Good Thursday morning.
House Speaker-designate Danny Perez is taking the reins at the GOP’s House campaign arm, and he’s announced the first wave of staffers he’s brought on to defend the Republican supermajority.
“Today, we turn our focus to 2024. We will immediately begin to defend our 85 seats, elevate the profile of our outstanding members, and immediately implement a strong candidate recruitment program, so we can pave the way toward an overwhelming majority in the Florida House of Representatives,” Perez said in the announcement.
The top spot is going to Nick Catroppo, who previously worked as the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of political operations. As executive director, he will lead all aspects of the committee and oversee day-to-day operations.
Perez also announced that longtime Republican Party of Florida staffer Faron Boggs will serve as political director; Daniel Leon will take over as finance director; Sydney Fowler will be the member liaison; Hannah Littlejohn has been tapped for finance coordinator; Tom Piccolo will be the committee’s general consultant, and Tony Cortese will be the finance consultant.
Finally, Sarah Bascom and Lyndsey Brzozowski of Bascom Communications & Consulting will be communications consultants.
“I am excited to have this team in place, as I know they are dedicated to our collective success, and it is my hope that we all utilize their talents to further our mission of bringing commonsense principles to our state through continued Republican governance,” Perez concluded.
Florida TaxWatch is beginning its 2022 Annual Meeting at The Biltmore in Coral Gables.
The meeting begins at 10 a.m. with former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux scheduled to deliver a Competitive Florida Update and Shane Strum of Broward Health and Lawrence Antonucci of Lee Health are set to take part in a health care panel.
Several top elected officials are also on the agenda, including Attorney General Ashley Moody as well as segments with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, House Speaker Paul Renner, Rep. Perez, and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
A new national group, Protecting Americans Project, is holding its inaugural conference outside Tampa today at Innisbrook resort. PAP was organized earlier this year to promote and support conservative prosecutors. Its affiliated political action committee spent over $400,000 supporting Bruce Bartlett, the 6th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, in his campaign this year against Allison Miller.
Honorary Chair and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and former Florida Speaker Chris Sprowls lead the organization; Sprowls serves on its advisory board. The organization plans to be heavily involved in Florida State Attorney races in the next election cycle.
Today’s conference offerings will include an economic development panel featuring Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber, and a panel focused on law enforcement featuring Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister. Attorney General Moody will headline the reception and dinner.
Business law firm Gunster is completing a merger agreement with Naples-based law firm Grant Fridkin Pearson.
The merger is effective Jan. 1 and will see the 12 attorneys and 15-member professional staff of Grant Fridkin Pearson join Gunster, one of the state’s largest commercial law firms.
Naples is an expansion for Gunster, which will now have a foothold in every major market across Florida, and with this added growth, expands the firm’s statewide footprint to 12 cities across Florida.
Grant Fridkin Pearson is a comprehensive law firm that represents a broad range of individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs and institutions across Florida. The firm’s attorneys focus on four principal areas of practice: transactional real estate; business services; litigation and dispute resolution; and estate planning and trust and estate administration services.
The new expansion follows Gunster’s merger with the Barnett firm in October, solidifying it as one of the largest firms in the Tampa Bay region. Gunster is a 97-year-old Florida law firm currently with 12 offices across the state and nearly 250 attorneys and government affairs consultants.
“The attorneys of Grant Fridkin Pearson are the consummate professionals, many of them achieving some of the highest recognitions available in the legal industry. Additionally, they share a strong commitment to their community, which is a pillar of Gunster’s culture. These attorneys serve in leadership roles within our profession, in civic organizations, and the broader Naples community,” said Bill Perry, managing shareholder of Gunster.
“As we continue to grow strategically, it’s important to align ourselves with attorneys who are committed to both to the legal profession and the local communities we serve. Both firms share a civic commitment to our state which ensures alignment not only from a client-service perspective but from a cultural perspective, as well.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@Scott_Maxwell: One thing (Ron) DeSantis leaves out: (Bob) Iger is the guy who basically pressured (Bob) Chapek into belatedly standing up for LGBTQ employees and families. Iger wanted Disney to be *more* outspoken against bigotry, saying “It’s about right and wrong.” And he’s the guy Disney brought back.
—@MaryKelliPalka: It’s been a dream job with an amazing team, but my time as the Times-Union’s executive editor/market leader & as deputy regional Florida editor is coming to an end. This was a difficult decision to make, but I’m ready to try something new. My last day is Dec 9.
—@KaleyAJohnson: Media companies: hold the powerful accountable! Journalists: you don’t pay employees enough and you retaliate against unionized newsrooms Media companies: wait no not like that
—@IsaacDovere: Hakeem Jeffries is the first leader of the House Democrats *ever* born after the end of World War II.
—@radleybalko: Yikes. Florida sheriff holds news conference with new right-wing school board chairman to call for more severe discipline of students. Sheriff then laments that children no longer fear having “the cheeks of their ass torn off.”
—@GrayRohrer: Announcement was done in front of a jail with a sordid reputation for inmate deaths, too
One-man crime wave Joel Greenberg is making a hot dog guy-style downward departure argument where he hopes to get lenient treatment for ratting out his crimies in all these offenses
Who was the mastermind?
