Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.20.20

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Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Six Democratic presidential hopefuls met on the debate stage in Las Vegas, but it was the newcomer, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who received the most attention, and none of it positive. Here are some key takeaways from the debate.

— The $60 billion punching bag —

Bloomberg was the object of scorn, ridicule and contempt. And that was just in the first five minutes of the debate.

With all candidates flashing heat, a measure of the urgency they feel to survive in what is becoming an increasingly bitter nomination fight, the attacks focused on Bloomberg were a clear measure of his perceived strength. He has spent more than $400 million so far on advertising that in turn has given him strong standing in state and national polls.

Sen. Bernie Sanders recalled Bloomberg’s support of stop-and-frisk policing targeting minorities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren recalled how Bloomberg had mocked women for being “horse-faced” and “fat” and compared him to Trump. Sen. Amy Klobuchar quipped that “I don’t think you look at Donald Trump and say I think we need someone richer in the White House.” Former Vice President Joe Biden said Bloomberg condoned racist police practices, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said Bloomberg was trying to “buy out” the Democratic Party.

But his biggest struggle came when Warren hammered him over allegations of sexism and mistreatment of women in his company.

Bloomberg attempted to defend his record and deflect the attacks on him by turning them into attacks on President Donald Trump. And he effectively raised questions about whether Americans would embrace a socialist like Sanders.

But the glare was harsh, and the attacks landed with force.

Even if you are worth $60 billion it is hard to win a 5-on-1 fight.

— Not the era of good feelings —

For eight debates, the Democrats largely tiptoed around disagreements except for desultory disputes about health care policies. But on Wednesday night, everyone came with sharp elbows.

It was almost impossible to keep track of the fights. Buttigieg and Klobuchar tussled over experience and the Minnesota senator forgetting the name of Mexico’s president. Buttigieg and Sanders argued about the Vermont senator’s big-ticket plans and refusal to release his full medical records. Warren clashed with Buttigieg and Klobuchar over their health care plans. And everyone piled onto Bloomberg.

The former New York mayor was the only candidate who didn’t really go on the attack, other than the occasional swipe at the self-declared socialist Sanders.

In the end, that dynamic may again benefit Sanders, who leads in the polls and is watching his rivals spend most of their energy tearing each other down rather than targeting him.

— Return of Warren the fighter —

Warren rose to prominence in the Democratic field with a fighting spirit that defined the early months of her campaign. But her disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire left her campaign struggling.

On Wednesday, she decided to get back into the fight.

She slammed Bloomberg — that was no surprise as she’s been an antagonist of billionaires playing in politics for years. But Warren also attacked Klobuchar, saying her health care plan was just a “Post-it note.” She accused Buttigieg of being in debt to his rich campaign supporters and having a health care plan that was just a “PowerPoint” designed by his consultants. She slammed fellow liberal Sanders, accusing him of letting his supporters trash anyone with a plan.

But it was her prosecutorial approach to Bloomberg over his company’s treatment of women that stood out.

Whatever happens on Saturday, and beyond, Warren regained her fighting voice.

— The generational divide —

Buttigieg, who finished in the top two in Iowa and New Hampshire with Sanders, reserved some of his harshest criticism for Sanders, a man 40 years his elder.

He warned that Democrats could wake up after more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday on March 3 and have only Bloomberg and Sanders left on the ballot. He then quipped that the party may want to nominate “someone who is actually a Democrat.”

The crowd inside the Las Vegas casino hadn’t yet finished chuckling and hooting when he continued by saying Sanders “wants to burn this party down” and Bloomberg “wants to buy this party out.”

Sanders, a senator from Vermont and avowed democratic socialist, responded by saying that Buttigieg’s campaign has been too reliant on “billionaire” big donors, touching off another intense exchange.

Their back and forth continued through criticism of Sanders supporters who have frequently been accused of bullying behavior online. Sanders said he personally had denounced such behavior. This prompted Buttigieg to say he believed the senator but, “What it is it about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this type of behavior?”

On this night, Buttigieg had the most at stake, with Sanders standing in Nevada polls well ahead of the man who has run even with him in the first two contests.

But Sanders did nothing likely to undermine his standing as the leading candidate so far.

— Does Klobentum continue? —

The last debate was rocket fuel for Klobuchar. Her strong performance vaulted her to a third-place finish in New Hampshire and onto Nevada. But it may be hard for lightning to strike twice.

The Minnesota senator often got drowned out in the high-octane bickering Wednesday, or pulled down into the mud. At one point she pulled from her supply of ready quips, saying of Sanders and Bloomberg as they argued over capitalism that there is “a boxing rematch in Vegas on Saturday and these guys should go down there.”

The most damaging exchange was between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, who have tangled before. Asked about her embarrassing gaffe in forgetting the name of Mexico’s president, she had to fend off Buttigieg, who claimed it disproved her argument that Washington has prepared her to be president. She also alternately scrapped with and aligned with Warren.

“Are you calling me dumb?” Klobuchar asked Buttigieg incredulously. Later, she added, “I wish everyone was as perfect as you, Pete.”

A little over a week ago in New Hampshire, Klobuchar clearly stood out. This time was much harder as everyone battled for survival.

— Did Biden revise his campaign? —

Another candidate in need of a big night to reverse perceptions that his campaign was struggling was Biden.

For a good portion of the debate, he receded. He joined in the attacks on Bloomberg, but largely avoided some of the more testy exchanges.

When Warren said that Biden was “in the pocket” of Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, Biden fought back. He also tried to return to his “Middle Class Joe” biography about his family’s financial struggles.

He did not offer voters any new rationale for voting for him.

Bloomberg bombs in debate debut” via POLITICO — He rolled his eyes when Elizabeth Warren pressed him to release women at his company from non-disclosure agreements related to alleged mistreatment. He suggested he can’t simply use TurboTax, like many Americans, to crunch his billions in order to speed up the release of his tax returns. He pouted when moderators didn’t return to him on health care, muttering, ‘What am I, chicken liver?’ … Bloomberg spent the past 10 weeks flooding the airwaves with ads, racking up endorsements and climbing into contention ahead of his Super Tuesday debut. And in two hours Wednesday night, he risked losing those swift gains as he stumbled through his first nationally televised primary debate. He was rusty. He was testy. He was out of touch. And, for a candidate often shielded by the scripted one-liners of killer campaign advisers, he was on his own — unable to hide his peevish demeanor and unable to portray himself, as his campaign has tried to do, as the clear choice to stop Bernie Sanders and beat  Trump.

Loathing in Las Vegas: Amy and Pete’s resentment boils over” via Elena Schneider of POLITICO — Klobuchar made sure there would be no post-debate handshake with Pete Buttigieg. After a series of cutting exchanges during Wednesday’s presidential debate, Klobuchar cut around Buttigieg without a glance in his direction as they stepped away from their neighboring podiums following Wednesday’s Democratic showdown.

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are both hawking middle-of-the-road, tell-it-like-it-is personas.

… The hostility building between the two Midwestern Democratsburst dramatically into the open in Nevada, as they clashed repeatedly on the debate stage and tried to slash the momentum out of each other’s campaigns. Klobuchar and Buttigieg have fought before over their experience and their political records in past debates — but the feud took a deeply personal turn.

‘He Said, She Said’ colors in the presidential primary — On the new episode of He Said, She Said, Michelle and I start with a couple of recaps: our current bets on PredictIt and our Valentine’s Day activities.

