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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.14.20

Don’t miss your first look at stories driving today’s agenda in Florida politics.

There may be a new Democratic presidential front-runner in Florida.

A new St. Pete Polls survey shows Mike Bloomberg is slightly ahead among Florida likely voters, edging out former Vice President Joe Biden.

More than 27% selected Bloomberg as their top choice. Biden secured just under 26% support in the survey.

That’s within the poll’s margin of error of 1.8 percentage points. But it marks a drastic shift from the previous snapshot of the race taken by St. Pete Polls.

It appears there’s a new Democratic front-runner in Florida.

That version showed Bloomberg moving into second place with 17% support. Biden, meanwhile, received 41% of the vote. That’s a loss of 15 percentage points for Biden in just two weeks, while Bloomberg gained 10 points.

That’s due in part to Biden’s slow start in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former New York City Mayor has also courted the endorsements of House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee and Sen. Darryl Rouson as he attempts to cut into Biden’s support among the black community.

Biden still leads among that demographic, even as his support dips overall. St. Pete Polls found 41.5% of black voters still back Biden, with nearly 23% selecting Bloomberg.

But Bloomberg has his own hurdles to overcome, given recent revelations about his record.

A 2015 recording leaked this week revealed Bloomberg defended his stop-and-frisk policy during a speech by stating he needed to “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

And in 2008 remarks uncovered Thursday, Bloomberg seemed to partially blame the end of redlining for the economic collapse that year.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted from Feb. 12 to 13, just as these stories began gaining traction. It remains to be seen whether those statements will dampen Bloomberg’s head of steam.

Elsewhere in the poll, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was slightly ahead of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for third place. Buttigieg earned 10.5% of the vote, while Sanders sat at 10.4%.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — who earned a surprising third-place finish in New Hampshire — sat in fifth with 8.4%. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren follows her at 4.8% and billionaire Tom Steyer at 1.3%.

But 11.2% of voters also say they’re still undecided, meaning the race still has some shifting to do before the March 17 primary.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

DeSantis ordered an investigation of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the House has subpoenaed more than a dozen current or former employees. Sen. Aaron Bean filed a bill that would eliminate the coalition’s no-bid deal with the state.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Republicans in the House continue to play “pin the tail on the union.”

Donald Trump comes back to Florida this weekend to hang with the NASCAR crowd, attending the Daytona 500.

— A House committee passes a bill to close a loophole that allows fishers from other countries to circumvent the ban on shark finning and sell their products through Florida ports on their way to Asian markets.

— The latest on Florida Man, Florida Woman and — for the first time — Florida Granny.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: Mini Mike is a 5’4” mass of dead energy who does not want to be on the debate stage with these professional politicians. No boxes please. He hates Crazy Bernie and will, with enough money, possibly stop him. Bernie’s people will go nuts!

@MikeBloomberg: .@realDonaldTrump — we know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back, they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown. They know you inherited a fortune & squandered it with stupid deals and incompetence. I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will.

@AmbJohnBolton: John Kelly is an honorable man. John and I have disagreed at times, as is commonplace at senior government levels, but he has always served his country faithfully. Conservatives especially have a responsibility to reject baseless attacks upon him.

@ClydeHaberman: Like Trump, Sanders won’t disclose his full medical records. So we voters are supposed to take on faith that an obese 73-year-old president and his 78-year-old, recent heart-attack challenger aren’t each a hot dog away from a coronary?

@LloydbBlankfein: If Dems go on to nominate Sanders, the Russians will have to reconsider who to work for to best screw up the US. Sanders is just as polarizing as Trump AND he’ll ruin our economy and doesn’t care about our military. If I’m Russian, I go with Sanders this time around.

—@Redistrict: By my calc, NH Dem turnout (vs. ’16) in towns won by… Buttigieg: +26.5% Klobuchar: +25.2% Sanders: +12.0% Takeaway: most of Dems’ turnout increase was attributable to [John] Kasich/[Marco] Rubio types crossing over from ’16 GOP primary — not heightened progressive/Sanders base enthusiasm.

@EamonJavers: On the coronavirus, a senior administration official tells me the US does ‘not have high confidence in the information coming out of China.’ This official says, ‘China continues to rebuff American offers of assistance.’

Tweet, tweet:

@AGAshleyMoody: Today, we said goodbye to an incredible law enforcement hero. FHP Trooper [Joseph] Bullock wanted to be a cop ever since he was 5 years old, and we are forever grateful for his service and the lives he touched. Justin and I are praying for his family during this difficult time.

@MDixon55: Guys, I got @WhiteClaw in a lede. I have so many people to thank, but mostly @steveschale‘s persistent mocking of people who choose to drink things he does not approve of. Also, of course, @Travis_Cummings for saying it on the house floor

— DAYS UNTIL —

South Beach Wine and Food Festival — 5; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 5; Roger Stone’s sentencing — 6; Nevada caucuses — 8; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 9; Suits for Session — 11; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 11; South Carolina Primaries — 15; Super Tuesday — 18; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 28; Florida’s presidential primary — 32; “No Time to Die” premiers — 52; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 61; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 62; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 91; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 133; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 150; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 154; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start — 161; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 186; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 192; First Presidential Debate in Indiana — 228; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 236; Second Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 244; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 251; 2020 General Election — 263.

— TOP STORY —

The House and Senate passed their budgets with unanimous votes, sending the Legislature to debate over key disparities in their $91 billion-plus spending plans.

But the squabbling over differences can wait until next week. For now, lawmakers are patting each other on the back for what has so far been a remarkably non-turbulent Legislative Session.

Praise came in from both sides of the aisle, with North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph lauding House Budget Chief Travis Cummings.

Travis Cummings gets praise from both sides of the aisle.

“It is refreshing when you find someone in this process who keeps their word,” she said.

Likewise, Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley offered a positive outlook on the approaching bicameral budget negotiations.

“If you really do a deep dive on the two budgets and you look at the difference in (general revenue) spending … it’s a lot closer than perhaps it appears on first blush,” he said.

Still, there are some significant details to hammer out — $ 1.4 billion worth, to be exact.

Among the key differences: the Senate is fully funding the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $387 million and $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA — two positions where the House diverges, offering $144 million and zero dollars respectively.

The Senate’s plan also sets aside $125 million for Florida Forever, well above the $20 million contemplated in the House and the $100 million by the Governor.

And then there’s teacher pay. The House and Senate have each committed to meeting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ask of raising starting teacher pay to $47,500, but their formulas for reaching their aren’t fully in sync — expect the fine print on this one to be a work in progress through the final hankie drop.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Ron DeSantis orders flags half-staff for Parkland victims — DeSantis ordered flags to fly half-staff Friday in respect for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. Senate President Bill Galvano held a moment of silence as Senators convened for the final floor session of the week: “We join victims’ families, survivors, communities and all of those who continue to mourn this devastating loss in our hearts today in the Florida Senate.”

Assignment editors — DeSantis will join U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for a major infrastructure announcement, 2 p.m., Dante B. Fascell Port of Miami, Administrative Building, 1015 North America Way, Miami.

