Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.16.23

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

Good Thursday morning.

Prosecutors confirmed to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz that he will face no charges from a sex trafficking investigation.

“The Department of Justice has confirmed to Congressman Gaetz’s attorneys that their investigation has concluded and that he will not be charged with any crimes,” reads a statement from the Panhandle Republican’s Congressional Office.

While that surely surprises many who wanted the MAGA icon locked away, it came as little surprise to those following the investigation over the past two years.

How did a saga with so many salacious details leaked result in a nolle pros? Two words: witness credibility.

First, the whole case stems from the word of Joel Greenberg, whose own list of crimes is still genuinely atrocious. He trafficked minors, stalked enemies and fabricated fake IDs. Most troublesome in this case, Greenberg made up lies about a Republican opponent, smearing him for — wait for it — sex trafficking a minor.

Matt Gaetz will not face charges for sex trafficking. Image via AP.

That’s exactly what he appeared to accuse Gaetz of doing as he negotiated a deal. Gaetz long maintained if Greenberg baselessly leveled one accusation, why trust another? It’s a logical point.

But deeper on the witness list, this was a case of trafficking about a victim who never realized she’d been “trafficked.” This was at best a “sugar baby” situation, without a clear quid pro quo. Like “bottle girls,” there’s much winking and nudging about the sort of “company” rich and powerful men keep. In this case, the alleged victim was someone who reportedly sells bodily fluids online. Sorry, that’s not breakfast test stuff. It’s also not a great way to build up credibility in court.

But there’s also a big question about proving any crime. As with all prostitution cases, this involves the crime of paying money for an act that if done for free is not a crime at all. If a john and a prostitute both maintain they engaged in a willful encounter, how different is it to exchange money than to buy a drink at the bar?

There were also key details along the way suggesting Greenberg only told Gaetz the girls involved in any alleged situation were under 18 after the fact. So, even if you assume Gaetz had sex with this witness, did he know she was underage? This may not be much of a moral difference, but it’s a critical legal distinction.

In total, you have an accusation from a known liar and sex trafficker that Gaetz had sex with someone he may not have known was underage and who didn’t personally believe she was being victimized. On top of it all, Gaetz denies everything.

Honestly, it’s no shock prosecutors weren’t taking this package of innuendo and accusations in front of a jury. It made salacious headlines, but it’s a challenging case to bring against a sitting U.S. Congressman with endless resources for defense.


A trio of current and former school board members are relaunching an organization to advance conservative education goals by training conservative board members who were elected in Florida’s red wave.

The Florida Conservative Coalition of School Board Members was first launched in 2015 as an alternative to the Florida School Board Association. A news release announcing the soft reboot said it will carry forth with a mission of being “relentlessly dedicated to student success.”

The coalition asserts that goal can be achieved by supporting conservative school board members across the state so they “never have to fight alone.”

FCCSBM’s new leadership includes Volusia School Board member Jessie Thompson, who will serve as president. Duval School Board member April Carney and former Flagler School Board member Jill Woolbright are also on board. Thompson and Carney were both elected to their first terms last year.

Jessie Thompson is the new president of the Florida Conservative Coalition of School Board Members.

Carney will serve as FCCSBM Secretary and lead the Membership Committee. The group offered up an alternative title for her role: “Chief Keeper of Conservatism.”

“It’s just so obvious that there is a need for a place to get professional development without the spin and indoctrination found in other groups. Among my friends here at FCCSBM, we can be ourselves. We still plan to engage in the other organizations, but we will do it without changing who we are and will govern the way our voters expected us to govern when they cast their ballots,” Carney said.

Woolbright, while no longer holding office, will serve as the relaunched group’s programming director and prayer chaplain.

“I’m honored to serve with these amazing School Board members and look forward to developing great programs and supporting them all in prayer and leadership development,” she said.

A release from the group said it will work with political consultant Shawn Frost, who previously worked with coalition founder Erika Donalds.


Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@FLBreastCancer: Thank you Chair Randy Fine @VoteRandyFine for taking time to meet with our advocates today & for listening to our concerns about policies impacting #breast cancer patients such as ensuring #allcopayscount, streamlining #failfirst & rebate reform.

@BenKaplanTV: This is HUGE. City of Tallahassee says JetBlue is coming to TLH. Airline will offer direct service to and from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.


‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 1; 2023 Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-In — 5; ‘Snowfall’ final season premieres on FX — 6; city of Tampa Municipal Election early voting begins — 11; Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ‘The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival’ released — 12; ‘The Mandalorian’ returns — 13; ‘Creed III’ premieres — 15; The Oscars — 16; Tampa Municipal Election — 19; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 19; Florida TaxWatch’s State of the Taxpayer Dinner — 26; Premiere date for Season 3 of ‘Ted Lasso’ — 27; World Baseball Classic finals begin in Miami — 29; Annual Red Dog Blue fundraiser — 30; ’John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 33; ‘Succession’ Season 4 begins — 40; MLB Opening Day 2023 — 42; Tron Lightcycle/Run debuts in Walt Disney World — 47; Suits for Session — 48; ‘Air’ starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon premieres — 49; Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tour in Tampa — 59; final performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway — 59; American Association of Political Consultants Pollies ’23 conference begins — 61; 2023 Session Sine Die — 78; ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ premieres — 78; Florida Chamber 2023 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 82; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 90; ‘Fast X’ premieres — 91; Florida Chamber 2023 Florida Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Solution Summit — 99; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ premieres — 106; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 120; Florida Chamber 2023 Florida Learners to Earners Workforce Solution Summit — 131; ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ premieres — 133; ‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning — Part One’ premieres — 148; Florida Chamber 37th Annual Environmental Permitting Summer School — 155; Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ premieres — 157; ’Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 163; 2023 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 249; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 261; South Carolina Democratic Primary — 342; New Hampshire and Nevada Democratic Primaries — 356; Georgia Democratic Primary — 363; Michigan Democratic Primary — 376; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Part 2 premieres — 408; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 463; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 526; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 526; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 568; ‘Deadpool 3’ premieres — 631; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 709; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 806; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 995.