Moving on to politics, pollster Steve Vancore gives his predictions for Florida’s Democratic presidential primary and talks about President Donald Trump at the Daytona 500. Then Vancore also breaks down our “increasingly siloed lives.” If he had to place a PredictIt bet, Vancore says Bernie Sanders is a buy and explains why Joe Biden would stay in the race through South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Michelle and I debate the Democratic field and examine the flaws of a Sanders nomination.

Adam Goodman joins the pod to give a deep dive into the various paths the Democratic primary could take, drawing parallels from the current presidential race to the 2018 gubernatorial race between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum. Goodman explains why he would want to see Bernie Sanders go head-to-head with Trump. I disagree.

We also talk about what a Bloomberg nomination could mean for the Democrats. Goodman says it will feed into Trump’s class warfare narrative.

To subscribe and listen, visit Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.


The House will be voting today to require parental consent for abortions and to strip the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence of their exclusive contract with the state.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— A federal appeals court in Atlanta rules against the state in a challenge over voting rights for former felons. The Governor’s office says they’ll appeal.

— President of New College, Donal O’Shea, comes to The Capitol at an existential moment. He’s trying to stop a bill that calls for his University to become a branch campus of Florida State University.

— Crime survivors gather at The Capitol, calling for major changes in the criminal justice system. They want more rehabilitation and less incarceration to break the cycle of violence.

— Vancore gives his take on Florida’s presidential preference primary and the scandal at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

 — The continuing adventures of Florida Man — who has a severe drug problem.

To listen, click on the image below:


—@NateSilver538: Average projected delegates through Super Tuesday: Sanders 608 (41% of delegates thru March 3) … [Mike] Bloomberg 273 (18%) … Biden 270 (18%) … [Pete] Buttigieg 157 (10%) [Elizabeth] Warren 127 (8%) … [Amy] Klobuchar 55 (4%).

@FlaFarmBureau: We hope @chucktodd asks @MikeBloomberg to describe how we should be hedging the corn futures market while calibrating a variable rate fertilizer spreader and planting crops on laser leveled fields with a GPS controlled auto-steer tractor. We’ll take notes.

@maxwelltani: After 2016, people said media needs to do a better job going to real America to cover the issues Americans actually care about. So it’s interesting to see media spend so much time discussing Bernie supporters’ online behavior, an issue primarily affecting media and political pros

@MattGaetz: Fifty years ago, a gay man or woman couldn’t work in the intelligence community. Today President Trump is appointing an openly gay man to serve as Acting Director of National Intelligence. Congratulations, Ambassador

@TomLeeFL: E-Verify is either mandatory for all or it’s not mandatory.

@fineout: A Senate panel today spent less than 5 minutes to take up — and vote out on a party-line vote — a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for future amendments to make ballot. This was the first time this proposed resolution had even been heard in Senate

@CarlosGSmith: No acknowledgment that his actions were homophobic or hurtful. No direct apology to the LGBTQ community or to his constituents. @ALJacquet clearly does not understand the gravity of his words or the harm they cause LGBTQ Floridians. It’s sad, really.

@Daniel_Sweeney: Ah, it’s that time of the legislative session in Tallahassee — when multiple bills on a subject haven’t quite gotten over the hill, so a new bill suddenly emerges and lawmakers all say, well, we’ve debated many of the parts of this bill, so it’s had a full hearing.

@ScottFist: I’ve seen a lot of really, really good, really admirable, political journalists who, once they retire from journalism, explode with releasing their political opinions. It’s kinda like holding in a fart for 40 years. And it just doesn’t smell good.

Tweet, tweet:

@KarlEtters: Another week. Another body found in a car at a Tallahassee Walmart.

@DanTallahassee: UF alumni association is sending me emails. How did this happen? Perhaps it’s because the brazen admissions folks at UF still can’t get over how I chose FSU — the true Harvard of the South ™️ — over UF because of its proximity to the Capitol and less pretentious student body

Tweet, tweet:


Nevada caucuses — 2; “Better Call Saul” Season 5 premiers — 3; Suits for Session — 5; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 5; The Markup, a nonprofit newsroom covering technology, launches — 5; South Carolina Primaries — 9; Super Tuesday — 12; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 22; Florida’s presidential primary — 26; “No Time to Die” premiers — 46; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 55; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 56; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 85; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 127; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 144; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premiers — 148; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start — 155; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 180; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 186; First Presidential Debate in Indiana — 222; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 230; Second Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 238; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 245; 2020 General Election — 257.


Mike Pompeo’s Florida tour included undisclosed stop at The Villages, and the State Department won’t say why” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Secretary of State Pompeo managed to squeeze in an appearance in Bushnell last month. If Pompeo had a reason for stopping in this city of 3,100 on Jan. 23, he didn’t reveal it during his brief remarks at the Sumter County Fairgrounds. After 30 minutes there, his motorcade pulled out of the parking lot and sped away. But, it turns out, he wasn’t ready to leave Florida quite yet. From the fairgrounds, Pompeo took an unannounced side trip to The Villages. Although it’s still not clear why Pompeo ventured to The Villages, the trail of paperwork traced Pompeo’s movements that day to the doorstep of one of the wealthiest Republican donors in Central Florida: the Morse family.

Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled stop in a major GOP donor during his visit to The Villages.


Court: Florida can’t bar felons from vote over fines, fees” via Bobby Caina Calvan and Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tallahassee federal judge’s preliminary injunction that a state law implementing Amendment 4 amounted to an unfair poll tax that would disenfranchise many of the released felons. In its ruling, the circuit court said the financial requirement “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can — and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.” The court added that previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings required it to “apply heightened scrutiny in asking whether the requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to these plaintiffs.”

Ron DeSantis bolsters deregulation office — Gov. DeSantis penned an executive order in November directing that increased the power of the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. The order called for the Office of Policy and Budget to designate a liaison to OFARR for each area of the budget. DeSantis spokesperson Helen Aguirre Ferré said this week that the memo was to “ensure that there was designated personnel in each policy area to get a more thorough organizational review” of state regulations.

DeSantis announces $4.8 million grant for ST engineering expansion, project now fully funded” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The expansion project, which calls for building three more hangars and office space for ST Engineering, is expected to bring more than 1,300 jobs to the airport. ST Engineering opened its first maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO, hangar at the Pensacola Airport in June 2018. That hangar is expected to employ 400 people when operating at full capacity, putting the number of jobs at the entire facility at more than 1,700 people. At last count in January, ST Engineer had 163 employees at the airport. DeSantis said the ST Engineering expansion would have an impact on the economy of the entire region and would not have happened without many people coming together to support it.

Ron DeSantis announces a major job growth grant for Pensacola Airport.

DeSantis unveils housing loan program for military, veterans — DeSantis announced the “Salute Our Soldiers” Military Loan Program (SOS) for veterans and active-duty military personnel throughout the state. The announcement followed a roundtable to discuss ongoing issues and initiatives that involve Florida’s military and veteran population. Joining the Governor were Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA) Executive Director Danny Burgess and Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing) Executive Director Trey Price. “Florida Housing will set aside funds to assist over 1,000 veterans and active-duty military members by making the homebuying process easier and more affordable,” DeSantis said. “More veterans calling Florida home is a great thing for all involved.”

Ron DeSantis also unveils a housing loan program to benefit Florida service members and veterans.