Joel Greenberg, the hot dog guy
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) December 1, 2022
Oh look, it's the only break in the storm front for 150 miles. pic.twitter.com/ZefupfExoi
— The Magnet (@The_TLH_Magnet) November 30, 2022
— DAYS UNTIL —
2022 Florida Chamber Annual Insurance Summit — 4; Georgia U.S. Senate runoff — 5; Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Stella Maris’ releases — 5; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 15; final Broadway performance of ‘The Music Man’ with Hugh Jackman — 31; The James Madison Institute’s Annual Dinner — 55; Bruce Springsteen launches his 2023 tour in Tampa — 62; ‘Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 78; final performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway — 79; city of Tampa Municipal Election early voting begins — 88; DeSantis’ ‘The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.’ is published — 89; Tampa Municipal Election — 96; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 96; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 113; Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tour in Tampa — 133; American Association of Political Consultants Pollies ’23 conference begins — 148; 2023 Session Sine Die — 155; ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ premieres — 155; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ premieres — 183; Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ premieres — 232; ‘‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 239; Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 337; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Part 2 premieres — 484; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 540; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 603; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 603; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 645; ‘Deadpool 3’ premieres — 708; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 806; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 883. ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,072.
— TOP STORY —
“Hurricane Ian soaked Floridians. Many don’t have the right insurance to cover damage” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Tens of thousands of people walloped by the Category 4 storm in September are now discovering that they didn’t have the coverage they needed for one of the biggest impacts of the storm — flood insurance.
Florida’s home insurance market has been troubled for decades, but experts worry that the back-to-back strikes from hurricanes Ian and Nicole could be enough to tilt the teetering market for wind damage insurance into another collapse.
Gov. DeSantis has hinted at holding another special session on the topic soon, but it’s not clear if legislators will even try to address the already skyrocketing costs of private insurance and increasing risk load of the state-run option, the Citizens Property Insurance Co. And even if they do, coverage for Florida’s most common risk — flooding — won’t be on the table for discussion.
Flood insurance is almost entirely run by the federal government, which sets strict rules and price caps on who needs to have it and how much it costs. Experts say that despite the government’s efforts to make flood insurance cheap and available, Florida faces a massive coverage gap that could grow even larger as the state’s population — and flood risks — grow and the number of policies slowly declines.
According to one estimate, flood damage could make up half the total Hurricane Ian losses in Florida. The Category 4 storm tore into Southwest Florida in late September. But it was the slow creep north through the rest of the state — when the much weaker storm dumped more than a foot of rain — which shocked inland residents.
— DESANTISY LAND —
“‘Blueprint’ for 2024? Ron DeSantis pens book on going after ‘entrenched elites’ as presidential speculation swirls” via Andrew Murray and Paul Steinhauser of Fox News — DeSantis will chronicle his life in public service in a new book that will publish in late February in what will be seen by political pundits as another step by the conservative champion toward a possible 2024 presidential run. The autobiography by DeSantis, who was overwhelmingly re-elected three weeks ago to a second four-year term steering the increasingly red Sunshine State, is titled “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.”
“DeSantis says he isn’t ready to cut Disney a break” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Presented with regretful comments from Disney CEO Iger about consequences for the company’s opposition to the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, DeSantis did not back down from previous critiques of the “Burbank-based” corporation. “We didn’t drag them in, Tucker (Carlson); they went in on their own,” DeSantis said on Fox News. “And not only opposed the bill. They threatened to get it repealed. These are parents’ rights … important policies in our state. They’re very popular.”
“Just wait until you get to know DeSantis” via Mark Leibovich of The Atlantic — “He is (Donald) Trump with a brain,” goes the whispered refrain among DeSantis aides (this clearly drives Trump nuts — always a noble goal). The question is whether DeSantis’s presidential hopes will perish as he starts getting out more on the Iowa—New Hampshire dating apps. People who know him better and have watched him longer are skeptical of his ability to take on Trump. DeSantis, they say, is no thoroughbred political athlete. He can be awkward and plodding. And Trump tends to eviscerate guys like that.
“A letter to the DeSantis fanboys from a real never Trumper” via Tim Miller of The Bulwark — In 2024, the chosen one will be DeSantis. It has thus been decreed by the old-guard members of Conservative Inc. Or at least the ones calculating enough to have survived the MAGA takeover. He’s the one weird trick that will make all their Trump Troubles go away without their having to suffer any additional political pain or consequences from having made a deal with the devil. If your candidate ever shows even the vague outline of a pair of balls and stands up to the man you now agree is a grave threat, I will compliment him for it. That is right. I will praise DeSantis!
“DeSantis worked with gas-station lobbyists who wanted to weaken a gas-tax break for consumers” via Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents — Emails show that senior aides to the Governor convened a meeting with gas-station lobbyists Jan. 25. That was two weeks into the 60-day lawmaking Session, which would have to pass a bill authorizing DeSantis’ gas-tax holiday. The invitees included lobbyists for RaceTrac, 7-Eleven, Wawa, and Sunshine Gasoline Distributors. Lobbyists for the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association were also invited. Two weeks after that meeting, one of those lobbyists emailed Alex Kelly, a deputy Chief of Staff in the Governor’s office, with the proposed rewrite of the gas-tax holiday. Among other suggestions, they recommended that enforcement of the gas-tax holiday — and its requirement that fuel suppliers and gas stations pass the tax savings on to consumers — be handled as a civil matter, rather than a criminal one.
