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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.27.20

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

Former Vice President Joe Biden is back on top in Florida.

That’s according to the latest survey from St. Pete Polls, which shows Biden with 34% support among likely Democratic primary voters. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg slipped to second place with 25% support.

Joe Biden is back on top in Florida.

That’s a change from the previous two versions of the St. Pete Polls survey, which showed Bloomberg had taken the lead. A mid-February version had Bloomberg eclipsing Biden in the Sunshine State for the first time. Bloomberg’s lead grew to five points in a St. Pete Polls survey last week.

But both of those samples came before Bloomberg took the debate stage for the first time. The billionaire turned in a widely-panned performance in Nevada last week.

He received better reviews for his South Carolina showing on Tuesday night. But Bloomberg still faced plenty of incoming from his Democratic rivals — namely U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

While Warren may have helped kneecap Bloomberg, she remains well behind the leaders, according to St. Pete Polls, earning just 5% support. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont sits in third place with 13%, followed by individuals who are “undecided or won’t say” at just under 10%.

Many pundits have put Sanders in the driver’s seat following results from the first three states on the primary calendar. South Carolinians are up next, taking to the polls on Saturday. That’s followed by Super Tuesday on March 3.

The Florida presidential primary will be held on March 17.

The newest St. Pete Polls survey also separated respondents between those who have already voted and those who plan to vote. Nearly 80% of respondents say they’ve yet to send in their ballot.

But Biden’s lead holds steady either way. He’s up by nearly 8 points among voters who have cast their ballots and is leading by 9 points among those still holding out.

Still, 11% of respondents who haven’t voted yet say they are undecided or won’t divulge their preference.

That portion of the electorate may be waiting to see how the next few contests play out. Does Biden regain his footing? Does Bloomberg show up on Super Tuesday? Or does Sanders effectively wrap the nomination up before Floridians have their say?

Rounding out the survey were former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8%, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at 4%, and billionaire Tom Steyer at just over 1%.

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Bloggity blog blog — Following FCADV scandal, a bigger DCF isn’t the answer” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — It’s kind of misguided for a legislative body controlled by Republicans, who hate big government and central bureaucracy, to be moving toward passing SB 1326, which would recentralize oversight of human service providers, including substance abuse and behavioral health, at the state level. The “DCF Accountability Act” has won the public praise of First Lady Casey DeSantis, who is to be applauded for her tireless advocacy on behalf of Florida’s mental health system. But the idea that the solution is to turn to an agency that provided so-called oversight over the Florida Council Against Domestic Violence while its executive director cashed in at the public trough to the tune of $7.5 million is laughable — and even tragic. Editor’s note: Concurrent with researching and writing this opinion piece, a strike-all amendment was filed to this bill that addresses many of the underlying concerns.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

After clearing the Rules Committee, a bill making it harder for citizens to amend the state constitution heads for the Senate floor.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The House approves a bill to keep sex offenders who victimize children from being released from jail while appealing their conviction.

— A bill to crack down on indecent exposure also clears the Rules Committee and is ready for the Senate floor, as well as advanced a bill allowing college-athletes to profit to cash in on their fame without losing their scholarships.

— A House budget committee is taking a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to discrimination against LGBTQ students at private schools that receive state money.

Rich Templin of the AFL-CIO talks about his opposition to bills making it harder to place a citizen’s amendment on the ballot and allowing more secrecy when universities search for a new president.

— In on all-female version of Florida Man, a woman is lucky to be alive after being shot in the head and another arrested on a murder charge when her boyfriend died after being zipped into a suitcase for hours.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Darinself: The President of the United States is attacking the media for reporting on a growing health threat because it’s “panicking markets” First: it’s the disease panicking markets Second: maybe care about the disease first and let that “fix” the markets

@BernieSanders: [Donald] Trump‘s plan for the coronavirus so far: — Cut winter heating assistance for the poor — Have VP Pence, who wanted to “pray away” HIV epidemic, oversee the response — Let ex-pharma lobbyist Alex Azar refuse to guarantee affordable vaccines to all Disgusting.

@DrLeanaWen: So @VP Mike Pence is the new #covid19 czar. As Governor of Indiana, an HIV/AIDS epidemic flourished until he allowed public health — not ideology — to direct policy & response. I hope he now follows the guidance of the exceptional career public health leaders @CDCgov & in the admin.

@KaitlanCollins: Notable moment there at the end — as Trump was leaving the room, Secretary Azar stopped to say reporters were “misunderstanding” why Pence was being put in charge of the response. “I’m still chairman of the task force,” he said, adding he’s “delighted” by Pence announcement.

@RepStephMurphy: It was shortsighted for the Administration to propose cutting funding for the CDC & other agencies in charge of combating public health threats like #coronavirus. I’m working to ensure Congress provides the federal support needed to protect Floridians and all Americans.

@NateSilver538: It would be fairly hard to engineer a polling scenario in which Bloomberg was more helpful to Bernie, in other words. Of course, polls could change before Super Tuesday.

@MitchellReports: How was @MikeBloomberg allowed to buy a commercial during the #demdebate?

@JamesGrantFL: Don’t like nasty editorials? Too bad. You helped pay for them — even for publications you don’t like. Florida lets publications use your money to fund their operations — millions & millions of dollars every year. It’s time to end this corporate welfare. Modernize public notice.

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@BallMatthew: Disney today is in the midst of what is, perhaps, the greatest corporate pivot (B2B to B2C) in history — and doing so faster and more successfully than expected The company is stunning. So much its success is now underrated.

— DAYS UNTIL —

South Carolina primaries — 2; Super Tuesday — 4; Super Tuesday II — 12; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 15; 11th Democratic debate in Phoenix — 17; Florida’s presidential primary — 19; Super Tuesday III — 19; “No Time to Die” premiers — 39; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 48; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 49; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 78; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 120; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 137; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 141; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 148; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 173; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 179; First presidential debate in Indiana — 215; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 223; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 231; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 238; 2020 General Election — 250.

— TOP STORY —

Domestic violence salary scandal leads to questions of cover-up” via Mary Ellen Klas and Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — When a Florida House committee reconvenes to question the two deputies of Tiffany Carr, the former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the focus will be not just on the salary scandal, but on what lawmakers see as increasing evidence pointing to a cover-up. House lawyers suspect that as the agency stonewalled state officials and refused to turn over documents relating to Carr’s multimillion-dollar compensation package, someone may have forged documents — in an attempt to show the agency followed state and federal legal requirements.

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How you can help — Hundreds of women, children, and men went without protection, shelter, or hope while some people associated with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence paid millions of taxpayer dollars to a select few employees. If you know anything that would assist the ongoing investigations, you can come forward and be protected. Just call the 1-800 number and share what you know. The Whistleblowers Hotline — 1-800-543-5353 — PPO Box 151 — Tallahassee, FL 32302 — c/o Melinda M. Miguel, Chief Inspector General.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Assignment editors — Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees and Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson will hold a press conference regarding coronavirus, 10 a.m., Governor’s Large Conference Room.

For shelters, it’s radio silence as domestic violence pay scandal grips Capitol” via Jason Delgado of POLITICO Florida — As state lawmakers rush to cut ties with the once trusted, now embattled Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, local shelters statewide — the scandal’s victims — say they’ve been left in the dark about what comes next. While the Capitol was gripped by a daylong drama of depositions in the case, Michelle Sperzel was in Orlando, worrying about the 921 residents her shelter serves. “We’re just asking that we can be a part of the process,” said Sperzel, CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, “so that we can be part of the transition plan and really be at the table to help make sure that survivors are thought of, and so lives aren’t lost during all the transition.”