José Oliva earns praise for ‘Nurse Practitioner of the Day’ pick — House Speaker Oliva selected Donna Bixler for “Nurse Practitioner of the Day.” Bixler is a family nurse practitioner affiliated with the Internal Medicine division at Southern Medical Group in Tallahassee, where she has practiced since 1998. Oliva earned praise from Floridians Unite for Health Care, both for his continued recognition of APRNs and his support of a bill (HB 607) that would grant independent practice rights to APRNs and physician assistants. The bill has cleared two committees and is awaiting a hearing in the House Health and Human Services Committee, its final stop before the chamber floor.

Congratulations to Donna Bixler, named Nurse Practitioner of the Day.

County RECs back strong E-Verify bill — The Republican Party of Florida already passed a resolution in favor of E-Verify requirements for all businesses. Additionally, 16 county Republican Executive Committees have passed measures of their own. Those include Bradford; Duval; Hamilton; Highlands; Indian River; Lake; Leon; Levy; Manatee; Marion; Okeechobee; Palm Beach; Saint Lucie; Sarasota; Volusia; and Walton counties. “Florida’s economy continues to grow under Republican leadership, and using E-Verify, we will only expand jobs and opportunities for legal workers in our state,” said RPOF Chair Joe Gruters. “After all, we live in a nation of laws and illegal immigration undermines those laws, threatens public safety in our state, and undercuts wages for Florida workers. It is only right to require employers to follow the rule of law and to ensure that the workers they are hiring are eligible and, in our country, legally.”

Amid pay scandal, Florida’s domestic violence nonprofit loses support” via Mary Ellen Klas and Samantha Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida House took the first step toward severing the special arrangement the state has with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and advanced a bill to require the agency to face competition. It is only the beginning of the changes ahead for the agency under fire for paying former CEO Tiffany Carr more than $7.5 million over three years as domestic violence victims across the state were denied services. Documents show that Carr was allowed to cash-in more than $5 million of paid time off at the agency that is primarily funded with state and federal taxpayer dollars. The bills are expected to be approved and signed by the Governor before the Session ends.

New College Prez, Sarasota Democrats urge no on university merger plan” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Members of the Sarasota County legislative delegation joined New College President O’Shea in speaking out against the proposal at The Capitol. Republican Sen. Gruters set up the press conference. But Republican members of the delegation were a no-show. “I did have some conversations, but at the end of the day, it really was just a mix-up in time, and since everybody was already scheduled, I couldn’t make it, and so we just allowed it to continue on,” he said. “Once that message got back, that’s why there was confusion, but it was inadvertent.” All the delegation, except for Senate President Bill Galvano, have written a local op-ed article opposing the bill.

Manufactured home bill gets owner, industry backing” via Florida Politics — A joint announcement from the Federation of Manufactured Homeowners of Florida (FMO) and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association comes after the bills — HB 1339 by Rep. Clay Yarborough and SB 998 by Sen. Travis Hutson — were altered to add protections for tenants’ privacy, clarify HOA governance requirements and increase the amount of housing available. Updating to the 40-year-old manufactured home statutes has been a longtime priority for both parties, though they haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on what those updates should include. That’s led to dead bills in Session’s past.

Pro athlete, other crime victims come to Capitol for annual ‘survivors speak’ rally” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Stedman Bailey, a Miramar native, was drafted into the NFL by the St. Louis Rams in 2013. His career was cut short just two years later. “I was in the car with my cousin, his 10-year-old son, and 6-year-old daughter and my best friend when our car was shot at over 30 times,” Bailey said Wednesday. “Two bullets struck me in my head, and my cousin was also shot.” Bailey and hundreds of other crime survivors visited the Florida Capitol for the third annual Survivors Speak rally, organized by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ). Aswad Thomas, its managing director, announced his group’s two biggest priorities: Housing and job protections for survivors of crime and criminal justice reform.


House moves forward with tax cut package, would allow tourism tax dollars for water projects” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The Ways & Means Committee approved the package (PCB WMC 20-01), which features sales-tax breaks before hurricane season and the new school year, while trimming taxes on commercial leases and cellphones and other communications services. It also calls for increasing a refund on aviation-fuel taxes, eliminating an unused pool of money for professional sports stadiums, expanding a tax-distribution requirement about charter schools, and adding water infrastructure projects to the list of allowed uses for local tourist- development dollars. The proposal is expected to see some changes before the House negotiates with the Senate on a final package.

Tourism industry slams House tax-cut package — The tourism industry is vehemently opposed to a provision in the House tax-cut package that would allow local governments to use tourism tax money on local water projects, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. After the plan was unveiled, members of the tourism lobby spoke out against the plan, arguing the tax collections are solely for tourism marketing ventures. Republican Rep. Brian Avila, who chairs the committee behind the bill, said clean water would help attract tourism. “In the long run, I am 100 percent confident that our vision for the tourist development tax will ultimately have a positive impact on the tourism industry,” he said.

House offers tax break to utilities for solar energy” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Quietly tucked into the House’s package of tax breaks is a measure that will let Florida Power & Light and other utilities save millions by delaying the date on which it starts paying taxes on dozens of solar energy plants under construction across the state. The issue didn’t come up during the tax workshop, but House Speaker Oliva asked for the budget impact of the proposal to be assessed by state economists in December. The provision was added to the bill, and the House Ways and Means Committee approved the language.

Senate President comes out in support of university merger proposal” via Florida Politics — “The merger is one opportunity that could exist that needs to be discussed,” he said. Galvano said he met with New College President Donal O’Shea who was in Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers against voting for the bill. The Senate President says O’Shea admitted to struggling to boost enrollment. “I shared exactly what I thought were some concerns,” he said. “And he said ‘Look, it’s been hard for us. We’ve had the performance funding and we weren’t meeting the metrics. Our population was not hitting on some of these points that other universities do.’ So that … put them behind fiscally. Also enrollment has been a challenge for them.”

Fierce bipartisan opposition to Randy Fine’s proposed university mergers” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — Leaders at both New College and Florida Polytechnic, along with a group of lawmakers, questioned the purported savings and called on the Legislature to do more research before the consolidation plans are approved. “The disruption is way more than the savings would justify and completely threatens this unique school,” New College President O’Shea told reporters at a press conference in The Capitol. O’Shea said merging New College with FSU would offer “microscopic” savings to the state because its budget is less than 1% of the entire state university system’s budget. Furthermore, he said it would be a “shame” to see the school lose its independent accreditation because of “hasty legislation.”

Randy Fine gets severe pushback for his plan to consolidate Florida’s smaller universities.

José Javier Rodriguez: ‘Nefarious’ petition signature measure dead on Senate floor” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Even though a proposed constitutional amendment raising the requirements for increasingly challenging citizen initiatives to appear on ballots is now rolling through Senate committees, Democratic leaders say that legislation will be dead in the Senate floor. The proposal (SPB 7062) needs a three-fifths vote in the full Senate, where the 23-member-strong Republican caucus falls one vote short of that threshold. But that’s if the measure passes out of the committee process in time. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair David Simmons says the bill’s only stop will be the Rules Committee. That measure originated in his committee and was approved on a 4-2 vote along party lines.