Justice Dept. won’t bring charges against Matt Gaetz in sex-trafficking inquiry, lawyers say” via Glenn Thrush of The New York Times — In recent weeks, investigators have signaled they were not likely to pursue a criminal case against Gaetz, people familiar with the matter said, and department officials told his legal team about the decision early Wednesday.

“We have just spoken with the DOJ and have been informed that they have concluded their investigation into Congressman Gaetz and allegations related to sex trafficking and obstruction of justice and they have determined not to bring any charges against him,” Gaetz’s lawyers, Isabelle Kirshner and Marc Mukasey, said in a statement.

There will be no criminal case for Matt Gaetz. Image via AP.

In 2020, federal prosecutors began examining whether Gaetz, broke federal sex-trafficking laws, focusing on his relationships with women recruited online for sex and whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

The decision not to prosecute Gaetz came two months after his close associate, Joel Greenberg, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges including sex trafficking after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Gaetz maintains he did nothing wrong, claiming that the women involved were former girlfriends and denying paying any of them in exchange for sex.

“I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward,” Gaetz told The Times in 2021. He said he had not had a sexual relationship with a minor and called other accusations of wrongdoing “unequivocally false.”


‘We will fight together’: Al Sharpton joins Black Democrats to rally against Ron DeSantis” via Issac Morgan of Florida Politics — Led by Rev. Sharpton, members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus marched with protesters to the state Capitol to condemn DeSantis for what they framed as attacks on African American history and other controversial topics in the state. The protest began at a local church in Tallahassee where some hundreds of people marched from the church to take part in a rally outside of the Capitol. When asked by a reporter whether he believes the Republican Governor is racist, Sharpton said, “I know what he is proposing is racist.”

Rev. Al Sharpton joined the Florida Legislative Black Caucus for a rally in Tallahassee. Inage via Issac Morgan.

Alarmed by DeSantis, Black leaders protest and prepare for 2024” via Tim Craig, Lori Rozsa and Hannah Knowles of The Washington Post — Black activists and political strategists around the country are organizing, protesting and preparing to highlight the particular danger they say DeSantis and his anti-“woke” movement pose to civil rights and to their push to tackle racism as a systemic issue. Some say they are determined not to repeat what they consider a tepid and belated response to former President Donald Trump’s rise in 2016 and argue that DeSantis’s political strategy is even more rooted in the racial division than Trump’s. These Black leaders view Florida’s recent rejection of an Advanced Placement African American history course as part of a pattern of dismissing their community’s concerns.

DeSantis defends Florida’s DEI flip-flop” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Florida’s Governor reserves the right to change his mind when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Confronted by a reporter in West Palm Beach about a seeming policy change in so-called DEI initiatives, DeSantis defended his administration’s newfound focus on them by saying he initially didn’t understand what they were. “I didn’t know what DEI was a couple of years ago as this had taken hold. I mean, it sounds innocuous, right? I thought maybe diversity of ideas, maybe actually have more than one viewpoint. Well, that’s not what it is. What it is, is trying to enforce a political agenda and a political orthodoxy under the auspices of administration,” DeSantis said.

New generation of GOP leadership? DeSantis says Florida offers ‘blueprint for success’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis was asked to respond to statements from presidential candidate Nikki Haley and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders using the “new generation” trope, and he pointed to his record in Florida as the prime example of that forward thinking. “Now, we’ve had a lot of success in Florida long before I was here, and I appreciate a lot of that.” “But I think I was able to come in at a time where we’re able to take the bull by the horns … and do it in a way that’s leading the nation on issue after issue,” DeSantis added. “And so, we’ve established here in Florida a blueprint for success that other states can follow, and you don’t even need to get into the nitty-gritty of everything we’ve done.”

Is DeSantis now the boss of Disney World? What to know about changes in Florida” via Jeff Kleinman of the Miami Herald — The Florida Legislature has given DeSantis control over Walt Disney World’s governing body. So, what does that mean? Will the Governor lead the Magic Kingdom parades? Appear at theme park attractions? Rename it DeSantis World? It’s not as glamorous as that. But the reins do come with power. The Legislature voted to give the Governor power to appoint the five-member Reedy Creek Improvement District and change the name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The district still can handle the basics of governing the Disney area: levy taxes and sell bonds, provide fire-rescue service, and oversee water and sewer services.


DeSantis signs hurricane response, migrant transportation, election prosecutor bills” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — DeSantis signed three measures lawmakers passed in the Special Session dealing with Hurricane Ian recovery, giving an existing migrant transportation plan a makeover and giving the statewide prosecutor more authority to go after election crimes. One of the most hotly contested measures (SB 6B) provides $10 million for a program allowing the DeSantis administration to transport undocumented migrants already processed by the federal government to another state. The legislation removes a requirement in the existing program that migrants be moved from Florida, instead allowing the program to transport migrants from other states.

Ron DeSantis signs the ‘fix’ for Florida’s migrant relocation program.

DeSantis maintains migrant flights have increased illegal immigration awareness” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis continues to defend funding for migrant transport as money well spent. DeSantis signed a glitch bill that allows his administration to fly illegal immigrants from anywhere in the country to any other point in the country, a practice his harshest critics have called “human trafficking.” The bill, passed during this month’s Special Session, changes the earlier law that only authorized flights originating in the state, which his administration arguably violated last September when it chartered two planes to transport 49 people, most of them Venezuelan refugees, from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Measures to lower cap on property tax hikes clear first Committee hurdle” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Voters could get the chance to reduce the size of property tax increases in the 2024 election, as one Senate panel gave its approval to a ballot measure that would cut the cap on annual property value hikes from 3% to 2%. The Senate Community Affairs Committee passed SJR 122, which places the measure on the November 2024 ballot, and SB 120, which installs the language in the statute, effective Jan. 1, 2025, if 60% of voters approve. The implementing bill passed 6-3 on a party-line vote. Democrats expressed concern that the measure would put stress on local governments during a time of high inflation. Sen. Jason Pizzo said the savings per taxpayer would not make as much of a difference as capping hikes on insurance rates, which are growing faster than property values.