Legislators ‘stunned’ by misuse of funds at domestic violence agency” via Mary Ellen Klas, Emily L. Mahoney, and Samantha J. Gross of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau — After years of giving sole-source status to the state’s largest domestic violence organization, lawmakers said they were blindsided by reports of what they called “excessive salaries” and “a breach of public trust” that used taxpayer money to dole out more than $7.5 million to a single executive in the last three years. Documents received by the House and reviewed by the Herald/Times show that Tiffany Carr, the former chief executive officer of the coalition, received more than $7.5 million in compensation since 2016, including an estimated $5 million in cash payouts for paid time off. It wasn’t only the dollar figures that shocked lawmakers. Rep. Jennifer Sullivan said the continual avoidance of accountability by the coalition’s board members was offensive.

THC cap? José Oliva wants one on all forms of medical cannabis” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Whereas what has been contemplated is a 10% cap on flower, Oliva believes that a cap on the level of the psychoactive compound makes sense for all cannabis products. “I think it’s important that we pass it,” Oliva said after the House adjourned. “We’re seeing different strains now in Europe that are 100 times stronger, and we’re starting to learn that this has some schizophrenic results, especially in young, developing brains.” “It is, in fact, a priority for us,” Oliva added. Levels currently approach 25% with some strains’ most favorable grows. However, that number pales in comparison to vapes, dabs and other assorted distillates, where concentrations of the substance can be as high as 90%.

House Speaker José Oliva wants a hard cap on THC in medical marijuana.

House shies away from overhauling disabilities program” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The chance that Florida legislators this year will redesign the Medicaid program for people with developmental disabilities is dwindling. While the House has pushed in the past for an overhaul of the program, the Republican who oversees health care spending said she thinks, for now, the agency running the program can continue operating as is. “I think we are able to accomplish what we need to accomplish with the statutes that we have,” Rep. MaryLynn Magar said. “And the (Agency for Persons with Disabilities), the management, they can pull together.” Magar said her priority is reaching an agreement with the Senate on how to fund the agency for the fiscal year.

— LEGISLATION —

Gambling talks continue — minus a key player” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — House and Senate leaders are continuing to huddle on a sweeping gambling deal that could open the door to sports betting in the state, but the Seminole Tribe of Florida — a key player in any agreement — isn’t yet part of the discussions, Senate President Galvano said. And, Galvano emphasized, legislative leaders have not reached an accord. “It’s premature to believe that there is a negotiated deal between the chambers. That has not occurred yet,” Galvano, who was instrumental in the passage of a 2010 agreement between the state and the tribe, told The News Service of Florida. For five years, lawmakers have grappled with thorny and elusive gambling issues, to no avail.

Bill Galvano negotiates a gambling bill, but without a key player — the Seminole Tribe.

Oliva diplomatic on VISIT FLORIDA as Senate OK’s extension” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The Senate budgeted $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA — a position from which the House diverges, offering nothing. That’s the state of play when it comes to VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism marketing agency. The Senate unanimously approved SB 362, filed by Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, which would extend embattled VISIT FLORIDA’s mission until October 2028. Funding VISIT Florida is a priority for DeSantis. His support for the agency last year bought it an extension through June, despite House leaders wanting to kill it. The agency is still absorbing the impacts of the haircut it had to take. Oliva seemed to give a slight indication he was open to a compromise on funding the agency.

House approves Office of Energy move” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — As Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried holds out for “cooler heads” in the Senate, House Speaker Oliva is hopeful he will gain support for his chamber’s effort to move the Office of Energy from under her watch. Voting mostly along party lines, the House agreed to move the energy office’s 14 full-time employees, $1.8 million in salaries and trust-fund authority from Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Environmental Protection, which is under DeSantis. “I think that it’s important. It’s a priority of the Governor. It’s where that department was originally,” Oliva told reporters. “Our plan is to continue to move forward in the hopes that we will be able to accomplish that with the Senate.”

After ‘tragedies’ at all children’s, St. Mary’s, Florida lawmakers back safety measure” via Kathleen McGrory and Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A bill that would require hospitals to conduct anonymous employee surveys about patient safety is gaining traction in the Florida Legislature. The House has approved similar proposals in the past, but the Senate has historically been cool to the idea. This year, however, the bill has a powerful ally in Sen. Gayle Harrell. It passed out of the Senate Health Policy Committee this week with a unanimous vote. What changed? Rep. Chris Sprowls said recent “tragedies” at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach “have really made people realize the importance of the bill and how it can help people and save lives.”

Gayle Harrell is a powerful voice supporting a bill seeking anonymous employee surveys in hospitals.

Senate panel advances vaping bill — A bill that would classify vaping devices as tobacco products cleared the Senate Finance and Tax Committee with a unanimous vote, despite industry objections, Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida reports. SB 1394 would have the Department of Business and Professional Regulation set rules to regulate vape shops, but the change in classification is a departure from the House vape regulation bill. JD McCormick of the Florida Smoke-Free Association said the change derails years of vape-industry efforts to distance itself from Big Tobacco. “You are labeling us under the same thing we are working so hard to get away from,” he said. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Attorney fee limit heads to full House” via Florida Politics — This is the second and final stop for HB 7071 in the House. Next, it will be considered on the House floor. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Beltran, limits the use of the contingency risk multiplier to apply to only rare and exceptional circumstances. Currently, state law allows courts to use the contingency risk multiplier in calculating attorney’s fees. As a result, attorneys may be awarded fees up to 30 times more than the value of the claim they represent in property insurance lawsuits. Beltran said: “The purpose of this bill is to limit the multiplier to only those circumstances where they truly cannot obtain a lawyer but for the multiplier.”

Drone bills zoom through House committee” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Two bills regarding the use of drones flew through the House State Affairs Committee Thursday. One bill (HB 659) would allow drones to fight wildfires and eradicate invasive plants. Another (HB 1433) authorizes greater use of drones for law enforcement purposes. Neither piece of legislation proved especially controversial in the committee. No witnesses stood up to raise privacy concerns for Burmese pythons or Brazilian peppers. With the support of the State Affairs Committee, HB 659 heads for the House floor. The police drones bill still must win approval from the House Judiciary Committee, its final stop before the floor.

Car sharing bill clears House committee” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The House State Affairs Committee gave unanimous approval to HB 723, setting minimum requirements for people who rent their personal vehicles through car-sharing websites such as Turo and Getaround. The bill is one of two making its way through the House seeking to establish parameters for a rapidly emerging business model that has put its proponents at odds with traditional rental car companies, notably Enterprise, and conventional hotel companies and vacation rental home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Those battles are being fought at Orlando and Tampa international airports, as the airports have been attempting to regulate and tax the peer-to-peer operations as if they are car rental companies.

House moves closer on shark fin sales ban” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The House State Affairs Committee approved an amended version of HB 401 that seeks to shut down the use of Florida’s ports by international shark fin dealers who engage in a version of shark fishing universally reviled at the committee’s meeting. But that amendment would affect legal Florida fisherman, too. The practice of “shark finning” involves hauling sharks into a boat, sawing off their fins, and dumping the sharks back into the ocean to bleed to death. Such enterprises are being blamed not just for an abhorrent practice but for dramatic decreases in shark populations. Shark finning is illegal in Florida and federal waters. But hauling a boat full of shark fins, perhaps from other seas, is not illegal.