“Watchdog group suing over migrant records asks judge to hold DeSantis’ office in contempt” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Florida Center for Government Accountability filed a motion that contends it still has not received all the records it requested regarding the flying of nearly 50 migrants from Texas to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard. The organization asserts that it still has not received text and phone logs from early September belonging to James Uthmeier, the Governor’s Chief of Staff. The motion also says that records that have already been turned over suggest that the state has not released all documents exchanged with the company that was paid to fly the migrants. Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh on Oct. 25 ordered the administration to turn over the requested records within 20 days. Lawyers representing the Florida Center for Government Accountability have asked for Marsh to hold an evidentiary hearing over their latest motion.
“‘Reminiscent of fascism?’ Activists fear proposal could limit protests, chill speech at Florida Capitol” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — In March, high school students filled the 4th-floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, shouting “F*** DeSantis” in protest of the Florida Legislature passing restrictions on classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ topics. In June, abortion rights protesters carried signs which read “abort SCOTUS” and demonstrated on the lawn of the Capitol in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade and federal abortion protections.
“Assisted living facilities ask state to slow down, work with stakeholders on new emergency rules” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Florida assisted living facilities (ALF) are raising questions about new emergency management regulations being proposed by state health care regulators. The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) held an hourlong workshop on Tuesday with ALF providers, local emergency management officials and others who flagged their concerns with the proposed regulations. The proposals have to do with comprehensive emergency management and emergency environmental control plans that are linked to a 2020 law.
“Florida attorney general sues real estate brokerage for scamming homeowners” via Rebecca Liebson of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida attorney general’s office is suing a Delray Beach-based real estate brokerage for allegedly using deceptive business practices to prey on vulnerable homeowners. The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court claims that the company, MV Realty, used a “complex and deceptive scheme” to swindle consumers out of their home equity. Homeowners who sign up can receive upfront cash payments between $300 and $5,000 if they agree to give the brokerage exclusive rights to list their homes. Many homeowners do not realize that the contract lasts 40 years and allows MV Realty to place a lien on their homes.
“Developers are holding off on big projects as insurance costs surge” via Deborah Acosta of The Wall Street Journal — Rising insurance rates, coupled with surging interest rates and inflation, are making it impossible for many condo and apartment developers in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties to be profitable, developers say. For some high-rise projects in South Florida, developers say, insurance costs can exceed 8% of the project’s total cost; three years ago, insurance averaged around 2% of project costs. Many developers are having to postpone or cancel their projects altogether.
“This Florida chemical plant is the biggest greenhouse gas polluter in the state” via Craig Pittman of Florida Phoenix — It’s a Florida nylon manufacturing plant, and it tops the rest of the country in emitting nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas. Its name was Ascend Performance Materials, owned by a Houston-based private equity firm named SK Capital Partners that generates revenues of approximately $14 billion-with-a-B every year. In other words, they’ve got money to burn even as they burn the planet up. Ascend is only the most recent name for the plant, which is the largest in the world for converting petroleum into nylon products for use in everything from carpets to cars. Originally the Ascend facility, which sits on 2,000 acres by the Escambia River near where it flows into Escambia Bay, was known as Chemstrand. Then it became Monsanto, then Solutia. It was also a steady source of toxic waste, right from the start.
“Lobbying compensation: Johnston & Stewart snags $730K in Q3” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The three-person team at Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies continued its strong revenue streak in the third quarter, notching an estimated $730,000 in lobbying pay, reports show. The reporting period saw the firm take in $505,000 lobbying the Legislature and another $225,000 lobbying the Governor and Cabinet. The firm’s third quarter team included named partners Jeff Johnston and Amanda Stewart as well as lobbyist Anita Berry. Johnston & Stewart’s legislative compensation report shows 52 clients topped by four that paid $25,000 during the July-through-September reporting period: Gulfstream Park Racing Associations, Humana Medical Plan, Liberty Dental Plan and TECO Energy.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
David Browning, Rachel Cone, Mary DeLoach, Nelson Diaz, Justin Hollis, Nicole Kelly, Karis Lockhart, Sydney Ridley, The Southern Group: Aramark Correctional Services, Dream Finders Homes, Eagle LNG Partners, Habitat for Humanity of Key West and Lower FL Keys, Windstream Communications
Sara Clements, Rhett O’Doski, Ryder Rudd, Sean Stafford, McGuireWoods Consulting: Florida Association of Mortgage Professionals
Hayden Dempsey, Greenberg Traurig: Air Force Enlisted Village
Robert Henderson, Meenan: Tower Hill Insurance Group
Aram Megerian, Cole Scott & Kissane: Florida Justice Reform Institute
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Joe Biden in Michigan: U.S. won’t be ‘held hostage’ in chips supply” via Breana Noble and Riley Beggin of The Detroit News — Biden visited a semiconductor chip manufacturer near Bay City on Tuesday afternoon, touting federal taxpayer investments in manufacturing to move supply chains to the United States and pursue an energy future with fewer carbon emissions. Biden toured SK Siltron CSS, a U.S. subsidiary of the Korean SK Group conglomerate, which announced last year that it would invest more than $300 million in a new site in Bay County’s Monitor Township to manufacture materials for semiconductors used in electric vehicles, creating an estimated 150 jobs. The project is also supported by nearly $6 million in state incentives.
