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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.3.20

Who’s up, down, in and out — your morning tipsheet on Florida politics.

Before I launch into a full-throated defense of a state agency, please allow me to welcome to the world the first child of our best friends (and attorneys — imagine having to be my lawyer) Amanda and Derek Houston.

Here he is, fresh from Florida (Amanda’s family is a big part of the Southwest Florida agriculture community), Taylor Randall Houston, born February 24.

This baby boy came in at a healthy 9 lbs. 6 oz.

It’s time to quit kicking the VISIT FLORIDA can down the road.

For the last couple of years, the state’s tourism marketing arm has faced an uncertain future as lawmakers have debated whether it should even exist.

We have all watched the war rage on, with Speaker José Oliva leading the effort to end the agency. So far, Oliva has been on the winning side.

Though VISIT FLORIDA is still pitching the state as a premier tourism destination, it’s spent the last year doing so from its deathbed after lawmakers kowtowed to Oliva in the 2019 Legislative Session by slashing the agency’s funding by a third and leaving in place a July 1, 2020 expiration date.

The push to end VISIT FLORIDA has continued despite state economists warning that a downturn in tourism is the most significant risk to our economy. Government watchdogs such as Florida TaxWatch have issued the same caution.

The House has remained resolute even as the state breaks visitation records year after year, and VISIT FLORIDA produces evidence showing direct links between tourism growth and their marketing efforts.

The argument to end VISIT FLORIDA has thus far been pitched as a fiscally responsible cause, yet it’s $50 million expense amounts to a drop in the bucket in the state’s $90 billion-plus budget.

But alas, here we are with less than two weeks remaining in Session with no decision on the future of Florida’s tourism agency.

Even as the Florida Senate unanimously passed the Governor’s recommendation by approving an eight-year reauthorization for VISIT FLORIDA, Oliva hasn’t allowed any debate on the topic.

Why not? Because his hubris won’t allow it.

Sources tell Florida Politics that the Florida House is ready to keep VISIT FLORIDA’s funding at $50 million but will only move to reauthorize the agency for another year.

That was before COVID-19 showed up in Florida.

As I mentioned Sunday, when Florida Politics broke the news that the had two presumptive cases of COVID-19, this year’s Legislative Session flipped upside down.

Now, the focus of the entire state is the threat of coronavirus transmission and the potential impact on our economy and way of life.

By this time tomorrow, half the country will know about the two presumptive positives in Florida, impacting spring break plans, summer vacations, and more. VISIT FLORIDA is Florida’s only mouthpiece for fighting back and reassuring the world that our state is open for business.

The challenge brought by coronavirus should lead the House to fully embrace VISIT FLORIDA and their unique ability to positively message our state’s number one industry — tourism — and a one-year reauthorization simply won’t cut it. 

What is the rationale for simply kicking the can down the road? What private business or other government agency could possibly operate under those limitations? How could members of the House argue that leaving VISIT FLORIDA in a weakened position helps our state deal with coronavirus?

This needs to end.

Representatives should tell Oliva that they support reauthorizing VISIT FLORIDA for years to come. The threat of coronavirus should give the members of the House who support keeping the agency around) the ammunition they need to tell leadership that enough is enough.

If they don’t, they’ll return home after Session to questions on why they left VISIT FLORIDA hobbled. Especially when the Governor and the entire Senate back the organization.

This presents a real liability for House Republicans because they didn’t bother to debate the issue during the last two Legislative Sessions.

Our state needs tourism, and tourism needs VISIT FLORIDA, especially when coronavirus subsides and the state is clamoring for more economic activity. The risk to our tourism-driven economy from coronavirus and other disasters is too great to put an end to VISIT FLORIDA.

It’s time to end this war, Mr. Speaker.

 — HAPPY BIRTHDAY FLORIDA —

March 3 is the 175th anniversary of Florida statehood.

It’s also a perfect time for millions of Floridians to reflect on the interesting and exciting history of the state we all love — whether you’re a native or (more likely) one of the majority who adopted Florida as their “home.”

To commemorate the occasion, Sachs Media Group is announcing plans to work with private, public and nonprofit partners on a statewide public education initiative called “Happy Birthday, Florida!” — using this milestone to increase awareness about the rich history of the “Sunshine State.”

Happy birthday, Florida.

According to a statement from Sachs, the yearlong campaign will feature several elements: a 30-minute television special for broadcast statewide and in schools, an informational website, a public opinion survey reflecting the level of knowledge among residents about our state, social/digital elements, special events, and a variety of other tools to educate, entertain and celebrate the key people, places and moments in Florida’s history — like the “two Henrys”: Henry Flagler and Henry Plant, whose pioneering visions spurred the development, respectively, of Miami and Tampa.

The campaign will also connect Florida’s early days to the “Space Age” and its vital role in both, as well as the 400 cities and towns that are essentially the places that define Florida’s quality of life.

“Today is a great time to reflect on how far we’ve come since Florida became the nation’s 27th state on March 3, 1845,” said Ron Sachs, who also produced statewide initiatives on Florida’s 150th anniversary of statehood in 1995 — and the “Viva Florida, 500” initiative in 2013, the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s “discovery” of Florida. “We’re honoring the amazing story of our state and our citizens by creating an exciting, educational, and entertaining project to highlight Florida’s grand history and heritage all-year long.”

The goal of the initiative is to enhance civic awareness and understanding of Florida’s history. A wide range of sponsors will support the multipronged effort — from the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Right now, the Legislature is secondary to a public health emergency. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared the emergency, and Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who has details on the two confirmed cases of coronavirus, offered a list of suggestions for protecting yourself.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— One of the Governor’s priorities, a bill requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify system to screen new hires, clears committees in both the House and Senate.

— The Senate advances Sen. Dennis Baxley’s bill requiring public school teachers to start the day with a minute of silence in the classroom. The House version of that bill is currently on the special-order calendar in the House.

— And the latest tales of Florida Man, which includes a burglary suspect who digs gopher tortoises. Literally.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@GabrielSnyder: The right-wing grift machine is seamlessly transitioning from dismissing coronavirus as a Democratic hoax to using it as a sales pitch for “survival food.”

Tweet, tweet:

@JeremySWallace: So South Carolina, look at you. You knocked out [Tom] Steyer, [Pete] Buttigieg and [Amy] Klobuchar? That’s a hell of a punch

@Chas10Buttigieg: So I can just, like, go to Target now?

@KateAronoff: The Democratic establishment consolidating to coronate an unpopular candidate running as the heir to the [Barack] Obama legacy with decades of baggage: what could go wrong!

@MattDPearce: all these endorsements are gonna feel a little weird if Bernie Sanders proceeds to sock the entire field in the mouth in California tomorrow

Tweet, tweet:

@TroyKinsey: This #flleg quote of the day comes courtesy of GOP state Sen. @GayleHarrell: “This is not grandpa’s marijuana; this is not the pot that was smoked in the ‘60s … not that I know anything about that,” she tells the Senate Rules Committee this afternoon re: a proposal to cap THC.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Tuesday II — 7; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 10; 11th Democratic Debate in Phoenix — 12; Florida’s presidential primary — 14; Super Tuesday III — 14; MLB Opening Day — 23; “No Time to Die” premieres — 34; Easter — 40; First quarter campaign reports due — 43; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 43; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 44; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 48; NFL Draft — 51; Mother’s Day — 68; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 73; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 97; “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers — 115; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 132; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 136; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 143; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 168; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 174; First presidential debate in Indiana — 210; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 218; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 226; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 233; 2020 General Election — 245.

