man,” Yang said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “You know, we’re just getting started. The problems that animated this campaign are just going to grow and get more serious, and we’re going to keep working to solve them.” Yang said he’ll be back, and he has his sights set on executive political roles. Howard Wolfson, former New York City Deputy Mayor and senior adviser to Mike Bloomberg’s campaign, also weighed in, suggesting Yang “would make a very interesting candidate” for Bloomberg’s old job.

— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY —

First on #FlaPol —House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee endorses Bloomberg” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — McGhee says he’s backing Bloomberg in the Democratic presidential primary. That marks a departure from other black lawmakers in the state, more than 50 of whom have endorsed former Vice President Biden. McGhee’s endorsement also comes as Bloomberg is facing criticism over leaked audio showing him defending the “stop-and-frisk” policy during his tenure as New York City Mayor. But Bloomberg’s bottomless bankroll has also led some voters to view him as a top alternative should the Biden campaign continue to falter. McGhee says Bloomberg’s political record makes him the most qualified to compete against Trump in November. “Mike Bloomberg has the political courage and action-specific plan to fight to ensure opportunity and growth for our future,” McGhee said.

 

Kionne McGhee is the latest leading Democrat to fall in behind Mike Bloomberg.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay endorses Bloomberg” via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post — “We need someone running against Donald Trump who cannot only defeat him in November, but usher in a new wave of clearheaded decision making in the White House,” said McKinlay in a release. McKinlay joins West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James in endorsing Bloomberg, who is opening two campaign offices in Palm Beach County this week, in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. Bloomberg announced his candidacy in November and has been steadily rising in the polls in recent weeks despite voluntarily benching himself from the Iowa caucus and three other early primaries, choosing instead to focus on delegate-rich primary states like Florida.

In Florida, Biden digs in his heels after slow start in Iowa, New Hampshire” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Following a fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the former vice president’s campaign moved quickly to announce the launch of several grassroots coalitions in Florida — a state where he leads in the polls thanks in large part to his standing with Hispanic and black voters. The voter groups, to be led by some of Biden’s large group of surrogates — many from South Florida — include groups specifically aimed at reaching women, African Americans, Caribbean voters, the gay community, faith leaders, Hispanics and the young. Jackie Lee, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign in Florida, said the groups are both a reflection of the state’s diversity and an escalation of campaign events that are already underway.

Florida progressives launch ads aimed at specific Latino groups” via Carmen Sesin NBC News — Latinos are a coveted voting bloc in the battleground state of Florida — but they’re not one group when it comes to their countries of origin and the issues on which they focus. To that end, a progressive political action committee has been releasing a series of ads targeting specific Latino groups as the voting registration deadline approaches. Forward Florida Action has begun airing Spanish-language radio ads this month across the state encouraging voters to register as Democrats before the deadline of next Tuesday to participate in the presidential primary.

Centrist Broward Democrats still hoping for Biden, but Bloomberg is clear second choice” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A group of Broward Democrats that’s been calling for months for their party to nominate a moderate centrist for president still mostly favors Biden, but the coalition’s latest straw poll shows increasing support for Bloomberg. Pete Buttigieg is third in the Real Solutions Caucus’ latest assessment, conducted over the weekend and released Tuesday. Biden received 70 points in the newest straw poll from the caucus, made up of current and former elected Democrats in Broward County, which essentially ties the 71 he received in the group’s Jan. 7 straw poll. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, received 52 points — up substantially from the 34 points he received in January.

Want to help pick the presidential nominee? There’s still time to register.” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — If you want to vote in Florida’s presidential preference primary on March 17, you need to make sure you’re registered as either Democrat or Republican by Tuesday. Florida has closed primaries. That means that only Florida voters who are registered as Democrats may vote in the Democratic presidential primary, and only those registered as Republican may vote in the Republican presidential primary. Eleven other states conduct primaries like Florida.

