Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.8.24

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Heat up your day with a dose of Sunburn, the premier first read of Florida politics and policy.

Good Thursday morning.

After 10 years at The James Madison Institute, Senior Vice President Sal Nuzzo is leaving the conservative think tank to serve as Executive Director of Consumers Defense, effective March 1.

“Sal has been pivotal in our development over the past 10 years, and we would not be where we are without him. He has been a tireless advocate for exporting Florida’s success story across the county. A relentless, dedicated and happy warrior, he will go anywhere, talk with anyone, and he answers the phone no matter who is on the other line. I am thankful for all the work he has put into making JMI so influential. I look forward to watching him continue to achieve success for the movement,” said JMI President and CEO Dr. Robert McClure.

Sal Nuzzo is taking leave from JMI to be the Executive Director of Consumers Defense.

JMI noted Nuzzo’s recognition from state leaders during his decade-long as well as his appointment as Chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Communications and Technology Task Force and work as the Florida lead for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform state coalitions.

“It has been the honor of my professional life to have served alongside Bob and the team at JMI. Over the years I have been here, I have seen staff members (young and not-so-young) develop their skills, evolve into truly remarkable professionals, and accomplish things we never dreamed possible. That is a testament to each and every one of them. I was incredibly blessed to see it all take place and play a tiny role,” Nuzzo said.

“I have no doubt JMI will continue to succeed in the years ahead and have nothing but the greatest wishes for the team. I am thrilled to take on this new adventure and know that while I am leaving the organization, I won’t be going away. I truly look forward to continuing my efforts and work both in Florida and across the country as the battle for the future of the Republic continues.”

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The Florida Chamber Leadership Cabinet has rolled out the full agenda for the 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability.

Scheduled for May 8-10 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Chamber bills the annual conference as the “premier event bringing together Florida’s most influential leaders across diverse industries for three days of dynamic learning, networking and inspiration.”

The main stage opens on Day Two with a pair of keynotes, including a talk by Whoop CEO Will Ahmed. There’s more to the conference than the main stage, however.

Whoop CEO Will Ahmed is among the featured guests at the 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health + Sustainability.

As in past years, the Florida Chamber has prepared a score of breakout sessions to provide attendees with information and strategies tailored to their industries, and the Chamber says this year’s program “promises an even deeper dive into the critical issues impacting today’s workplaces.”

Attendees can expect to hear from some of the top brass at the state’s biggest companies from beginning to end. The first block of breakouts will feature remarks from Greg Hale, the VP and Chief Safety Officer for Disney Parks and Resorts, who will talk about heat stress prevention.

Concurrent breakouts will star higher-ups from Advent Health, Nautique Boat Company and WinShape Teams, who will speak on topics such as fostering healthy lifestyles among employees to risk identification and prevention. Afternoon programming includes segments with two execs from 3M and an overview of Mosaic’s journey in developing its psychological wellness program.

View the full conference agenda and registration details here.

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The AI revolution is here and the Associated Industries of Florida is launching a new initiative to develop policies and guidelines for its use and regulation.

The AIF Coalition for the Future of Artificial Intelligence in Business will feature a mix of technology companies, such as tech industry behemoths Google and Meta, as well as Florida businesses, such as Florida Blue, JM Family, HCA, TECO and Disney.

AIF is also bringing several partner organizations to the table, including The Florida Council of 100, James Madison Institute, Florida Retail Federation, Florida Insurance Council, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Florida Ag Coalition.

AIF President and CEO Brewster Bevis said the genesis of the Coalition came last week when a group of businesses asked AIF to take a leadership role in AI policy.

Florida businesses must prepare — the AI revolution is here.

“With the rapid expansion of AI and the enormous impact it will have on all sectors of the business community, AIF felt it necessary to establish this Coalition to bring together our key members and partners to engage on this important issue,” Bevis said in a news release.

“This will put the business community at the forefront of addressing this evolving technology, developing the strategies and collaborating with legislators to ensure Florida’s employers have a voice as AI is defined and policies are crafted. By leading on this issue, the business community can help ensure well-informed decisions are made by policymakers to allow for continued advancement while mitigating possible risks.”

AIF said the Coalition will work to educate key legislative leaders on how businesses are currently using AI as well as employers’ concerns about its future applications. In addition to policy development, the Coalition’s efforts will include roundtable events that bring elected officials and business leaders together.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RonDeSantis: Sending $1k checks to illegal aliens — from COVID funds no less — is the political equivalent of flipping off every taxpayer and productive citizen.