Florida lawmakers want to block TikTok, others from government devices and networks” via Romy Ellenbogen of the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times — Floridians on their public school, state university or college Internet network may no longer be able to access TikTok if a bill supported by DeSantis passes in the Legislature. DeSantis announced the proposal to block state and local government devices from being able to access the popular social media platform, citing concerns about potential influence or interference from entities tied to the Chinese government. His announcement came as part of a broader news conference where the Governor introduced the idea of a “digital bill of rights” to ensure consumer privacy. DeSantis said the provision would not just affect TikTok, but other social media platforms linked to “countries of concern.”

Florida lawmakers lean in on a TikTok ban.

New measure could grease the skids on DeSantis’ elections-crimes prosecutions” via Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix — The measure, passed during the Special Session and awaiting the Governor’s signature, allows Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas Cox to charge elections-related crimes related to any statewide or federal election, referendum, petition drive, voter registration, or conspiracy to commit any related crimes. The arrests DeSantis hailed last Summer targeted former felons who cast ballots in Florida elections. These cases ran into trouble fast, either at the hands of local prosecutors or judges. As recently as Monday, a judge rejected charges on the ground the statewide prosecutor lacked jurisdiction. The new legislation gets around that by presuming multiple-jurisdiction involvement if someone in another part of the state files voting forms through the state capital in Tallahassee.


Measure legalizing fentanyl test strips advances in Florida Senate” via Mitch Perry of Florida Phoenix — Fentanyl test strips, capable of detecting whether drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines have been adulterated with that powerful and sometimes deadly synthetic opioid, would be decriminalized under legislation advancing through the Florida Senate. Existing Florida law defines these paper strips as drug paraphernalia. Fentanyl, an opioid, is like morphine but as much as 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that 6,417 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2021, an increase from 5,806 in 2020. Those numbers come from Florida’s medical examiners.

Florida’s fentanyl problem is getting worse. Test strips may be one way to help.

Committee gets look at Florida’s invasive species fight” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — It can be a battle out there between people and Florida’s myriad invasive species. Yet, Melissa Tucker of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission related the progress thus far, as officials enlist the greater public to tackle these disruptive plants and animals. “Citizens that recognize invasive species play an important role in notifying us and our partners,” said Tucker, Director of Habitat and Species Conservation, appearing before the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee this week. She pointed to the IveGot1 cellphone app, which is also available as a call-in number and a website.

Aerospace leaders launch mission to make Florida ‘the primary port’ for space flight” via Issac Morgan of Florida Politics — Following the 2023 Space Day in the Capitol, Senate members heard two presentations from space industry officials in Florida pushing for the state to become the leading portal to outer space. Lawmakers from the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security spoke with representatives from the Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida and Space Florida. Officials showed them video presentations of rocket launch missions and urged the state to take advantage of innovative industries connected to aerospace, including manufacturing, mining, energy production and tourism.

— LEG. SKED. —

— The House Education & Employment Committee meets: 9 a.m., Morris Hall.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services Committee meets to discuss the budget recommendations for the fiscal year 2023-2024: 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development meets to discuss the budget recommendations for the fiscal year 2023-2024: 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

— The Joint Early Learning Programs Estimating Conference begins to discuss voluntary PreK: 9:30 a.m., Room 117, Knott Building.

— The House Health & Human Services Committee meets: 11:30 a.m., Morris Hall.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice meets for an update on the Governor’s General Government fiscal year 2023-2024 budget recommendations: 11:30 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government meets for an update on the Governor’s General Government fiscal year 2023-2024 budget recommendations: 11:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee on Education meets for an update on the Governor’s General Government fiscal year 2023-2024 budget recommendations: 11:30 a.m., Room 412, Senate Office Building.

— The Joint Education Estimating Conference begins to discuss Florida college enrollment: 1:30 p.m., Room 177, Knott Building.

— The House Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency & Recovery meets: 2 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

— The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee meets for an update on the Auditor General’s operational audit of the Department of Management Services and oversight of private prisons and response from the department: 2 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.


Lauren Book takes aim at ‘free kill’ law — Senate Democratic Leader Book has filed a bill (SB 690) that would overturn a state law referred to as the “free kill” law by critics. The measure would scratch out current rules barring the families of adults from filing medical malpractice lawsuits under most circumstances. Florida is the only state that excludes adult children and parents of adult children from seeking pain and suffering damages because of medical malpractice but allows them to bring suit in other types of wrongful death cases. “No matter who you are or who you leave behind, Florida law should apply to and protect all Floridians equally in cases of wrongful death — that’s our goal,” Book said. “We are working to ensure equal protection under Florida law, and to bring our state into posture with the rest of the nation by eliminating arbitrary carve-outs which leave families of adult children and parents suffering in cases of medical malpractice.”

Lauren Book seeks to advance a ‘kill bill.’

PIFF cheers tort reform package — The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida praised the leadership-backed House bill (HB 837) aimed at curbing litigation against insurers and other businesses. “This tort reform package is the most consequential in decades,” said PIFF President and CEO Michael Carlson. “It addresses long-standing weaknesses in Florida’s judicial system and balances the interests of plaintiffs and defendants.” The group specifically highlighted the provisions that would end one-way attorney fees and fee multipliers for all lines of insurance as well as reforms in the areas of bad faith claims and the presentation of evidence in medical claims. Carlson added, “ … This bill will reset our judicial climate, reduce lawsuit and insurance claims costs, and ultimately benefit consumers and business owners.”


Joseph Ladapo to FDA: 4,400% spike in life-threatening conditions in Florida since vaccine rollout” via Jonas Vesterberg of The Florida Standard — Reports of life-threatening conditions in Florida shot up by 4,400% since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Florida Surgeon General Ladapo told the FDA in a letter Wednesday. “We have never seen this type of response following previous mass vaccination efforts pushed by the federal government. Even the H1N1 vaccine did not trigger this sort of response. In Florida alone, we saw a 1,700% increase in reports after the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to an increase of 400% in vaccine administration for the same period. The reporting of life-threatening conditions increased 4,400%,” Ladapo stated.

Joseph Ladapo points to a huge spike in health problems after the vaccine rollout.