“House Democrats elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as leader, the first Black person to lead congressional caucus” via Scott Wong and Ali Vitali of the NBC News — House Democrats elected their new leadership team Wednesday, ushering in a younger generation of leaders after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer decided to step aside after Democrats narrowly lost the majority this month. Pelosi the first female speaker of the House, will pass the torch to Rep. Jeffries, who ran unopposed for minority leader and will make history as the first Black lawmaker to lead a political party’s caucus in either chamber. “Today, with immense pride, I stood in front of the House Democratic Caucus as a candidate for Democratic Leader, and I am eternally grateful for the trust my colleagues placed in me with their votes,” Jeffries said in a statement.
“House votes to avert U.S. rail strike, impose deal on unions” via The Associated Press — The U.S. House moved urgently to head off the looming nationwide rail strike, passing a bill that would bind companies and workers to a proposed settlement that was reached in September but rejected by some of the 12 unions involved. The measure passed by a vote of 290-137 and now heads to the Senate. If approved there, it will be signed by Biden, who urged the Senate to act swiftly. “Without the certainty of a final vote to avoid a shutdown this week, railroads will begin to halt the movement of critical materials like chemicals to clean our drinking water as soon as this weekend,” Biden said.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“House committee obtains access to Donald Trump’s tax returns, ending long fight” via Charlie Savage of the Tampa Bay Times — A House committee has gained access to six years of Trump’s tax returns after the Supreme Court last week paved the way for the release of records he had long sought to keep secret. “Treasury has complied with last week’s court decision,” Lily Adams, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department, said. The move brought to an end a nearly four-year effort by Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain the returns. Breaking with modern precedent for major presidential candidates and sitting Presidents, Trump had refused to make them public.
“Jan. 6 convictions bolster democracy, but Kevin McCarthy’s defense of Trump threatens it” via Stephen Collinson of CNN — While the courts, and voters in the midterm elections, have reaffirmed the rule of law, a furor over Trump’s meeting with a White supremacist Holocaust denier is underlining just how fragile it remains. As does the refusal of McCarthy, the man who would like to be House speaker, to forthrightly condemn Trump on Tuesday for breaking bread with an extremist. McCarthy did say Nick Fuentes had no place in the GOP. But his false claim that Trump had condemned the far-right firebrand four times was consistent with his willingness to appease Trump’s incitement in order to bolster power for himself and his party.
“Trump dinner with Ye (formerly Kanye West), White supremacist gives even his Florida loyalists heartburn” via Antonio Fins and Stephany Matat of the Palm Beach Post — Even in red Florida, Trump’s pre-Thanksgiving dinner with a “seriously troubled” rapper and a “Holocaust-denying” far-right activist has caused heartburn among Republican leaders and within the former President’s base. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott this week responded to a national torrent of criticism over Trump’s dinner with West, who goes by Ye, and Nick Fuentes, a White supremacist, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. “I can tell you for a fact that Trump is not (an antisemite), but this guy is evil,” Rubio said on CNN, referring to Fuentes. Scott added: “There is no room in the Republican Party for White supremacy and antisemitism, and it’s wrong.”
“Merrick Garland celebrates ‘significant’ Jan. 6 convictions, talks Trump special counsel” via Luke Barr of ABC News — Garland took something of a victory lap on Wednesday, a day after the Department of Justice secured convictions in one of the Jan. 6 investigation’s highest-profile prosecutions. Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate-turned-militiaman, was found guilty Tuesday of his most serious charge, seditious conspiracy, following a sprawling two-month trial in federal court in Washington and three days of jury deliberations. An associate, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the first such convictions by a jury since 1995. They could both face a maximum of 20 years in prison for that charge alone. Rhodes’ attorney said they will appeal.
“Salvation Army gala still set for Mar-a-Lago despite latest Trump uproar” via Alexandra Clough of the Palm Beach Post — Five years ago, the Salvation Army marched out of Mar-a-Lago after former President Trump’s comments about neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. Next Saturday, the nonprofit known for its red kettles outside stores at Christmastime is slated to hold the event of the season at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. The Dec. 10 Paradise Ball comes less than two weeks after the 2024 presidential candidate had dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and White supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. Ye has publicly spouted his own antisemitic conspiracy theories in recent weeks, prompting a rise in antisemitic demonstrations in several major U.S. cities.
— LOCAL: S. FL —
“Genting selling 15.5 acres of Miami waterfront once planned for a casino resort” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Genting, the Malaysian casino company that once planned to turn the former Miami Herald property into a gambling resort in the heart of Miami, is selling its prized 15.5-acre parcel. The expected price tag tops $1 billion for the largely vacant swath of downtown land on Biscayne Bay, where residential and commercial high-rises could top 60 stories. “It’s a transformational, iconic site,” said Michael Fay, managing director of the Miami office of the Avison Young commercial brokerage, which has the listing for the former Herald site off Biscayne Boulevard between the Venetian and MacArthur Causeways. “We already have interest in excess of $1 billion.”