@RepThomasMassie: Getting rid of Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy has officially turned into an unmitigated disaster. All work on separate spending bills has ceased. Spending reductions have been traded for spending increases. Warrantless spying has been temporarily extended. Our majority has shrunk.

@AnnaForFL: So many Republican Senators who are so passionately against racism but so willing to preserve symbols honoring racism.

@JoeSaunders4FL: Today we killed the pride flag ban. It’s as close to death as a bill can be in this process. Showing up and turning on the mic matters.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@JasonShoafFL: On National Girls and Women In Sports Day, let us continue fighting for a safe and even playing field for female athletes at all levels!

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Bowl LVIII — 3; Ninth Annual Suits for Session begins — 12; Season 6 of ‘Drive To Survive’ premieres on Netflix — 15; South Carolina Republican Primary — 16; Michigan Democratic Primary — 19; James Madison Institute’s ‘Red, White and Bluegrass’ dinner — 20; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 22; Michigan/Idaho/Missouri GOP Primaries — 23; Netflix to stream “The Netflix Slam,” Rafael Nadal/Carlos Alcaraz faceoff — 24; Super Tuesday — 26; State of the Union address — 28; last day of Regular Session, if Legislature completes work in 60 days — 29; 2024 Oscars — 31; Georgia Democratic Primary — 33; Arizona/Florida/Illinois/Kansas/Ohio Primaries — 40; James Madison Institute’s ‘2024 Naples Dinner’ with keynote speaker Laura Ingraham — 42; ‘3 Body Problem’ premieres on Netflix — 42; The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the mifepristone/abortion pill case — 47; Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2024 season — 49; March Madness Final Four (women’s) begins — 56; March Madness Final Four (men’s) — 59; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 63; The Masters begin — 64; Kentucky Derby — 87; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 92; ‘Bridgerton’ new season (part one) premieres on Netflix — 97; French Open begins — 102; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 104; Dave Matthews Band 2024 Summer Tour begins in Tampa — 104; Monaco Grand Prix — 108; the 2026 World Cup begins — 124; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 142; Republican National Convention begins — 158; the 2026 World Cup ends — 162; 2024 MLS All-Star Game — 167; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on NBC/Peacock — 169; Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 187; Democratic National Convention begins — 193; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 198; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 253; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 253; 2024 Presidential Election — 268; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 284; MLS Cup 2024 — 302; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 372; ‘Moana’ premieres — 505; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 533; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 638; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 638; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 680; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 817; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 833; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,044; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,184; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,143; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,865.

— TOP STORY —

Florida Supreme Court peppers both sides about abortion amendment” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz said he thought voters would understand the ballot summary, but he pondered whether the proposal protecting abortion rights could conflict with another constitutional provision.

“The people of Florida aren’t stupid,” he said. “They can figure this out.”

Florida’s proposed Amendment 4 to protect abortion rights heads to the Supreme Court.

The summary states in part, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s health care provider.”

Floridians Protecting Freedom submitted nearly 1 million signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. Supporters say the amendment is clear, but Attorney General Ashley Moody wants the court to reject the amendment because it doesn’t define terms like viability.

Justices grilled attorneys about the amendment’s wording.

Muñiz said it is “obvious that this is a pretty aggressive, comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue,” but he questioned whether the amendment’s sponsors should have referenced another part of the constitution that states in part that “all natural persons” have the “right to enjoy and defend life and liberty.”

Courtney Brewer, an attorney representing Floridians Protecting Freedom, told Muñiz such a requirement would mean the amendment’s backers would need to wade “into an issue in the constitution that hasn’t even been flushed out before this court.”

Justice John D. Couriel said the court is charged with determining whether the amendment’s backers are “hiding the ball in some meaningful way.”

“You’re saying, “This is a wolf,’ and wolf it may be,” Couriel said to an attorney opposing the amendment. “But it seems like our job is to answer whether it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That is all we get to do.”

Abortion rights campaign ‘confident’ after oral arguments — Floridians Protecting Freedom issued a news release following the oral arguments saying they were “confident” the state Supreme Court would allow the abortion rights measure onto the 2024 ballot. “We look forward to the Florida Supreme Court confirming what we clearly demonstrated today — our ballot title and summary meet the requirements to go to voters. Then, we will have crossed the final hurdle,” Campaign Director Lauren Brenzel said. “We look forward to the Court upholding Floridians’ constitutional right to vote on this amendment, so this November, Floridians will have the chance to restore their freedom to once again control their own bodies, their own health care and their own futures.”