Florida Democrats fail to derail bill requiring parental consent for abortion” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — The bill, SB 404, has already passed the Senate along partisan lines, and its expected passage in the House would send it to DeSantis for his signature. In a heated, last-ditch debate on the House floor, Democrats raised fears the measure would lead to further restrictions on abortion beyond what is contained in the bill. Under questioning from Democrats, Rep. Erin Grall, sponsor of the bill, denied that she wanted to overturn previous precedent from the Florida Supreme Court surrounding the privacy rights outlined in the state constitutions, which have been used to strike down other laws restricting abortions. “This bill is about making sure parents are involved in these important decisions that their young daughters face,” said Grall.

Senate poised to pass sentencing reform legislation” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The bill (SB 346), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, underwent significant revisions that would make many defendants ineligible for the departure from mandatory minimum sentences. Bradley says he introduced the amendments after conversations with fellow senators, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. The changes included a tweak that would give the state an opportunity to make sentencing recommendations in certain drug-trafficking cases before judges decide to depart from mandatory-minimum guidelines. Another change would reduce the amount of drugs that would allow defendants to get shorter sentences.  The original version of the proposal would have set a maximum incarceration time of 12 months for people who buy or possess less than two grams of a controlled substance, other than fentanyl. Wednesday’s revision lowered the purchasing and possession quantities to one gram or less of a controlled substance, a move that will “closely mirror federal personal-use amounts,” Bradley said.  Bradley maintains it’s still a meaningful criminal justice reform bill.

Senators back changing opioid law” via the News Service of Florida — The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 1080) that would exempt hospital critical-care units and emergency departments and health care providers who dispense or administer anesthesia from a requirement to provide patients with information about non-opioid alternatives. The bill would also allow physicians and other prescribers to offer the required non-opioid alternative information to patients’ representatives. Another tweak the bill would make is to allow the educational information to be provided electronically. The law has required physicians, since July 1, to have conversations with patients about non-opioid alternatives before providing anesthesia or prescribing, ordering, dispensing, or administering opioids listed as what are known as Schedule II controlled substances.

’Healthy marriage’ guide advances in Senate after adopting House language” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A state-sanctioned “Guide to a Healthy Marriage” is one step closer to reality after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the proposal. Sen. Dennis Baxley is behind the measure (SB 682) once again. He’s proposed the measure throughout his time in the House. The Senate bill underwent a complete revamp, thanks to a strike-all amendment. That measure ended with a complete rewrite of the bill, which now details the proposed language for those healthy marriage guides. The House previously made the same move. The Senate’s version now aligns with the House bill (HB 319) after the Judiciary Committee approved the amendment.

’Rights of nature’ would erode rights of individuals” via Mark Miller for The Gainesville Sun — To be sure, a “right of nature” law in favor of the river has superficial appeal. Who does not want a clean river? But if the activists believe our rivers, lakes and other precious resources are not clean enough, then they need to take that to the Legislature, the executive agencies charged with protecting our natural resources or the courts through statutes that allow for citizen suits — like the Clean Water Act. Moreover, if they suffer concrete injuries because of pollution, the activists may seek relief in court. But this new activist scheme differs from those legitimate strategies. The activists hope to use this gambit to create ambiguous, new, limitless “rights of nature” through the courts.

Annette Taddeo’s animal leasing ban put down this Session” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “This should be a no-brainer,” she said. Still, the Miami Democrat asked to pull her bill (SB 186) from the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee agenda. Committee Chair Doug Broxson said he felt especially sad to see the item yanked. The Pensacola Republican said he was looking forward to hearing the bill, which had already cleared the Judiciary Committee with unanimous support. But Taddeo said the House version hadn’t seen any movement. In the lower chamber, Rep. Sam Killebrew was able to get the bill on the agenda for the House Business & Professions Subcommittee. However, after seeing it temporarily postponed on Feb. 4, the legislation never got scheduled for another hearing.

Doug Broxson is particularly sad that the pet-rental ban did not advance.

Gift ban changes ready for Senate floor” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley’s SB 1490 will allow nonelected state employees to “accept any gift or compensation, regardless of value” if it is applied directly toward the expenses incurred from treating their or their child’s “serious disease or illness.” The bill cleared its final Senate committee of reference (Rules). It is now ready for the Senate floor. Bradley noted that “catastrophic illness can put a financial strain on an individual or a family.” The natural instinct, he said, is to help. But the gift ban laws preclude such help for state employees.

Senate panel TP’s bill on legal notice requirements — For the second time in two weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee has temporarily postponed a measure (SB 1340) that would nix the need for legal notices to be posted in print newspapers. Sen. Joe Gruters is behind that bill. It would remove the mandate that notices be printed in newspapers and allow them to be moved online. While the Senate is running out of time to take up its version of the bill, the House companion has already made it through its three scheduled committee stops and is ready for a full House vote. Rep. Fine is sponsoring that measure.


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

The Senate Appropriations Committee meets at 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

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

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

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

Assignment editors — Rep. Mel Ponder joins Tallahassee Community College President and Chair of the Council of Presidents Jim Murdaugh and Chancellor Kathy Hebda of the Florida College System for a news conference to announce the “Patriot’s Path” program, which helps veterans and active-duty members to have the most accessible and affordable educational options, 10 a.m., 4th-floor Rotunda, outside of House Chambers. It will also be streamed on Facebook Live:

Assignment editors — The Florida State Parks Foundation will hold a sizable joint celebration: Naming of its 2019 Legislative Park Champion of the Year, celebrating Florida State Parks being named the best State Park System in America for a record fourth time and marking its 85th Anniversary, 12:30 p.m., 3rd-floor Rotunda.

Assignment editors — Rep. Alex Andrade will hold a news conference to discuss HB 81, legislation passed by the house that would help schools access millions more in federal dollars for school-based health services, 12:30 p.m., Room 1401, The Capitol.

Assignment editors — Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson will share findings from Florida Workforce 2030, a new research report which provides an updated look at what it will take to build America’s best workforce in the state, 3 p.m., Florida Department of Education, Turlington Building, Conference Room 1703/07, 325 W. Gaines Street, Tallahassee.

Assignment editors — The Christian Coalition is going to give Rep. Jamie Grant an award for his work on making communities safer, 6 p.m., University Center Club at FSU, 403 Stadium Drive, Tallahassee.


Cream of broccoli and cheddar; mixed garden salad with dressings; antipasto salad; marinated mushrooms; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and breads; beef bourguignon; chicken piccata; grilled salmon with Mediterranean relish; grilled zucchini fries (sticks) roasted red pepper coulis; Italian-style green beans with pancetta; rice with prosciutto, peas and Parmesan; assorted Club-baked cookies for dessert.


Voters are voting — According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Wednesday afternoon, Supervisors of Elections have 978,061 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 209,893 have returned, 761,988 are outstanding, and 6180 are unsent. As for Democrats, supervisors have a total of 1,068,165 vote-by-mail ballots; 115,461 have returned, 942,621 are outstanding, and 10,083 are unsent. Those classified as “other,” 246,158 vote-by-mail ballots, 4562 have returned, 42,414 are outstanding and 199,182 are unsent.

With registration deadline passed, Republicans add more voters in Florida than Democrats” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Since the November 2018, general election, Republicans have added approximately 141,000 new voters in Florida, while Democrats increased their party by 130,000. That difference is more than in the 2018 U.S. Senate election when Rick Scott beat Bill Nelson by 10,033 votes. The statewide tallies find Florida now has at least 13,698,000 registered voters, up about 420,000 since the general election in 2018. While Republicans made gains, Democrats still hold the slight registration advantage statewide. There now are more than 5 million registered Democrats, roughly 5,076,000 in the latest count. There are 4,821,000 registered Republicans. That gives Democrats a 37% to 35% advantage.