“Property taxes will go up this year; How are local governments spending your money?” via Lina Ruiz, Olivia McKelvey and Thomas Weber of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Treasure Coast municipalities are benefiting from a hot real estate market that’s boosted taxable-property values in the last year, and along with them, the amount of money available for public operations and services. The new budget year for Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties started Oct. 1, and all three governments approved budgets with a combined total of $1.7 billion, a 6.3% increase from last year. As a result, officials voted to slightly decrease property-tax rates in two out of the three unincorporated areas of the Treasure Coast despite inflation still impacting budgets.
“3 teens face felony charges related to antisemitic and racist messages spray-painted in Weston” via Angie DiMichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Three teenage boys are facing felony charges related to racist and antisemitic messages spray-painted in Weston on three separate days in October, officials announced Wednesday. Two of the teens face charges of criminal mischief, burglary, and public order crime prejudice, meaning the charges are enhanced because they are hate crimes. The third teen faces charges of criminal mischief and burglary, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said. Sheriff Gregory Tony said the three 16-year-olds live in Weston. Their names were not released. The hateful imagery and rhetoric first appeared in the Weston Hills Country Club on Oct. 5 — Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
“Swiss banker who helped Miami feds in Venezuelan corruption case freed from prison” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — A Swiss banker who helped guide U.S. prosecutors and agents through a maze of corruption extending from Venezuela to Europe to South Florida was released from prison on Tuesday after a federal judge drastically reduced his sentence to one year and three months — the time served since his incarceration in the summer of 2021. Matthias Krull, 48, was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for his supporting role in a billion-dollar Venezuelan money-laundering case in Miami that has been in the global criminal spotlight since it was filed in 2018. However, in a rare concession, Krull received two significant sentence reductions — first to three and a half years and then on Monday to time served.
— LOCAL: C. FL —
“Millions of dollars to flow into region from opioid settlement with large pharmacies” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida counties stand to receive nearly $15 million from an estimated $13.1 billion settlement to resolve lawsuits against the nation’s largest pharmacies over their roles in the opioid crisis. Most of the money will be distributed by the state of Florida to local governments over the next 18 years. It is expected to pay for drug treatment and educational programs, in addition to buying equipment for law enforcement and first responders, such as devices used to administer Narcan, a medicine used to treat overdoses. “These funds are going to be dedicated to reducing and eliminating the opioid scourge,” Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine said.
“‘No precedent’: Ahead of Joel Greenberg’s sentencing, judge seeks punishment to fit crimes” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — A day before Greenberg is slated to face sentencing, a federal judge was struggling to determine an appropriate penalty for the disgraced former elected official due to the breadth of his offenses — ranging from sex trafficking to stalking and bribery. Prosecutors and defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell in a presentencing hearing Wednesday that federal sentencing guidelines, based on Greenberg’s plea agreement and subsequent cooperation with investigators, would call for him to be sentenced to between 9.25 and 11 years in prison. The judge seemed to feel that was too lenient, saying “there is no precedent” for Greenberg’s yearslong crime spree.
“‘Average’ hurricane season brought death, mayhem to Florida” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — This year’s hurricane season ended Wednesday, the last day of November, with a portfolio of nearly normal storm activity during the past six months — except for the havoc on lives and property in Florida. Of 14 named storms that rode the Atlantic basin in 2022, Florida was unbothered by all but two, hurricanes Ian and Nicole. With very different qualities, they sliced a neat X across the state’s peninsula with paths that met just southeast of Orlando. Armed with Category 4 winds of 150 mph, Ian tore into the north Fort Myers area as a slow, powerful and wet hurricane on Sept. 28, romping northeast to exit to the Atlantic near Cocoa Beach.
“10-year-old’s lawyer sends Volusia County Schools pre-suit notice over groping allegations” via Danielle Johnson of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — The attorney of the 10-year-old Black Volusia County student who’s accused of groping a district mental health counselor has served the school district with a pre-suit notice of the family’s intentions to sue, alleging racial discrimination and violation of the student’s due process rights. “We have decided because Volusia (County Schools) has compelled us to do so, that attempting to only rectify this internally within the school system, within the Board level, is futile,” Attorney Rawsi Williams of the Rawsi Williams Law Group in Miami said at a virtual news conference Wednesday morning. The Holly Hill School student, a fourth grader, and his family have denied the allegations since they were reported in October.
“Florida sheriff: Students no longer fear getting ‘a — cheeks’ ‘torn off’, need new discipline policy” via Local 10 — Days after the Brevard County School Board ousted the superintendent, plans are underway for a new school disciplinary policy in Brevard Public Schools. Flanked by Sheriff Wayne Ivey and State Attorney Phil Archer, School Board Chair Matt Susin went on camera Monday in front of the Brevard County Jail in Sharpes to announce plans to impose the “most prolific school discipline policy this district has ever had.” “It’s a new day,” Ivey repeatedly said throughout the announcement. Susin said he was calling an emergency meeting for next week to draft the policy with input from Archer’s office, Ivey, and the teachers and school staff unions.