White nationalism condemnation appears dead in the Legislature” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The bill, sponsored by Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, was temporarily postponed last month by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair David Simmons, a Longwood Republican. An impasse over the white supremacy language remains unresolved. Rodriguez filed the resolution (SR 214) in September to condemn white nationalism and white supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance. But the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee, chaired by Republican Tom Lee, passed a committee substitute removing the condemnation of white supremacy and white nationalism. The new language rejected any ideology or philosophy that advocates the superiority of one of group of people over another because of race, color, national origin, sex or religion as hateful, dangerous and morally corrupt expressions of intolerance.

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

The Office of Insurance Regulation will consider a property insurance rate-increase proposal put forward by National Specialty Insurance Co., 10 a.m., Room 301, Senate Office Building.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will hold two workshops to inform the development of a state action plan for Hurricane Michael recovery funds. The first will be at 9 a.m. Central Time at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City. The second will be at 3 p.m. Eastern Time at Kelly Campbell Community Center in Quincy.

Florida lobbyists and lobbying firms face a Friday deadline for filing compensation reports covering the fourth quarter of 2019.

STATEWIDE —

Feds reviewing previously unreported cyberattack on Florida elections office” via David Smiley and Nicholas Nehemas of the Miami Herald — Less than five weeks before Florida’s March presidential primary, the Department of Homeland Security is investigating a previously unreported cyberattack on Palm Beach County’s elections office, according to Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link. Link, who was appointed last year by the governor to oversee the county’s beleaguered elections department, said she contacted the FBI in November after a veteran IT employee told her that a ransomware virus had infected the office only a few weeks before the 2016 election. The virus was not publicly disclosed in 2016. Link said the FBI referred her to DHS, which sent a team of a half-dozen employees to her office late last month to do a “deep dive” into her department’s network.

Are you confident your vote will be counted amid reports of election hacking?” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It looks like it happened again. Or rather, it happened again years ago. Still, news has just come to light that the Palm Beach County elections office may have been subjected to a ransomware attack in 2016, the same year elections offices throughout Florida were the target of phishing attacks by Russian agents. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Link admitted Wednesday that her office had been hit by a ransomware attack in 2016, before her time as supervisor. (Link’s predecessor, Susan Bucher, said what was described by Link never happened.) As we head toward another presidential election, how confident are you that your vote will be counted? If you’re worried, what could elections officials do to make you more assured that your vote is secure?

Timeshare relief company with ties to Florida accused of widespread fraud” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — Washington state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit accusing the industry’s biggest timeshare exit company of widespread fraud. The “exit” companies — many of which do a steady business in Florida — claim to help free consumers from unwanted timeshares. Timeshare contracts often require owners to pay fees and other costs until they die. The attorney general found that Washington-based Timeshare Exit Team “unfairly and deceptively contracted” to resolve about 38,000 timeshare cases since 2012. Of those, 17,000 are still pending — 8,000 for at least two years, and 4,600 for at least three years. Even some of the “successful” exits are in dispute.

Their children didn’t die in Parkland, but they should be remembered too, moms say” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — It was an early weekend afternoon and Antonio Johnson was fidgeting with his engine under the hood of his car behind his home when the gunman approached. Unaware, Johnson’s girlfriend — who was two months pregnant with their child at the time — sauntered over. Startled, the gunman shot and killed Johnson. Johnson’s girlfriend, shot four times, survived. So did their child. Now 9 years old, her name is Miracle. Antonio’s mom, Myrna Williams-Cammon, and about a half-dozen other mothers whose children have been killed by gunfire gathered at a street corner in Miami Gardens to remember their lost loved ones. They gathered to pray and keep the names of their children — some who were killed more than a decade ago — alive.

— NO VALENTINE’S FOR MMJ —

For medical marijuana users, Valentine’s Day is bittersweet — and not in the chocolate sense. Three years since voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, Florida has seen an avalanche of products: oils, tinctures, vape pens and (hopefully, coming soon) smokable flower.

But no edibles. At least not yet.

Last year, Spectrum News 13 reported that edible medical marijuana could become available in Florida, as newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Fried takes on her department’s control over the drug. And in one of his first acts as Governor in 2019, DeSantis signed SB 182, which allows medical marijuana users to obtain a smokable product.

Come on lawmakers, let’s get some rules in place for chocolate marijuana edibles. 

While that law took effect immediately, the Orlando Sentinel reported: “It could take time for the Department of Health, the agency that oversees the state’s medical-marijuana program, to approve new rules to guide doctors, meaning patients might have to wait a little longer for smokable forms.”

Florida statutes also allow for medical marijuana edibles but under several limitations — including the Health Department setting “acceptable” rules for the form and ingredients of the product.

And here we are, Valentine’s Day 2020.

Florida patients have access to a wide variety of vape, smokable and other products. However, still, no edible chocolates for your beloved who jumped through all the hoops and barriers lawmakers have constructed.

C’mon folks — have a heart for Valentine’s Day. Get those rules going.

— WORLD OF WORK —

Florida’s work landscape is changing, with several industries struggling to keep up.

Robots, automation, artificial intelligence, innovations and technology will require workers with the skills students will need as they plan their future, according to Florida Workforce 2030, a new report from the Florida Chamber Foundation.

While jobs are out there, employers are increasingly concerned about a lack of employability skills. The report explains that to remain globally competitive, Florida must develop, attract and retain a strong talent pool.

“To build America’s best workforce in Florida, we must prepare students for global competition,” said Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson. “That means better aligning programs and standards with future job demands, training and attracting the best and brightest for advancement and new careers, and increasing economic prosperity for all Floridians — starting with our youngest learners.”

Mark Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says the state’s workforce has to update its skill set.

After in-depth research, Florida Workforce 2030 identified five key growth sectors — Aviation and Aerospace, Financial and Professional Services, Health Care and Life Sciences, Manufacturing, Trade and Logistics. Each of these sectors requires talent that embraces technological advancements, artificial intelligence, automation and innovation.

The report also notes that 92% plan to hire new employees over the next year; 81% are concerned that lack of key employability skills is a threat to their business; 77% anticipate changes in core technologies, generational workforce shifts or artificial intelligence will disrupt their business; 52% are currently engaged in public-private partnerships four workforce training or skills development.

More details of the Florida Workforce 2030 report are available at FLChamber.com.

— COVID-19 —

Beware of coronavirus scams and claims about ‘confirmed’ cases and cures” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — U.S. and Florida officials warn consumers to beware of 2019 Novel Coronavirus scams that include misleading emails and posts promoting awareness and prevention tips, along with fake information about cases in neighborhoods. Also, fraudsters are setting up phony websites asking people to donate to charities that benefit victims of the virus, offering advice on unproven treatments, or containing malicious email attachments. “We have zero tolerance for sham charities and scams attempting to take advantage of Floridians — especially with public concern over coronavirus at high levels,” Agricultural Commissioner Fried said in a statement. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said this week there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Florida, nor is there a cure or vaccine.

Norwegian Cruise Line cancels Asia voyage in response to coronavirus” via Rob Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Norwegian Cruise Line has canceled its Feb. 17 voyage from Singapore amid the coronavirus crisis, ending days of stress for consumers who had paid for the cruise but weren’t being allowed to cancel and receive full refunds or credits toward future cruises. As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia, most major cruise lines had days ago canceled planned departures and port calls in countries where the virus has been spreading. But Norwegian — for reasons it declined to share with customers or the media — refused to cancel planned voyages of its 1,200-cabin, eight-deck Norwegian Jade on Feb. 17 and Feb. 27. That baffled consumers aware that Norwegian had recently canceled all planned Asia voyages of its ship Norwegian Spirit for nearly eight months.