Not really — “Florida getting presidential attention one month before primary” via Steve Newborn of WUSF — Warren’s campaign started canvassing two weeks ago, and volunteers with Bloomberg opened an Orlando field office in early February and another one in Tampa this past Saturday. During a recent weekend at Henry and Ola Park in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, while people played basketball and a pickup baseball game was going on, five people stood in the parking lot, wearing “Warren for President” T-shirts. “Bloomberg is certainly a candidate I’m watching very carefully,” said political scientist Susan MacManus. Usually, by the time Floridians get to cast a ballot, the nominees have long been decided. But MacManus says Democratic voters here may actually get to make a difference.

Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer backs Bloomberg” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Janer, serving her second term representing District 2, covering much of Kissimmee, and her second stint as chairwoman of the Osceola County Commission also will serve as a co-chair for Bloomberg’s Florida Puerto Ricans for Mike. In that position, Janer will be a major advocate for Bloomberg’s plan to bring full statehood to Puerto Rico, rejuvenate home-owning opportunities in lower-income neighborhoods and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, three issues Janer for which has long advocated. Janer’s is the first major endorsement Bloomberg has announced among Democrats in the Central Florida Puerto Rican community.

Viviana Janer is all in for Mike Bloomberg.


Bloomberg — “Tim Duncan”:

Sanders — “Dalhi”:

— MORE 2020 —

Sanders surges into national lead in new Post-ABC poll” via Dan Balz and Scott Clement of The Washington Post — Sanders, on the strength of his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, has surged nationally and now holds a sizable lead over all of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Former Vice President Biden has seen a sharp drop in his support after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Biden is now in a battle for second place with former New York Mayor Bloomberg and Sen. Warren. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in single digits nationally, roughly even with Sen. Klobuchar, whose surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire further scrambled the Democratic contest.

Why Sanders is on his way to winning Latinos in Nevada — and beyond” via Laura Barrón-López of POLITICO — Nevada presents the first test of Sanders‘ ability to turn out Latinos. If he does well among the key demographic — which could account for 20% of caucusgoers — it could provide a recipe for continued success among Latinos on Super Tuesday, in states such as California, Texas, and North Carolina. The campaign says it’s spent millions on Latino outreach in Nevada. Of the 250 staffers in the state, more than 100 of them are people of color, and 76 are Latinos. Sanders is targeting Latinos on digital platforms like YouTube, Hulu, and Pandora, with mailers, TV ads, phone calls, and texting; and via old-fashioned door-knocking and community events. The campaign has held 35 of those in Spanish.

Bernie Sanders is making headway with Latino voters.

Mike Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders teams squabble over medical records” via Caitlin Oprysko of POLITICO — The spat broke out hours before the two 78-year-olds are set to face off on a debate stage for the first time in Las Vegas. The testy back and forth began when Sanders backtracked on a previous promise that he would release a more complete record of his medical history. Sanders was heavily criticized when he was slow to disclose that he’d suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail last fall and vowed to release more medical records. Sanders argued that the records he’d released were “quite as much as any other candidate.” Bloomberg was drawn into the clash when Sanders’ national press secretary, Briahna Gray, falsely suggested that the former Mayor had suffered multiple heart attacks.

Bloomberg bankrolls a social-media army to push message” via Jeff Horwitz and Georgia Wells of The Wall Street Journal — Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is hiring hundreds of workers in California to post regularly on their personal social media accounts in support of the candidate and send text messages to their friends about him. The effort, which could cost millions of dollars, is launching ahead of California’s March 3 primary and could later be deployed nationwide, according to people familiar with the matter. It is among the most unorthodox moves yet by the heavy-spending billionaire.

Bloomberg plays defense as Warren goes on attack” via Sasha Pezenik of ABC News — “Mike Bloomberg‘s expansion of ‘stop and frisk’ devastated Black and Brown communities,” Warren tweeted. “For years, he used racist justifications to defend the practice — and more comments are already resurfacing. We need a nominee that Democratic voters can trust.” And Warren went further. “It’s a shame Mike Bloomberg can buy his way into the debate. But at least now primary voters curious about how each candidate will take on Trump can get a live demonstration of how we each take on an egomaniac billionaire.” Her tweet underscores the eager, if anxious eye with which the Democratic candidates now cast toward going toe to toe with Bloomberg amid heightened scrutiny of his mayoral tenure and his rise in the polls.

Pete Buttigieg overstated pledges of support from black leaders, public figures” via Briana Stewart and Beatrice Peterson of ABC News — When Democratic presidential candidate Buttigieg touted support from African American comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key last week, his campaign was forced just hours later to clarify that the actor had not officially endorsed the former South Bend Mayor, telling reporters he only sought to “encourage early voting and voter registration.” Key appeared with Buttigieg to drum up voter support at his Henderson, Nevada field office. It was not the first time the Buttigieg campaign overstated having a tie with a prominent African American figure, or black business.

Harry Reid: Brokered convention ‘not the end of the world’” via Michelle Price and Nicholas Riccardi of The Associated Press — “I don’t think we’ll have one, but we could have one,” Reid told The Associated Press in an interview before the Democratic caucuses in Nevada. “We’ve had brokered conventions before, and we’ve always come up with good candidates. It’s not the end of the world. It just slows the process down.” Reid’s attitude is a sharp contrast to many in the Democratic establishment who are anxious about the prospect of a long, contentious primary race in which several candidates divide up the vote, and no one amasses more than 50% of the delegates ahead of the July convention. A brokered convention hadn’t happened since the invention of the modern primary system five decades ago.

Harry Reid says a brokered Democratic convention is not ‘the end of the world.’

George Zimmerman sues Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren for $265M over Trayvon Martin tweets” via Chelsea Tatham of WTSP — Zimmerman is suing Warren and former Buttigieg for defamation over tweets the two sent on what would have been Martin‘s 25th birthday. In a release, Zimmerman’s attorney said: “the two maliciously defamed (him), using the February 5 birthday of Trayvon Martin as a pretext to demagogue.” His attorney also said the tweets “falsely brand Zimmerman as a white supremacist and racist” to the candidates’ millions of followers on Twitter. Warren retweeted another account on Feb. 5, saying her heart goes out to Martin’s family and friends and that “he should still be with us today.”


Florida moving ahead to take over federal wetlands permitting” via Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times — The state Department of Environmental Protection published a pair of legal notices for changes to its regulations that lay the groundwork for the state’s takeover of wetlands permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Environmental groups ranging from the Florida Wildlife Federation to the Miami Riverkeeper blasted the proposal, which they predict will lead to a weakening of protection for the state’s marshes, bogs, swamps and other wetlands. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have the proper capacity to take over the wetlands permitting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have run that for decades,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the Florida office of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice.

How to report scams related to the U.S. Census” via Francine Frazier of News4Jax — Attorney General Ashley Moody wants to make sure Floridians know how to avoid these scams and where to report any suspicious activity. One way scammers might exploit information is through phishing emails. Phishing emails may try to direct victims to a website that looks real but is fake, and perhaps infected with malware. Malware is software that contains viruses or spyware and can infect victims’ computers when attached to emails or suspicious websites. Be cautious when opening emails and only open email attachments from known senders. Another type of scam to be aware of involves criminals who impersonate U.S. Census workers going door-to-door. Official Census Bureau employees will have badges and ID numbers that can be confirmed by calling 1-800-923-8282.