— TOP STORY —

Florida has two confirmed cases of new coronavirus” via Tamara Lush and Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Florida officials tried to reassure residents Monday that the risk posed by a new strain of coronavirus remained low, despite revelations that two people had become the first in the state to test positive for the virus. Florida officials said Sunday they were declaring a public health emergency after announcing two cases, a woman in her 20s who recently returned from Italy and a man in his 60s who had not traveled to any countries of concern. DeSantis said at a news conference Monday in Tampa that the state was doing all it could to respond to the growing health crisis.

Ron DeSantis announces two cases of coronavirus in Florida.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis faces first real crisis as Florida’s Governor” via Florida Politics — DeSantis has had it pretty easy during his first 14 months as Florida’s Governor. The real measure of a leader, though, is how they handle a crisis — and we have one. It was predictable that the coronavirus would find its way to Florida. With two confirmed cases in the state, people will look to DeSantis for a plan to cope with a genuine emergency. It’s a fine line between taking firm steps to deal with a problem like that without creating panic. This is no time for secrecy. People are wearing face masks in public (which do no good). Organizers are canceling events. People are nervous and should be. It’s a crisis that requires DeSantis to lead.

DeSantis’ coronavirus response likened to Donald Trump missteps” via John Kennedy of USA TODAY — After refusing to provide any details last week on the number of Floridians being tested for the virus — only to be reversed a day later by his state surgeon general — DeSantis acknowledged that he waited a full day before informing the public that two Tampa Bay-area residents had tested positive for the virus. The Governor, a protégé of the Republican president, insisted that state health officials were very “proactive.” But others saw only missteps. “I’m not surprised with the fumbling that’s happening,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones. “The White House is also fumbling. My suggestion to the governor is that he not model himself after what the White House is doing.”

Ron DeSantis’ coronavirus response is drawing unfavorable comparisons with Donald Trump.

What does DeSantis owe Trump?” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — DeSantis isn’t doing enough to repay Trump the debt he owes for helping him secure the Florida Governor’s Mansion. DeSantis is no verbal knife fighter, something Trump expects from his inner circle, and the onetime Fox News stalwart has abandoned the cable channel. More important, his pick to lead the Republican Party of Florida has yet to deliver crucial get-out-the-vote infrastructure and could have one foot out the door just eight months before Election Day. “Where is Gov. DeSantis? Sen. Rick Scott is traveling in support of the president because he sees how the president’s policies support Floridians,” said a Republican consultant. “Seems that Gov. DeSantis only comes around [to] the president when he needs something.”

Capitol diners beware — “Earley’s Kitchen racking up health code violations” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Earley’s Kitchen sucks. That’s not an opinion. Just a couple months after opening its doors it has racked up the second-highest number of health code violations among all restaurants in Leon County, putting it in the company of culinary abominations like Great Plates and Peppers Mexican Grill. The violations aren’t ticky-tack, either. On Valentine’s Day — the last time inspectors came through — Earley’s was dinged 11 times for food-service 101 issues ranging from not labeling what’s in the food it serves to not providing employees with soap to wash their hands or paper towels to dry them. Congrats, that extra spice came from whatever they touched during their shift working under a heat lamp. Probably raw meat water, since they dump the day’s food into a sink full of standing water to thaw it. On that point, Earley’s got caught storing an unholy concoction of raw pork, beef, chicken and cracked eggs with no separation. Pro-tip for the proprietors: When people talk about “fusion” restaurants, that’s not what they mean. For all the vegetarians and vegans out there, you should probably know the juicy mishmash of mystery meat was on the rack right over the jalapeños. Perhaps the worst violation, however, was the reckless disregard for proper food temperature. Mashed potatoes and noodles sitting in the open air well below the proper threshold. I’m not one of those people who thinks you need to chuck the Thanksgiving turkey after 30 minutes on the counter, but c’mon, we all know that stuff had been sitting around all day serving as a petri dish for any bacteria or bug willing to slum it in a vat of subpar sides.

— LEGISLATION —

E-Verify proposals advance to Florida House, Senate floors” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Florida lawmakers advanced dueling proposals to require employers to check the eligibility of their employers to work in the United States, a key policy priority being pushed by DeSantis who wants all employers in his state to use a federal database known as E-Verify. With immigration continuing to cleave the country, Republicans who take a hard line against illegal immigration, such as the Governor, have clashed with some of their usual business allies — particularly the tourism, construction and agriculture industries — who have opposed E-Verify proposals as too onerous. Immigration has been a priority of the Republican Governor.

Randolph Bracy seeking amendment path to minimum age for arrests” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Bracy has been pushing SB 578 since some high-profile arrests of very young children in schools, notably of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle of Orlando, who was arrested in September for being disruptive in school. That bill has gone nowhere, though. So Bracy has been negotiating with key Senate leadership, notably Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes, David Simmons, and Keith Perry for another path to shielding young children from arrests since the bodycam video released last week brought international attention to Kaia’s arrest and the issue. Bracy said he has negotiated with leadership for an amendment that would set a minimum age of 10 for arrests of juveniles in most cases. His SB 578 had proposed a minimum age of 12.

Randolph Bracy took action after an Orlando police officer arrested 6-year-old Kaia Rolle.

’Parents’ bill of rights’ proposal stalls in Florida Senate” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A broad, wide-ranging bill that would create a new chapter of Florida law entitled the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” failed to get a vote in the Senate Rules Committee, with the committee adjourning in the middle of the final debate over the bill because the Senators ran out of time. Unlike House committees, Senate committees rarely vote to extend their meetings and are cut off at the minute they’re scheduled to end. The meeting ended in the middle of a speech by Sen. Gary Farmer about why he was against the bill. This means the bill may be dead in the Senate, as the Rules Committee did not have any more meetings scheduled.

Lawmakers should let DOE work with other agencies on panic alarms” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Concerns over how HB 23 and SB 70 would deliver the technology dominated the conversation in their final committee hearings. Brandes questioned whether panic alarms would provide any tangible benefit over dialing 911. Rep. Susan Valdés was skeptical that the funding — $8 million in the House bill — would cover the costs, while other representatives expressed concerns over Wi-Fi or cell service dead zones. These are all valid worries. After all, coding a panic button app is the easy part — hundreds of companies produced solutions following the Columbine shooting, many of dubious quality. Simply put, any company can get panic buttons into schools, but only a few can claim a reliable statewide solution.

Legislation adding term limits for public counsel set for Senate vote” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The Rules Committee cleared legislation for a floor vote that would impose term limits on the Office of Public Counsel, which serves as a consumer advocate for utility customers in the state. The committee bill (SB 7052) positions the legislative branch to reappoint the public counsel every four years, with a 12-year cap on how long one person can serve in the role. But critics argue it would give lobbyists for big utilities more power over the state office. A majority in each chamber would confirm the public counsel every four years, starting in March 2021, and the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight could remove the officeholder, subject to a majority vote in each chamber.

Lawmakers push school moments of silence” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — A growing number of Florida lawmakers have thrown their support behind a measure to require public schools to offer at least a minute-long moment of silence every day. “Even a moment can change your perspective on a lot of things,” said Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, who previously promoted controversial legislation to protect freedom of expression on state college and university campuses. His bill (SB 946) won a favorable bipartisan vote from the Rules Committee, paving the way for it to head to the full Senate for consideration. Its House companion (HB 737) is awaiting a vote from the full lower chamber. Sen. Rob Bradley called the measure “one of the more important bills of this session.”