— D.C. MATTERS —

’I don’t think that’s appropriate’: Trump’s involvement in Roger Stone case draws criticism from GOP Senators” via Christal Hayes of USA TODAY — Several Republican lawmakers expressed concern over Trump‘s comments on the prison sentencing of longtime ally Stone, an issue that prompted swift calls for investigations by Democrats and criticism that the president was interfering in a criminal investigation. “I don’t think he should be commenting on cases in the system,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.” A handful of others agreed. “The president should not have gotten involved,” said Sen. Susan Collins. “I think the president’s tweet aggravated the situation,” said Sen. John Kennedy, who added, “He’s entitled to tweet. I wish he’d tweet less, but that’s not gonna happen.”

Tweet, tweet:

U.S. company rests fate on Mike Pompeo’s Angola visit” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A state-sanctioned property grab in Angola has put the Africa Growth Corporation in dire straits. The U.S.-based corporation, with several Florida investors, builds affordable housing for expatriates and retail office space. The Angolan government forcibly took over three of the company’s buildings, crafted fraudulent title transfers, seized bank accounts, and other assets at gunpoint. The seizure has cost AFGC and its investors more than $95 million. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo is expected to travel to sub-Saharan Africa, where he will meet with the leaders of Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia. In Angola, Pompeo is expected to “offer support to democratization and anti-corruption efforts” that have been put in place since the exit of former Angolan leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Florida Medicaid director: New Trump administration rules would be ‘crippling’ to nursing homes, hospitals” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The administration of Gov. DeSantis is raising concerns about a proposed federal rule that would strike a financial blow to the state’s Medicaid program if allowed to go into effect. The rule deals with arcane funding mechanisms used by state governments to draw down billions of dollars in federal money for Medicaid. Florida Medicaid Director Beth Kidder wrote to federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma last month and asserted that a proposal meant to increase transparency related to supplemental Medicaid payments would be “crippling.” Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida Chief Executive Officer Justin Senior said he conservatively estimated the changes would amount to a $631 million hit for hospitals that are members of his organization.

— THE TRAIL —

Ben Albritton endorses Danny Kushmer for HD 59 — Sen. Albritton has endorsed Republican Kushmer in the race for House District 59, the seat currently held by exiting Democratic Rep. Adam Hattersley. “Once elected, Danny will be someone I can count on in the House to stand up for our shared values, and that is why I am proud to endorse his candidacy for State House. He’s a strong Conservative leader who knows the issues and knows how to get things done. He’ll be a steadfast leader for his constituents up in Tallahassee, and I look forward to working with him,” Albritton said. The endorsement drops a week after Former Republican Rep. Jake Raburn announced his support for Kushmer, who faces Michael Owen in the GOP primary.

Alex Rizo retains pole position in race to replace José Oliva” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rizo racked up another big fundraising month as both of his House District 110 rivals were once again fundraising no-shows. That’s according to January fundraising reports. Rizo raised more than $21,000 in January. That builds on a $35,000 haul in December, his first month as a candidate in the race. Rizo is a former administrator with Miami-Dade Public Schools. He heads an education consulting firm as well. George Garzia is also competing for the Republican nomination. Diana Ahmed filed as a Democrat in the race.

Alex Rizo posted substantial numbers in his bid to succeed José Oliva.

Bibiana Potestad tops field in January fundraising” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Attorney Potestad added more than $18,000 during January as she competes for the Republican nomination in House District 105. Potestad courted several maxed-out $1,000 donations from various law firms, including Mertz Law Group and Uriarte Law. She’s now pulled in nearly $125,000 in the contest, with almost $100,000 of that still on hand. Potestad has gone back and forth with Sweetwater City Commissioner J. David Borrero for the monthly fundraising lead in the contest. Borrero led Potestad by a slim $200 in December fundraising to top the HD 105 field. But he fell to fourth in January, collecting just over $2,700.