To view a consumer alert on the Census, click on the image below:

Conservation Voters thank Kathy Castor for climate action in latest TV ad” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The League of Conservation Voters and House Majority Forward launched a television ad praising Castor for her work on pro-environment policies in Congress. The Florida ad is part of a $1 million campaign thanking eight Members of Congress for their legislative action and leadership on locally significant environmental issues. The ad shows images of the Tampa skyline, part of Castor’s district, and images of things like solar panels, waterways and polluting power plants. “On climate change, Congresswoman Kathy Castor knows we don’t have time to waste,” a narrator begins. “While other politicians stood still on climate change, Castor took charge, became a national leader, fought for tax breaks for solar and wind energy.”

To view the ad, click on the image below:

Coleman prison officials deny women’s camp is hazardous environment amid Legionnaires outbreak: records” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Kara Adams filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Ocala on behalf of herself and the “women of the Coleman camp,” alleging that the federal Bureau of Prisons failed to keep water and air sources clean at the low-security camp in Sumter County. Two cases of the disease were diagnosed within the camp, prison officials said, but none at the other complexes of the largest federal prison in the U.S. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by breathing in Legionella bacteria, which can grow in water pipes of large buildings and transform into a mist when devices such as showers and spas are used.

Soldier’s widow wins property tax dispute” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — The case stems from a 2012 constitutional amendment that authorized the Legislature to provide homestead property-tax relief to surviving spouses of military members who are killed. While that law provided a property-tax exemption to surviving spouses, it also included a condition that the “veteran was a permanent resident of this state on January 1 of the year in which the veteran died.” The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Teri Ann Bell, sought a property-tax exemption in 2013 in Hillsborough County. She is the widow of an Army member who died in 2007 while serving in Iraq. The Hillsborough County property appraiser’s office, however, denied the exemption. A circuit judge backed Bell’s request for a tax exemption.

Cleaner and greener: TECO announces major solar expansion” via Florida Politics — Tampa Electric Company (TECO) announced it would invest about $800 million to add another 600 megawatts of solar power in the next three years. When complete, the solar expansion will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 500,000 tons every year, which is roughly equal to removing 100,000 cars from the road. With this expansion, TECO will have a total of more than 1,250 megawatts of solar power — enough to power more than 200,000 homes — with about 14% of the utility’s energy fueled by the sun, the highest percentage of solar power of any utility in the state. The solar expansion will also prove less expensive to customers than if TECO kept its fleet as it is today.

Goat blood-drinking, white nationalist Orlando politician obsessed with Charles Manson in jail on domestic violence charges” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Augustus Invictus, a former third-party candidate for U.S. Senate from Orlando most famous for saying he sacrificed a goat and drank its blood — and who had an important role in the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville — is in jail in South Carolina awaiting trial on domestic violence charges. A judge refused to grant bail after Invictus’s wife alleged a pattern of abuse and fear for her and her daughters’ life if he was freed before trial, according to a report in the anti-extremist website The Informer.


Brian Harvey was a terminally ill inmate in Jacksonville, serving a 30-year sentence for selling crack cocaine in 1996.

As Lloyd Dunkelberger of Florida Phoenix reports, Harvey’s sister, Lisa, wanted to help her brother and bring them home to St. Petersburg.

While Lisa received special permission to visit her brother, what she found was appalling.

Harvey was shackled to a hospital bed, where prisoners were rarely let out of their beds — even use the bathroom.

Through a series of emails and correspondence — including St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson — Lisa was able to secure a “conditional medical release,” and through a disability qualification, was able to receive Medicaid services until his death in June 2019 at the age of 48.

Harvey’s was a rare case — one of only 38 prisoners granted a conditional medical release from 2018-19, Dunkelberger notes. In the past three years, the Florida Commission on Offender Review only approved 73 releases, less than half of those they reviewed.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes has filed SB 556, a bill that would move the decision from the FCOR to the Department of Corrections, allowing those inmates with “debilitating illness” to be considered eligible for release.

Another bill from Brandes would also give more consideration to elderly prisoners, providing them with “conditional aging release.”


Voter suppression issues rank low among reasons nonvoters stay home” via Matthew Choi of POLITICO — Only 8% of nonvoters said they don’t vote because they don’t have the time to get to the polls — fourth on the list of reasons they cited. Only 5% of nonvoters said they don’t vote because they aren’t registered. A new study by the Knight Foundation, which involved polling and interviews with over 14,000 people, showed that a plurality of nonvoters cited a dislike of the candidates (17%) and a feeling that their votes don’t matter (12%). According to the study, 29% of nonvoters said they were not registered to vote because of a lack of interest, followed by 13% saying their votes don’t matter. Only 8% said they don’t vote because they don’t know how or it’s too complicated.

NRCC spotlights Dane Eagle, Amanda Makki, Maria Elvira Salazar in Young Guns program” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — “These hardworking candidates have proved their ability to run strong, competitive campaign operations,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. “We’re going to ensure these contenders are victorious in November by forcing their Democratic opponents to own their party’s radical socialist agenda.” Most notably, Eagle found a place on the list. That’s despite Eagle being one of eight Republicans running to succeed Rep. Francis Rooney. “I am incredibly thankful to Leader McCarthy for his hard work to make Congress red again and am honored to be on his list of Contenders,” Eagle said. “It’s a tribute to the hard work of our team and the loyal support we have received from the people of Southwest Florida.”

Kevin McCarthy spotlights Dane Eagle, Amanda Makki, Maria Elvira Salazar as ‘Young Guns.’

Save the date:

Allison Tant qualifies for HD 9 ballot by petition — Democratic House District 9 candidate Tant announced she had enough verified petition signatures to make the ballot this fall. “I am truly humbled by the early grassroots support our campaign has received from the voters of District 9. Since the day I filed, I pledged that our campaign will be focused on engaging directly with our community, and today’s news that we will qualify by petition reaffirms that pledge,” the former Florida Democratic Party chair said. “I am excited to see our campaign continue to grow in support and look forward to our campaign’s effort to bring residents from every part of this district together.” Tant is running to succeed Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley, who is running for Senate.

Byron Donalds backs Lauren Melo as successor in HD 80” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — She also picked up the endorsements of every state lawmaker now residing in Collier County. That includes Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Rep. Bob Rommel. “I am humbled and honored to have earned the confidence and support of these leaders,” Melo said. “I know I have big shoes to fill, but I am committed to living up to the expectations placed in me.” Melo remains the only active candidate in House District 80. Donalds announced he January he’s running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

What Anthony Pedicini is reading —Chad Chronister officially in for second term as Hillsborough’s top cop” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Joined by wife Nikki DeBartolo, Chronister filed documents with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office, making his reelection campaign official. “I am humbled by the amazing support this community shows the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and it is an honor to stand before you seeking reelection,” Chronister wrote in an announcement on Facebook. “Together, over the last several years, we have built a safer community and a better Sheriff’s Office. Together we have achieved consecutive years of double-digit decreases in crime and a better focus on community-based policing. Together we have built a fierce dedication to protecting our schools.”