— MORE LEGISLATION —

Lawmakers quietly pave way for new toll roads this Session” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — One bill would use Up to $5 million in money meant for toll roads to build high-speed internet in rural areas. Other bills would favor communities along the toll road routes when they apply for state grants. Environmental groups, which have opposed the roads, say lawmakers and the Department of Transportation are using the bills to win over local residents who might otherwise oppose the projects. ”The broadband one, in particular, is a big, shiny object that’s being dangled in front of those rural counties,” said Jane West, policy and planning director for 1000 Friends of Florida.

School board term limits get closer to ballot, but still could falter” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — The push to limit the terms of Florida school board members officially moved farther than ever before on Monday evening. The Senate Rules Committee, which killed the proposal a year ago, gave this year’s proposal (SJR 1216) a narrow 9-8 vote to send it ahead to the full Senate for final consideration. With a vote in the House on identical language already passed, it’s now up to the upper chamber to determine whether the measure will land before voters on the fall 2020 ballot. But adoption in the Senate could be in jeopardy, as Democrats have so far signaled unanimous opposition to the idea of forcing board members out after eight consecutive years.

Miami Dolphins owner seeking tax break on Formula One race at stadium he owns” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — The bid for the tax break comes a few months after the Formula One Group, the international racing business, struck a deal to hold one of its marquee Grand Prix events in and around Hard Rock Stadium, the venue principally owned by developer and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. The proposed tax break would exempt tickets to a Formula One Grand Prix race from sales tax. Tickets to any “qualifying and support” races tied to the main event could also be sold tax-free.

House drafts bill addressing Chinese interference — The House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions has crafted a bill that would set a uniform conflict-of-interest policy for researchers at state universities and other institutions. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the bill would define disclosure requirements and prescribes suspension without pay for if a potential violation warrants investigation. Bill sponsor Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican, said the common definitions were needed because “the conflict-of-interest disclosure definition is vastly different from institution to institution, and is sometimes left to the perception of the individual.”

Erin Grall is looking to end the conflict of interest problems with researchers doing work in China.

‘”Drones in forests’ bill prepped to land on the Senate floor” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The proposal (SB 822), filed by Sen. Ben Albritton, pushes for greater drone authorization for Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Forest Service to combat pythons and fire threats on public land. With little time for debate in the Senate Rules Committee, the Wauchula Republican offered a brief explanation for his proposal: “It allows Fish and Wildlife and Florida Forest Service to use drones for specified purposes.” Companion legislation (HB 659) by Rep. Jason Fischer unanimously passed the House. It received unanimous approval in all three of its committee stops. “Currently, in the state of Florida, we are facing an epidemic of invasive species destroying our local ecosystems, including the Everglades,” Fischer said.

E-bikes bill on track for Senate floor” via Florida Politics — Brandes‘ proposal (SB 1148) unanimously passed the Senate Rules Committee, prepping the legislation for a Senate vote. Electric bicycles could go up to 28 mph, and the bill would eliminate the 25-inch height requirement for electric bikes to allow recumbent bikes to operate under motorized power. Similar legislation (HB 971) by Rep. Michael Grant is already on the House second readings calendar. That bill garnered unanimous support in its final committee stop. The bill establishes three tiers of electric bicycles based on at what speed the motor cuts out and whether a rider must actively pedal for the motor to issue power.

Lawmakers back sea-level impact studies” via the News Service of Florida — The House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure (HB 579) that would prohibit city or county governments from starting work on state-funded coastal structures without first conducting Sea-Level Impact Projection, or SLIP, studies. Bill sponsor Vance Aloupis said the measure wouldn’t prevent coastal construction. However, it would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to seek injunctions to halt work by local governments that use state money until the studies are conducted. The department could also seek to recover state dollars if work is completed without studies.

Shark fin ban ready for Senate floor” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill (SB 680), which outlaws the import and export of fins to or from Florida. The legislation drew some light opposition from fisherman who worry this will interfere with the legal catching of sharks in Florida waters. Jerry Sansom of the Organized Fishermen of Florida said Florida has more fishermen than any other state licensed by the federal government to participate in the heavily regulated and fully sustainable practice of capturing sharks. “I don’t remember when the Florida Senate has put an expiration date on an industry before they made us come back and get a pardon,” he said.

— NO THC CAP —

A group called Truth & Transparency is launching a digital ad campaign and joining a growing number of groups opposed to THC caps and the resulting cost increases to medical marijuana patients. The ad focuses on the increased cost of medical marijuana for seniors, veterans, and others with qualifying diseases. It closes: “Capping THC forces them to pay more just to get the help. They need help, not higher prices.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

50th-day rule — The 50th day of Session (March 3) is the last day for regularly scheduled Senate committee meetings.

The House Education Committee meets, 9 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The Senate holds a floor session, 10 a.m., Senate Chambers.

The House holds a floor session, 11:30 a.m., House Chambers.

The Senate Appropriations Committee meets, 1 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

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

— GOV. CLUB LUNCH BUFFET MENU —

Bahamian conch chowder; mixed garden salad with dressings; hearts of palm and artichoke salad; cranberry Waldorf salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and bread; Ronnie’s fried chicken; blackened red drum with crawfish Cajun cream; roast pork tenderloin with blueberry reduction; roasted red bliss potatoes; cauliflower au gratin; steamed broccoli; assorted dessert bars for dessert.

— NEWS BY THE NUMBERS —

— TALLYMADNESS —

The first round of TallyMadness is over.

When the clock hit triple zeros, Florida Politics’ annual voting competition to determine the “best” lobbyist in Florida saw 32 advance, and the same number sent packing.

Among the standouts of the opening round was Ed Briggs of RSA Consulting, who snagged more votes than anyone else competing for the championship. Our condolences to Ballard Partner’s Kathy San Pedro — maybe next year.

On to Round 2 of TallyMadness 2020.

Shoutouts to Samantha Sexton, Sara Clements and Alli Liby-Schnoover, who came within striking distance of matching Brigg’s vote total on their way to the second round.

Some of the matchups were competitive buzzer to buzzer — the matches between Ashley Kalifeh vs. Jon Rees, Teye Reeves vs. Nicole Graganella and Amanda Fraser  vs. Jacqui Carmona were all decided by just a handful of votes. Kalifeh of Capital City Consulting, Reeves of Smith Bryan & Myers and Fraser  of Adams St. Advocates march on.

Check out the rest of the Round 1 winners on Florida Politics’ TallyMadness page. The competition amps up in Round 2, where the contenders will be competing for a spot in the Sweet 16, so make sure to fill out a bracket before voting ends March 5 at midnight.

— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY — 

Democrats liked Pete Buttigieg until they didn’t. His biggest Florida supporter tries to explain why.” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Sean Shaw lost a hard-fought race for Florida’s attorney general in 2018. Still, he was more upset as he watched Buttigieg drop out of the presidential race. “I need some time to grieve,” said Shaw. The Tampa Democrat was one of Buttigieg’s earliest supporters. In the early days, when Buttigieg was celebrated as a brilliant and trailblazing gay candidate, Shaw relished being on the side of a fresh face everyone seemed to like. But as the race went on, and Buttigieg was showered in media attention and campaign cash, Shaw sensed a shift. The response to Buttigieg’s unexpected staying power grew almost visceral from liberal activists and other voices in the Democratic Party, especially on Twitter.

Sean Shaw tries to explain what happened with Pete Buttigieg.