— LOCAL —

Mar-a-Lago intruder acquitted of trespassing, but jury says she resisted arrest” via Marc Freeman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Lu Jing was found guilty of a second misdemeanor charge, resisting a police officer without violence during her Dec. 18 arrest on Worth Avenue. Palm Beach County Judge Mark Eissey scheduled the 56-year-old woman’s sentencing for Friday morning. The charge is punishable by up to one year in jail. The prosecutors contended that Jing ignored a warning to leave Mar-a-Lago’s grounds and entered a second time through a service entrance where she took photos of the walls. Jing said she paid $200 for a Chinese guide to drop her off at various locations, starting in Miami. Jing said the language barrier prevented her from understanding a Mar-a-Lago security officer’s orders to leave or face “a world of trouble.”

Lu Jing is acquitted of trespassing on Mar-a-Lago but guilty of resisting arrest.

Number of applicants to be UCF president is ‘rather low’ but expected to climb, consultant says” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — The university has received 13 applications so far, a number that’s “rather low” but not unexpected, said Alberto Pimentel, managing partner of Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates. “That is very typical whenever you have an institution that’s been in the press a lot, so I want to urge you not to get too concerned or disappointed by that overall number — that doesn’t really mean much,” Pimentel said during a meeting of the university’s search committee. Often, top candidates apply at the last minute, Pimentel said, in part because they want to see if any additional concerns come to light about the institution or post. They also want to limit their exposure because, in Florida, their applications are open to the public.

Orange County property appraiser alleges 2 former employees installed GPS tracking devices on vehicles, recorded conversations” via Christopher Heath and Katlyn Brieskorn of WFTV — Orange County property appraiser Rick Singh has filed a civil lawsuit against two former employees, alleging the women secretly installed GPS tracking devices on his vehicle and secretly recorded private conversations. The former employees named in the civil suit first made allegations of misconduct against Singh, then the Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommend the criminal charges be filed against Singh. Now, Singh pushing back. The suit named former employees Aisha Hassan and Laverne McGee as defendants. It said they engaged in numerous unlawful acts toward Singh and other OCPA staff. The suit also said McGee allegedly “surreptitiously recorded numerous meetings with OCPA staff, including OCPA’s attorney, without their knowledge or consent.”

Seminole residents vent at commissioners for weighing trade of public wilderness area for River Cross land” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Seminole residents blasted county commissioners this week for agreeing to consider trading away a publicly owned wilderness area for hundreds of acres of the controversial River Cross property within Seminole’s rural boundary as a way of settling a federal lawsuit filed by a developer. Last month, county commissioners unanimously agreed to look into swapping that 238-acre wilderness area with the larger River Cross tract of 669 acres east of the river. Developer and former state legislator Chris Dorworth and the River Cross Land Co. proposed the exchange to settle an ongoing federal lawsuit he filed in 2018 soon after commissioners unanimously voted down his River Cross development proposal.

This prosecutor offered to ‘make her case go away’ in exchange for sex. He’s in jail” via Carli Teproff and David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — As an assistant state attorney in Collier County, Juan Mercado told a woman he would “make her case go away” if she had sex with him, agents say. Even though he wasn’t the prosecutor on her case, he offered advice and looked up information on her prosecution, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Mercado is now the one who needs an attorney. On Wednesday, the Hialeah attorney was arrested on bribery charges. He was being held Wednesday night in Miami-Dade’s Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. The FDLE said an investigation showed that Mercado had a sexual relationship with the woman who was “being prosecuted for domestic battery.”

Osceola sheriff rushed Nicole Montalvo case to boost his reelection, state attorney says; new evidence released” via Monivette Cordeiro, Jeff Weiner and Cristóbal Reyes of the Orlando Sentinel — State Attorney Aramis Ayala accused Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson of rushing the investigation into Montalvo’s killing to help his reelection campaign, a day before her office made public a massive cache of records in the case. Among those was a DNA report that undermines a key piece of evidence: blood found on a garage floor at the Hixon Avenue home of the Riveras, Montalvo’s in-laws. Tests concluded the blood did not belong to Montalvo, records show, or to her estranged husband, Christopher Otero-Rivera, one of two men Gibson’s detectives suspect of killing her. In her letter, Ayala argued Gibson had “put justice in jeopardy in the name of his own political ambitions.”