How Florida clinics are treating transgender youth ahead of ban” via Sam Ogozalek of the Tampa Bay Times — While Florida’s pending ban on gender-affirming care for minors has yet to take effect, treatment has already become harder to find across the state. Some providers have stopped accepting new patients under the age of 18 for hormone therapy, while others are continuing to do so. “There’s a lot of fear, especially in the health care field,” said Lana Dunn, a transgender woman and office manager of Spektrum Health, an Orlando clinic. Late last year, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg stopped taking new patients who are minors for hormone therapy, according to a representative. The hospital is still providing treatment to youth who were already receiving it.

Almost 138 million visitors came to Florida last year, breaking records” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — Florida broke tourism records in 2022, DeSantis announced. The number of people who visited the state hit 137.6 million for the year, a rise of 13% from 2021 and 5% from pre-pandemic 2019. The higher figures come even as international tourism hasn’t returned to the same level as pre-pandemic. DeSantis used the travel figures as an opportunity to tout the state’s response during the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans. Florida’s lack of COVID-19 restrictions is why people flocked to visit in 2022, said DeSantis, who many view as targeting a potential run for the White House.


White House: GOP plans would drive deficits up $3 trillion” via The Associated Press — President Joe Biden plans to go on the offensive against Republicans, saying in effect that their policies would add $3 trillion to the national debt. “If you add up all the proposals that my Republican friends in Congress have offered so far, they would add another $3 trillion to the debt over 10 years,” Biden plans to say, according to excerpts of the speech. “You’ll see that my budget will invest in America, lower costs and protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, while cutting the deficit by $2 trillion over 10 years.”

Joe Biden has a warning about GOP policies.

Joe Biden has appointed many judges but hasn’t recast the bench like Donald Trump” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — This week, the Senate confirmed President Biden’s 100th judicial nominee. And though Democrats hailed the milestone, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin noted that this outpaced both Trump and Obama’s judicial confirmations, Biden hasn’t been able to remake the judiciary like his predecessor. Today there is increasing emphasis on which party appointed which judges, especially when they author significant, headline-making decisions. Recently, that’s included controversial decisions from a Trump nominee in the Mar-a-Lago documents case and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which Trump had assured his nominees would do.

Club for Growth endorses Rick Scott and dings Mitch McConnell” via Natalie Allison of POLITICO — U.S. Sen. Scott has nabbed an early endorsement in his bid for re-election, with the conservative Club for Growth offering its support. The Club’s endorsement of the Florida Republican also comes with a rebuke of Senate Minority Leader McConnell, a further sign that the party’s fissures remain deep and unresolved as it enters the 2024 cycle. “While other Republicans have caved to massive tax-and-spend packages that have strained our economy, Rick Scott has consistently championed small government solutions centered around fiscal responsibility, and because of that he’s faced the unfounded and false attacks of liberal Democrats like President Biden and even establishment Republicans like Leader McConnell,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth.

House panel issues subpoenas to tech CEOs for information on content moderation” via Natalie Andrews of The Wall Street Journal — House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan has sent subpoenas to the chief executives of five large U.S. tech companies, demanding information on how they moderate content on their online platforms. The queries are part of House Republicans’ plan to scrutinize communications between the Biden administration and big technology and social-media companies to probe whether they amounted to the censorship of legitimate viewpoints on issues such as COVID-19 policy that ran counter to White House policy.

IRS nominee: No audit boost for households under $400,000” via The Associated Press — If confirmed as IRS Commissioner, Daniel Werfel says he will commit to not increasing tax audits on businesses and households making less than $400,000 per year. Anticipating questions ahead of his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee, Werfel in prepared testimony makes several other commitments aimed at revamping the beleaguered agency. Biden nominated Werfel to steer the Internal Revenue Service as it receives a massive funding boost — nearly $80 billion over the next 10 years. Noting the Act’s impact on the federal tax collector, Werfel says that “Americans rightfully expect a more modern and high-performing IRS.”

REEF Act makes a splash with sportfishing groups” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Legislation spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Rubio and U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar has Florida’s sportfishing industry bobbing in support. The American Sportfishing Association is endorsing the Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act, which would allow retired Navy ships to be submerged and added to marine environments. Salazar introduced the bipartisan legislation in the House with U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat. Salazar noted that sunken ships also spur tourism, with scuba divers exploring the underwater environments.

SEC proposes rule that could squeeze crypto platforms” via Paul Kiernan and Justin Baer of The Wall Street Journal — Wall Street’s regulator proposed a rule that could make it more difficult for many asset managers to invest customers’ money in cryptocurrencies, as policymakers push to rein in the sector following trading platform FTX’s collapse. The SEC voted 4-1 Wednesday on a proposal that would expand the types of assets that investment advisers, such as hedge funds and pension funds, are required to hold using qualified custodians. The proposal would limit how asset managers can oversee customers’ crypto assets but wouldn’t impose new requirements on individual investors who manage their own portfolios.


Trump changes tune on mail-in voting, ballot collection” via Alex Leary and Eliza Collins of The Wall Street Journal — After years of assailing early voting, Trump is having a change of heart. The 2024 presidential candidate remains critical of various forms of early voting, advisers say, but his campaign is nonetheless mounting an effort to pursue such votes after Democrats excelled at doing so in recent elections. His team is studying state laws governing absentee and mail-in voting as well as ballot collection, called “ballot harvesting” by critics, in which third parties gather and turn in votes, people familiar with the effort said. It amounts to a significant shift for Trump.

Donald Trump reconsiders mail-in voting.

Trump parts with TV ad maker as firm’s partner goes to Nikki Haley” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — Trump’s campaign has split with its longtime TV ad maker, Jamestown Associates. One of the firm’s partners has decided to work with a Trump rival in 2024: Haley, the former South Carolina Governor and ambassador to the United Nations. Trump’s campaign, in turn, has decided that it would not renew its relationship with Jamestown, which crafted commercials for Trump during the 2016 and 2020 elections. Trump’s team also used the firm after he left the White House.

They’re trying to topple Trump. But they barely utter his name.” via Jonathan Weisman and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Haley’s campaign-style speech Wednesday formally announcing her bid for the Republican presidential nomination included a solitary reference to her former boss, Trump. Haley’s hits at the president who made her ambassador to the United Nations were subtle, underscoring how difficult it will be for many Republican candidates to persuade the party’s base that they should bear the standard for the GOP, not Trump, who maintains the loyalties of so many voters.