Legislative leadership confident of university merger savings, despite lack of analysis” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Speaker José Oliva dismissed the fact that no member of the public showed up to speak in favor of the Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine’s committee substitute to HB 7087 consolidating New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. He also appeared unconcerned that no Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee spoke publicly in support of it. The bill passed by a 17-11 vote, with all Democratic members voting no and one Republican voting no. “I think they spoke,” he said. “They have a vote. They spoke with their votes.” Oliva says he would prefer it had a cost-benefit analysis, but he is confident that the mergers will save the state money.

José Oliva is confident the university merger plan is a money-saver.

Wait. What? — House Republicans vote to end children’s heart surgery oversight” via Samantha Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — The House voted 70-45 on a bill that, among other panels and advisory boards, strips the “Pediatric Cardiac Technical Advisory Panel” from statute. In June 2019, DeSantis signed into law a bill that put the advisory panel into statute and expanded its responsibilities. The proposal came after a Tampa Bay Times investigation reported that the mortality rate for pediatric heart surgery patients at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg reached nearly 10% in 2017. Before the panel, only state inspectors could make site visits to the 10 children’s heart surgery programs across the state. The new panel appointed 23 physicians to visit the programs, review death reports, and develop a public reporting mechanism for children’s heart surgery results.

Rob Bradley says lawmakers in ‘good shape’ on budget” via the News Service of Florida — Senate Appropriations Chairman Bradley expressed confidence that the spending plan will get completed as the Legislative Session approaches its final two weeks. “We’re in good shape right now,” Bradley told reporters. “We’re in fine shape in week seven (of the 60-day Session), and I’m confident that we’re going to resolve (the budget) either on time or very near that.” The Senate has proposed a $92.83 billion spending package while the House came in at $91.37 billion. Negotiators have to work out differences on big-ticket issues such as pay for state workers and teachers, the use of affordable-housing dollars, spending on the Florida Forever land-preservation program, a House push to eliminate the tourism-marketing agency VISIT FLORIDA, and hospital funding.

Students flock to Tallahassee to celebrate win on private school scholarships” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Dozens of highly enthusiastic private scholarship students traveled to Tallahassee and thank lawmakers for not rolling back non-need-based grant funding. The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposed committee substitute to HB 7087, sponsored by Higher Education Subcommittee Chair Fine, that removes language relating to the Effective Access To Student Education grant program, or EASE, and Access to Better Learning and Education Grant program, or ABLE. The previous version of the bill would have turned the EASE program from non-need-based scholarships to means-tested financial aid. It would have done the same for the ABLE program.

Chanting, “Save EASE!” more students from independent colleges and universities showed up to advocate for EASE funding. On hand to support the students and the EASE voucher program was Sen. Aaron Bean and Reps. Amber Mariano, Elizabeth Fetterhoff, James Bush, Tracie Davis, Randy Fine, Chip LaMarca and Chris Latvala.

Brittany DeCastro named Nurse Practitioner of the Day — Floridians Unite for Health Care is thanking Oliva for recognizing Brittany DeCastro, APRN, as the Nurse Practitioner of the Day in the Legislative Clinic. “I’m extremely grateful to be in the Capitol today serving as the Nurse Practitioner of the Day in the Legislative Clinic,” said DeCastro. “House Bill 607 by Rep. [Cary] Pigman is a great stride forward to increasing health care access to our Florida families. I thank House Speaker Oliva for his leadership on this very important issue and for this recognition.” DeCastro is an APRN affiliated with the Southeastern Plastic Surgery group in Tallahassee. She is board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner and has also earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

Congratulations to Brittany DeCastro, APRN, who was named Nurse Practitioner of the Day.

House 45th Day Rule — February 27 is the 45th day of Regular Session, after which, notice shall be provided no later than 4:30 p.m. before any committee or subcommittee meeting. Also, after today, by a majority vote, the House may, on the motion of the Chair or Vice-Chair of the Rules Committee, move to communications, messages from the Senate, bills and joint resolutions on Third Reading, or Special Orders.

— REST IN PEACE —

Ron DeSantis: Flags at half-staff for late lawmaker Jerry Melvin” via USA TODAY — The Governor’s Office made the announcement. Melvin died last week at the age of 90. He represented District 5, including Okaloosa County, in the Florida House 1968-78, then again in 1994-2000. At one point, he was given the honorary title of “Dean of the Florida House of Representatives.” DeSantis directed flags at half-staff at the Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview, City Hall in Fort Walton Beach, and at The Capitol from sunrise to sunset. “Melvin was born in Bonifay, which he always pronounced BoniFEE, in 1929 and came to Fort Walton Beach in the 1950′s to work for local radio station WFWB,” according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

RIP to Jerry Melvin, radio man, marketing genius, humanitarian, and one-time Dean of the Florida House. Image via the NWF Daily News.

Service Thursday for Melvin” via the News Service of Florida — The service is 11 a.m. at Fort Walton Beach First United Methodist Church, according to an obituary. Melvin served two stints in the House, from 1968 to 1978 and from 1994 to 2002. During his second stint, he was a leader on education issues, chairing what was known at the time as the Council for Lifelong Learning. During that stint, he represented parts of Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

— LEGISLATION —

Want to amend state Constitution to ban assault weapons or allow pot? It may get harder.” via Lawrence Mower of the Miami Herald — At the urging of DeSantis and corporate interests, Republican lawmakers last year made it dramatically harder for groups to gather petitions to change the Florida Constitution. This year, they’re looking to make it even tougher — so much so that even some GOP senators object. A Senate committee, along party lines, advanced Wednesday a bill that would likely increase the cost and the amount of time it takes to get amendments on the ballot. Groups wanting to amend the state’s Constitution would have to gather more than three times as many signatures before being deemed eligible for the ballot by a review from the Florida Supreme Court. On top of that, each signature could cost more.

At the urging of Ron DeSantis, lawmakers will make it difficult for citizens to amend the constitution.

Bill to hide initial university president applicants heads to Senate floor” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — “The University of Central Florida, which is a huge university in the number one ranked state in the nation, and we have 12 applicants,” said Sen. Manny Diaz, sponsor of SB 774. “We need this bill.” UCF’s pool of candidates has since grown to 15, but two of them are undergraduates, and few have the management experience at top-tier universities. Diaz said that’s because Florida colleges and universities are at a disadvantage to other states because of Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Sitting presidents at other universities are hesitant to apply for top jobs in Florida because their employers would know they’re looking to leave.

Bill seeking to close the ‘gun-show loophole’ fails in Florida Legislature” via Skylar Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida likely won’t be expanding background checks this year to cover gun-show sales, a key reform wanted by gun control advocates. Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said Wednesday the Senate wouldn’t be taking up the measure before the Session ends on March 13. “Public safety is still a priority for the Florida Senate. … We are going to have a public safety day where we pass myriad measures that are going to make Floridians more secure in this state,” he told reporters. The legislation sought to close the “gun-show loophole” and require documentation to be kept for private gun sales. It gained some momentum with the support of Galvano and fellow Republican Sen. Tom Lee.