Aramis Ayala is accusing Osceola Sheriff Russ Gibson of rushing a murder case for political purposes.

FBI: Romance scammers swindle vulnerable Sarasota residents out of millions” via Carlos Munoz of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — A devastating internet crime is on the rise in Florida, and it already has claimed close to 1,200 victims who have lost more than $20 million — $1.2 million in Sarasota County. Romance scams are just one trick fraudsters use to victimize people — predominantly older widowed or divorced — targeted by criminal groups from underdeveloped countries such as Nigeria. Sarasota County is a prime target because of its wealth and residents, whose median age is 56.5. The scammers look deeply through your personal information, sometimes on social media platforms, and study your activities. Flipping through pictures of your favorite animals, dinner and friends, they learn what triggers your emotions and how you spend money. And then, “You have a friend request.”

Jaguars owner Shad Khan still pushing merits of second London game” via John Reid of the Florida Times-union — With significant resistance emerging from the team’s fan base about the loss of another home game at TIAA Bank Field, Khan has been hitting the interview circuit like a politician. Normally, Jaguars president Mark Lamping does most of the heavy lifting on the business side. Khan, however, is now assuming a more assertive public role to defend the merits of his decision to play two home games in London this year in the final year of their contract. The Jaguars have played one home game in London annually since 2013. He participated in a conference call with the Jacksonville media last week when the Jaguars initially announced the second home game was going to London.

It’s official: Miami-Dade School Board approves 2020-21 calendar with later start date” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — Mark your calendars, parents, students and staff of Miami-Dade County Public Schools: The first day of school will be Aug. 24, 2020. The last day of school will be June 9, 2021. After much ado, the School Board unanimously approved the second incarnation of the 2020-21 calendar, which was bundled with other proposals at Wednesday’s board meeting. This version was presented to board members during committee meetings last week to little discussion. Board members in November objected to the original draft calendar, claiming the start date was too early and lamenting that the version that had Thanksgiving week off for students was not selected by surveyed teachers. That delayed the calendar significantly. The United Teachers of Dade accused the district of trying to circumvent the standard process of selecting a calendar.

SpaceX set to launch another 60 internet Starlink satellites Saturday, taking total constellation to 300” via Chabeli Carrazana of the Orlando Sentinel — SpaceX is stepping on the accelerator to get more than 1,500 internet satellites into low-Earth orbit by the end of the year. To do it, Elon Musk’s rocket company has an ambitious schedule of launches for Starlink, the company’s own constellation of satellites, that will see Falcon 9 rockets taking to the sky every few weeks from the Space Coast. The next scheduled launch is planned for Saturday at 10:46 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 40. The weather is forecast to be 60% favorable for launch, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

— TOP OPINION —

American politics is broken, but here’s why you shouldn’t give up on the system just yet” via Jason Altmire and Carlos Curbelo for USA TODAY — The Pew Research Center found that those who hold ideologically unyielding views are twice as likely to attend political events, work on campaigns, contribute to candidates and vote in primaries. It’s no wonder studies have shown that members of Congress tend to have more ideologically extreme views than the constituents they represent. To address this problem: First, we must open primary elections to all voters. Second, we must end partisan gerrymandering. Third, we must push back against negative campaigns. Finally, we must support candidates who demonstrate a commitment to putting country over party and to enacting the political reforms necessary to restore pragmatic problem-solving, and just as important, to restore Americans’ faith in our system of self-government.

— OPINIONS & ANALYSIS —

Trump vs. Barack Obama: Who was better for Florida’s economy?” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — Most of the recent comparisons I’ve come across look at national indicators like job creation, and many use the time-honored form of comparing Trump to his predecessor, Obama. The analyses got me wondering how the two presidents match up in Florida. The Obama months netted Florida 619,564 new jobs, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tally for Trump was nearly 624,000. Put another way: an average of 17,700 new jobs were created per month under Obama; 17,822 under Trump. It’s hard to get much closer.