“VP: Phantom Fireworks vows to rebuild in West Melbourne after fiery crash destroys store” via Rick Neale of Florida Today — Phantom Fireworks officials hope to rebuild their profitable West Melbourne store in time for the summer season after an out-of-control vehicle ignited a blaze that devastated the structure and left the driver dead. West Melbourne resident John Marcano, 53, drove a Dodge Durango through the front glass wall of the fireworks store Monday afternoon, the Florida Highway Patrol reported — sparking a fire that shut down U.S. 192 traffic for hours and sent Roman candles and mortars dangerously rocketing across the property. He was pronounced dead at the scene. William Weimer, Phantom Fireworks vice president and general counsel, offered his condolences to Marcano’s family.
— LOCAL: TB —
“USF Morsani College of Medicine thrives with Water Street location, Tampa General partnership” via Philip Morgan of 83 Degrees — The 2021 incoming class at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine were the highest achievers in the college’s history. They carried the highest median score of any class on the Medical College Admission Test and the highest average grade-point average, 3.89. The 2022 students, who began classes in July, are another impressive batch of future physicians. Dr. Charles Lockwood, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the medical college, believes these bright minds are choosing USF for multiple reasons. “One is that we have a really fantastic set of teaching hospitals,” Lockwood says. “That’s huge.’’
“Low amounts of Red Tide found near Fort De Soto beach in Pinellas County” via Max Chesnes of the Tampa Bay Times — Health officials are warning people to be cautious near North Beach at Fort De Soto Park after water samplers on Monday detected low concentrations of the organism that causes Red Tide, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.
“Pinellas schools may shorten Spring Break to make up day lost to hurricane” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas County public school students are likely to lose a day of their spring break. They can blame the threat posed by Hurricane Nicole, which prompted officials to cancel classes for a day on Nov. 10. The loss of that learning time, combined with four days missed because of Hurricane Ian in September, pushed the district below the state-mandated minimum for instructional minutes. So, where Ian did not lead to makeup days, Nicole will. The School Board on Tuesday will discuss a calendar committee recommendation that day be March 20, the Monday after Spring Break that had been scheduled as a non-student day.
“Happy holidays? Florida school district walks back decision to nix Hanukkah presentation” via Jessie Scheckner of Florida Politics — Pasco County Schools says it has reversed its decision to deny a mother’s request to give a Hanukkah presentation to her son’s fifth grade class after reporters contacted the district for an explanation. Rachel Long has visited each of her children’s classes yearly to explain Hanukkah. Initially, the teacher seemed open to the idea. She told Long she would confer with school higher-ups “to determine what day and time would be best.” A few days later, however, the teacher said that after speaking with school staff and district administrators, they recommended she deny Long’s request, citing Florida’s relatively new Parents’ Bill of Rights. Long asked: “Then, I assume, no Christmas activities will be done?” The issue appeared to have been resolved. Pasco Schools Public Information Officer Stephen Hegarty told Florida Politics that Long could indeed do her Hanukkah presentation once she meets with the teacher and other relevant faculty.
“Ballet shoes give Tampa Bay homeless students sense of ‘security’” via Myriam Warren of the Tampa Bay Times — For some children, it was the first ballet class of the school year. For others, it was the continuation of a dream that began when they entered the Patricia J. Sullivan Partnership school. Thanks to a program from the Patel Conservatory, the children receive free ballet classes every week.
“Life’s a little odd for other Floridians named Ron DeSantis” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The Governor finally returned our phone calls. At least, that’s what his friends call him. Ron DeSantis, of Dunedin, was initially suspicious of the unknown 727 area code that showed up on his phone. But before long, he was chatting with a reporter about what it was like to have one of the most recognizable names in American politics. Dunedin Ron DeSantis is not that Ron DeSantis. Though that Ron DeSantis, 44, is also from Dunedin and would also presumably be skeptical of a call from a Tampa Bay Times reporter. “Say you call the bank or something and you have to say your name. I qualify it now,” Dunedin Ron said. “I say, this is Ron DeSantis — not the Gov.”
— LOCAL: SW. FL —
“Flipped Florida school boards dump their superintendents” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Since the election flipped the balance of power on several Florida School Boards, eyes have turned to the boards that took immediate action to change direction. The Sarasota County Board threatened to fire Superintendent Brennan Asplen, who in turn offered to leave. On Tuesday, the board met to discuss the superintendent’s fate. The board voted 4-1 to begin negotiating Asplen’s departure. Meanwhile, in Brevard County, the Superintendent ousted by the district’s new conservative majority Board found support from a possibly unexpected source, a Moms for Liberty co-founder.
“Teachers, parents and students ‘horrified’ by removal of Sarasota schools Superintendent” via Melissa Pérez-Carrillo of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Mary Ginley, 75, stood in a circle of former and current Sarasota County teachers, minutes before the School Board’s special meeting Tuesday to discuss the firing of Asplen. Ginley, a retired teacher, taught at Cranberry Elementary School in North Port from 2005 to 2011. Before that, she served several years as a teacher in Massachusetts. She said she was horrified about Asplen’s firing and what it will mean for students and teachers. “Who’s coming next?” Ginley said. “What do they want? Are they going to find somebody that welcomes every kid whether they’re documented, undocumented, trans, gay, poor, rich?”