— MOTHER NATURE —

Deepwater Horizon spill was about 30% bigger than previously thought, study says” via Nicole Chavez of CNN — Claire Paris-Limouzy, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School and co-author of the study, told CNN the spill was about 30% larger than estimated. It reached the Texas shore, the Florida Keys, the coast of Tampa, and parts of the east coast of Florida, according to the study. At some point, 88,522 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico were closed to fishing because of the spill, according to a federal report on the oil spill. Paris-Limouzy and her colleagues used three-dimensional computer simulations to track the oil. She explained the discrepancy between their results and previous estimates is because of smaller concentrations of oil that are often invisible to satellite imagery.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was about a third worse than originally estimated.

Environmentalists praise plan to spend hotel taxes on ailing springs and lakes. But the tourism industry is fighting it.” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida environmentalists are praising a new plan in Tallahassee to let counties spend hotel taxes cleaning up polluted springs, lakes and lagoons — an idea they say could be especially helpful in tourism-dominated Orange County, which is struggling to find enough money to save water bodies like the Wekiva River and Lake Apopka. “I think it’s a great idea,” Nancy Prine, an activist with the conservation group Friends of the Wekiva River. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and other tourism businesses have lobbied hard over the years for laws that force counties to spend those taxes primarily in ways that subsidize the tourism industry.

Florida is facing a freshwater crisis” via Justin Garcia of WMNF — Educator and springs advocate John Dunn, in his book “DRYING UP: The Freshwater Crisis in Florida,” writes that Florida once had a plentiful, unpolluted freshwater supply. With the influx of newcomers, development, human-made changes to the environment, and rising sea levels, our once-bountiful supply of freshwater is endangered. How Florida went from having a healthy aquifer along with some of the cleanest rivers, streams and lakes in the world to the brink of scarcity is the topic of DRYING UP. Dunn warns that many scientists think Florida has already passed the tipping point.

John Dunn says Florida freshwater is drying up.

What happened to winter? Jet stream science explains unseasonable warmth in U.S.” via Denise Chow of NBC News — If the mild conditions in the U.S. persist through February, this could be the country’s warmest winter in recorded history, according to NOAA. Though it may seem like another symptom of global warming, the warmer-than-usual conditions are more directly caused by an Arctic weather pattern that is trapping cold air in the polar region. Scientists are watching this system closely to try to understand whether this winter is an outlier or a preview of what could become more common for the Northern Hemisphere. The mild conditions this winter are driven by a “positive phase” of the Arctic Oscillation, which strengthens the jet stream, a ribbon of fast-moving air that flows west to east over the Northern Hemisphere.

— 2020 —

Trump to headline a $580,600-per-couple fundraiser, the most expensive of his reelection bid” via Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post — Trump will be the guest of honor at a Saturday fundraiser at the palatial Palm Beach estate of billionaire Nelson Peltz. Trump’s fellow guests: donors who gave $580,600 per couple to support the president’s reelection. The dinner shows how enthusiastically Trump had embraced big-dollar fundraising in his bid for a second term — a dramatic about-face from 2016 when he criticized the influence of wealthy donors on the politicians who court them. It also shows the exclusive access enjoyed by many of Trump’s wealthiest donors, including business executives and lobbyists, who get the chance to air their grievances with the president’s tariffs or promote their pet projects, often while dining on Trump’s favorite foods.

Got $580K? 

Trump escalates his attacks on Bloomberg, comparing him to Jeb Bushvia Quint Forgey of POLITICO — Trump leveled a new attack against Bloomberg — comparing the Democratic presidential candidate to Jeb Bush and seeking to capitalize on the former New York Mayor’s latest controversy regarding stop-and-frisk policing. “Mini Mike Bloomberg is a LOSER who has money but can’t debate and has zero presence, you will see,” the president tweeted. “He reminds me of a tiny version of Jeb ‘Low Energy’ Bush, but Jeb has more political skill and has treated the Black community much better than Mini!” he added. Bloomberg fired: “ … we know many of the same people in NY. Behind your back they laugh at you & call you a carnival barking clown …”

Democratic super PAC launches digital media attack on Trump over cuts to Medicare, Medicaid” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Priorities USA is running a series of digital ads including a graph breaking down potentially $1 trillion in cuts, most of which to Medicaid, the program that insures very low-income individuals. The ads will run in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona, states Democrats are targeting in the 2020 election. The graph shows a $920 billion cut to Medicaid with another $130 billion in cuts to Medicare and $24 billion from Social Security. ABC News reported the same Medicaid cuts, but showed cuts to Medicare at $451 billion. In a video running on Facebook, Priorities USA highlights Trump’s 2016 campaign trail promise not to cut any of the social safety net programs.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

’School choice’ is dividing Florida Democrats along racial lines. Could it help Donald Trump?” via Steve Contorno and Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — Trump’s overtures aren’t going to erase the deep distrust for the president in black communities. And it’s unlikely that black voters will leave the Democratic Party in large numbers over an issue that’s commonly called “school choice.” That’s the blanket term for the support of policies like charter schools, which are public schools that are managed by private entities, and vouchers, which use tax dollars for private school tuition. Trump’s appeal to black voters coincides with a fight over vouchers in Tallahassee that is tearing Democratic leaders apart, often along racial lines. In Florida, where elections are won and lost on razor-thin margins, seemingly minuscule shifts in enthusiasm and turnout with demographics can be decisive.

Joe Biden did this to himself. And to the rest of us.” via Molly Jong-Fast of The Washington Post — A fourth- and fifth-place finish does not in any way constitute being in front. Yes: To run on electability, one should demonstrate the ability to be elected. That’s a trope that’s illustrated by — and stick with me here — winning elections. And perhaps the guy who ran for president three previous times but never placed better than fourth was an odd choice to make a case for electability in the first place. Things could change after South Carolina, of course; that’s the spin coming out of Biden’s headquarters, and it’s certainly true that Iowa and New Hampshire are lousy proxies for the rest of the country. But it looks like Biden is worse than unelectable — he’s also been a huge spoiler.

Will black voters get behind a new candidate to take on Trump as Biden struggles?” via Tim Funk of the Miami Herald — Democrats in two of the country’s whitest states have spoken. Now begins the battle for black voters, with the Carolinas on the front lines. As recently as two months ago, polls suggested that Biden’s lead in the African American community was insurmountable, making Barack Obama’s Vice President the heavy favorite to win the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 and in North Carolina three days later, on Super Tuesday, March 3. But after Biden’s lackluster showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, pundits and political scientists have begun writing his political obituary. If Biden continues to fade, where will black voters go? Mike Bloomberg, maybe? The billionaire’s barrage of TV ads have cast him, not Biden, as Obama’s partner on issues like gun control.

Not done yet, Biden announces Florida push” via David Smiley of the Tampa Bay Times — Forget about New Hampshire. Biden wants to talk about Florida. Following a fifth-place finish in Tuesday’s 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.