Trump plans to bring back firing squads, group executions if he retakes White House” via Asawin Suebsaeng and Patrick Reis of Rolling Stone — That’s the question Trump repeatedly asked some close associates in the run-up to the 2024 presidential campaign. It’s not an idle inquiry: Trump, if re-elected, is still committed to expanding the use of the federal death penalty and bringing back banned methods of execution. He has even mused about televised footage of executions, including showing condemned prisoners in the final moments of their lives. Specifically, Trump has talked about bringing back death by firing squad, by hanging, and possibly even by guillotine. He has also discussed group executions.

Trump to headline Lee County GOP dinner” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Trump will headline the Lincoln Day dinner for the Republican Party of Lee County. Lee County GOP Chair Mike Thompson announced on Facebook the former President will trek from Mar-a-Lago to Fort Myers for the event. Several prominent figures within the Make America Great Again movement will also share the bill. “We are excited to host President Trump in Lee County, FL,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is a very exciting time for the LCREC, and we are preparing for a wonderful evening with a great dinner, silent auction and amazing speakers.” Thompson teased the announcement a day prior. “The (eyes) of the nation will fall upon us tomorrow,” he posted.

— LOCAL: S. FL —

Stoneman Douglas locked down for two hours a day after somber anniversary; ‘no threat’ to students, Sheriff’s Office says” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School went on lockdown for more than two hours Wednesday afternoon, one day after the community marked the fifth year since the mass shooting that left 17 dead. The Broward Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it was investigating a “possible threat,” but emphasized that no one appeared to be in any danger. “No immediate threat has been identified at this time, and students and staff are safe,” sheriff’s representative Gerdy St. Louis said in an emailed statement. The lockdown, which started about 1:50 p.m. and was lifted about 3:30 p.m., generated a wave of concern on social media, where people were quick to note the date.

Parkland’s day of remembrance is disturbed by a two-hour lockdown.

New Broward Schools leader receives $300K salary and a mandate to fix a ‘hot mess’” via Jimena Tavel of the Miami Herald — The Broward School Board greenlit a $300,000 salary for Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley on Wednesday, challenging her to stabilize and improve the nation’s sixth-largest school district. Smiley started her new job at once after the Board’s unanimous vote and will stay on for a year or until the school district, which one Board member referred to as a “crazy carousel of chaos,” hires a permanent Superintendent. “We are so elated to have you here, Dr. Smiley,” said the Board’s Chair Lori Alhadeff during a news conference after the board’s decision.

—“Earlean Smiley vows to address safety, academics as new Broward schools leader” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Broward school libraries remove book challenged by Moms for Liberty” via Scott Travis, Anthony Man and Leslie Postal of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward school libraries will remove a sexually explicit teen graphic novel that the DeSantis administration accused of being pornography. The book, “Let’s Talk About It. The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human,” was in the libraries of three schools, Fort Lauderdale High, Coral Glades High in Coral Springs and Nova High in Davie. It has now been removed. “Once we received a complaint, we initiated our review process of the material. During the review, the book will be removed from our schools,” Broward school district spokesperson John Sullivan said. The complaint came from the Broward chapter of the socially conservative group Moms for Liberty, and its affiliate Moms for Libraries.

Palm Beach County makes ‘last stand’ against FEMA maps that would add thousands to high-risk flood zones” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — Billions of dollars’ worth of Palm Beach County properties could be added to flood zones that would require an owner with a mortgage to get insurance if a “last stand” against new federal maps falters. A county appeal was rejected in January that pointed to what it said were glitches in the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood modeling. The entreaty highlighted the irreverence of water and its defiance of being modeled and mapped and forecast at the tender edges where land meets Atlantic. The county is requesting that a group of scientists be assembled — formally called a Scientific Resolution Panel — to adjudicate the dispute that focuses on about 1,900 acres of land along the Intracoastal Waterway and the coast.

The new 728 area code joins Palm Beach County’s 561 next month” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — The 561 area code’s reigning era in Palm Beach County is coming to an end. Starting next month, new telephone customers will likely be assigned the new 728 area code. Here’s what to know about the change: The 728 area code will be assigned to new numbers starting March 10. Your telephone service provider might have already notified you of the upcoming change. If your current phone number has a 561 area code, or any other area code for that matter, it will remain the same. The changes only apply if you get a new phone number or additional line.

Incentives bid for film production reels in county backing” via Richard Battin of Miami Today — If you’re seeing the Georgia Peach icon scroll by at the end of more movies these days, it’s because Georgia, as well as two other southern states, have created movie-industry incentives after Florida let its own film rebate program expire in 2016. Miami-Dade County Commissioners voted unanimously last week on a resolution sponsored by Sen. René García to urge the state to restore an entertainment tax credit program “to enhance the state economy by incentivizing the film, television and digital industry.”

‘Integrity, independence, civility’: Tanya Katzoff Bhatt files to run for Miami Beach Commission” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — This Fall could see three Miami Beach Commission seats up for grabs. The first candidate for any of those seats has now filed to appear on the ballot. Marketing pro and community activist Tanya Katzoff Bhatt is announcing her bid for the Group 5 seat on the City Commission. The seat’s current occupant, Ricky Arriola, must leave office after the Nov. 7 election due to term limits. “Having worked since 2015 to ensure residents are heard at City Hall, as Commissioner, I will continue to represent our neighbors and communities who together make Miami Beach one of America’s most vibrant and unique cities,” she said in a statement.

Insults and chaos mar ICP director’s first meeting” via Samantha Morell of the Miami Times — The Independent Civilian Panel’s new executive director has officially touched down in Miami-Dade County, and already she’s being told to go back to where she came from. Ursula Price received a warm welcome from her peers at the ICP’s most recent meeting, Price’s first, on Feb. 7, but activist Rafael Antonio Gomez had other plans. “Miami, Florida,” Gomez said when asked to state his name and address for the record, “not where the Chair person-whatever is from that came from New Orleans, who has no idea how we operate here in Miami-Dade County … She comes from New Orleans where cops are pretty gangster and pretty ghetto, so I don’t know what she’s going to help us with, and she has purple hair.”