Much ado about some silly little sticker” via Bill Cottrell of the Tallahassee Democrat — Republicans control the Capitol now. And they’re working overtime to put [Agriculture Commissioner Nikki] Fried in her place, to punish her for barely beating the GOP nominee for her job in 2018. It was probably a little indiscreet to put her picture on the gas pump inspection licenses, but not grossly inappropriate. Not to be out-pettied by a newcomer to state government, Legislators mandated removal of the photos last Session, which Fried pretended to interpret as an order not to print any more of them. So, in this Session, House GOP budget writers are contemplating a cut of nearly $20 million in Agriculture Department programs, if she doesn’t comply. She’s on it, her office says.

Give law-breakers a pass? That’s the new GOP plan for companies making illegal hires” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Republican legislators are advancing one of the most ridiculous immigration bills in modern history. (And that’s saying something.) The new GOP bill would supposedly crackdown on companies that hire undocumented workers … but exempt many of the companies that actually do so. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s like a crime bill that exempts the criminals. Specifically, the bill would require Florida companies to make sure they are hiring legal workers by first running all potential hires through the federal government’s E-Verify database. Except, the amendment by Seminole County Republican David Simmons says the mandatory E-Verify rule wouldn’t apply to “agricultural employers” — which are, of course, the No. 1 employer of undocumented workers.

Manny Diaz Jr.: Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is a lifesaver for families, vulnerable students” via Florida Politics — The recent controversy involving the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship and LGBTQ students reflects the complex and evolving intersection of constitutionally protected religious freedoms and emerging LGBTQ rights. It does not lend itself to simple solutions. Every $1 million withdrawn from the program results in nearly 150 students being evicted from their schools. Had the opponents succeeded in gutting the program of donors, thousands — of disadvantaged children would have been denied opportunities to attend schools of their choice. Going forward, it’s important to remember that it’s always better to have more education choices, not less, so families can find the right fit for their kids. School choice scholarships give them those options. In some cases, these choices can be lifesaving.

Skylar Zander: Family Empowerment Scholarship program should be available to all” via Florida Politics — The Family Empowerment Scholarship program gives the power to students and parents to choose the school that best fits their individual needs. Families should have a wide array of options to select the best education for their kids. Whether through taking advantage of open enrollment, the public school down the street, private or public charter schools, home schooling, virtual school, or a host of other options, every family should have the freedom to choose the right type of education for their children. The FES program is one of Florida’s greatest victories for low-income and working-class families, and it is the first of its kind to extend support to middle-income families. Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to expand this to all students.

New College should remain independent” via Donal O’Shea for the Tampa Bay Times — Part of the strength of a state university system like Florida’s is the diversity of options it offers to students. Large flagship public universities like FSU and the University of Florida are excellent options for many students, and the Legislature’s investment has produced an excellent return in the form of a well-equipped talent pool. But for other students, what they need and seek is a small, challenging college environment where students benefit from a closer working relationship with the faculty and have more flexibility to tailor their educational experience to their needs. This is the unique offering that New College of Florida provides, and the return on this investment to the state is also clear and significant.

Legislators should take long view on China ties to Moffitt, UF” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Academic espionage is not new, but federal investigators and scientific agencies are increasingly warning about foreign nations poaching on U.S.-financed research. In a 2018 report on the subject by the National Institutes of Health, one of the largest funding sources for medical research in the world, authorities noted that foreign governments “have mounted systematic programs” to take advantage of these relationships. A study for the National Science Foundation issued in December encouraged the United States to maintain these global ties. But it noted that American academics and government officials alike were partly blind to these espionage activities, and it urged a range of measures to better preserve the integrity of U.S.-sponsored research.