Michael Bloomberg’s campaign suddenly drops memes everywhere” via Taylor Lorenz of The New York Times — The Bloomberg campaign is working with Meme 2020, a new company formed by some of the people behind extremely influential accounts. Mick Purzycki is the lead strategist of the Meme 2020 project. He is also the chief executive of Jerry Media, a media and marketing company that is a powerful force in the influencer economy. The company’s portfolio includes some of the most notable meme accounts on Instagram. The campaign, which launched this week, has already placed sponsored posts on Instagram accounts including @GrapeJuiceBoys, a meme page with more than 2.7 million followers; Jerry Media’s own most popular account, with more than 13.3 million followers; and @Tank.Sinatra, a member with more than 2.3 million followers.

Bloomberg opening Sarasota campaign office” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — “This all comes down to delegates and the only way you win delegates in these congressional districts is if you’re competing in them,” said Scott Kosanovich, who is running Bloomberg’s Florida campaign. “We’ll be competing in every single congressional district across the state because that’s the only way you can come out of this with a significant win here.” Bloomberg’s campaign is hosting a grand opening for the Sarasota office at 325 Central Ave. from noon to 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Bloomberg is spending huge sums in Florida, with more than 100 paid campaign workers working in field offices around the state. Kosanovich said he expects to have roughly 10 employees based in Sarasota.

2020 hopefuls eye Super Tuesday even as 2 other states loom” via Will Weissert of The Associated Press — Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination are already looking ahead to the biggest prize on the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, the slate of contests when more than a dozen states go to the polls. For Sanders and Buttigieg, who have emerged in strong positions after contests in Iowa and in New Hampshire, the travel allows them to show their national appeal and woo larger concentrations of nonwhite voters. For struggling candidates like Warren, it’s a signal that they are still in the fight. And for everyone, it’s a chance to prove they won’t cede this swath of delegate-rich states to Bloomberg, who has spent months building his campaign around Super Tuesday.

You like Amy Klobuchar now? Remember that when your inner sexist starts doubting her.” via Monica Hesse of The Washington Post — The U.S. Senator from Minnesota had a surprisingly strong third-place finish in the New Hampshire primaries, and suddenly voters and pundits lifted their weary heads and declared that maybe a woman did have a shot at winning the election, after all — just not any of the women they’d been paying attention to. When Nevada rolls around, followed by South Carolina and the rest of this hideous electoral slog, remember this feeling of liking her. I mention this because there was a time when Elizabeth Warren’s tone and posture were, in fact, widely seen as presidential. It was 2016. It was when liberal voters were saying they’d be happy to vote for a woman, just not Hillary Clinton.

Florida Dems’ PPP Fact of the Day via Juan Peñalosa‏ — In the lead up to the deadline to register for Florida’s presidential primary, FDP Executive Director Peñalosa‏ offers a fact every day about Florida Democrats and their effort to win through voter registration. Today’s fact: After launching the voter registration efforts in June 2019, the FDP was registering 28 voters per day, which now rises to an average of 321 voters registered per day. That rate of growth is increasing every month, Peñalosa‏ adds. The FDP goal is to register 200,000 new voters by August 1.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Bill Barr: Trump’s Roger Stone tweets ‘make it impossible for me to do my job’” via Axios — Attorney General Barr told ABC News that Trump’s “constant background commentary” about the Justice Department “make it impossible for me to do my job,” adding, “I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.” It’s a rare public rebuke of the president by the attorney general, who has faced allegations of politicizing the Justice Department. Asked if he was prepared to take the blowback for criticizing the president, Barr responded: “Of course. As I said during my confirmation, I came in to serve as attorney general. I am responsible for everything that happens in the department, but the thing I have most responsibility for are the issues that are brought to me for decision.”

Donald Trump’s tweets are getting in the way of William Barr doing his job.

Trump’s words, bullied kids, scarred schools” via Hannah Natanson, John Woodrow Cox and Perry Stein of The Washington Post — Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them. Trump’s words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016, a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories found. At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis.

Trump’s story about veteran’s comeback was not quite true” via Bernard Condon of The Associated Press — Tony Rankins, a formerly homeless, drug-addicted Army veteran, got a standing ovation at the State of the Union after Trump described how he turned his life around thanks to a construction job at a company using the administration’s “Opportunity Zone” tax breaks targeting poor neighborhoods. But that’s not completely true. Rankins doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so. In fact, he started that job four months before the Treasury Department published its final list of neighborhoods eligible for the breaks. And the hotel where he worked couldn’t benefit even now because it’s an area that didn’t make the cut.

Trump’s retweets range far and wide, but how did a sex therapist become a three-time presidential favorite?” via Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — Trump has recently retweeted posts from a California sex therapist, Dawn Michael, whose professional Twitter home is a mix of pro-Trump material and, well, other things. The three retweets since January are emblematic of the president’s habit of amplifying online praise from random or troublesome corners of the Internet. He has been widely criticized for retweeting racially insensitive or allegedly anti-Semitic material. But his willingness to cast the presidential gaze and Twitter finger upon oddball figures and little-known commentators has attracted less notice. And it also appears to be on the rise. It is not clear what attracted Trump to Michael’s posts, but she appears among a circle of conservative pro-Trump Twitter users who regularly retweet one another.

Trump to be Daytona 500 Grand Marshal, tell drivers to start engines” via Iliana Limón Romero and Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — Trump will be the Grand Marshal of the Daytona 500 Sunday. Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile released a statement confirming Trump will attend the race that read, “Daytona International Speedway has been privileged to have hosted several sitting presidents of the United States over our history. We’re honored that the president of the United States has chosen to experience the pageantry and excitement of ‘The Great American Race’ by attending Sunday’s 62nd annual Daytona 500.” Trump is expected to fly into Volusia County to attend the race. Travelers using any airports in the county, along with fans driving to the race Sunday should expect delays due to heightened security.

Spice up Valentine’s Day: Ex-Trump press secretary sells $199 personalized videos” via Jared Gilmore of McClatchy DC — “Hey guys — it’s Sean Spicer, with an amazing deal,” the former White House press said in a video posted on Instagram. “This month, for the entire month of February, my videos that normally cost $400 are over 50 percent off.” Spicer promises personalized video shout outs to fans over the website Cameo for $199, calling it “the best Valentine’s Day gift ever.” “What [better] way to say ‘I love you, I’m thinking of you,’ this Valentine’s Day than a video from me?” Spicer asked.

Show your loved one how much you care.

Marco Rubio, Rick Scott enter resolution honoring Parkland shooting victims — Sens. Rubio and Scott introduced a resolution honoring the 17 victims of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting two years ago. The resolution passed the Senate unanimously. “I’ve worked closely with the families of the victims to make our schools safer and prevent future tragedies,” Scott said in a statement. “We passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act while I was Governor, and now, I’m fighting for improvements on the federal level.” Rubio added: “I have personally gotten to know many of the parents and families who lost loved ones. While I am proud of the results we have achieved … we still have much work to do.”

Darren Soto introduces national fracking ban” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — U.S. Rep. Soto joined with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce a bill that would ban fracking nationwide by 2025. The Ban Fracking Act would implement an immediate federal ban on all new federal permits for fracking-related infrastructure, a ban on fracking within 2,500 feet of homes and schools by 2021, and finally a total ban within five years. The bill would also direct the Department of Labor to develop a plan to shift fossil fuel workers into new jobs as the country moves toward sustainable energy policies. “We cannot deny the overwhelming scientific consensus any longer — fracking is a threat to our health, safety and environment,” Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, said in a statement.