‘He raised hell’: Pioneering Miami juvenile-court judge Thomas K. Petersen is dead” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — The how-to manuals for incoming juvenile-court judges don’t include chapters on being more like Petersen, a revered judge at the Children’s Courthouse in Miami: Petersen made social worker-type home visits to kids and their parents. He was known to dress as Santa to bring presents to children stuck in lockup for Christmas. He once took a kid to a Marlins game as a reward for completing community service. Petersen, who died of what appeared to be a heart attack Friday afternoon, worked from his own playbook. He was 80. Over three decades as a prosecutor, public defender and judge in Miami-Dade, Petersen was credited with developing reform-minded programs — usually from scratch — that later became national models.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Orlando home sales fall to lowest point since 2009, report says” via Trevor Fraser of the Orlando Sentinel — Home sales in Orlando plunged in January, dropping to their lowest point in 14 years, with prices trending downward and homes spending longer on the market, according to a new report. Sales last month were 24.9% behind December, for a total of 1,674 sales, the lowest amount in metro Orlando since February 2009, according to the latest housing report from the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. The association includes sales from Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Prices fell slightly as well, with the median home price dropping from $353,200 to $350,000. Homes also spent an average of 57 days on the market in January, up from 49 days in December.

Faced with shortage, Volusia County School Board approves hiring of international teachers” via Mark Harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — The Volusia County School Board approved the hiring of international teachers to reduce a shortage. The Board OK’d a contract with TPG Cultural Exchange Services, LLC, at an estimated $1.36 million annual cost, in addition to paying the teachers’ salaries. Under the agreement, TPG would recruit English-speaking teachers from around the world and arrange to have them live in the United States on J-1 visas, serving three- to five-year stints in Volusia County Schools. School Board Chair Jamie Haynes said she first learned about TPG at a Florida School Boards Association conference. “There’s nothing more important than educating our children,” she said during a Board workshop.

Palm Bay Mayor Rob Medina encourages Council member Peter Filiberto to resign after felony drug arrest” via Rick Neale of Florida Today — Medina is calling on embattled City Council member Filiberto to resign in the wake of his Saturday arrest on cocaine possession and DUI charges. “As public officials serving our city, it is incumbent upon us to reflect on how our actions affect those we serve. This situation has cast a shadow over the good work that our City Council and leadership team are accomplishing,” Medina said in a news release. “It has become a distraction as we conduct our city business. As a city, we are striving every day to serve our citizens in a transparent and accountable manner, and I feel strongly that resignation would be in the best interest of our community,” Medina said.

Peter Filiberto is facing calls to resign.

New Smyrna Beach considering youth curfew ahead of Spring Break following record arrests in 2022” via Brenno Carillo of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — In preparation for Spring Break next month, New Smyrna Beach officials proposed a youth curfew ordinance after police reported an 89% increase in juvenile arrests during the same time last year. In 2022, hundreds of teenagers flocked to the city during the week off, and police reported several instances of disruptive behavior toward residents and businesses, especially during the night. The events led to an emergency City Commission meeting where members approved a 60-day curfew to help law enforcement officers deal with crowds of approximately 400 teenagers, mostly high schoolers, according to police. This year, Spring Break takes place March 13-17. The ordinance, as currently written, proposes a permanent curfew.


Pinellas pulls funding for Black St. Petersburg radio station affiliated with Uhurus” via Jack Evans of the Tampa Bay Times — The Pinellas County Commission voted to revoke funding it approved last year for a radio station serving St. Petersburg’s Black communities. The decision came days after Commissioner Chris Latvala raised concerns about the station’s association with the Uhuru Movement, the political group whose St. Petersburg headquarters were raided last year by the FBI. The Commission approved the expenditure in November, as part of its first round of small allocations to nonprofits from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal COVID-19 relief program. Of the more than $2 million allocated to 34 Pinellas organizations, about $36,800 went to the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, an Uhuru-affiliated nonprofit.

Pinellas County pulls funding for an Uhuru-affiliated radio station.

Breeze Airways adding 3 New England connections to Tampa” via Bernadette Berdychowski of the Tampa Bay Times — More flights to New England are coming to Tampa International Airport soon. Breeze Airways announced three new nonstop flights from Tampa to Portland, Maine, Providence, Rhode Island, and Hartford, Connecticut, beginning in Spring and Summer. The flights to Connecticut and Maine will launch on May 17. The flight to the capital of Rhode Island will begin on July 14. Tickets start at $39 for a promotion that lasts until Feb. 20. With these new connections, Breeze Airways will have a total of 13 cities that fly out of Tampa Bay since it made its debut at Tampa International Airport in May 2021. The low-budget airline has a total of 143 nonstop routes in 35 cities within 21 states.

Hillsborough Commissioners make transportation wish list that Gov may trash” via Gordon Byrd of WFLA — Hillsborough Commissioners draft a list of projects they’d like to see funded with the leftovers from an illegal tax. First, the state will try to refund payments for a Hillsborough transportation sales tax declared unconstitutional. Then the county gets what’s left. Hillsborough Commissioners voted 4-2 to send the state a wish list for the money. Commissioner Michael Owen voted no. He says the Commission is wasting its time because the wish list will hold little to no weight with state government. Owen says Commissioners should stop defying the Governor and he made a motion to completely accept whatever DeSantis and lawmakers wish to do with the taxes collected.

Federal indictment announced in Lakeland shooting that injured 11; Sheriff announces task force” via Spectrum News — The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced federal indictments in connection with the late January shootings that injured 11 people in Lakeland. Nicholas Quinton Hanson is charged with possessing ammunition as a felon. Marcus Dewonn Mobley Jr. faces a charge of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon. Each faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in federal prison. Lakeland Police Chief Sam Taylor said other persons of interest are being sought as part of the investigation into the Jan. 30 shootings. The 11 victims in the shootings survived, though two people are still in critical condition.