Guns at church bill headed to full House” via the News Service of Florida — The House Judiciary Committee voted 12-5 to advance the measure (HB 1437), which does not have a Senate version. State law generally allows people to carry concealed weapons at religious institutions, but bars being armed on school properties. The bill would allow religious institutions to authorize people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at any location “owned, rented, leased, or lawfully used” by the institutions. Property owners allowing religious institutions on their property could still prohibit people from carrying firearms. “Right now, if your church is located on the same (site) as a preschool, and that preschool meets Monday through Friday, you would not be allowed to carry on Sunday, and this will change that,” bill sponsor Jayer Williamson said.

Senate passes bill to give judges flexibility in drug cases” via Brendan Farrington of the Associated Press — Judges would have more flexibility in sentencing people convicted of possessing or selling small amounts of drugs under a bill passed by the Florida Senate on Wednesday.

Bill targeting Baker Act heads to House floor” via the News Service of Florida — A proposal that would require school officials to verify that de-escalation tactics have been used before a student can be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act is headed to the House floor. The House Education Committee unanimously backed the bill (HB 1083). State Rep. Jennifer Webb said she sponsored the bill after learning about an increasing number of students committed under the Baker Act in her district. “In the past seven years, children have been taken from public schools in my area — in the Tampa Bay area — 7,500 times and Baker Acted. And over the last five years, the rate of Baker Acts has risen by 35 percent at our schools,” she told the committee.

Clifford Williams wrongful incarceration compensation ready for House floor vote” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, said the $2.15 million for Williams wouldn’t make up for decades of missed holidays at home. “But what it does is it shows the House of Representatives cares about the injustice done to Clifford Williams,” Daniels said, “and we care enough to do something.” She sponsored House legislation (HB 6507), providing for a financial compensation package. An amendment approved in the Judiciary Committee sets up a trust to benefit Williams and his family.

Public counsel bill stalls in Senate committee — The Senate Rules Committee delayed a bill that would force Public Counsel J.R. Kelly out of office, Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida reports. The postponement was brought on by Sen. Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, who raised concerns about the bill. “It is always fishy when we are trying to neuter the credentials or potentially send a message to a public counsel, who is representing our constituents, that they are doing too good a job,” he said. Kelly represents utility customers in legal proceedings. The bill (SB 7052) would set a 12-year term limit on the job.

— MORE LEGISLATION —

School panic alarm bill raises alarm, but no panic, in House committee” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A bill to require statewide installation of panic alarm systems in schools received unanimous approval from the House Education Committee. However, there was not unanimous praise for its details. The committee substitute (HB 23), sponsored by Democratic Reps. Michael Gottlieb and Dan Daley, was prompted by the 2018 mass murder in Parkland. And to the extent that it would mandate a new safety measure, everyone liked it. The systems would allow people within a school to not only send a panic alarm out to law enforcement, but also to communicate. But arising in debate and questioning were concerns about whether the bill would not force a one-size-fits-all solution onto school districts as varied as Miami-Dade and Lafayette counties.

Dan Daley’s committee substitute raises an alarm, but not panic. 

House higher education package primed for floor vote — The House’s higher education omnibus is ready for a vote from the full chamber after rolling through its final committee, with some major additions. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, HB 613 was rewritten to include changes on preeminence, presidential job searches, and financial aid. Most of the new additions aren’t present in the Senate higher education plan, which could indicate the House is setting up some trades as it negotiates the 2020-21 budget with the Senate.

Senators look to NCAA for answers on athlete pay” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida a — As they move forward with a proposal that would allow college athletes to receive off-field compensation, Senators expect the National Collegiate Athletic Association to tackle unaddressed issues such as recruitment. The Senate Rules Committee backed the proposal (SB 646), sending it to the full Senate. The bill would outline how Florida college athletes could make money off their “name, image, likeness or persona,” though it would not take effect until July 1, 2021. Bill sponsor Debbie Mayfield pointed to an ongoing review by the NCAA when asked about the impact of her proposal on college football bowl participation in the upcoming season and student recruitment by schools.

FSU think tank gets House bill — The House on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would set up a political think tank at Florida State University, Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reports. The proposed Florida Institute for Great Citizenship at FSU was included as a line item for the Senate budget. Still, the House bill goes further, setting up similar entities at the University of Florida and Florida International University. The FSU think tank would host forums and conduct polling. The others would feature “American ideals” and economics programs.

Lawmakers honor fallen high school football player” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — On the football field, Zach Martin was a protector. Now in death, the teenager will be forever known as a protector after Florida lawmakers acted to honor him by renaming a bill that would require public schools across Florida to do more to protect athletes from deadly heat strokes. Two summers ago, Martin collapsed after running sprints in the sweltering South Florida heat. Minutes later, the 16-year-old was in the hospital, where he died 11 days later. His mother, Laurie Giordano, has been lobbying Florida lawmakers to approve a bill — now known as the “Zachary Martin Act” — that would require high schools to act more quickly when student-athletes show signs of heatstroke and other heat-related stresses.

Pension legislation would put heavy financial burden on Leon, other Florida school districts” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida’s school districts are about to be walloped with a nearly $233 million bill from the Legislature — because of the legacy of the Great Recession on the state’s pension fund. Specifically, Leon County and other Panhandle school districts could individually take an estimated $3 million hit. Though there’s no knowing what DeSantis will sign at the end of the Legislative Session, Leon County district officials are anxious and calculating effects on everything from teacher salary increases to the survival of after-school programs. The Legislature this month passed a bill (HB 5007) that would change how much state employers must contribute to their employees’ retirement pensions.

Pharmacist test and treat cleared for House (now with lice and ringworm)” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — An expanded test and treat package cleared its final House panel, teeing it up for a floor vote. But instead of reducing treatments offered, Rep. Tyler Sirois‘ bill (HB 389) kept strep tests and added lice, skin conditions like ringworm and minor, non-chronic conditions to the list of possible pharmacist treatments. “I think what this legislation does is it normalizes pharmacists in our state as a point of contact for individuals to receive care,” the Merritt Island Republican said. The bill would allow physicians to delegate prescriptions for noncontrolled medication to pharmacists who enter into a collaborative practice agreement.

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House votes to establish Florida Office of Broadband, reboot expansion” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — That measure (HB 969), filed by Rep. Brad Drake, would create the Florida Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and would designate it the lead agency on high-speed internet installation. Rep. Loranne Ausley, a co-sponsor, told the House that people often take high-speed internet for granted. However, in rural communities, broadband is harder to come by in the Sunshine State. High-speed internet allows for people to pay bills and study online. “It allows stay-at-home moms to stay current in their profession or to have a stay-at-home business,” Ausley added. Additionally, the bill would allocate up to $5 million of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise’s $35 million 2022-2023 budget to broadband expansion.

Drones could help fight invasive species, wildfires” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The bill (HB 659), filed by Rep. Jason Fischer, pushes for greater drone authorization for Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Forest Service to combat pythons and fire threats on public land. “Currently, in the state of Florida, we are facing an epidemic of invasive species destroying our local ecosystems, including the Everglades,” the Jacksonville Republican said, adding that it could save the state some dollars. The bill received unanimous approval in all three of its committee stops.

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

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

The House Commerce Committee meets, 8 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

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

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

The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee meets, 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set a special-order calendar, 15 minutes after Senate Appropriations Committee, Room 401, Senate Office Building.

The House Rules Committee meets 15 minutes after floor session, Room 404, House Office Building.

Assignment editors — A coalition of 200 Black women and girls are expected from across the state will march for the 3rd annual Black Girls at The Capitol, hosted by Rep. Kamia Brown: 10 a.m., March from Florida People’s Advocacy Center to Capitol (603 N MLK Blvd.); 11 a.m., Black Girls at the Capitol news conference (4th-floor Rotunda). On Friday, 9 a.m., Black Girls Brunch (22nd floor).

— HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS SPEAK —

In support of SB 1628, Sen. Lauren Book’s Holocaust education bill, the Plantation Democrat is inviting Auschwitz concentration camp survivor Magdalen Bader to The Capitol as a speaker. Also appearing in support is Rositta Kenigsberg, who was born in a displaced person camp in Austria and is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Lauren Book is invited Holocaust survivors to speak in support of her education bill. Image via Colin Hackley.

Book’s bill aims to give Florida’s public-school students a standard statewide curriculum on teaching the Holocaust. The legislation arose from a national news story of a Florida public school principal’s refusal to call the Holocaust a fact and the school district’s delay in removing the administrator.

Senate Committee on Appropriations meeting begins at 9 a.m.; SB 1628 will be addressed before noon, Room 412, Knott Building.

— GOV. CLUB BUFFET MENU

Zuppa Toscana; mixed garden salad with dressings; Caprese salad; antipasto salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and bread; chicken Parmesan; white fish scampi; Italian style meatballs; eggplant Parmesan; green beans with pancetta; Italian orzo mac and cheese; mini cannoli for dessert.

— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY — 

Voters are voting — According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Wednesday afternoon, Supervisors of Elections have a total of 996,500 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 447,403 have returned, 543,967 are outstanding, and 5,130 are unsent. As for Democrats, supervisors have a total of 1,095,339 vote-by-mail ballots; 267,816 have returned, 819,976 are outstanding, and 7,547 are unsent. Those classified as “other,” 244,744 vote-by-mail ballots, 9,815 have returned, 37,591 are outstanding, and 197,338 are unsent.

Florida Democrats preferred Joe Biden. But will he make it out of South Carolina?” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Biden often says, “We’re in a battle for the soul of America.” Right now, Biden is fighting to stay in the battle. The former Vice President enters the South Carolina primary trailing in delegates needed to win the nomination. He’s also lagging far behind in momentum. Sanders leads the Democratic race in both, and the Vermont Senator is threatening to deal Biden’s campaign another blow when the Palmetto State votes this Saturday. The South Carolina primary results will be closely watched in Florida, where Biden has been a favorite among the Democratic establishment since he announced his campaign for president last April. It’s the first test of the candidates’ support among the black voters.

Republicans try to squeeze Democrats on Sanders’ comments with anti-Castro resolution” via David Smiley and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart wants Democrats to stand with or disavow Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders after he praised aspects of Fidel Castro’s Cuba in a recent interview. The Miami Republican and longtime Castro critic will introduce a resolution on Thursday that condemns Sanders’ comments praising Castro’s literacy programs on a ”60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday. Sanders’ comments provoked a wave of anger from Republicans and Miami Democrats.

Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish nominee — and he’s triggered a fight over Jewish identity” via Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post — The Senator from Vermont illustrated this week why he’s a lightning rod for the Jewish community, saying he would boycott the massive American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference and accusing its leaders of welcoming bigots. “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people,” Sanders tweeted. “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason, I will not attend their conference.” His announcement cranked up to a boil a simmering left-right divide among American Jews over his candidacy. The split spans questions of whether and how to support Israel and what qualifies as anti-Semitism, those who study the community say.

As the first Jewish nominee for President, Bernie Sanders would illustrate the rift between Jewish voters.

Elizabeth Warren surrogates to campaign throughout Jacksonville — From February 29 to March 1, Rep. Cindy Polo, Patrick Hidalgo, Juan Cuba, and Frederick Joseph will campaign for Warren in Jacksonville. Saturday events include Cafecito Con Warren, a community conversation with Jacksonville supporters. Sunday will feature a 2:30 p.m. neighborhood walk, and canvass kickoff led by Jacksonville youth as well as a 5 p.m. community roundtable at The Cookbook Restaurant. Another Sunday event is a 1 p.m. Barbershop Talk with Joseph and Darren Mason.

— NEW ADS —

Bloomberg — “Pandemic”: 

— MORE 2020 —

Nancy Pelosi urges Democratic unity amid Sanders’ campaign surge” via Lisa Mascaro and Alan Fram of The Associated Press — “I would hope that everyone would say, no matter who the nominee is for president, we wholeheartedly embrace that person,” Pelosi told the House Democratic caucus at a closed-door meeting. “We cannot show any division. This has to be about unity, unity, unity,” she said. Down-ballot jitters are apparent as the Vermont Senator takes an increasingly commanding lead in early voting and withstands the constant pummeling by rivals who have been unable to slow his rise. Many first-term Democrats are counting on their own well-crafted brands, not the party’s eventual presidential nominee, whoever that may be, to see them to reelection.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives for a meeting with fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Nancy Pelosi calls for Democratic unity, no matter who the nominee is. Image via AP.

Barack Obama to TV stations: Take down misleading Biden attack ad” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO — Obama is sending a cease-and-desist letter to South Carolina TV stations demanding they not air a Republican ad that misuses his words to attack his former Vice President. The Committee to Defend the President super PAC’s ad, which began airing as part of a $250,000 ad buy, is the latest in a string of Republican efforts designed to torpedo Biden to keep him from facing Trump. “This despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it’s clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina by taking President Obama’s voice out of context and twisting his words to mislead viewers,” Katie Hill, Obama’s communications director, said in a written statement.

Amy Klobuchar on Biden-Tom Steyer spat: I thought I might get hit” via CNN — Presidential hopeful Sen. Klobuchar explains what was going through her mind during a fiery moment between former Vice President Biden and Steyer at the CBS Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina.

With her campaign on the brink, Warren is suddenly fighting back” via Ruby Cramer and Molly Hensley-Clancy of BuzzFeed News — Voters have seen Warren tear into her opponents on the debate stage, politely but a little ruthlessly, with laserlike precision. They watched her dispense with her usual folksy introduction before a crowd in Seattle — “I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself” — to launch instead into a new condemnation of the “big threat” posed by Bloomberg “Not a tall one, but a big one,” she said. And they heard Warren voice something she has long believed — but never before laid out explicitly or publicly: “I think I would make a better president than [Sanders].” The arrival of a more aggressive and uninhibited Warren comes as the 70-year-old Massachusetts Senator faces an urgent moment of reckoning.

Elizabeth Warren is fighting back.

Pro-Donald Trump group plans post-Super Tuesday blitz on Democrats” via Alayna Treene of Axios — Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action is preparing to unleash a series of targeted, swing-state attacks on the Democrat most likely to face Trump after Super Tuesday, people familiar with the group’s plans tell me in an exclusive preview of its strategy. The group has been tracking favorable/unfavorable ratings in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania for 2020 candidates Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg — under the theory that if Trump wins each of these six states, he will win reelection. The spending isn’t expected to begin until it’s clear who the Democratic nominee will be, whether that’s after next week’s Super Tuesday or in July at the Democratic National Convention.

Trump campaign plans storefronts in black neighborhoods in Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, report says” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — According to The New York Times, the Trump campaign said it would lease 15 retail properties in swing states including Florida, where it would build “community centers” to sell merchandise and register voters. In a media tour of a mock-up storefront in Virginia Wednesday, “Hoodies bearing the slogan ‘WOKE’ were on display … A large television screen played a stream of testimonials from black voters talking about why they supported Trump. Posters featuring smiling African American supporters highlighted the administration’s work overhauling the criminal justice system, its funding of historically black colleges and universities, and the country’s unemployment rate,” the Times reported.