Lauren Book fired up after abortion rights hearing — Senate Democratic Leader Book issued a statement after the Supreme Court hearing bashing the Attorney General’s efforts to keep the amendment off the ballot and expressing confidence the Supreme Court will ultimately allow the issue to go to voters. “We know the language used in Amendment 4 is clear and precise in limiting government interference with abortion before viability. I believe the Florida Supreme Court will do what is right, clearing the way for Florida voters to defend reproductive freedom and abortion rights by passing Amendment 4 this November.”

Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition touts ‘overwhelming support’ for abortion rights amendment — After the oral arguments wrapped, Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition Executive Director Anna Hochkammer said in a news release that the ballot language was “carefully crafted to ensure clarity and reflects the consensus among over 70% of Floridians, including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, that women should be able to make their own health care decisions without government interference.” She added, “Abortion access transcends partisanship; it’s a public health imperative and we will fight as long as it takes to ensure the safety of women and girls across the state of Florida.”

— LEGISLATIVE —

Ron DeSantis comes out in support of effort to move casino to Fontainebleau Miami Beach” via Ana Ceballos and Aaron Liebowitz of the Miami Herald — While legislation that could have brought a casino to the Fontainebleau Miami Beach appears dead in the Legislature this year, the effort has gained the public support of a powerful ally: DeSantis. Historically, gaming deals have been thorny issues to get passed through the Legislature. But DeSantis has already nailed down a long-sought gaming agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida — and with three years left in office, he is now showing support for legislation that appears tailored for Jeffrey Soffer to open a casino at his iconic hotel. The Governor’s Office said it supported bills that would have let Soffer transfer the Big Easy Casino’s gaming permit in Hallandale Beach to the Fontainebleau because it would have taken a casino “out of a residential, blue-collar community to a tourist-focused beachfront hotel.”

Ron DeSantis wants to see a casino at the Fontainebleau. Image via AP.

2 more calls for constitutional conventions advance in the House” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Florida lawmakers have already asked for two separate constitutional conventions. Now proposals for two more are advancing in the House. The House State Affairs Committee moved forward the two new resolutions. One (PCB SAC 1) would prohibit members of Congress from passing laws regulating citizens that exempt federal lawmakers. Another (PCB SAC 2) would give U.S. Presidents line-item veto power on federal budgets. The discussions prompted a now frequent debate between House Republicans and Democrats on what guardrails exist for a constitutional convention. Rep. Daniel Alvarez sponsored both new petitions, which were first filed two days ago. Alvarez pointed to a state law passed in 2014, which he said that makes clear any delegates sent by Florida to a constitutional convention must follow the state’s guidance at risk of criminal prosecution.

Bill protecting Confederate, other monuments on wobbly ground in Senate” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Following a heated debate in a Senate Committee, legislation to prohibit local governments from dismantling monuments to Confederates, the Confederacy and other historical markers is on shaky ground in the Senate. The bill (SB 1122) passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee. But Democrats on the panel walked out before the vote, after some members of the public who spoke in support of the bill said the bill was needed to protect “White society” from a culture war. “I’ve spoken to all of them,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, referring to the Democrats on the Committee. “They were not upset about the bill. They were upset about the abhorrent behavior of some public members who testified. That’s what they were upset about, and they have every reason to be upset.”

Senate unanimously passes legislation to support Floridians with disabilities — On “Florida Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day,” the Senate unanimously passed a bill (SB 1758) by Sen. Jason Brodeur that would expand support for individuals with disabilities and their families, a key goal of Senate President Passidomo’s “Live Healthy” priority. The legislation modifies the application process for Agency for Persons with Disabilities services, adding an online application process and streamlining the timeframe to determine eligibility. The bill also reduces the age requirement for a person’s caregiver in pre-enrollment category 4 from age 70 to age 60, which will allow more individuals to be included in category 4 of the pre-enrollment prioritization list.

— MORE LEGISLATIVE —

Florida leads nation in child drownings. Lawmakers take aim at fixing that.” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — For years, Florida has led the nation in child drowning deaths, and 2023 was no exception. Florida Department of Children and Families data shows that at least 97 kids drowned to death last year, 14 of them in metro Orlando. This continues a trend years in the making: 2022 saw 93 kids drown, 99 in 2021, 69 in 2020, 65 in 2019, 88 in 2018, and 82 in 2017. Four drowned in Orange County, one in Lake, four in Osceola and five in Seminole. Legislators have proposed many fixes to this crisis over the years. This year, the issue has renewed attention, and Central Florida experts on swim safety say they believe several bills could help cut down on drowning deaths in the state. “This year, for some reason, there’s some momentum,” said Brent Moore, executive director of the Children’s Safety Village and lead for the Central Florida Water Safety Task Force.