Ethics complaint against Tarpon Springs Commissioner ends with no hearing” via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — When Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Jacob Karr used his city email account last year to dispute charges from a home restoration company on behalf of a resident, he said he thought he was doing the right thing. “If I don’t stick up for citizens, I don’t know who would be doing it,” Karr said in an interview Tuesday. But after the company accused him of defamation and questioned his use of government resources in a private contract dispute unrelated to city business, Karr’s City Commission colleagues filed a complaint against him with the Florida Commission on Ethics.


Art exhibit canceled after Florida college objects to words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’” via Steven Walker of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — An annual Sarasota art exhibit celebrating diversity was pulled from a planned display at a Florida college campus because the college leadership asked the organization to remove artwork with the words “diversity,” “inclusion,” “justice” and “equality,” the sponsoring group said. Embracing Our Differences, the organization behind the art display, wrote in a statement that its board of directors decided to pull the exhibit from State College of Florida (SCF) Manatee-Sarasota because the requests to remove the words went against the group’s mission. The exhibit had been scheduled to be displayed at SCF Manatee-Sarasota from April 26 to May 9. “We are not a political organization with a political agenda,” the organization’s statement read.

Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs dies” via Stacey Henson of the Fort Myers News-Press — The Fort Myers Police Department announced that Chief Diggs has died. Diggs has been on medical leave from the department since July 7, citing that he is “handling some important personal matters at this time,” the city had said in an email. His leave was extended at least once, with no details released to the public. The release did not indicate when Diggs died or the manner of death. He joined the department in 2016.

RIP: Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs.

Charlotte caps next school Superintendents salary at $225K” via Nancy J. Semon of the Port Charlotte Sun — Charlotte County’s search for a new Superintendent is beginning to take shape. After tweaking job description language and position qualifications, the Charlotte County Public School Board decided to set the salary range at $175,000 to $225,000. Current Superintendent Steve Dionisio earns $194,850. He has held the position for eight years. In November, Dionisio announced he would retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year. Terms of the contract for the next school chief were discussed this week. The Board, after some debate, decided to offer a contract of up to three years. “I’m OK with three years,” board member Kim Amontree said. She said it might help the Board “to attract a rock star candidate.”

Search for Collier County School Board attorney on hold” via Nikki Ross of the Naples Daily News — The search for a Collier County School Board attorney hit a snag after the Board couldn’t agree on the job description. The talk then turned to hiring an outside search firm to help before the agenda item was ultimately tabled until a future date. The discussion comes after the Board’s apparent choice for the job, James Molenaar, withdrew his application in a Feb. 2 email to Andrew Brown, senior director of human resources, according to records obtained by Naples Daily News. However, in an email he sent to community members, Molenaar claims that on Feb. 4, two days before his intended start date, the human resources director rescinded the Board’s offer of employment.

Rezoning for mental health center in Collier County approved; neighbors plan legal action” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — A county-owned mental health center is slated for Golden Gate Parkway although nearby residential property owners who oppose the location vow to take legal action. Collier County Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to move forward with rezoning 5 acres that is owned by David Lawrence Center and adjacent to its current campus for expanding mental health services in the community. The plan calls for David Lawrence to donate the land to the county. In exchange David Lawrence has a 30-year lease to operate the mental center once it is built by the county. The nonprofit organization is the dominant mental health provider in Collier.

St. Lucie County School Board gives one-time bonuses to teachers, district employees” via Colleen Wixon of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Teachers and district support staff are getting one-time bonuses, the St. Lucie County School Board agreed. The School Board approved the bonuses at its meeting as part of its consent agenda. Bonuses for teachers range from $225 for beginning teachers to $850 for veteran teachers with more than 15 years’ experience. Support staff and non-instructional teachers also will get one-time bonuses, which range from $150 to $300, depending on hourly wage. The district and school employee unions reached agreements for the one-time bonuses last month. The $2.8 million needed for the bonuses comes from the four-year 1-mil property tax voters first approved in 2019.

Michigan State shooting: Collier County woman identified among critically injured victims” via Tomas Rodriguez of the Naples Daily News — An Immokalee student, a “leader in her community and beyond,” has been identified as one of the injured victims in Monday’s mass shooting at Michigan State University. Selena Huapilla-Perez organized a GoFundMe for her sister, Guadalupe Huapilla-Perez, 21, who was among five students shot who remained in critical condition Wednesday. The GoFundMe has raised more than $240,000 from 6,100 donors through early Wednesday afternoon, far exceeding the goal of $50,000. Those who donated left messages such as “We’re all Spartans. We’re all family” and “She was one of our regulars at Starbucks, always so sweet and genuine. Praying she recovers and praying for her family as well. Spartan strong.”

— LOCAL: N. FL —

TMH says all systems restored, operations normal after cybersecurity incident” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Nearly two weeks after a cybersecurity incident hit Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, the hospital said that all systems have been restored and normal operations have resumed. “Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare is happy to share with our community that we have fully restored our computer systems and returned to standard operations at all locations,” the hospital said Wednesday afternoon on its website. TMH has not disclosed the exact nature of what happened, referring to it as an “IT security event.” However, cybersecurity experts say a ransomware attack is a likely explanation. The hospital, when asked Wednesday, would not say whether private patient information was stolen or a ransom paid. “Our investigation is ongoing,” a TMH spokesperson said. Both the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have been assisting TMH in the investigation.

TMH is saying everything is getting back to normal.

JetBlue unveils 250-flight plan for Fort Lauderdale, starting with trips to Tallahassee” via David Lyons of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — JetBlue Airways, which is seeking U.S. approval to take over Miramar-based Spirit Airlines, unveiled a long-term business plan on Wednesday that envisions 250 daily flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to an array of cities including Tallahassee. The rollout would start in January 2024 with Florida’s state capital being the first addition. It would unfold over the next three years into 2027, adding roughly 90 flights to the current 160 operated by both JetBlue and Spirit from the airport, the company said in a statement. By then, the acquisition of Spirit will have been completed, provided that the Biden administration’s Justice Department green-lights the marriage of the two carriers, which would become the nation’s fifth largest airline.