Mike Bloomberg banking on Florida but must survive Super Tuesday” via Tamara Lush of The Associated Press — With his vast resources, Bloomberg was able to build a national political organization from a standing start. On Tuesday, that effort will get its first test. If he does well, then the money spent on Florida and other states that follow will seem prescient. Vermont Sen. Sanders’ strong showings in the first three contests for the nomination and former Vice President Joe Biden’s blowout win in South Carolina gives both the kind of momentum that Bloomberg has yet to achieve. Given the state’s decidedly purple status, Floridians who aren’t entirely comfortable with Sanders’ fiery rhetoric or the lagging candidacies of the rest of the field are looking to Bloomberg.

— NEW AD —

Bloomberg — “Both”:

’My vote wasn’t going to change.’ Miami-Dade voters begin to cast early primary ballots” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — With the race far from settled and candidates dropping left and right, the first brave voters trickled into the county’s early voting centers to cast their ballots for their favorite candidate — or at least, the candidate they like and expect will still be in the race by the time Florida announces the results of its March 17 primary. At the North Miami Library, 31-year-old Jason Fine said his first choice was Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but he feared her campaign was not looking promising in the weeks leading up to the primary. Instead, he cast a vote for former Vice President Biden. “I figured I was wasting my primary vote,” Fine said about voting for Warren as he left the voting center. “Warren hasn’t performed well yet.”

— MORE 2020 —

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to endorse Joe Biden; Harry Reid also backs former Vice President” via Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times — The move is not entirely surprising given that Reid and Biden were allies who served in the nation’s capital together for decades, including a 22-year overlap in the U.S. Senate. Reid was also staying neutral before last month’s Nevada caucuses to avoid putting a finger on the scale of the third Democratic presidential nominating contest in the nation. But Reid’s endorsement comes at a time of growing establishment embrace of Biden as moderate Democrats’ only hope of stopping Vermont Sen. Sanders’ march to the nomination. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Sens. Barbara Boxer and Blanche Lincoln all announced their support for the former vice president after he overwhelmingly won the South Carolina primary.

At a joint rally in Dallas, Pete Buttigieg endorses Joe Biden. Image via Reuters.

Barack Obama congratulates Biden but is not yet endorsing anyone” via Jeff Zeleny of CNN — The call from Obama night came after Biden’s victory in South Carolina. But the words of praise for Biden‘s commanding finish in the contest did not change the fact that Obama still plans to stay on the sidelines. A person close to Obama told CNN that the former president’s view has not changed: He has no immediate plans to offer an endorsement of Biden — or anyone — as the nominating contest heads into Super Tuesday. “We are skeptical that an endorsement coming from us could truly change the political winds right now,” the person close to Obama told CNN. If Obama were to endorse Biden, the person said, there is “a very real chance it backfires.”

Bernie Sanders looks to California to deliver him the Democratic nomination” via Scott Wilson of The Washington Post — The campaign has a state organization far larger than those of his opponents — 22 offices and more than 100 paid staffers. And it has been targeting Latinos, Asian Americans and young voters, key demographics in the Democratic electorate. “The Sanders people looked at the primary with a long view and not just as a momentum play,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic political consultant who is not working for any candidate and said he has yet to decide whom he will choose in the primary. “They actually invested in door-knocking, which if you notice some analysts talking about how to win California, they have really discounted that ground activity,” he said.

Bloomberg: I’m not dropping out” via Nolan McCaskill of POLITICO — A defiant Bloomberg beat back criticism of himself and his campaign in a Fox News town hall, arguing that he is, indeed, a Democrat and has no reason to follow fellow moderates Buttigieg and Klobuchar out of the presidential race. “I am a registered Democrat, and last time I checked, you could change parties,” Bloomberg said at his town hall in Manassas, Virginia, a Super Tuesday state. “Keep in mind; you don’t have to win states. You have to win delegates,” Bloomberg said. “And if you came in second in every state, you might even have a plurality — probably not a majority.”

Spotted — U.S. Rep. Val Demings as one of the names floated by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer as a potential nominee for Vice President, as reported by The New York Times.

In echo of presidential race, insurgents challenge the establishment in Super Tuesday congressional races” via Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post — While Sanders’ performance might headline Super Tuesday’s results, the down-ballot races could say just as much about the present willingness of each party’s voters to eschew pragmatists and dealmakers for more ideologically driven candidates. No race is being more closely watched on Capitol Hill than Texas’s 28th Congressional District, where Rep. Henry Cuellar is seeking nomination to a ninth term representing a heavily Latino swath stretching from the Rio Grande to the San Antonio suburbs. Party leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have rallied around him — fearful that a win by challenger Jessica Cisneros could boost the threats to other incumbents, including a trio of powerful committee chairmen who are facing challenges from younger, more liberal candidates this year.

Democrats fighting for ‘every single delegate’ eyeing Puerto Rico’s primary” via the Miami Herald — The murky outlook of the Democratic presidential race is making one thing clear: For the first time in decades, Puerto Rico’s presidential primary is likely to matter. Lawmakers on the island voted last year to move their primary from June 7 to March 29. And with uncertainty increasing over whether any one candidate will emerge from a crowded field this summer with the delegates needed to secure the party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Puerto Rico’s 51 pledged delegates give its voters more power than about half of U.S. states to push popular candidates closer to the finish line. About a month from the primary, activists on the island say Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders appear to be the most aggressive in pursuing Puerto Rico’s spoils.

— TRUMP’S FACEBOOK JUGGERNAUT —

Presidential campaign managers have always had a strategy about candidate’s schedule, where to hold events, who to grant interviews, for best exposure. In today’s political landscape — fed by the rise of online marketing and social media — it is the age of microtargeting, where sections of the electorate can be carved into impossibly thin slivers. And Facebook has been the perfect platform for anyone who wants to reach a specific audience with the message.

For Trump’s 2020 reelection effort, Brad Parscale is the point man for the campaign’s major push into Facebook. In a profile by Andrew Marantz for the New Yorker, Parscale’s firm was paid $94 million in 2016, most of which went toward digital advertising.

Brad Parscale is the point man for Donald Trump’s digital campaign for reelection.

“Some of the ads were standard fare about national security or the debt; others were designed to help Trump’s mendacity and nativism go viral on social media, where lies and fractious memes are disproportionately likely to be amplified,” Marantz writes. “The point of all this, of course, was to sway the election in Trump’s favor, and, given the election’s narrow margins, it’s highly possible that it worked.”

Parscale said that what he is doing for Trump was the same as he had been doing in the past two decades — social media marketing that allowed him to measure precisely where people’s attention was focused. When he started working with the Trump Organization in 2012, Parscale soon mastered an essential requirement for doing business with Trump: “obsequious public displays of loyalty.”

“If you are going to be the next President, you’re going to win it on Facebook,” Parscale told Trump. He became Trump’s digital director in June 2016 and quickly made the data operation in charge of everything — TV ads to the campaign’s ground game.

— CORONAVIRUS —

CDC hasn’t revealed information to doctors that would help coronavirus patients” via Elizabeth Cohen of CNN — Several U.S. patients have recovered from coronavirus, but so far, the CDC has shared detailed clinical information about only one of those patients. That information includes what treatments the patients received and how they fared. The CDC is the federal agency that communicates with physicians about how to handle outbreaks. “It’s a medical truism that it’s absolutely essential that physicians with experience with a particular condition disseminate information to others,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. Not sharing such information is “is inexplicable and inappropriate,” Redlener added.