Mike Pence is coming to Sarasota” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Vice President Pence is scheduled to fly into Sarasota Friday and then travel to Longboat Key for a fundraiser at the home of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. The event will raise money for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is trying to take back the House this fall. Roughly 100 to 150 people are expected to attend the fundraiser. Pence is not planning to hold any events that are open to the public during the trip.

— SCHOOL CHOICE HELPS ALL —

As lawmakers consider expanding educational opportunities to more families, Cara Candal of ExcelinEd cites a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that ALL students benefit when there are more learning options.

The study examines the effects of the Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship (FTC), the nation’s most extensive private school choice program. Almost 108,000 students receive the scholarships, accounting for nearly 4% of the entire K-12 population in the state.

Researchers used data from the Florida Departments of Education and Health and examined test scores and behavioral outcomes, such as absences and suspensions, for about 1.2 million students enrolled in grades 3-8 between 2003 and 2017.

They also included factors like the proximity of neighborhood K-12 schools to nearby private schools where students attended with an FTC scholarship.

The study revealed that as public schools in Florida are more exposed to private school choice, public school students experience lower rates of suspension, fewer absences, and higher standardized test scores in reading and math. The benefits were greatest for students from low-income backgrounds. According to the research, the more private schools in a community, the greater the increase in test scores among public school students.

— STATEWIDE —

Will Floridians have to retreat from the rising ocean?” via John Burr in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Retreat is such an un-American concept. Rhymes with defeat, and considered synonymous. Yet as we move further and faster into the time of climate change, Florida will need to embrace the concept of retreat from the rising ocean, scientists and planners say. “It is what a lot of cities will have to do because a lot of neighborhoods are not defensible,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton, recently told The Washington Post. “You either protect people, or you get them out of the way. There just isn’t a choice.” Oppenheimer has listed Jacksonville, Miami and Key West as among the U.S. cities most threatened by rising oceans brought about by climate change.

As sea level rises, elevate and retreat are the two major issues. Image via Key West Citizen.

Surviving hurricanes, sea rise in Keys may mean $3 billion in home buyouts, elevations” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — A new federal study all but confirms that there are few big, structural options to keep the Keys safe from the stronger hurricanes and rising seas that climate change is expected to bring. The answer, it suggests, is a combination of elevation and retreat. In a presentation shown to Monroe County Commissioners last week, the Army Corps of Engineers outlined a $3 billion strategy to protect the Keys. The only new construction measure considered is adding additional rocks on either side of U.S. 1 in six key spots. The rest of the plan is a combination of elevating homes, businesses, and essential buildings and “retreat” in the form of government-funded buyouts.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Court sides with Trump in ‘sanctuary cities’ grant fight” via Larry Neumeister of The Associated Press — The Trump administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants to force states to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement. The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court’s decision ordering the administration to release funding to New York City and seven states — New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island. The states and city sued the U.S. government after the Justice Department announced in 2017 that it would withhold grant money from cities and states until they gave federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.

President Donald Trump talks to the media before he boards Air Force One for a trip to Los Angeles to attend a campaign fundraiser, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Donald Trump gets a win with withholding grants to sanctuary cities.

Betsy DeVos at religious broadcasters event highlights SCOTUS school choice case” via Nicole Gaudiano of POLITICO Florida — Speaking during the National Religious Broadcasters convention, DeVos defended petitioning families in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which looks at whether the Montana Supreme Court violated the U.S. Constitution when it struck down a tax credit scholarship program that allowed students to attend private, including religious, schools. A decision is expected during the court’s spring term. DeVos said the case is significant because of its implications for so-called Blaine Amendments, constitutional provisions in nearly 40 states blocking public funds from going to religious education. Montana’s high court ruled that the state’s tax credit was allowing the legislature to pay public funds indirectly to religious schools, in violation of the “No-Aid Clause” in the state’s constitution.

Twitter gets behind Marco Rubio’s ‘reefer for everyone’ — even though it was a jab at Democrats” via Sean Neumann for People — Rubio went viral on Twitter this week — though maybe not as he intended — with a mocking post about Tuesday’s night Democratic debate in South Carolina. ‘To recap tonight’s Democratic debate. If they are elected you will get govt controlled internet, energy, schools and health care. And as a bonus, reefer for everyone!’ Rubio, 48, tweeted while taking a jab at many of the candidate’s sweeping policy proposals. “Um, sign me up?” one Twitter user responded.”

SpottedBrian Ballard in The Hill as one of the top Republican lobby firms who have been “riding high after three years of Trump and a GOP Senate.” Recently, Flagler Health+ hired Ballard Partners to work on the Medicaid payment rule, and Okaloosa County hired the firm to work on federal and grant issues. Founder Ballard and Daniel McFaul, a former chief of staff to Rep. Matt Gaetz, will work on both accounts.

— CORONAVIRUS — 

The U.S. has started human testing of a drug to treat the novel coronavirus” via Madeline Holcombe, Eliott McLaughlin and Steve Almasy of CNN — So far, there is no cure or vaccine for the virus, which has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 worldwide in the past few months. News of the drug testing came just as a federal health official warned that the virus would eventually start spreading in U.S. communities. A clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir in adults diagnosed with coronavirus begun at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the National Institutes of Health said. The first participant is an American who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

Donald Trump, with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, right, and other members of the president’s coronavirus task force during a news conference at the Brady press briefing room of the White House. Image via AP. 

Coronavirus raises fears of U.S. drug supply disruptions” via Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Johnson of The Washington Post — Not only are many medications used in the United States manufactured overseas, but critical ingredients — and the chemicals used to make them — also are overwhelmingly made in China and other countries. The supply chain’s roots now run so deep that it’s challenging to anticipate where critical shortages could emerge fully. Rosemary Gibson, author of the book “China Rx” and a senior adviser at the Hastings Center said China has a “global chokehold” on the chemical components that make up key ingredients. “We overlook where products come from and the components to make them. We are dependent on others, and they will keep medicines for their own people.”

—”After coronavirus, Bill Posey Introduces bill to cut U.S. dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals” via Kevin Derby of the Florida Daily

Disney World, Universal Studios and the U.S. tourism industry brace for coronavirus” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Behind the scenes, concerns run in the theme park industry whether the coronavirus will hurt the industry’s next upcoming lucrative time of spring break. “It’s so early to know what to do, what they’re truly dealing with, and how serious it could be,” said Dennis Speigel, president of the International Theme Park Services consulting firm. “But it’s real. It’s a fact. It’s something we have to watch. We’re a place for the masses.” Disney confirmed a handful of third-party Epcot workers were asked to stay home after they returned from a trip to Italy. The company said the decision was made out of an abundance of caution.

The significance of the Miami man who feared he might have coronavirus” via Steve Benen of NBC News — To his credit, Osmel Martinez Azcue recognized the public-health concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, and given his symptoms and his recent China visit, he felt like the responsible thing to do was check himself into one of Miami’s largest hospitals (Jackson Memorial). The hospital staff followed the proper protocols and put Azcue in a closed-off room. Fortunately, blood work found that he simply had the flu. Within weeks of being sent home, he started receiving thousands of dollars in medical bills — with more likely on the way, because he was treated by some out-of-network physicians — in addition to instructions on his medical history. Azcue’s private insurer wanted him to prove that his flu wasn’t related to a preexisting condition.