Heather Gracy to challenge incumbent Julie Ward Bujalski in Dunedin mayoral race” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Dunedin Vice Mayor Gracy is running to become Dunedin’s next Mayor this November. She’ll face incumbent Bulalski. Gray is a second-term City Commissioner, first elected in 2012. She was appointed Vice Mayor in 2014 and again in 2019. “The outpouring of support has been humbling, and our campaign is poised to capture on the enthusiasm for fresh leadership at City Hall,” Gracy said. Gracy currently serves as the city’s liaison to the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation. She also served as the president of the Suncoast League of Cities from 2017-2019 and is a current member of the Florida League of Cities and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

Maria Elvira Salazar criticized Ros-Lehtinen. Now Ros-Lehtinen is endorsing Salazar” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Just two weeks ago, Republican House candidate Salazar publicly criticized former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as a member of the political elite for attending the president’s State of the Union address with Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. But this week, Salazar landed a glowing endorsement from Ros-Lehtinen. In a tweet on Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen endorsed Salazar and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Salazar is running as a Republican for Ros-Lehtinen’s old House seat in the 27th District while Gimenez is running in a Republican primary in the neighboring 26th District.


Melania Trump receives Women of Distinction award in Palm Beach” via the Palm Beach Post — First Lady Trump was honored at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s 29th annual Women of Distinction luncheon at The Breakers. The University’s president, William M.B. Fleming, Jr., presented the award.

Melania Trump is honored among ‘Women of Distinction.’

Presidential pardon for incarcerated former-Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown? Orlando businessman thinks it’s possible” via Darlene Jones and Sarah Wilson of WFTV — A local Orlando businessman is behind an effort to try to convince Trump to pardon Brown. Businessman John Crossman recently visited Brown in prison. Crossman said Brown walked up, gave him a hug, and immediately started introducing him to other women in the prison and sharing their stories. Crossman said he had to force the 73-year-old to talk about herself. “What is your angle? Why are you doing this?” Darlene Jones asked Crossman. “I do it because Christ calls me to do it. Why her? Because I know her, have a relationship with her,” Crossman said.

Judge delays fraud sentences for Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown” via Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union — U.S. Magistrate James Klindt’s order moved the sentencing date from March 30 to May 19 in response to defense attorney Alan Ceballos’ plea for time last week, a day after Reggie Brown hired him. Brown, who had been ruled indigent and represented by a court-appointed attorney, was convicted in October of 33 crimes dominated by wire and mail fraud. Katrina Brown was convicted of 37 crimes. The judge ruled on the same day as a deadline for attorneys to file objections to material included in a presentencing report that court staff prepare to summarize defendants’ backgrounds and the severity of the crimes they were convicted of.

New bills for half-cent sales tax referendum could settle Duval Schools’ lawsuit” via Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union — New legislation will be presented at the City Council meeting to place the referendum on the 2020 General Election ballot and to settle out of court, City Spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton confirmed. “Two measures will be added to the agenda,” Kimbleton said. “Basically, if the council votes to place the school tax on the November ballot, [Duval County Schools] will dismiss any pending litigation.” This move follows 10-months of back-and-forth between the city and school board as well as two lawsuits. Things seemed to lean in the school board’s favor when a judge ruled last month that it had the right to hire outside counsel and sue. But the city’s recent decision to appeal threatened another timeline pushback.

Admissions halted at AMIkids Pinellas after staffer slammed boy and failed to report it” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — After a 12-year-old suffered a brain bleed from being thrown to the ground by a school staffer three times his size, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has frozen admissions at AMIkids Pinellas. The school, at 6500 102nd Ave. N, contracts with the department to serve at-risk youth. Department Secretary Simone Marstiller wrote in a statement that after Pinellas Park police conclude their investigation, the Inspector General’s Office will conduct an investigation. AMIkids Inc. also said it is conducting an internal investigation and that anyone involved has been suspended.

Prosecutor fired, reported to Bar after ‘inappropriate relationship’ with victim, Orange-Osceola state attorney says” via Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — Assistant State Attorney Abraham Elmazahi was terminated and a complaint against him has been filed with The Florida Bar, the agency confirmed. “This conduct is appalling and in no way represents the vision or mission of the State Attorney,” Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said in a statement. John Edward Neal II told the Orlando Sentinel that Elmazahi was the prosecutor assigned to his case after his former fiancee and the mother of children accused him of battery in September, a charge Neal denies. As Elmazahi was prosecuting his case, Neal said his former fiancee began dating the prosecutor.

Harriet Tubman Highway will replace Dixie Highway in Miami-Dade” via the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously approved renaming the county’s “Dixie” highways after Tubman, replacing a name branded as celebrating a racist legacy with the name of a legendary liberator of Americans subjected to slavery. The resolution by Commissioner Dennis Moss officially creates Harriet Tubman Highway out of stretches of road currently named Old Dixie Highway in South Dade and West Dixie Highway in Northeast Dade. The Dixie Highway name remains on U.S. 1 in South Dade, which is part of a federal network of north-south highways but is controlled by Florida.

Miami-Dade Commissioners vote to change Dixie Highway to Harriet Tubman Highway. Image via Getty.

Hearing set on Panhandle bridge tolls” via the News Service of Florida — A Leon County circuit judge has scheduled a hearing on a request that he order the Florida Department of Transportation to increase tolls on a financially troubled Panhandle bridge. Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments Feb. 26 on the request by UMB Bank, which represents bondholders who argue toll increases are needed to meet financial obligations for the Garcon Point Bridge. UMB Bank filed a lawsuit in 2018 because bonds used to finance the bridge, which spans part of Pensacola Bay, were in default. Cooper in December directed the Department of Transportation to raise tolls. But it did not do so by Feb. 1, leading UMB Bank to go back to Cooper to request an order.

Sheriff ups offer to $4.5 million” for Dontrell Stephens via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post — The legislative battle over how much Stephens should be paid for being shot and paralyzed by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy took a twist when a Florida Senate committee agreed he deserves only $4.5 million. “This number was mutually agreed to by both parties and is the FINAL amount,” a spokeswoman for Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said in a statement shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to trim $18 million from the claims bill to benefit Stephens. Attorney Jack Scarola, who in 2016 convinced a federal jury to award Stephens $22.5 million, called the amount unacceptable even though it’s better than Bradshaw’s earlier $3 million offer. A House subcommittee voted this month to award Stephens the full $22.5 million.

Two Sarasota School Board members ditch the GOP” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — School Board Chair Jane Goodwin and longtime member Caroline Zucker are both now registered Democrats. Goodwin filed paperwork to change her registration, while Zucker filed for a change of party with the state Division of Elections. Although the School Board is technically a nonpartisan office, both political parties have often played a significant role in elections. But some Republican leaders are saying good riddance to the moderates. “For years, many members of the Republican Party — myself included — have been frustrated that Jane Goodwin and Caroline Zucker would campaign as registered Republicans, get elected as registered Republicans, and then vote with Democrats,” said Christian Ziegler, Republican Party of Florida Vice-Chair.


11 months from today, a second term for Donald Trump seems more possible than ever. But what would it look like?” via New York Magazine editorial board — An anonymous Hill staffer: “We’ll see Trump unleashed. Frankly, some of the stuff in the week since he’s been acquitted — even Hope Hicks coming back and Johnny McEntee, his former body guy, becoming head of the Office of Presidential Personnel — show that the guardrails that keep him in the boat have come completely off. So, if anyone tells you what that means, policywise, they’re guessing. Nobody knows. There are signals from the conservatives in the administration that the second term is when deficit reduction starts, but that’s complete and utter B.S. I don’t think the president has ever campaigned on deficits or cared about deficits.”