More testing sheds light on how virus is spreading in U.S.” via Carla Johnson of The Associated Press — New diagnoses in several states pushed the tally of COVID-19 cases more than 100, and New Hampshire reported its first case, raising the total of affected states to 11. Seattle officials announced four more deaths, bringing the total in the U.S. to six. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its case count includes 45 infections among people who were on the cruise ship, one more than previously reported. The count includes people who tested positive after returning from travel to outbreak areas in other parts of the world, their close contacts and infections that appear to be from community spread — people who did not travel or have known contact with other infected people.

The glaring loophole in U.S. virus response: Human error” via Brianna Ehley of POLITICO — Mistakes already abound as federal, state and local public health departments scramble to prepare for outbreaks in the United States — or detect those that may already have begun. Flaws in a test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Past epidemics show just how quickly human error can lead to disaster. During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, a Dallas emergency room failed to recognize an Ebola case — nearly creating a national emergency. “Diseases surprise us,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a recent call. “We need to be reacting to the current situation even if it differs from what we planned for.”

“Diseases surprise us,” says Nancy Messonnier.

Coronavirus precautions urged for nursing homes” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — AARP Florida urged the state to provide “adequate supplies of protective wear” to ensure employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities remain safe and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “With nearly 700 Florida nursing homes and many more assisted living facilities housing about 160,000 older residents, Florida should lead the way in preparing for the spread of this disease,” AARP State Director Jeff Johnson said. Johnson’s concerns came as the virus, known as COVID-19, has killed six people in Washington state, Ettore Palazzo, chief medical and quality officer at the hospital EvergreenHealth said at a news conference. Part of the focus is on a long-term care facility in Kirkland, Washington.

Miami woman allegedly denied proper testing” via Jim DeFede of CBS 4 in Miami — In what may be the first case of coronavirus in South Florida, a woman who recently returned home from Italy says she was told by doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital that she “likely” has COVID-19, but that they are unable to verify it because state and federal officials refused to conduct the necessary tests to confirm it. “The doctor himself told me that, you know, he thinks that the results of my [preliminary] tests mean that I most likely have the COVID-19, but that the Department of Health did not want to pursue it further,” said the woman, who requested that her name not be used to protect her privacy.

‘It’s a matter of time’ before coronavirus arrives in Orange County, Mayor Jerry Demings says” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Officials in the nation’s tourism capital are preparing for the worst by stocking up on disinfectant systems, going over quarantine protocol and flooding Orlando’s often-crowded public spaces with extra hand sanitizer just one day after the first cases of coronavirus surfaced in Florida. While Florida’s two confirmed cases of COVID-19, or coronavirus, are more than 90 miles from Orange County in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, Mayor Demings said the county is prepared. “We believe it is a matter of time before we have a case right here in our backyard,” Demings said. “We are remaining calm … if a case occurs in Orange County, we have protocols and procedures in place.”

Tallahassee officials met privately to develop coronavirus public health emergency response” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Four days before state officials announced Florida’s first coronavirus cases, local government staffers met privately at City Hall to develop a communications plan for when the virus did arrive in the Sunshine State. The outcome of that meeting, according to Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, is that the school system, hospitals, and county health department will work “hand in hand” during the duration of the public health emergency Gov. DeSantis declared Sunday night. “We needed to be united and come out with one message instead of all of us saying 10 different things,” Hanna said about that meeting.

Florida State closing center in Florence, Italy; assisting 93 students with transition” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State University has canceled spring studies in Florence, Italy, and is shutting down its study center there next week, according to a Monday announcement. The university is assisting its 93 students in the Florence program with instructions and assistance regarding travel, academics, finances and other needs, the university said. “Florence students have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days upon return from Italy,” the statement said. “Florence students should not return to the main campus.” FSU has 21 instructors in Florence this semester, all of whom are local and are not leaving the city. They will finish teaching their spring courses by distance learning for any students who wish to finish courses started in Florence.

— MORE CORONA —

Is that cough just Florida allergies? Or is it the coronavirus?” via Jack Evans of the Tampa Bay Times — Dr. Richard Lockey, chief of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, said there are a couple of big signs. “With allergies, you have itchy eyes, itchy nose, runny nose, sneezing,” as well as wheezing or shortness of breath for people who also have asthma, he said. “You do not get fever, and you do not get severe headaches.” Dr. Mona Mangat, of Bay Area Allergy and Asthma, has been telling some patients to be extra cautious. Elderly people and those with chronic illnesses such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should avoid large crowds and stay away from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing.

Can we get a vaccine early? How the rich are preparing for coronavirus” via Max Abelson of Bloomberg — Like everyone across the U.S., the rich are bracing for a deadly coronavirus outbreak. Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot Inc., watched Trump’s news conference and wondered if the media was overplaying the risk — but he also made two well-placed phone calls from his winter outpost in North Palm Beach. One was to a top executive of NYU Langone Health, and the other was to a top scientist there. Both were reassuring. Some billionaires, bankers and other members of the U.S. elite are calm, others are getting anxious, and everyone is washing their hands. But the rich can afford to prepare for a pandemic.

Coronavirus fallout affects local tech firm supply chains” via Alex Soderstrom of the Orlando Business Journal — Factory shutdowns in China have disrupted global supply chains, and local manufacturing and tech companies are feeling the hit. Multiple companies in the area source supplies from Chinese companies, and they’re now dealing with rising costs and strained business relationships. That’s the case for Orlando-based electronics designer FermiTron Inc., founder and CEO Guilford Cantave told Orlando Business Journal. “This is not like anything we’ve dealt with before.” The company wasn’t able to source its usual materials from China, so it turned to suppliers in other countries. But other companies were doing the same thing, meaning it took longer to get the supplies and they cost more, Guilford said.

Coronavirus is causing havoc with the Chinese tech supply chain.

Price gouging alert: Amazon third-party sellers hocking hand sanitizer for a hefty price” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — A quick scroll through Amazon found a host of sold-out products. A six-pack of Sanell instant hand sanitizer travel-sized bottles was currently unavailable. A two-pack of a larger size Purell hand sanitizer was also unavailable. In cases where products were available, the prices were jacked up significantly higher than their pre-coronavirus prices. A six-pack of 2oz. Purell was listed Monday morning through a third-party seller for $44. Another single 8oz. bottle was going for $12.15 with just 15 left in stock. The typical price for that product is just a few bucks. A two-pack of 20oz. bottles was listed for $49.99.

Gas prices falling as coronavirus slows travel demand” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida’s gasoline prices fell 6 cents per gallon last week and are likely to continue to fall amid concerns that the coronavirus will reduce global demand for petroleum products such as jet fuel and gasoline. The average price of a gallon of gasoline fell to $2.35 on Sunday and is expected to reach $2.28 soon, according to AAA. Friday’s closing price for crude was the lowest in more than a year. After six consecutive days of decline, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil plummeted $9 per barrel, settling at $44.76. In Florida, the cheapest gasoline was found in Orlando, The Villages, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville at $2.27 per gallon. Punta Gorda and Tampa drivers were paying an average of $2.29.

Fake cures and other coronavirus conspiracies are flooding WhatsApp, leaving governments and users with a ‘sense of panic’” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — Users on the messaging service had copied, pasted and forwarded notes warning that local flights, hotels and schools might have been contaminated. None of the information had been verified, but multiple versions of it snaked their way through private WhatsApp groups, some with hundreds of participants. “The virus is closer to us than we think,” two of the messages ominously concluded. As government leaders and health professionals race to contain an outbreak on the verge of a pandemic, they are simultaneously battling another hard-to-defeat scourge: The explosion of half-truths and outright falsehoods online. Nowhere is the threat more dire than on WhatsApp.