If coronavirus hits South Florida, are you prepared?” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Florida knows how to prepare for a hurricane, but readying for the new, highly contagious coronavirus is different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s not a matter of if — but rather when — the virus will spread through communities in the United States, and federal officials want Americans to expect disruptions in their daily lives. The virus has now reached 40 countries and territories, including the United States. While there is no reason to panic, there are actions you can take to protect yourself and your family. There are no confirmed cases in Florida, and most cases of the virus are not life-threatening. But COVID-19 has been more deadly than seasonal flu, and there is no cure or vaccine available.

South Florida schools prepare for coronavirus, starting with newly enrolling students” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — Long before federal health officials warned that Americans should start making preparations, including the possible shutdown of schools, some South Florida education leaders started planning for the threat of coronavirus. On Wednesday, as more outbreaks of the deadly virus were reported in Brazil and Italy, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho held a news conference to share the Miami-Dade school district’s contingency plan should there be an outbreak in Miami. “If there is one place where a contagion can actually spread, it can be the schoolhouse,” he said. The district is adding hand sanitizers in school buses and at entrances, exits, cafeterias, gyms and other areas where students congregate in schools, he said.

Coronavirus forces Florida universities, colleges to cancel study abroad trips” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — As concerns over coronavirus mount and contingency plans are put in place, many universities and colleges in Florida have called off study abroad trips to affected countries beyond China. On Monday, Florida International University announced that it had canceled all study abroad trips this semester to Italy, where 400 people have been infected. FIU has called home 120 students and four faculty members from study abroad trips in China — where FIU has a hospitality program in Tianjin — Singapore, South Korea, and now Italy. A trip to Vietnam has also been canceled.

Chip LaMarca expresses concern over potential coronavirus impact in Florida” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — LaMarca wants officials to remain on their toes and prepare should the outbreak extend into the state. There have been fewer than 60 people inside the U.S. who have contracted COVID-19, the official term now for coronavirus. That number has eclipsed 80,000 worldwide, with nearly 2,800 dying from the virus. To help assess the readiness of the state to deal with a similar circumstance, LaMarca coordinated a call with several representatives from ports around the state. “I received a briefing from the Florida Ports Council and the U.S. Coast Guard on the potential economic impact of the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus on our state,” said LaMarca, whose House District 93 is home to Port Everglades.

Chip LaMarca wants assurances that the state is preparing for the novel coronavirus, Image via the News Service of Florida.

Jamaica and Caymans deny cruise ship, industry stocks drop as coronavirus spreads” via Taylor Dalton of the Miami Herald — Miami-based cruise companies saw their stocks plummet as the spread of coronavirus rattled markets for the second day in a row. The sell-off happened as Jamaica and the Cayman Islands denied permission to an MSC Cruises ship, the Meraviglia, to disembark passengers as scheduled for fear that an ill crew member could have the virus. MSC Cruises, which is privately held, said in a statement that the crew member has the common flu, not the novel coronavirus, and has not traveled through any of the outbreak areas recently. The company said it is “extremely disappointed” in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands’ decisions to turn the ship away.

What Michelle Todd Schorsch is reading —Coronavirus is spreading. should you cancel your family vacation?” via Christina Caron of The New York Times — With spring break on the horizon and summer fast approaching, many families are thinking ahead to school breaks and sunny vacations. But fears about the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 81,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700, are adding a new layer of anxiety. All but 55 of those deaths have been reported in mainland China, but the disease is now spreading widely in other areas of the world. Cases in children have been rare. So is it still safe to travel abroad? Should you avoid attending amusement parks in the United States that attract international visitors? Or what about cruises, which can become incubators for viruses?

Could Olympics be impacted by coronavirus? IOC has three months to decide, one official says.” via Cindy Boren of The Washington Post — Moving the Games to another city is unlikely, as is postponing them for a year and then holding them in Tokyo. A decision on whether to hold the Games or take action, up to a complete cancellation, could be delayed until late May, two months ahead of the July 24 Opening Ceremonies. “You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee official since 1978, told the AP. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels. The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

Red Sox prospect arrives from Taiwan — and is immediately quarantined over coronavirus concerns” via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe — Chih-Jung Liu arrived in Florida las week eager to start his first spring training with the Red Sox. But instead of playing catch and getting to know his new teammates, the 20-year-old righthander from Taiwan is being quarantined in a hotel room by the Sox to guard against the coronavirus.

— THE TRAIL —

A trio of previously unopposed lawmakers draw 2020 challengers” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Sen. Kevin Rader and Reps. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin and Matt Willhite are now facing opponents as they defend their respective seats. The lawmakers had previously faced an open path to reelection. That’s changed for Rader in SD 29; he faces a challenge from first-time Republican candidate Brian Andrew Norton. Norton says he worked in the IT field in Philadelphia before moving to Florida in 2010. He started a landscaping company, which he sold in 2017. Norton now does consulting work in sales and IT. In HD 86, Republican candidate Susan Kufkadis Rivera has now filed to run against Willhite, the Democratic incumbent. And in HD 119, Democratic candidate Olivia Cantu filed to run against Republican Fernandez-Barquin.

Allison Tant racks up more endorsements for HD 9 campaign Tant’s campaign for House District 9 is touting another round of endorsements from elected officials from across Leon County. The latest volley includes Leon County Clerk of Courts Gwen Marshall, Tallahassee Mayor Pro Tempore Dianne Williams-Cox and Tallahassee City Commissioner Curtis Richardson. “I wholeheartedly endorse Allison Tant in her campaign for state representative because she is a force to be reckoned within our community,” Marshall said. “She leads with compassion and is the first to lend a hand when anyone is in need. I know she will make us proud as our representative.” Tant, a former chair of Florida Democratic Party, is running to succeed Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley, who is running for Senate.

— CONGRATS —

Consensus Communications was honored by Campaigns & Elections Magazine with a prestigious 2019 Reed Award for excellence in political advertising for its work on a 60-second ad for former Rep. Jason Brodeur’s Senate campaign.

The national award was handed down for “Call Me,” a lighthearted ad that shows Brodeur taking phone call after phone call from constituents while his wife, Christy Brodeur, looks both proud and a little annoyed that he wants to help fix everyone’s problems.

“This was our first year participating in the Reed Awards,” said Ryan Houck, a partner at Consensus. “It’s a unique honor for the work to be nationally recognized. Much of the credit belongs to the candidate and his spouse, who delivered the genuine and memorable performances that make the ad special.”

To view the ad, click on the image below:

— LOCAL —

Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen died of brain aneurysm on way to Commission meeting” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Flippen died Tuesday after experiencing a brain aneurysm, according to the city’s police chief. Flippen was 41. He was elected Mayor in 2018 after serving as a city commissioner. Police Chief Paul O’Connell said Wednesday that the Medical Examiner’s Office determined Flippen died of a brain aneurysm. O’Connell said that his agency received a call for medical assistance at 6:51 p.m. Tuesday — minutes before the City Commission was to begin its meeting — and found him alone and unresponsive in his car in the 2200 block of North Andrews Avenue. Police began administering CPR until Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue paramedics arrived, O’Connell said. Flippen was taken to Broward Health Medical Center, where he died.

Justin Flippen died of a brain aneurysm.