The first South American in Congress receives Ecuador’s second-highest honor” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Miami Democrat and first-term Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell received Ecuador’s second-highest civilian honor from President Lenin Moreno during a Capitol Hill ceremony complete with the kind of grandeur normally reserved for senior congressional leaders and heads of state. After remarks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mucarsel-Powell received Ecuador’s National Order of Merit from Moreno, an award previously bestowed on heads of state across South America and to notable Ecuadorians like former Manchester United soccer player Antonio Valencia. A half dozen members of Congress crammed into a small room for the occasion, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Broward County.

Assignment editors — Rep. Mucarsel-Powell, vice-chair of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will join Rep. Jared Huffman, chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee, on the next stop of a listening tour in Miami, to discuss federal fisheries policy in Florida, 8:30 a.m., Southeast Fisheries Science Center Seminar Room, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami.

U.S. House removes ERA ratification deadline, one obstacle to enactment” via Patricia Sullivan of The Washington Post — The U.S. House gave the Equal Rights Amendment a temporary new lease on life Thursday by voting to remove a 1982 deadline for ratification by the states. The 232-to-183 vote, on a resolution introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, pushes the issue to the Senate, where Sens. Ben Cardin and Lisa Murkowski have introduced a similar measure. Republicans leaned on anti-abortion and constitutional arguments to oppose the ERA, arguing that enshrining protections for women in the Constitution would mean abortion could not be restricted. Democrats focused on the legality of deadlines and the importance of equal rights. “This has nothing to do with the abortion issue. That is an excuse, not a reason,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

— GAETZ’S PRICE TO PAY —

In a new Rolling Stone profile, Matt Gaetz is described as the one politician in Washington — outside of Trump — who “exerts as much care over his media presence.” Appearances on Fox News, fighting with opponents on Twitter, he “orchestrates controversial publicity stunts like inviting Holocaust denier Charles Johnson to the State of the Union in 2018” or introducing outrageous legislation like disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency.

The result? Headlines.

In the “reality-TV funhouse” that is Trump’s Washington, headlines are “worth their weight in committee assignments.” Gaetz is never one or two weeks away from the next clickbait attention grabber.

“Look, after 10 months, I figured out that you only really matter if you can move substantial sums of money, or substantial blocs of votes,” Gaetz tells Rolling Stone’s Ryan Bort. “If you couldn’t do one of those things, you are an extra in the movie in the United States Congress. I had no interest in that. I started to realize that to serve my constituents, I had to bring forces to bear outside of that traditional paradigm that they teach you in orientation.”

Clickbait, views and headlines are worth more than committee assignments for Matt Gaetz.

While the goal is “delivering outcomes,” the danger is going against Trump’s agenda.

Bort writes: “Isn’t it inevitable that the endorphin-fueled drive to rack up engagement stats, to cater to the outrage-chasers, to get headlines at any cost, to own the libs, will hinder a lawmaker’s ability to make life better for the people they’re supposed to represent?”

“It’s a hell of a note from a Rolling Stone reporter to tell me I’m too entertaining,” he says when asked. “I guess I’ll take it as a compliment.”

Gaetz’s success has rested on the willingness to go “one step further,” particularly the stunt where he and a group of House Republicans stormed a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where Intelligence Committee members were taking testimony from witnesses with knowledge of the Trump administration’s dealings in Ukraine.

While possibly illegal, the move had its intended effect — headlines, and Trump’s approval.

— THE TRAIL —

Ted Deutch endorses Mike Bloomberg for President” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Long before Bloomberg became a presidential candidate, one of his signature issues was gun violence, also a yearslong central issue for Deutch — well before the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in his district. “While states across the country have taken steps to strengthen gun laws, America continues to fall victim to gun violence. We need to take immediate action before another mass tragedy unfolds, and tomorrow is too late to start. Mike Bloomberg will make gun safety a national priority, and he has a plan that could actually prevent these atrocities from happening,” Deutch said in a statement.

Gun control is why Ted Deutch is supporting Mike Bloomberg.

Darryl Rouson endorses Bloomberg” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — “Mike Bloomberg has a proven record of bringing people together and tackling the issues that matter here in Florida,” Rouson said. “He has a proven record on ending gun violence, investing in infrastructure, and creating jobs. His plan to invest $70 billion in the African American community is bold and better than any I have seen from our candidates. I am proud to support Mike and know that he is the best candidate to beat Donald Trump.” Rouson specifically tied his endorsement to Bloomberg’s Greenwood Initiative. That plan includes policies aimed at finding economic justice for black Americans.

DCCC targets Ross Spano in snarky Valentine’s Day-themed Facebook ads” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The ads target Spano over his alliance with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against languishing Democratic-supported legislation to lower prescription drug costs. The Valentine’s Day-themed ad shows an image of iconic candy hearts on a pink and purple ombre background. But instead of the usual candy heart messages like “I love u” and “Ur pretty,” these hearts instead read, “U R my special interest,” “pinkie swear,” “I’m looking into it,” “I won’t break Ur heart” and “Ur health matters 2 me.” “Rep. Spano’s sweet little lies are bad medicine,” the ad also reads.

Thad Altman, Chip LaMarca draw Democratic foes” via the News Service of Florida — Viera Democrat Lloyd Edwin Dabbs opened a campaign account this week to try to unseat Altman in November in Brevard County’s House District 52. Also with an open account for the race is Melbourne Republican Matt Nye. Altman had raised $20,000 for his reelection bid as of Jan. 31. Meanwhile, Pompano Beach Democrat Alex Edmond Morgan opened an account this week to try to unseat LaMarca in Broward County’s House District 93. Also with an open account is Democrat Linda Thompson Gonzalez. LaMarca had raised $124,633 for his campaign as of Jan. 31.

Happening Monday:

A Miami-Dade candidate was charged with domestic abuse. He’s continuing his campaign” via Aaron Liebowitz of the Miami Herald — A longtime pastor who is running for a Miami-Dade County Commission seat was arrested late last month after police say he violently grabbed his wife and slapped her in the face during an argument. Mark Coats, the pastor for 20 years at Grace of God Baptist Church and a former county administrator, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery after a Jan. 29 incident at his home in Palmetto Bay. According to an arrest affidavit by Miami-Dade Police, Coats’ wife sustained “visible injuries” to her inner right arm and collar bone and complained of pain to her face. Police said Coats became upset after his wife “confronted him about the cleanliness of the home.”

— LOCAL —

Hulk Hogan’s sex tape is in the news again, but this one’s not about Gawker” via Florida Politics — Hiscox Insurance names Cox Radio and three high profile DJs in a lawsuit seeking to clarify whether the company is required to defend the station against an ongoing lawsuit between the station and former pro-wrestler Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan. The lawsuit names Bollea as well as shock jocks Mike Calta and Matthew Christian Lloyd, better known as Spice Boy. At issue is a 2016 case in which Bollea sued Cox Radio and Cox Enterprises as well as Calta and Lloyd over sex-tapes released showing him engaged in sex acts with another jock’s then-wife. The videos showed acts between shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and his former wife, Heather Clem.