Twitter told its 5,000 employees to work from home because of the coronavirus” via Theodore Schleifer of Vox — Twitter is encouraging its more than 4,800 employees around the world to work from home in response to the spread of the coronavirus. It’s one of the most drastic steps taken by any tech company so far in response to the outbreak. Over the last few days, several Silicon Valley companies have been coping with the virus’s incursion into their workforces. Two Amazon employees based in Italy have contracted the coronavirus, and Facebook has reportedly advised its employees to “feel free” to work from home. But Twitter went a step further on Tuesday. “Beginning today, we are strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able,” the company said in a blog post.

Media faces challenges in covering coronavirus outbreak” via David Bauder of The Associated Press — News organizations trying to report on the growing health crisis responsibly are confronted with the task of conveying its seriousness without provoking panic, keeping up with a torrent of information. At the same time, much remains a mystery and continually advising readers and viewers on how to stay safe. “It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, around-the-world story,” said Michael Slackman, assistant managing editor, international at The New York Times. “It’s hard to tell people to put something into context and to calm down when the actions being taken in many cases are very strong or unprecedented,” said Glen Nowak, director of the Grady College Center for Health and Risk Communication. But that’s what journalists in charge of coverage say they need to do.

The only story that matters —As coronavirus hits Tampa Bay, no changes yet for WrestleMania” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — Last week, WWE officials told the Times the company was monitoring the coronavirus epidemic, with chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon saying, “The health and safety of not only our fan base, but also our superstars, really does come first.” Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, said in an email that his team had “nothing to add” on the coronavirus front; as did a WWE spokesman. For now, the WWE and Sports Commission will continue monitoring its spread and adhering to public safety protocols.

Could coronavirus stop Ultra? Miami officials examining safety plans, daily updates” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — On the same day federal health officials confirmed that two Florida residents had tested positive for coronavirus, questions arose about a major international event scheduled to open in Miami in fewer than three weeks: Ultra Music Festival… The mayor said it was too early to speculate over whether the event might be canceled, but depending on the spread of the virus both in the U.S. and abroad, the question could become more urgent in the coming days.”

— D.C. MATTERS —

“Alex Azar in the crosshairs for delays in virus tests” via Dan Diamond and Adam Cancryn of POLITICO Florida — Officials inside the health department and the White House are increasingly pointing the finger at one leader: Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, who they say failed to coordinate the response, as agency chiefs waited for instructions that came too late and other deputies were largely cut out of the process. Public health officials acknowledge that CDC and other parts of the government have repeatedly stumbled in the early days of the outbreak, but say that the 52-year-old Azar, a former drug company executive who took over the department in 2018, did not reach out early or often enough to goad his subordinates into action. “This was a management failure,” said one administration official.

Mike Pence tells governors money for coronavirus costs is coming” via Adriana Gomez Licon of The Associated Press — The Trump administration on Monday reassured governors that they would be reimbursed for at least some of the costs of responding to the spread of the coronavirus, as several states began setting aside millions of dollars to head off a public health crisis. DeSantis said Vice President Pence addressed state needs for equipment and funding to fight the spread of the coronavirus during a call with governors. He told them the administration would find the money to reimburse them.

Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence talk coronavirus in Florida.

Vern Buchanan says Congress must pass coronavirus funding immediately” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The renewed call to action came hours after confirmation a patient from Manatee County and another from Hillsborough County tested “presumptively positive” for COVID-19. Buchanan represents all of Manatee and parts of Hillsborough. “We need to boost funding to make sure Florida and the rest of the country have the resources they need to properly test for and contain COVID-19,” Buchanan said. “The time to act is now.” The U.S. just recorded its first two coronavirus deaths, neither in Florida. “Speed is critical to containing the threat,” Buchanan said.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz bumps elbows, but the veteran politician isn’t ready to give up hand shaking and hugs” via Anthony Man of the Sun Sentinel — When (the) congresswoman arrived for a political organizing meeting Monday morning, she eschewed hugs and handshakes, choosing instead to bump elbows with people volunteering for Joe Biden’s Florida campaign… She said she advocates frequent hand-washing but said she wasn’t prepared to give up handshakes and hugs. ‘I’m the last person that will swear off hugging and handshaking. I’m Jewish. We hug,’ she said. Explaining the elbow bumps to a reporter, she said she’s been sick over the weekend, probably with the flu, ‘so I’m trying to be respectful of people.'”

Supreme Court to hear Obamacare appeal” via Adam Liptak and Abby Goodnough of The New York Times — The Supreme Court agreed to hear a third major case on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care law, granting petitions from Democratic state officials and the House of Representatives in a case with the potential to wipe out the entire law. The case was brought by Republican state officials, who argued that when Congress eliminated the law’s requirement in 2017 that most Americans obtain health insurance, the law became unconstitutional. The Trump administration sided with the state officials, arguing that the rest of the health care law could not survive without the requirement, sometimes called the individual mandate.

The Supreme Court will leave the gun bump stocks ban in place” via Dominic Holden of BuzzFeed News — The Supreme Court won’t hear a case from gun rights activists challenging a federal ban on bump stocks, which were prohibited after being used in a 2017 Las Vegas shooting where 58 people were killed. The high court’s order will keep the devices, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns, banned for the time being. But with other bump stock cases winding through appeals, courts could still reverse the ban in the future. In its most concrete terms, the lawsuit filed by a Pennsylvania man and gun rights advocacy groups is about whether a bump-fire stock turns a semi-automatic firearm, which is legal, into a prohibited machine gun.

— STATEWIDE — 

Medicaid cuts on the horizon as coronavirus hits state — The state’s first cases of coronavirus come as safety net hospitals deal with an Agency for Health Care Administration error that resulted in a $135 million shortfall in Medicaid reimbursements. As reported by Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO Florida, AHCA has offered $110 million to rectify the error, though that still leaves a $25 million gap. The gap will remain unless lawmakers approve additional funding in the 2020-21 budget. “Worrying about this is definitely a distraction,” Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior said. “We’re worrying about the fact that we’re about to receive a cut. But the hospitals are preparing for this outbreak. All the hospitals in the state are doing everything they can to prepare.”

Man gets 5+ years’ prison for harassing Parkland victims” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — U.S. District Judge Rodolfo Ruiz imposed the sentence on 22-year-old Brandon Fleury of Santa Ana, California, rejecting a request by prosecutors for the maximum 20-year sentence. A jury convicted Fleury in October of three counts of cyberstalking and one count of transmitting a kidnapping threat. Trial evidence showed that between December 2018 and January 2019, Fleury used several Instagram accounts to threaten and harass families of victims of the Valentine’s Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 dead and 17 wounded. In some messages, he claimed kinship with and even impersonated shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz. In others, he invoked the names of infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy.

— FLORIDA REHAB SHUFFLE —

People in Florida looking for a treatment for addiction to drugs often fall prey to “brokers,” who claim to offer help but work for facilities that give kickbacks for referrals.

“The facilities, in turn, would bill the patients’ insurance for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars,” writes German Lopez for Vox.

Florida’s complicated addiction treatment system includes these brokers who seem to know what they are doing and appeared to try to help legitimately. Still, many people find themselves in what’s called the “Florida shuffle.”

Lopez notes: “On the front end, treatment facilities in Florida paid brokers to refer patients with good insurance, finding patients through 12-step meetings, addiction conferences, phone hotlines, and online groups and encouraging them to get help in Florida.”

However, many of the facilities have inadequate treatment programs (or none at all) and cash in on patient’s insurance plans. With that, Florida has earned the reputation of the nation’s “relapse capital.”