Gainesville, former finance director reach settlement in yearlong federal lawsuit” via Andrew Caplan of The Gainesville Sun — City leaders are expected to vote to settle a lawsuit with their former finance director, Diane Wilson, in a case that primarily stems from her complaints against the former city manager, Lee Feldman, for gender discrimination, creating a hostile work environment and retaliation for not being promoted, citing the Florida Civil Rights Act and Title VII. Wilson, who also said she was wrongfully terminated, was laid off in January 2022 by the city’s new leadership during a “reorganization” just nine days after she filed the lawsuit. For more than a year, the case dragged on until a judge sided that Wilson had grounds to pursue a trial for not being promoted due to retaliation. Her other claims were dismissed.


The Super Bowl can teach us about incompatible incentives” via Peter Coy of The New York Times — From an economic perspective, the most interesting play of Super Bowl LVII was near the end of the game, when the Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon sprinted toward the end zone but slid to a stop inches short of scoring a touchdown.

If you watch the replay, you can see Philadelphia Eagles cornerback James Bradberry IV chasing McKinnon but … not very hard.

What makes this economically interesting is that it’s an example of incentive incompatibility, a problem that crops up in many other realms. The Chiefs wanted to run down the clock to keep the Eagles offense off the field as long as possible. The Eagles wanted the Chiefs to score quickly so they could get the ball back, score a touchdown of their own and send the game into overtime.

So, the ordinary incentives of the offense and defense were reversed.

Incompatibility of incentives is usually caused by a flaw in the rules of the contest, whether it be an election or a bankruptcy proceeding. It’s not always easy to fix the rules to prevent strategic behavior. That Super Bowl play is a good example. What rule change could have induced the Chiefs and Eagles to try their hardest on the play? I can’t think of one.

This wouldn’t matter much if it were confined to sports. But what about elections? Last year, Democrats helped some far-right candidates in Republican primary contests, betting correctly that more extreme candidates would lose in the general elections. They’re doing the same thing now for a State Senate seat in Wisconsin. To me, the Democrats’ gambit seems both unsporting and dangerous.


Nothing says white-male privilege like the outrageous salary of New College president” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — If there were any fears of political repercussions, the con game a clique of Florida GOP leaders are pulling with their agenda to “transform” education wouldn’t be so obvious. They would, at least, do a better job of hiding it. They would raid the public coffers to funnel public education dollars to political allies and private education enterprises with more care about appearances. But Florida voters wrote Republicans a blank check to remake the state’s education system in their conservative image and at least one grifter is getting a big payday out of it: Richard Corcoran. Despite dropping out of the state’s top-ranked school, the University of Florida, Corcoran has held high-profile political jobs.

Stop helping billboard lawyers at our expense” via Mark Wilson for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — According to a nationwide study, Florida’s lawsuit abuse climate costs Florida families over $5,000 each year — that’s $5,065 that could be spent on child care, family, transportation or even savings. With nearly historic inflation, it’s time the Florida Legislature puts consumers and local businesses ahead of these billboard trial lawyers. This lawsuit abuse “tax” increases the cost of every product or service Floridians purchase. Businesses making decisions on where to relocate or do business are paying attention, and corporate general counsels are increasingly involved in complex economic development and expansion decisions. Every project Florida loses to other states means fewer jobs and a less resilient and diversified economy. It also means fewer opportunities for Floridians.


— ALOE —

Bradenton fisherman may have caught Florida’s biggest bull shark ever — on a Miami beach” via Robyn Murrell of the Bradenton Herald — A man from Bradenton may have caught the largest bull shark ever in Florida and he did it standing on the beach. Michael Hengel, 22, a land-based shark fisherman, was on a fishing trip to Miami on Feb. 12 when he caught a huge female bull shark while standing on North Beach, which he described as a true bout of man versus shark. He first paddled 400 yards out in his kayak and dropped a 20-pound bait of bonita (small tuna), which is used to catch sharks, snapper, mahi and mackerel. Hengel says that if you use enough bonita, you can catch some really big sharks.

Chopped champion: Pensacola chef wins top prize on Food Network Valentine’s Day special” via Brittany Misencik of the Pensacola News Journal — Brother Fox Executive Chef Darian Hernandez felt the love from Chopped judges this Valentine’s Day, who crowned him and his partner Izzy Buasier the title every celebrity chef longs for: Chopped champion. The episode was themed after a “Blind Date Night” challenge that paired each chef with a mystery counterpart. The show represented chefs all-around the country from California to New York, including a fellow Panhandle chef from the 30A beach community. Though the extra pair of hands is helpful in a tight timed challenge, couples were forced to find symmetry quickly, creating a cohesive product with little time for brainstorming before springing into action.

Darian Hernandez felt the love from judges when he was named Chopped Champion.

Michael Jordan at 60: He’s subject of a new movie, made a huge donation, ready for Daytona 500” via Tim Walters of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Jordan celebrates his 60th birthday Friday. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 17, 1963. Regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, “His Airness” is having a moment right now. Aside from his 60th birthday, Jordan and his NASCAR team 23XI Racing, which he co-owns with Denny Hamlin, is getting set to run the Daytona 500. And then there’s the upcoming movie about how “Air Jordan” and Nike revolutionized the shoe business, titled “Air,” starring Damon and Affleck. Jordan’s shoes are still as popular today as they were when he was playing, with the “Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Patent Bred” being the No. 1 selling shoe of 2022.

‘Joker’ sequel unveils first look at Lady Gaga in character” via Aaron Couch of The Hollywood Reporter — Lady Gaga is getting her close-up in Joker: Folie à Deux, with filmmaker Todd Phillips sharing a first look at her in character on Instagram. Naturally, it was for Valentine’s Day. Gaga is believed to be playing DC mainstay Harley Quinn in the sequel to Joker, the 2019 film that grossed $1 billion and earned star Joaquin Phoenix a best actor Oscar. Phillips once again directs the film, which he wrote with Scott Silver. During production on the previous Joker, Phillips shared photos of Phoenix on-set, a tradition he kept up when on Dec. 10 he took to Instagram to announce filming had commenced with a shot of his lead.


Best wishes to U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, state Rep. Dan Daley, our dear friend BillieAnne Gay, former Orlando Sentinel scribe Mike Griffin, St. Pete lawyer Ian Leavengood, and Lina Rojas of Florida State University.


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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 @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

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