Orlando police sergeant who allowed 6-year-old’s arrest at school admitted he didn’t know policy, records show” via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — An Orlando police sergeant who allowed reserve Officer Dennis Turner to arrest a 6-year-old at a charter school in September was disciplined recently after admitting he didn’t know the department’s policy on arresting juveniles at the time. An Internal Affairs investigation obtained by the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday evening shows Turner and Officer Sergio Ramos contacted Sgt. Douglas Andreacchi, Ramos’ supervisor, during at least one of two arrests of children that Turner made at the school that day. However, Andreacchi didn’t contact the on-duty watch commander for approval, as policy required when arresting a child younger than 12, records show.

JAXPORT seeks $70 million from city for river deepening” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The Jacksonville Port Authority is asking city leaders to put up $70 million toward the cost of deepening the St. Johns River so Jacksonville can attract massive ships loaded with international cargo. JAXPORT is seeking the money over two years and would need an answer from the city by the summer to keep the schedule on track for the next phase of harbor deepening that would reach the Blount Island terminal by 2023. The wide range for the city’s potential cost was based on uncertainty about how much money the federal government would spend for the dredging. The federal government had committed about $21 million in 2017, but the federal support has risen to $192 million.

Judge orders toll increases for Panhandle bridge” via the News Service of Florida — Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper in December directed the Florida Department of Transportation to raise tolls to help meet financial obligations for the Garcon Point Bridge, which spans part of Pensacola Bay. But the department did not act by Feb. 1, spurring UMB Bank, the trustee for bondholders, to go back to Cooper and request an order for toll increases. Cooper held a hearing Wednesday and ordered tolls to increase by Sunday, according to hearing minutes posted on the court website and a news release from MC Advisors LLC on behalf of a group of bondholders. The news release said bondholders had “no choice” but to return to Cooper for an order.

South Florida fails to make a splash with big corporate relocations” via Lidia Dinkova of GlobeSt.com — “I don’t see as many headlines as I see in Houston or in Dallas of companies picking up 10,000 employees and moving them there,” said Christos Costandinides, director of market analytics for CoStar Group in Miami. For now, South Florida will have to settle for expansion of existing companies and small-scale relocations. The region has proved popular with financial service, accounting and insurance firms, which come with a small footprint and head count. Miami-Dade and Broward counties last year drew plenty of 3,000-10,000-square-foot companies. Miami-Dade posted a positive 500,000-square-foot absorption last year, but Broward and Palm Beach counties closed the fourth quarter with negative absorption at 172,860 square feet in Broward and 182,514 in Palm Beach.

Orange Co. transportation survey finds residents want more of everything” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — An unscientific survey of 10,698 residents overwhelmingly said building a bigger and better mass transit system — buses and commuter trains — should be a top priority. That result should encourage Jerry Demings, who proposed the tax increase to fund expansion and improvements. Mass transit improvements were named as a top priority by 59% of the survey’s respondents. Yet, eight other transportation improvements were named as a top priority: Maintaining and repairing existing roads (50%,) improving traffic signal timing (42%,) improving SunRail (42%,) widening existing roads (38%,) improving intersections (37%,) increasing pedestrian safety (34%,) improving LYNX bus service (32%,) and increasing the number of bike and pedestrian paths (30%.) Building more sidewalks and bike lanes got 29%.

Jerry Demings should be encouraged by a new transportation survey of Orange County voters.

Prison inmate attacked Michael Drejka over death of ‘brother’ Markeis McGlockton, report says” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times — The inmate accused of attacking and injuring Clearwater parking lot shooter Drejka said it was in retaliation for the death that landed Drejka in prison: Markeis McGlockton. Benjamin Martin struck Drejka with a combination lock attached to a sock on Feb. 11 while both were inmates at Lancaster Correctional Institutional near Gainesville, according to a Florida Department of Corrections report.

Weeki Wachee attorney makes a pitch to keep the City of Live Mermaids” via Barbara Behrendt — Hernando County is going to lose a “significant tourism generator” if it doesn’t stop the state Legislature’s move to disband the incorporated city of Weeki Wachee, population 13. That’s what the city’s long-time attorney, Joe Mason, told Hernando County Commissioners on Tuesday. Weeki Wachee is better known than the county’s only other city — Brooksville — Mason argued. Brooksville sports 8,000 residents. Commissioners said that idea was as substantial as the mythical mermaids who first put Weeki Wachee on the map in the 1940s. “Respectfully,” said Commissioner John Allocco, “everybody knows that mermaids are not real.”

Tampa Bay Times will temporarily cut employee pay amid financial decline” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Workers will see a 10% reduction in pay beginning March 13, according to information in an internal memo obtained by the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The cuts will last 13 weeks and will return to normal in June. “This step is regrettable but necessary because revenues are falling short, a little in circulation and more seriously in advertising,” the memo read. The paper also reportedly told employees job cuts are also likely. Times CEO Paul Tash, along with Editor Mark Katches, General Manager Joe DeLuca, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bruce Faulmann and Chief Digital Officer Conan Galatty, will each take a 15% pay cut.

Tally Mac Shack hailed by Marco Rubio as U.S. Senate Small Business of the Week” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Justo Cruz’s love for macaroni and cheese is turning him into a Tallahassee legend. In just a few years, he has parlayed his ability to cook up a distinct version of the comfort food in an old delivery truck he dubbed the “Mac Shack” and grown a thriving business. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rubio named the Tally Mac Shack as the U.S. Senate Small Business of the Week.

Those on ‘inactive’ voter list may be less likely to vote, officials say.”

— TOP OPINION —

Ten terrible moves by an arrogant Florida Legislature” via the Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board — Say this for the people who run the Florida Legislature: They’re consistent. Arrogantly so. Consider the series of bad laws that ruling Republicans rammed through a year ago: three new politically driven toll roads; allowing teachers to carry guns; imposing financial barriers on felons who want to vote; making it harder to gather petitions for ballot initiatives; a legally dubious ban on so-called sanctuary cities; and forcing citizens to pay developers’ legal fees if unsuccessful in challenging proposed land-use changes. This year, the soul-crushing parade of bad policy continues in a Capitol where a small cabal of senators and House members make most major decisions, and rank-and-file lawmakers are bit players who follow marching orders.

— OPINIONS —

Republican lawmakers show contempt for voters by trying to muzzle them” via the Miami Herald editorial board — It’s become a common alternative for Floridians who say lawmakers are not listening to their real-world concerns about social justice, the environment and voters rights. They have used popular citizens’ initiatives — a constitutional amendment — to get an issue on the statewide ballot by collecting enough signatures through petition drives. And because there have been some high-profile successes, some state lawmakers want to put up roadblocks to the process, of course. Now lawmakers want to smother such grassroots voters’ initiatives before they get off the ground, creating a number of new provisions that would drive up the costs of accessing direct democracy and tie up the process in red tape. In other words, they’re silencing their constituents.

End welfare for politicians: Stop subsidizing Florida’s political campaigns” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Lots of things probably tick you off about politics. The nasty ads. The ugly lies. Well, I’ll tell you what ticks me off most of all — we pay for it. Florida taxpayers forked over nearly $10 million to DeSantis, Andrew Gillum, and other candidates last year — part of this state’s “public campaign finance” act. It’s welfare for politicians. And it’s ridiculous. You live in a state where politicians rail against welfare for the poor and claim they can’t find enough money to provide services to families of disabled children who are stuck on yearslong waiting lists. Yet they help themselves to millions of your tax dollars to finance their campaigns. It should stop.