“For the brokers and other people guiding the couple through the system, money was put above all else: By attracting patients with some freebies, the brokers could make a profit from kickbacks — in the hundreds or thousands of dollars — that they got from the treatment facilities and sober homes.”

Although it gets much of the media attention, Florida is not the only place that has a “shuffle.” California and Arizona have also recently changed laws to address the problem.

— THE TRAIL —

Brian Mast stumps for Trump in West Palm Beach” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District, was on hand in West Palm Beach to woo potential voters into supporting Trump’s reelection bid. The gathering was part of the Trump Victory Leadership Initiative (TLVI). John Pence, a senior adviser on Trump’s reelection team, says the program is aimed at beefing up the GOP ground game. Mast spoke to attendees about his passion for the country and, specifically, Trump’s leadership. “I get to decide today that today is a better day,” Mast said. “That, to me, is what waking up under 50 stars and 13 red-and-white stripes is all about.”

Democrat ads target Ross Spano, Buchanan over coronavirus” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The ads will run in Florida’s 15th and 16th Congressional Districts, represented respectively by Reps. Spano and Buchanan. The Florida jurisdictions are among seven districts being targeted by the DCCC. “It’s disturbing that the Trump Administration is too concerned about drug manufacturers’ profits to even attempt to make an affordable vaccine for a virus that is rapidly spreading across the globe,” said DCCC Spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer. Then organization issued statements dinging both Spano and Buchanan for voting against legislation to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. The digital ads will target Facebook and Instagram users living in the respective districts. Different versions were cut calling out specific Representatives by name.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Ugh … Margaret Good tries to cash in on coronavirus scare” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — While Buchanan was meeting with medical professionals this morning to discuss ways to combat coronavirus, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Good were trying to leverage the epidemic to boost her quixotic campaign. Good wasted no time hounding the incumbent for hosting Vice President Mike Pence at his home last week for a fundraiser benefiting the National Republican Congressional Committee. Her statement: “In their attempt to save Vern, they’re risking the health and safety of the American people. They need to reorder their priorities, cancel this fundraiser, and focus on containing this virus.” Using coronavirus to score political points is reprehensible, even more so in a region hit with the state’s first presumptive cases of COVID-19.

EMILY’s List aims to flip Senate blue after putting GOP ‘On Notice’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — With that designation will come resources. The organization has promised a $20 million investment in state and local elections spread across more than 500 state legislative races. EMILY’s List will also be making endorsements going forward. “Republicans in Florida have amassed a shameful record of voting to turn back the clock on women’s rights and shortchange working families,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said. The move comes weeks after the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure that would require a minor to obtain parental consent before undergoing an abortion, with some exceptions. EMILY’s List also cited the Legislature’s redistricting power following the 2020 Census as a motivation for getting involved in this cycle.

Jonathan Tallman makes HD 4 ballot by petition” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Tallman, a financial adviser and owner of The Tallman Group, is a Niceville native. He attended Niceville High School, where his mother was a longtime science teacher. Tallman is also an alumnus of Collegiate High School at the Northwest Florida State College, where he earned an associate degree. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine. Emerald Coast Magazine recognized Tallman as one of the “Top 12 People You Should Know,” and he appeared on 850 Magazine’s “40 under 40” list. Tallman is one of four Republicans running for the Northwest Florida seat currently held by Rep. Mel Ponder, who is running for a local office instead of reelection.

— LOCAL —

Trump plans to attend global health conference in Orlando” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Trump is planning to attend a global health conference in Orlando March 9 — if the event isn’t canceled due to coronavirus fears. Trump, who was already scheduled to be in Central Florida that night for a fundraiser, will attend the HIMSS20 Global Health Conference & Exhibition at the Orange County Convention Center. The conference, its website states, will bring together 45,000 health-information technology professionals and others from 90 countries, and calls itself “the can’t-miss health information and technology event of the year, where professionals throughout the global health ecosystem connect for the education, innovation and collaboration they need to re-imagine health and wellness for everyone, everywhere.”

Effort to organize Orlando Sentinel newsroom will go to a vote” via Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel — Tribune Publishing officials said the company would not voluntarily recognize an effort to unionize the Orlando Sentinel newsroom and the matter will instead go to a vote in the coming weeks. Newsroom employees announced last week their intent to form a bargaining unit known as the Sentinel Guild under the NewsGuild-CWA union. The election, which will be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, will likely take place this month, but the board has not confirmed a date. Cristóbal Reyes, a Sentinel reporter and spokesman for the Guild, said the group wasn’t surprised by the company’s decision and is confident it will be successful in an election because nearly 80 percent of employees have signaled they support unionizing.

The Orlando Sentinel newsroom is thinking about unionizing.

UCF president search advances, interviews to start Thursday” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — The University of Central Florida’s presidential search committee plans to start interviews Thursday morning before recommending a handful of candidates to the Board of Trustees, which will make the final selection. UCF has received 22 applications in addition to 23 that were available on a public site Monday afternoon, a university spokesman said. He said the others would be available. By Florida law, state university president applications are open to the public. Trustees are seeking a new president for the second time since 2018.

Markeith Loyd to use insanity defense in trial for Orlando police officer’s killing, attorney says” via Monivette Cordeiro of the Orlando Sentinel — Loyd’s defense attorney Terence Lenamon filed a notice in Orange County circuit court informing Circuit Judge Leticia Marques and prosecutors of the decision. Loyd is slated to stand trial for Clayton’s slaying in May. “[Loyd] suffered from a mental infirmity, disease or defect and because of this condition did not know what he was doing or its consequences or although he knew what he was doing and its consequences he did not know it was wrong,” Lenamon wrote. Under Florida law, Loyd’s defense would have the burden of proving by “clear and convincing evidence” that Loyd was insane at the time of the crime and either did not know what he was doing or did not know it was wrong.

Head of Jacksonville ministry for homeless arrested in sexual battery” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — The 41-year-old head of a local ministry for the homeless is behind bars after reports that a man was raped and sexually abused several times in 2017 and 2018, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said. Michael Todd Linkenauger, leader of the “Hot Dogs for Hope” ministry, was arrested Thursday at his office on Bartram Park Boulevard on one count each of sexual battery, lewd or lascivious conduct and lewd or lascivious exhibition. He remains jailed on $400,000 bail, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office launched its investigation Wednesday after being notified of sexual abuse. An arrest warrant was obtained and Linkenauger was arrested after a brief struggle that resulted in several facial lacerations, the arrest report said.

Jacksonville set to become first city in Florida to raise threshold to, um, strip from 18 to 21” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — “You can just come in and dance,” said Jacksonville City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, describing how the city became a sordid stop for adult dancers of questionable legality. Cumber, a first-term Republican from the San Marco area, hopes to change that civic black eye. The “narrowly tailored” bill, Cumber said, “does a number of things, but the biggest is that it raised the stripping age from 18 to 21. First in the state to do so and possibly in the country.” Cumber notes that while estimates vary as to how young the average age is of introduction to sex trafficking, there is general agreement that women are most vulnerable between the ages of 14 and 20.

Pensacola mayor defends city’s handling of 5G small cell antenna rollout” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson on Monday defended the city’s handling of cellphone companies building small cell antennas in the city in preparation for the rollout of new 5G cell technology. The Florida Legislature passed laws in 2018 and 2019 that essentially stripped local governments’ abilities to regulate the new small cell transmitters in public rights of way. The city has received initial requests to place the transmitters at more than 150 sites, but so far, the city has only received 22 permit applications for new sites, all from Verizon. In response to public concern about the issue, the city launched a page on its website listing the site of every application for a new small cell site in the city.