“Hopes stokes old flames with Mitchell Teitelbaum hire, Lincoln Memorial Academy to see its day in court” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Nearly four years after Lincoln Memorial Academy’s charter was terminated, Manatee County has hired a man pivotal to the decision as a new deputy County Administrator. Manatee County Commissioners met with three newly elected County Commissioners taking their seats for the first time. One of their first actions was to unanimously authorize the hiring of Teitelbaum to fill the county’s fourth deputy administrator position that was left vacant in May when former CFO Jan Brewer resigned, making claims about County Administrator Scott Hopes that eventually went public. Commissioners also confirmed the appointment of Sheila McLean to fill the CFO role.
“Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 protocols to be investigated after emotional meeting” via Stefania Lugli of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — In the first meeting of newly elected board members critical of the hospital’s standard medical approach to fighting COVID-19, public testimony pushed them to open an investigation into Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s (SMH) protocols during the height of the pandemic. Nearly 50 people signed up to speak during public comment: grieving spouses, furious parents, exhausted doctors and former patients varying from commendation or condemnation toward their inpatient experience. Heartbreak, grief, and frustration were all on full display Tuesday night inside SMH’s auditorium. Many also spoke out of decorum, booing one doctor who said that COVID-19 vaccines work with another heckler shouting “murder keeps the building full.”
“‘A generational approach.’ How a Manatee school offers much more than education” via Robyn Murrell of the Bradenton Herald — Longtime teachers often say there’s only so much they can do to help kids inside the classroom when there are struggles at home, but a growing program in Manatee County is making a difference in both. Manatee Elementary in Bradenton has been transformed by a new Community Partnership School model that brings together nonprofits to offer not just academic help, but overall health and wellness options to kids and their families. And this year, Daughtrey Elementary has joined the effort. The main goal is to make it easier for Title I students, most of whom come from economically disadvantaged families, to keep their focus on education by offering critical services to students and their families on the school’s campus.
“Fallen deputy honored at memorial service” via Frank DiFiore of the Port Charlotte Sun — Hundreds of law enforcement officers gathered to honor one of their fallen members Wednesday morning. During the memorial service, Sheriff Bill Prummell described Deputy Christopher Taylor as a model deputy whose career was cut short by a tragedy. “Life is short — and for Chris, it was far, far too short,” Prummell said. Taylor, 23, was conducting a traffic stop at about 8:45 p.m. on Nov. 22 on Interstate 75. According to authorities, he was struck by his own vehicle after another car struck it. People attempted to provide aid to Taylor at the scene of the crash, as did members of Taylor’s squad when they arrived. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
“Volunteers needed for Punta Gorda waterway cleanup program” via Elaine Allen-Emrich of the Punta Gorda Sun — Punta Gorda City Council member Mark Kuharski believes some boat captains may want to help identify debris for the city removal program. After all, the city has 55 miles of canals. At a recent Council meeting, Kuharski said people aren’t boating because they are afraid there’s Hurricane Ian debris under the surface, and they don’t want to damage their boats. “I believe many people will want to help,” he said. “If there’s 55 boaters, they can each take a mile. It could be done in a couple of hours. Otherwise, it’s going to take the city a long time. This is a really good way to save taxpayers’ money.”
— LOCAL: N. FL —
“Eyes turn to federal judge as she decides on accepting Jacksonville’s redistricting map” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — Candidates and voters will know in the next three weeks what the boundaries will be for Jacksonville City Council districts in the spring elections because U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has received all the arguments she asked for in a federal redistricting lawsuit. The city made its case Monday for Howard to approve the lines that City Council drew earlier this month after she said the city’s previous map used unconstitutional “racial gerrymandering.” The city’s filing will likely be the final legal argument in the case.
—“Private meetings were critical in producing Jacksonville’s gerrymandered Council map” via Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union
“Christian Caban names Allison Richards, daughter of late Commissioner, as top aide” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — One week after Leon County Commissioner Caban was sworn in to succeed Jimbo Jackson, the late Commissioner’s blood is returning to the Commission Chambers. Caban named Richards as his top aide, returning a familiar face to the county government and the county’s District 2. Jackson, who died in May from the effects of long COVID-19, was Richards’ father. Voters elected Caban this month to succeed Jackson, making Caban the first District 2 Commissioner not to hail from Fort Braden in decades. Now, he is building out his team in a way that links past with present and Tallahassee with Fort Braden.
“Two neighboring counties. Two mass shootings. The same gun.” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — A handgun fired during a barrage of gunshots as crowds swelled on Pensacola Street last month was linked by investigators to another mass shooting at a Gadsden County nightclub last year. Shell casings, from the 9 mm confiscated from De’Arius Cannon during his arrest on second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges during the mass shooting in Tallahassee, were connected to an April 2021 shooting at Club Vibez near Quincy in which seven people were injured. Cannon is among four men facing charges in connection with a mass shooting on Pensacola Street on Oct. 29 during celebrations that followed an FSU home football game and FAMU’s homecoming festivities.
— TOP OPINION —
“Bob Chapek didn’t believe in Disney magic” via Len Testa for The New York Times — There were many factors that could have factored into Chapek’s fall: a $1.5 billion loss in its streaming service, poor handling of a pay dispute with the actress Scarlett Johansson and his admittedly flubbed response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act. We also pushed to have Chapek fired because he didn’t believe in Disney magic. Disney is so much more than just another big business. Understanding that is crucial to its success.