Alleged drug lord ‘Cesar the Abuser’ faces cocaine charges in Florida” via Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A captured kingpin now faces being moved from a Colombian jail to South Florida, where he’ll fight charges of trafficking cocaine in the United States. Cesar Emilio Peralta, also known as “Cesar el Abusador” or “Cesar the Abuser,” had a $100,000 bounty put on his head by the FBI before his recent capture. The alleged cartel ring leader from the Dominican Republic has drawn notoriety comparable to Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and Mexico’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. FBI and U.S. Treasury officials charge that Peralta, 45, ran the Dominican Republic’s most extensive drug trafficking operation, moving heroin and cocaine from South America across the Caribbean and into the United States and Europe through clandestine air and maritime routes.

Cesar Emilio Peralta ran the Dominican Republic’s most extensive drug trafficking operation.

Cruise traffic is up in South Florida. Here’s what that means for the hotel industry” via Rebecca San Juan of the Miami Herald — PortMiami had 6.7 million cruise passengers in 2019, up from 5.59 million in 2018, according to the commercial real estate brokerage and property management firm JLL. Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale also experienced an uptick in visitors, from 3.87 million in 2018 to 3.9 million in 2019. The uptick in activity will draw more foreign investors, development and an increase in room rates for the industry, said JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group Investment Sales Managing Director Gregory Rumpel. “Most people taking a cruise fly in the day before departure,” Rumpel said. “That’s going to benefit hotels.” Foreign investors see the activity and want a stake in a growing hospitality market, Rumpel said.

Miami Beach could have earlier last call for alcohol during spring break” via Mark Bergen of Florida Politics — The Miami Beach City Commission voted in favor of ending alcohol sales earlier in the city’s entertainment district during spring break. Alcohol sales would stop at 3 a.m. — two hours earlier than normal — for 12 days in March on Ocean Drive between Fifth and 16th streets. “We’re being promoted as a place where anything goes, and it’s really quite alarming to me,” Mayor Dan Gelber said. The City Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the proposal, which is subject to a second vote. The Commission also unanimously passed an ordinance to require Ocean Drive bars between Fifth and 15th streets to hire an off-duty Miami Beach police officer from midnight until 30 minutes past closing time.

Property Appraiser Rick Singh sues former high-ranking employees who filed a whistleblower suit against him” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Both former employees filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Singh in 2018 that’s still pending. Singh accuses Aisha Hassan, 38, his former finance director, and LaVerne McGee, 51, his former communications director, of stealing or destroying public records belonging to the Property Appraiser’s Office. Their complaint alleges Singh of spent taxpayer money on personal trips, falsifying documents and asking employees to cover up the appraiser bringing strippers to his office inside downtown Orlando’s SunTrust building. Singh’s lawsuit accuses the two women who were part of his top executive team of “numerous unlawful acts.”

Valentine’s crime: Thieves steal roses, flowers from Orange County nursery” via Clay LePard of ClickOrlando.com — One day before Valentine’s Day, and the owners of an Orange County garden shop and plant nursery are searching for answers after they said someone stole roses and other potted plants from their business. Apopka Police said a burglary happened not once, but twice at Liner’s Patch on Plymouth Sorrento Road during the past week. “A guy gets out and comes in, loads up the trinettes down there, runs down here and tosses more plants out,” Manager Justin Dunn said. The owners estimated that anywhere from 60-70 potted plants were taken, including drift roses, fashion azaleas, purple formosa azaleas and arboricola trinettes.

Inside FSU’s new Earth, Ocean, and atmospheric science building — the tallest on campus” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 130,500-square-foot space brings together students and faculty in environmental science, geology, meteorology and oceanography under one roof. The Legislature provided $69.8 million over several years to pay for the total construction of the building. A groundbreaking ceremony was in October 2016. It includes 23 research labs and eight teaching labs, a broadcast studio for meteorology students, a 280-seat auditorium and a 100-seat active learning classroom. “The Earth’s climate is determined by complex interactions between land, water and the atmosphere, so it makes sense to have scientists in those fields work together,” said James Tull, a geology professor and the department’s chair from 2013 to 2019.

Carpetbagger claims roil politics in paradise after candidate leaves Miami for the Keys” via Bianca Padro Ocasio — At the center of the controversy is candidate Rhonda Rebman Lopez, vying to replace termed-out Republican Rep. Holly Raschein in Florida House District 120. The Republican-leaning district extends from the Florida Keys in Monroe County into southern Miami-Dade County and the Everglades. In September 2018, fresh off a failed primary race for House District 115, Rebman Lopez changed her voter registration from a home owned by her husband on Southwest 67th Street in Miami-Dade County to a Key Largo residence in the posh and private Ocean Reef Club. The house — which is owned by a trust with Rebman Lopez as the main beneficiary — is undergoing more than $500,000 in renovations which she says have rendered the home’s top floor temporarily unlivable.

More Parkland parents sue FBI over botched tips about school shooter” via Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Another set of parents are suing the FBI over how the agency botched tips about the Parkland shooter, leading to their child’s death in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Andrew Pollack and Shara Kaplan, the parents of Meadow Pollack, who was 17 when she was shot a total of nine times during the massacre, filed their lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale federal court. The lawsuit resembles ones filed by the parents of Jaime Guttenberg and Carmen Schentrup in November 2018. Guttenberg and Schentrup also were killed in the school shooting.

Santa Rosa County voters will decide on ‘pro-life sanctuary’ resolution in November” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News-Journal — Santa Rosa County voters will head to the polls this November to decide whether or not to declare the county a “pro-life sanctuary” after commissioners declined to take action on the controversial resolution Thursday.  The board unanimously voted to direct staff to draft ballot language that will ask voters whether or not they want the county to symbolically declare itself an anti-abortion county. Commissioners were originally going to vote on whether or not to adopt the resolution themselves on Thursday, but ultimately decided not to take action and instead to leave the decision up to voters in November.


— TOP OPINION —

Bob Sparks: A Valentine’s Day memory never to be forgotten” via Florida Politics — On February 14, 1973, the first planeload carrying released prisoners of war from Vietnam returned to the U.S. Thousands understandably wanted to be there, but most were denied access at the gates of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. A group of about 400 waited near the tarmac. Emerging first was the senior officer among the POWs, Navy Captain Jeremiah Denton. “Right now, we’re all a little stunned in anticipation of the fact that some of us in a few minutes, and all of us within a few hours, are going to be reunited with our families,” he said shortly after stepping off the aircraft. “Thank you for this wonderful welcome!”

— OPINIONS —

Valentine’s Day was humiliating for me as a child. I tell my students about it every year.” via Melanie McCabe for The Washington Post — In recent years, the world that all of us inhabit has grown uglier — more divisive and unkind. Today there are bullies we contend with via social media who are far more powerful and corrosive than the childhood villain I remember so vividly. Add to that the high-stakes push to achieve, to get into a top college that dominates the lives of my current students, and they are left saddled with a level of stress far greater than anything I experienced. If, for one day a year, I can help them turn all of that off, if I can create an environment where they are intentionally kind to one another, then I count that as something to be proud of.