Tallahassee knows best. So lawmakers think.” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The Legislature’s repeated efforts to preempt local government authority works hand-in-hand with its outright contempt for citizen-led referendums. DeSantis approved legislation last year that cracked down on citizen petitions, making it easier to quash future ballot initiatives disliked by Republican lawmakers and corporate donors. The measure makes it harder to collect enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot, and it helps solidify Republican control in Tallahassee by neutering the voters’ ability to flex power at the ballot box. The Legislature has become so accustomed to riding roughshod over local government that lawmakers have become immune to the wishes of the very people they represent and to their lawful rights to petition for a change of course.

Florida politicians shouldn’t let tourism bosses call the shots. Not on hotel taxes or anything else” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — In Central Florida, you can’t get elected class president without pledging allegiance to Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Orlando’s tourism bosses want to keep spending tourist taxes on promoting more tourism. And since politicians here follow tourism’s orders, that is precisely what we do. But Florida law says it’s illegal to spend hotel taxes on roads, buses or schools. And where Vegas politicians changed the law to allow more discretionary spending, Orlando and Florida politicians haven’t done squat. Until now, maybe. The latest proposal is to simply let local officials have more control over how local taxes are spent on local projects. That should be an easy yes. What local officials wouldn’t want more discretion? Ours.

Court-ordered fines or fees? There’s a payment plan for that” via Chris Hart for the Tallahassee Democrat — Payment plans already exist in Florida; if you have a suspended license, see your Clerk to discuss options available to you, including payment plans. The goal is to make it easier than ever for Floridians to stay up-to-date with payments so that suspension is never a concern. The data shows us that maintaining the ability to suspend licenses is effective in ensuring individuals comply with their court-ordered financial obligations. In fact, about 50% of drivers pay their civil debt when they receive a notice to suspend. Another 30% pay before a year passes. But we don’t want suspension to be the first line of defense — and that’s why we’re laser-focused on improving the current collections process.

Looks like the fix is in for Legislature’s university power grab. It shouldn’t be” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Who’s running Florida’s universities? Clearly, it’s not the State University System (SUS) chancellor and Board of Governors. And it’s not the presidents and Boards of Trustees of the supposedly preeminent University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University (FSU), all of whom were made to look like eunuchs last week by Rep. Randy Fine. Out of nowhere, at the near-halfway mark of the Legislative Session, Fine dropped PCB EDC 20-03. Fine proposes to pick up “all property, revenue, existing contracts, existing funds,” along with students, faculty and staff, from New College in Sarasota and dump it into FSU’s lap. Fine also means to sign over the assets and liabilities of Lakeland-based Florida Polytechnic University, lock, stock and barrel, to UF.

’Rights of nature’ would erode rights of individuals” via Mark Miller for The Gainesville Sun — To be sure, a “right of nature” law in favor of the river has superficial appeal. Who does not want a clean river? But if the activists believe our rivers, lakes and other precious resources are not clean enough, then they need to take that to the Legislature, the executive agencies charged with protecting our natural resources or the courts through statutes that allow for citizen suits — like the Clean Water Act. Moreover, if they suffer concrete injuries because of pollution, the activists may seek relief in court. But this new activist scheme differs from those legitimate strategies. The activists hope to use this gambit to create ambiguous, new, limitless “rights of nature” through the courts.

Voucher program is state-sanctioned discrimination” via Kathleen Oropeza for the Orlando Sentinel — Florida politicians are not entitled to their own “facts.” For the past 20 years, in an atmosphere of single-party rule, leadership has run a singular agenda to defund and privatize public schools while using tax dollars to expand separate, unequal and unfair education “choice.” It wasn’t until the Orlando Sentinel drew a bright-line connection between Corporate Tax Credit vouchers and the private religious schools who receive them that it became crystal clear that Florida is funding state-sanctioned discrimination.


Gunster racked up $2.4M in pay last year” via Florida Politics — The firm landed 44 legislative clients in 2019, which accounted for about $1.6 million in lobbying fees for Gunster Yoakley & Stewart for the year. On the executive lobbying side, Gunster garnered 48 clients for $780,000 in lobbying fees. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate overall compensation. One of the top legislative clients was RAI Services Co., which accounted for $120,000, or about 7.5% of Gunster’s legislative lobbying fees made in 2019. RAI Services, a wing of Reynolds American Inc., is based in Winston-Salem, N.C., and is steeped in tobacco products. The company provided the highest yield in legislative lobbying fees for Gunster.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney collected $2.2M in 2019” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The team of Keith Arnold, Brett Bacot, Marnie George, Michael Harrell, Jim Magill, Kimberly McGlynn, Timothy Stanfield and Mac Stipanovich notched $1.35 million in the Legislature, with the balance coming in for their efforts in the executive branch. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate overall pay. The legislative haul came in across 60 clients. Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar led the pack with $120,000 in payments last year. The Florida League of Cities, which advocates for municipal government interests, held the No. 2 spot with an even $100,000. Marsy’s Law for All, the group behind the “victims bill of rights” amendment approved in 2018, followed at $90,000.

— ALOE —

At six, snowboarding prodigy is flying high” via Yahoo Sports — Vasilisa Ermakova may be too young for school, but the six-year-old Russian girl has already made a name for herself as a snowboarding prodigy. Vasilisa “She wants to go train every day, and she asks for snow, even in summer,” says her mother, Natalia. Coached by her father — himself a former competitive snowboarder — from the age of three, Vasilisa has mastered 360-degree jumps off large snowbanks and even 540-degree spins. “I’m flying like a bird,” she says after landing one of the tricks.

Vasilisa Ermakova, 6, spends five hours a day barreling down slopes outside Moscow and has smashed several national records.

Extended 2020 Gulf Red Snapper season scheduled — The popular 2020 Gulf Red Snapper recreational season is set to open June 11 through July 25, with a possible fall reopening if the quota is available. This season will apply to those fishing from private recreational vessels in Gulf state and federal waters, and to charter vessels that do not have a federal reef fish permit and are limited to fishing in state waters only. Florida was delegated authority to manage recreational red snapper harvest from private vessels in Gulf federal waters. “I’m pleased to announce that our state’s good conservation practices are allowing us to have a 45-day Gulf red snapper season this year,” said DeSantis.

A new right-wing coffee shop called ‘Conservative Grounds’ opens in Largo this weekend” via Kyla Fields of Creative loafing Tampa Bay — Conservative Grounds has all of your basic coffee and espresso drinks, as well as a replica of the White House’s Oval Office (complete with cardboard cutouts of the Trumps), FOX News looped on the TVs, and welcoming signs for concealed carry weapons. According to its Twitter bio, Conservative Grounds is “a place where rational, conservative, moral, God-loving people congregate without the scourge of liberalism.” This alternative to the “typical liberal American coffee establishment,” as they say, celebrates its soft opening this Saturday at 13344 66th St. One of the co-founders, Cliff Gephart, says he got the idea for Conservative Grounds about eight months ago when a Starbucks in Arizona asked six police officers to leave its store.


Best wishes to Reps. Joseph Casello and Cyndi Stevenson, Anastasia DawsonErica Geiger, director of Special Projects and Initiatives in AG Moody’s office, Adam Potts and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson. With material from the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida.


Peter Schorsch

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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