Tolls go up on Panhandle bridge after legal fight” via the News Service of Florida — The Florida Department of Transportation announced it was raising tolls on the Garcon Point Bridge, which opened in 1999 over part of Pensacola Bay but has had inadequate toll revenues to meet financial obligations. The department’s move came after Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper last week ordered that tolls increase. UMB Bank, which is the trustee for bondholders, filed the lawsuit in December 2018 because bonds used to finance the bridge were in default. The dispute stems from about $95 million in bonds that the state-created Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority issued in 1996 to pay for construction of the bridge.

Shaw: Decision not to move city employees to Newtown is ‘racist’” via Timothy Fanning of the Herald-Tribune — In a heated exchange that ended with city commissioners deciding not to move a host of city employees and departments into Sarasota’s historic African American community, Commissioner Willie Shaw called his colleagues’ decision “a racist notion.” For Shaw, who represents the district of northern Sarasota, the city routinely promises to invest in his district but seldom follows through. Shaw’s comments were directed at Commissioner Liz Alpert’s motion to instead move the city’s development services out of City Hall and into a more affluent section of downtown Sarasota about a block away.

— TOP OPINION —

Responding to COVID-19 — a once-in-a-century pandemic?” via Bill Gates for the New England Journal of Medicine — There are two reasons that COVID-19 is such a threat. First, it can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems. The data so far suggest that the virus has a case fatality risk around 1%; this rate would make it many times more severe than typical seasonal influenza, putting it somewhere between the 1957 influenza pandemic (0.6%) and the 1918 influenza pandemic (2%). Second, COVID-19 is transmitted quite efficiently. The average infected person spreads the disease to two or three others — an exponential rate of increase. There is also strong evidence that it can be transmitted by people who are just mildly ill or even presymptomatic. That means COVID-19 will be much harder to contain.

— OPINIONS —

The manner of Pete Buttigieg’s departure shows why we endorsed him” via Mike Lafferty for the Orlando Sentinel — Our endorsement late last week of Buttigieg in the Democratic primary wasn’t based on his polling or his momentum or his money. It was based on our judgment that he was the best candidate to reunite a country being torn apart by Trump. That his policies had a chance at passing Congress and wouldn’t plunge the country into even deeper debt. That he was the best hope of restoring dignity, decency and respect to the office of President. His moving remarks before supporters in his South Bend hometown were patriotic, gracious, rousing, hopeful, generous, warm — and presidential.

— THE ONLY STORY THAT MATTERS —

Executive office staffers prevailed 3-2 over the undefeated “lobbyists and special interests” Sunday in the 2020 Legislative Kickball championship.

“We had a great time. Their team did phenomenal. Our team just did a little bit better,” said executive team captain and CFO’s office staffer Caleb Spencer.

Lobbyists team captain Jim Magill, from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, acknowledged that his team were the favorites going into the championship. But their luck ran out against a team that surged with three straight wins to finish the season 3-1.

After an undefeated regular season, the Lobbyist team succumbed to the Executive Branch the championship.

“We’re not like the Super Bowl champions coming in to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Magill said. “We just had good days and that string ended, and the executive team did a great job.”

The executive team pulled an early two-run lead in the bottom of the first, but the lobbyists quickly tied it up. A fifth inning two-out RBI single gave the executives what would be the winning run.

Executives’ star third baseman Dylan Fisher, a late season add, played through a hamstring injury. Still, he put together a handful of outs at the hot corner.

“We had a lot of fun getting off the couch and having some canned consumables, which is what this whole thing is all about in the first place,” Magill said.

— EARNINGS —

Anfield Consulting nears $2.9M in 2019 pay” via Florida Politics — That’s a jump of nearly $500,000 from the firm’s 2018 annual revenues. Anfield earned about $2.4 million in median lobbying fees that year. The firm mustered a total of 113 lobbying contracts in 2019. Out of those, 56 were for legislative lobbying work. Those clients paid the firm a combined $2.15 million in fees. On the executive lobbying aspect of the business, Anfield took in 57 clients who ended up contracting with the firm to the tune of $725,000. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range to estimate total revenue last year. Canadian-based WSP topped Anfield’s client list for legislative services.

— MOVEMENTS —

Ballard Partners’ DC operation adds another White House alum via Florida Politics — Ballard Partners has expanded its Washington, D.C. team with the addition of Trent Morse. Before joining the firm, Morse worked in the Trump administration as the White House liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. An ethics pledge required of Trump administration employees currently blocks Morse from lobbying the White House, though he plans to register once the pledge expires. Morse also has Florida connections. He’s a Tampa native and double alum at Florida State University, where he earned his bachelor’s and law degrees. Before moving to Washington, he held jobs at the Florida Department of Transportation and in the Governor’s Office.

Liza McFadden joins Florida State Parks Foundation board — The Florida State Parks Foundation announced selecting McFadden to its board of directors. McFadden is president of Liza and Partners which provides advisory services to philanthropists. Her background includes 20-plus years serving as the chief executive officer of foundations, most recently as the president of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. “I am delighted to welcome Liza to the board,” said FSPF President Gil Ziffer. “She brings a wealth of experience and expertise and will be a tremendous asset to the Foundation as we further our mission of supporting Florida’s fabulous state parks, the best in the nation.”

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

 

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Nice to be back at the @whitehouse today. 👍🏼🇺🇸

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— ALOE —

Let it grow: A survival guide to Epcot’s flower and garden fest” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — If you’ve not been to Epcot lately, a warning. You’ll be greeted by construction walls. It’s all a result of the theme park’s ongoing transformation project, and there’s a lot underway. Brand-new in Epcot’s topiary lineup is one of Remy, a rat character from “Ratatouille,” standing on a piece of cheese in the France pavilion. He’s basically in the shadow of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a dark ride set to open this summer. There are 16 “outdoor kitchens” at this year’s event, including a new one called Magnolia Kitchen (in the American Adventure pavilion). Orange Bird is the face of the Hello Sunshine Collection, appearing on headbands, spirit jerseys, backpacks and juice glasses.

The Epcot flower and garden festival is upon us, construction walls and everything. 

The scientist making Florida strawberries bigger, sweeter and sometimes grape-flavored” via Christopher Spata of the Tampa Bay Times — On a tour of the field where his creations grow, Vance Whitaker examined a row of ankle-high plants looking for a perfect FL 16.78-109. He plucked a berry that by today’s standards could be called smallish and handed it over for a taste. The disconnect between the visual wrongness of the FL 16.78-109 and its pleasing flavor was a little thrill, not too juicy, with a vague pineapple-apricot twinge. Right now, these berries are in grower trials, which means some farms are harvesting a small amount and sporadically trickling them out to stores.

What Ryan Wiggins is reading —F/A-18 Super Hornet from ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ movie will join Blue Angels fleet” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal — A Super Hornet used in the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” movie has already made the transition from Hollywood to Pensacola, where it will eventually become part of the Blue Angels fleet. No, superstar actor Tom Cruise didn’t actually fly in this single-seat aircraft. Still, the F/A-18E Super Hornet No. 165536 currently being refurbished in Jacksonville will appear in the “Top Gun” sequel set to hit the silver screen this summer. Over the next year, the Blue Angels will make their first aircraft transition in 30 years when they move to the larger F/A-18 Super Hornets.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

We owe belated wishes to our friend and colleague, the great Rosanne Dunkelberger. Celebrating today is Rep. Fentrice Driskell.

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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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