Florida: 412 cities (if you call them that)” via Nick Sortal for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — There are 67 counties in Florida, and 412 cities, towns and villages. What’s the difference among those terms? None. Each municipality in Florida picks what it wants to be, sometimes based on alliteration. “City of Sunrise,” for example, rolls off the tongue easier. Article VIII, Section 2 establishes the municipal government as an optional level of government. A municipal charter, approved by the people, establishes a municipality. Only about 51 percent of Florida’s approximately 20 million population resides in a municipality. The rest live in unincorporated areas (not within any city limits). Councilmembers such as me are “the board of directors of an independent public corporation.” We are elected to oversee our city. Most municipalities use a “council/manager” form of government.

Despite recent news, the Miami Herald is here to stay” via Aminda Marquez Gonzalez of the Miami Herald — As you may have read in today’s story, McClatchy, the parent company of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, has announced a voluntary restructuring under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. … Rest assured, that important work — covering our communities and holding the powerful accountable — will continue as vigorously as ever at the Herald.

— MOVEMENTS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Alex Alamo, Jose Fuentes, Becker & Poliakoff: SST

Brian Ballard, Christina Brodeur, Chris Dorworth, Ballard Partners: Dealer Services Network

John Bell: Agency for Persons with Disabilities

Ron Book: Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters

Allen Boyd, Cannae Policy Group: Blue Cypress Grain

Erik Castaneda: 1-800 Contacts

Sara Clements, McGuireWoods Consulting: Florida Polytechnic University

Thomas DeRita, Resource Group NA: City of Pahokee, City of West Palm Beach, Fuccillo Kia of Cape Coral, Guardian Defender, MTC Management & Training Corporation, Place of Hope, Steeplechase HOA

Jennifer Green, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee: Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease

Roscoe Green, Cotney Construction Lobbying: Supreme Roofing & Construction

Jonathan Kilman, Mario Bailey, Cesar Fernandez, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: Firefly Systems, Lyft, Village of Palmetto Bay

Chris Moya, Dean Mead: alliantgroup

Ashlee Tising, Akerman: Big Bend Advocacy Association

Sheela VanHoose, The Southern Group: Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, Florida Trucking Association, Southern Regional Education Board

— LISTEN UP —

Battleground Florida with Christopher Heath: WFTV news director Matt Parcell is preparing to retire. But before he leaves the business and the station, he sits down to discuss the changing landscape of broadcast news, what we do well and where we fall short.

Inside Florida Politics from GateHouse Florida: The New Hampshire primary added more intrigue to the Democratic presidential nominating contest. Journalists Zac Anderson, John Kennedy, and Rick Christie discuss what it means for Florida Democrats to have Sanders ascendant in the primary, a controversial immigration bill that advanced in the Florida Senate and the second anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

podcastED: Chris Stewart’s “radicalization” on education reform came after he was elected to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education in 2007 and witnessed what he saw as countless systemic inequities plaguing low-income families of color. His recent report, The Secret Shame, How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All, finds that “ … the cities we would most assume to be capitals of ’equity’ are, in fact, citadels of racial, economic and educational injustice.”

REGULATED from hosts Christian Bax and Tony Glover: An interview with Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s first Marijuana Czar. Freedman has continued to be a thought leader since he joined the private sector, and he recently announced the launch of a cannabis-focused venture capital fund.

The Rotunda with Trimmel Gomes: A look at the ongoing fight for independence between nurses and physicians. David Herbert, the CEO of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, explains why he thinks removing physician oversight from qualified nurse practitioners will help solve the problems of increasing healthcare costs and the shortage of primary care physicians. Also, Gomes talks with civil-rights activists and families of people serving time in Florida prisons rallying support for a package of prison-reform bills. Gomes talks with Rep. Dianne Hart as she explains why so many of the reform bills are hitting roadblocks.

— WEEKEND TV —

Battleground Florida with Evan Donovan on News Channel 8 WFLA (NBC): Agriculture Commissioner Fried.

Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede on CBS 4 in Miami: The Sunday show provides viewers with an in-depth look at politics in South Florida, along with other issues affecting the region.

Florida This Week on Tampa Bay’s WEDU: Moderator Rob Lorei hosts a roundtable featuring Adam Goodman an Edward R. Murrow Sr. Fellow at Tufts University; Tampa Bay Times reporter Zachary Sampson; Tampa Bay Times reporter Megan Reeves; State Innovation Exchange, Florida Director James Chan.

In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres on Bay News 9: A discussion on the cost of school safety in Florida and how some local governments are proposing tax hikes in order to pay for it. Joining Walker-Torres are Rep. David Smith, Lake County School Board Member Bill Mathias, and Dominic Calabro of Florida TaxWatch.

Political Connections on CF 13 in Orlando and Bay News 9 in Tampa/St. Pete: A one-on-one interview with Sen. Rubio on the President’s budget, the 2020 Elections, and Florida’s future; an update on the E-Verify bill in Tallahassee and a report on the investigation into a Bay-area Congressman’s campaign finances.

The Usual Suspects on WCTV-Tallahassee/Thomasville (CBS) and WJHG-Panama City (NBC): Host Sean Pittman speaks with officers from the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce: President Antonio Jefferson, Executive Director Dana Dudley, and Membership Director Terrance Barber.

This Week in Jacksonville with Kent Justice on Channel 4 WJXT: Guests include Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute Director Rick Mullaney talking about the newest investigation of JEA and its failed privatization efforts, plus analyzing the Presidential campaigns. Dr. Kevin Duane of PharmD will talk about legislative efforts in Florida concerning Pharmacy Benefit Managers, and the cost of medications and Dr. Chester Albert, Democratic candidate, Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

This Week in South Florida on WPLG-Local10 News (ABC): Co-hosts Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg will speak with Broward County Mayor Dale Holness to discuss the proposal to change the name of “Old Dixie Highway.”

— ALOE —

Retailers expect plenty of love on Valentine’s Day” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A new survey touted by the Florida Retail Federation predicts Americans will spend upward of $27.4 billion celebrating the holiday — nearly a third more than last year’s record $20.7 billion. “Florida retailers can expect a steady influx of shoppers this month due to strong consumer finances,” FRF President and CEO Scott Shalley said. “The spirit of the holiday is in the air at many Florida retailers, including department stores, specialty stores, florists and bakeries. Just make sure you don’t forget to get that special something for your special someone.” The survey found that the average celebrant will spend $196.31 on their Valentine, a 21% increase over last year.

“Millions of roses travel through Florida for Valentine’s Day” via WCJB — The Society of American Florists estimates people buy 198 million roses each Valentine’s Day. They come from South America and make their way to couples through the state. “They fly into Miami, and they come straight from Miami on a refrigerated semi to here, and we give them a fresh cut, we put them in water, we start hydrating them,” Elizabeth Cavallo, manager at Floral Expressions Florist, said. Cavallo said they get about 35,000 roses each year and usually sell out by the end of Valentine’s Day.

Americans buy nearly 200 million roses for Valentine’s Day.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Golden Rotunda winner Audrey Bridges of the Florida Association of Health Plans, former Rep. Mark Danish, Kari Hebrank, and hairstylist to the stars, R.J. Myers. Celebrating this weekend are Rep. Dan Daley, congressional candidate Kat Cammack, and BillieAnne Gay.

___

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

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

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