When Walt Disney opened Disneyland, he referred to his theme park customers as “guests,” an understanding that is explicitly reinforced in Disney employee training to this day, and by which Disney’s theme park community refers to itself. Iger shared the vision in his first turn as CEO. It was apparent that he cared about our expectations, our level of satisfaction, and our interests. What customers thought mattered.
What Chapek doesn’t understand is the role we fans play in creating Disney magic. It is our Instagram accounts, our blogs and our websites that those out-of-towners refer to in order to prepare for that revenue-generating Disneyland trip. I get paid to do it, but many others do this work just because they love it. Chapek disregarded us.
I sincerely suggest Iger try to plan, book and take a Disney World vacation on a middle-class budget, relying only on Disney’s website and app. When he’s overwhelmed by the cost and complexity, I know many fans who’d be happy to talk him through it. No charge.
— OPINIONS —
“Forecast: Two hard years.” via Byron York of the Washington Examiner — You know those people who tell you a devastating recession, or maybe a depression, is on the way or that this or that investment is guaranteed to skyrocket or collapse in the next few months? Why should you listen to them? After all, who knows what will happen with the economy? Politics is different. Yes, surprises happen, but now, we are beginning to see the shape of the next two years in American politics, and it is not a happy subject. The recent Midterm Elections revealed fundamental problems for both parties in Congress, and there are growing signs the 2024 presidential race will be unlike any other in American history — and not in a good way. In other words, 2023 and 2024 could be very difficult years in the country’s political life.
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Epcot unveils lineup for Broadway concert series during 2023 arts festival” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World has revealed the singers set to perform during the Disney on Broadway concert series, part of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts, which begins Jan. 13. The 12 entertainers all have experience with Disney stage productions such as “Frozen,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Tarzan.” Each evening will spotlight two singers appearing in three sessions. The park also offers a dinner package with a meal at one of 12 select Epcot restaurants and reserved seating for the Broadway series concert on the same day. Online reservations become available on Dec. 13 at disneyworld.com. Prices range from $35 to $95 depending on the chosen restaurant.
“First look at the new ‘Under the Sea’ room makeover coming to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort” via WDW Magic — Disney has today shared the first look inside one of the new ‘Under the Sea’ themed rooms coming soon to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World. The new-look rooms will replace the Pirates-themed rooms in Trinidad South. According to Disney, the new rooms will “include subtle nods to fan-favorite characters from under the sea, will accommodate more Guests, and feature updated finishings that can’t be found anywhere else at the resort.”
— HOLIDAYS —
“Florida Power and Light honors veteran by showering his home with lights” via Ralph Chapoco of Florida Today — Thomas Trotter had driven the long, narrow road to his home thousands of times before, but little did he know that as he made the turn in his Ford truck onto his driveway this time, there would be about two dozen people clapping. Along with the applause was something else unexpected — a decked-out home strewed with red and green lights, along with a Santa Claus lawn ornament in full uniform. Not to mention candy cane lights lining the pavement of his home in Grant-Valkaria. “First off I was kind of mad when I saw all these cars lining down the street,” Trotter said. “But then I came around and saw everything.”
“A Florida Man question: Can I decorate my hurricane debris pile for Christmas?” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Like many Floridians, I still have a pile of hurricane debris in my front yard. That’s how you know you’re a true Floridian — when your to-do list includes reconstructing a debris pile from one hurricane after another hurricane comes along. One homeowner had strung lights atop his or her two-month-old pile and then staked a flag in the middle as if to declare victory. As the debris-decorating idea spread on social media, other Floridians said they too wanted to make merry out of misery. But it dawned on me that electrifying a two-month-old pile of dried kindling might not be a bright idea.
“Melbourne Beach Christmas display damaged by grinch” via Brandon Hogan of Click Orlando — Christmas festivities were hampered earlier this week in the town of Melbourne Beach when holiday decorations near Ryckman Park were vandalized beyond repair. The vandalism impacted lights that had been installed by the town’s public works team along and near a pier, part of the community’s new look for the season. A tree-lighting ceremony is planned for Friday in Ryckman Park, yet the town said it wouldn’t be able to secure and install replacements for the lights in time for the holidays.
“People in Northwest Florida hunt for the perfect Christmas tree” via Alexa Daly of WKRG — As inflation causes the price of goods to rise, it’s not stopping people from buying Christmas trees. “It’s Christmas,” said Robert Wolfe of Pensacola. “It can’t stop you.” At Bailey’s Produce and Nursery in Pensacola, they sold about 74 trees per hour on the first day they opened the Christmas tree farm. “Friday morning when we opened up at 8 o’clock in the morning, we had 75 people in the parking lot waiting to come in,” said Mario Valle at Bailey’s Produce and Nursery. “It’s been great; a lot of big trees sold immediately within the first hour. We sold in excess of 800 trees on the first day.”
“These Florida destinations are among the best Christmas towns in the U.S.” via Zuri Anderson of iHeart Radio — Christmas can be a perfect time to visit another place and get into the spirit. That’s why Travel + Leisure pinpointed the best “Christmas towns” in the United States. Two Florida cities made it on the list, and the first one mentioned is Orlando. The second destination is actually a small town in the state’s northwest: Santa Rosa Beach.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Brian Bautista of The Southern Group, Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times, Mitch Wertheimer, and Amy Young.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.