A civic treasure, Bonnet House is back in local arms, where it belongs” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — It’s over. The ownership and control of Bonnet House is back in proper hands, under local control. An acrimonious struggle with the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, based in Tallahassee, has ended. And that’s welcome news for the people of Broward County. As became shockingly clear, the Florida Trust was sucking money from Bonnet House to pay its Tallahassee bills. When local board members had finally had enough, the capital gang tried to oust them. Refusing to capitulate, the local board declared an impasse, stopped sending money to Tallahassee, and in the end, prevailed. The gravy train is over, and the good guys won.

Bonnet House crushes Florida Trust’s diabolical takeover attempt in victory that proves you can beat back bad things with facts, truth” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Nearly 40 years ago, the house’s owner, Evelyn Bartlett, placed Bonnet House in the hands of the Florida Trust, believing the Tallahassee nonprofit would honor her wishes to keep the estate — and all its revenue — under local management. Last year the Florida Trust tried to oust the local board and grab the property and its bank account, presumably to shore up its own cash flow. It was arrogant, obnoxious, even mean-spirited — but the Trust seemed to be holding all the cards needed to seal a winning hand. We’re fairly certain key folks at Florida’s Capitol in the Executive and Legislative branches also took notice. Florida Trust finally saw the handwriting on the wall and reached a settlement.

— MOVEMENTS —

Chamber’s ‘Bottom Line’ talks improving Florida’s legal climate” via the Florida Chamber of Commerce — On the latest ‘Bottom Line,’ Stephanie Kopelousos, DeSantis’ Legislative Affairs Director, explains why it’s important to improve on Florida’s bottom-five legal climate. As the House and Senate begin to balance their budgets, Kopelousos explains why it’s important for the legislature to invest in Florida’s tourism marketing and economic development programs by funding VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida, Inc. “I think you see legislation this Session that are going through that I think will make a difference. But the Gov. made it a clear priority, just look at how many judicial appointments he’s made in really trying to get us from the bottom — we are at the bottom — in making that climate better for Floridians,” Kopelousos says.

To view the episode, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

Record-setting astronaut feels good after near year in space” via Marsha Dunn of The Associated Press — Christina Koch met with reporters in Houston six days after returning to Earth from the International Space Station. Her 328-day mission — which ended last Thursday — was the longest ever by a woman. Her neck hurt for about a day. “I felt like a 2-week-old who was actually working hard to hold up my own head,” she said. She considers herself lucky she didn’t have the sore feet and burning skin suffered four years ago by NASA’s all-time endurance champ, Scott Kelly, whose mission lasted 340 days. The 41-year-old Koch is an electrical engineer who also has a physics degree. She flew to the space station last March and was part of the first all-female spacewalk in October.

Christina Koch feels ‘pretty good’ after her record-breaking time at the International Space Station.

The nose knows: Study establishes airborne exposure to microcystins” via the Environmental News Network — A study led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in collaboration with FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and Colorado State University, was recently published in the journal Harmful Algae. The results provide evidence of aerosol exposure to microcystins among coastal residents. Researchers detected microcystin, the main class of cyanotoxins produced by blue-green algae species, in the nasal passages of 95 percent of the participants. Some of these individuals reported no direct contact with impacted water. Therefore, these findings may be due to the aerosolization of cyanobacteria and transport in the air, as has previously been hypothesized.

The business of the ‘Hamilton’ bump” via Tom Hudson of WLRN — When a tour of the Broadway show plays at a theater, the “Hamilton Bump” means an increase in audiences and money. The musical played a year ago at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Each theater is experiencing a bump in business because of ‘Hamilton.’ The show meant “substantially” higher revenue at the Broward Center last fiscal year, according to CEO Kelley Shanley. “It wasn’t just that ‘Hamilton’ did well that year. Every other Broadway show that we presented [did well],” said Shanley. “Also, we had our biggest year for concert sales. [‘Hamilton’] seemed to create a level of energy and interest in what was going on. People came out for more.”

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Belated birthday wishes to John Rodriguez, Government Affairs Director for the City of St. Pete. Celebrating today is Rep. James Bush.

___

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, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
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