Michael Carlson: Homeowners should know their rights during a hurricane claim” via Florida Politics — Florida law includes several important insurance-related consumer protections. The Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights is the gold standard in terms of robust protections for consumers. An insurer issuing residential property insurance policy must provide a Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights to a policyholder within 14 days after receiving an initial communication with respect to a claim, unless the claim follows an event that is the subject of a declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor. Contact your insurance company before entering into any contract for repairs, make and document emergency repairs that are necessary to prevent further damage, keep receipts, take photographs and confirm that the contractor you choose is licensed to do business in Florida.

— EARNINGS —

Greenberg Traurig amassed $7.85 million in 2019” via Florida Politics — Greenberg Traurig’s 2019 team featured a dozen lobbyists, and they managed to land a total of 275 contracts for lobbying work. Of those clients, 119 needed legislative lobbying help, which accounted for $4.75 million in revenues for the firm. Another 156 clients tapped with the firm for executive lobbying services, netting Greenberg Traurig another $3.08 million in fees. Their overall earnings come in $150,000 higher than their 2018 haul. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate total revenue. Guy Carpenter & Co., Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance, Humana Medical Plan and the Nemours Foundation paid the firm $180,000 each.

Johnson & Blanton racked up $5.35M in 2019” via Florida Politics — The firm had a total of 182 lobbying contracts in 2019, evenly split across their legislative and executive reports. The firm managed to bring in $3.39 million in legislative lobbying fees, while executive lobbying fees amounted to $1.96 million. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics used the middle number of each range to estimate total revenue last year. On the legislative lobbying side, AdventHealth topped Johnson & Blanton’s ledger. Each paid the firm $140,000 in 2019. The Florida Hospital Association is a Tallahassee-based advocacy group that seeks to improve conditions for the Sunshine State’s 285,000 health care professionals employed by hospitals.

— LOBBY REGS — 

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Mark Delegal, Holland & Knight: RTI Surgical Holdings

Mercer Fearington, Clark Smith, The Southern Group: Polaris

James Harris: Merlin Law Group

Richard Heffley, Heffley & Associates: First Place Partners, South Central Florida Express, Southern Gardens Citrus Groves Corporation, Southern Gardens Citrus Holding Corporation, Southern Gardens Citrus Nursery Corporation

Vanessa Offutt: American Tort Reform Association

Andre Parke, Sachs Sax Caplan: Kelly Denson

Alan Suskey, Donovan Brown, Suskey Consulting: Central Auction House, Penn National Gaming

— MERRY-GO-ROUND —

With a tip of the hat for LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — the legislative merry-go-round.

On and off: Elizabeth Ryon has taken over for Tom Yeatman as staff director for the Senate Committee on Community Affairs. Ryon previously served as deputy staff director.

On: Deborah Martin is the new legislative assistant for Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz.

Off: Johnny Brown is no longer a legislative assistant for Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer.

On: Benjamin Simmons is the new legislative assistant for Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson.

On and off: Nora Vinas has replaced Louis Arevalo as a legislative assistant for Miami Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

On: Robert Heere is the new legislative assistant for St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson.

On and off: Erik Kverne is no longer attorney for the House Judiciary Committee. Ned Luczynski is the new staff director.

On: Melissa Tully is the new administrative lead for the House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions.

Off: Brianna Harvey is no longer district secretary for Delray Beach Republican Rep. Mike Caruso.

On and off: Megan Kelly has replaced Tory Renza as district secretary for Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds.

On: Yenisbel Vilorio is the new legislative assistant for South Miami Democratic Rep. Javier Fernandez.

On: Armando Munero is the new district secretary for Miami-Dade County Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin.

On and off: Elizabeth Wilson has replaced Gabriel Harris as a legislative assistant for Sarasota Democratic Rep. Margaret Good

On: Valerie McDonald is the new district secretary for Riverview Democratic Rep. Adam Hattersley.

On and off: Nahja Dieudonne has replaced Joshua Mandall as district secretary for North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph. Liz Honorat is Joseph’s new legislative assistant. 

On: Juan Carreras is the new district secretary for Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia

On and off: James Mullen is returning as district secretary for Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues.

On and off: Tonya Miller has replaced Rachel Higgs, and Jessica Hawley has replaced Chris Kingry as district secretaries for Port St. Joe Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf.

Off: Joseph Darcy is no longer district secretary for Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith.

On and off: Frank DiMarco has replaced Kaley Slattery as legislative assistant for St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson. DiMarco previously served as a legislative assistant for Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield.

On and off: Tobey Houston has replaced Kahreem Golden as a legislative assistant for Windermere Democrat Rep. Geraldine Thompson.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

What Michael Williams is reading —Pope to Catholics: For Lent, give up trolling” via Reuters — Pope Francis added a modern twist to the list of things to quit during the season and beyond: insulting people on social media. The pope made his appeal to tone things down while speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience on Ash Wednesday, the start of the 40-day season that leads up to Easter. Lent, he said in partially improvised remarks, “is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first-name basis,” he said.

Pope Francis urges followers to give up trolling for Lent. Image via AP.

MLS owners predict league will surpass MLB, Premier League” via Ronald Blum of The Associated Press — Los Angeles FC lead owner Larry Berg predicted MLS would surpass Major League Baseball in popularity during the next 10 years and Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas maintained it would be of higher quality than the Premier League and La Liga by 2045. MLS anticipates soccer’s status in the U.S. will be boosted when the Americans co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada. “We definitely have the demographics in our favor, both in terms of youth and diversity. So, I think we’ll pass baseball and hockey and be the No. 3 sport in the U.S. behind football and basketball,” Berg said at the league’s kickoff event.

Tallahassee’s Kool Beanz pastry chef named semifinalist for James Beard award” via Rochelle Koff of the Tallahassee Democrat — Sylvia Gould, pastry chef at Kool Beanz Cafe, has been named one of 20 semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Award — considered the Oscar of the food world — for outstanding pastry chef in the country. “I’m in shock,” said Gould, when told of the honor. Her reaction? “Disbelief.” “I feel there are many others out there who deserve it more than me, but I am very humbled and very appreciative just to be nominated,” she said. A beaming Keith Baxter, Kool Beanz’s chef/owner, said: “She is so modest and humble and so richly deserving.”

Weeki Wachee Springs — mermaids and all — lands on National Register of Historic Places” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — “On behalf of Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee and our historic preservation staff, I congratulate you on achieving this formal recognition of the historic significance of this property,” wrote Ruben Acosta, of the Bureau of Historic Preservation, to the Hernando County Commission. “We appreciate your interest in preserving this important element of Florida’s cultural resources.” Weeki Wachee joins eight other Hernando locations with the historic designation, including Chinsegut Hill Manor House, the William Sherman Jennings House, the May-Stringer House, the Judge Willis Russell House, the Frank Saxon House, the South Brooksville Avenue Historic District, the Spring Lake Community Center and the Richloam General Store. Weeki Wachee is the only entry on the Register in western Hernando County.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is our fellow Nole, Cormac McCarthy acolyte, Disney Cruise aficionado, Dave Matthews Band groupie, and Will Weatherford fanboy, Ryan Duffy of U.S. Sugar, our dear friend, former Rep. and now Pinellas Commissioner Kathleen Peters, as well as former St. Pete City Councilman Bill Dudley, Logan McFaddin, our former colleague Mitch Perry now with Spectrum News, and Kathleen Rohrer.

A belated happy birthday to Dave Ericks. (This is the second year in a row you have forgotten to remind us, Claudia Davant 🙂 )

___

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

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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