A guaranteed right to contraception bill is a long-shot in Florida” via Richard Brown of WFSU — Two Florida Democrats are launching a long-shot effort to convince the Republican-led legislature to put into state law a guaranteed right to access contraception. The move comes amid increasing restrictions on abortions in Republican-led states. Rep. Gallop Franklin says current contraception rights are vague and that there is no clear definition of a right to contraception in state laws. “Guaranteeing the right to contraception is a people issue it’s not a partisan one,” he said at a recent news conference at the capitol to draw attention to his proposal, which has yet to get a Committee hearing. Franklin’s bill would classify contraception as a fundamental right, and it comes, says co-sponsor Sen. Rosalind Osgood, at a time when abortion access – and, by extension, contraceptive rights – are being attacked.

Bills funding method to crack cold cases advance, but critics say impact will be slim without changes” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Lawmakers are advancing legislation that could move some of Florida’s 19,000-plus unsolved mysteries into the “case closed” pile, but experts on both sides of the justice system say some of the fine print will blunt its impact. HB 453 by Rep. Adam Anderson and SB 678 by Sen. Jennifer Bradley would create a grant program at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to fund forensic genetic genealogy, an investigatory method that uses DNA testing to link unidentified human remains or a suspect’s genetic material to a living relative. The emergent practice has been used to solve hundreds of cold cases nationwide and was thrust into the true crime zeitgeist a few years ago when it was used to identify the Golden State Killer, a turn of events that was chronicled in the HBO miniseries “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

Adam Anderson’s bill seeks to give more forensic tools to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Poor counties could be exempt from some homeless camp requirements” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — An amendment to HB 1365 approved by the House Judiciary Committee would exempt municipalities in “fiscally constrained” counties from the provision to “establish and maintain minimum standards and procedures” for state-mandated homeless camps “if the Governing Board of the county makes a finding that compliance with such requirements would result in a financial hardship.” In practical terms, this would shield smaller and poorer counties from the unfunded mandate to impose 24-hour security and other amenities, while imposing the disproportionate financial burden on urban counties. But sleeping rough would not be legal in those fiscally constrained counties regardless, sponsoring Rep. Sam Garrison said.

Momentum continues in House for giving Sheriffs more budget control” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — HB 1447, sponsored by Rep. Wyman Duggan, allows a Sheriff, including one of a consolidated city/county government, to move funds “between the fund and functional categories” without the approval of the County Commission or Budget Commission after the legislative body approves the budget. This independence extends to procurement and personnel issues. The legislation is backed by the Florida Sheriffs’ Association, and was uncontroversial Wednesday, with no debate ahead of a unanimous vote to advance it. Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough is carrying the companion bill, which has stop in the Rules Committee ahead of it before it hits the Senate floor.

— EVEN MORE LEGISLATIVE —

Permanent ban on ‘gas station heroin’ prepped for House floor vote” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Florida is closer than ever to permanently banning a dangerous, often contaminated supplement known commonly as “gas station heroin.” A bill codifying in state statutes an emergency rule Attorney General Ashley Moody filed last year to place the substance tianeptine on the Schedule I list of controlled substances is headed to the House floor. The measure (HB 1595) by Rep. Rachel Plakon received uniform approval in three Committee stops. It cleared its last hurdle in the chamber when the members of the House Judiciary Committee voted for it 19-0 after little discussion.

Is ‘gas station heroin’ on the way out?

‘Patriotic organization’ bill ready for House floor — Rep. Wyman Duggan’s bill (HB 1317) to allow representatives of so-called “patriotic organizations” time to meet with students and distribute recruitment materials at schools is ready for the House floor. The measure went before the House Education & Employment Committee on Wednesday, earning a unanimous vote. The legislation requires the organizations to be deemed “patriotic” in the federal code. There is currently a half-dozen organizations that fit the bill: Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, National FFA Organization and the Civil Air Patrol. The Senate companion (SB 1016) has cleared one of its three Committee stops.

Bills threatening Miami Beach buildings are back. Opponents say history is at stake” via Aaron Liebowitz of FL Keys News — Last May, preservationists across Florida breathed a sigh of relief when a bill seeking to gut protections for historic coastal buildings died in the Florida House after passing the Senate. But similar proposals are back for this year’s Legislative Session in Tallahassee, sending local leaders scrambling once again. The Senate version of the bill passed its first committee hearing — a 6-2 vote of the Community Affairs committee — despite a parade of speakers saying they feared the language would let developers strip away the unique character of tourist destinations like Miami Beach, St. Augustine and Key West.

Legislature moves to regulate state’s use of digital currency” via Liv Caputo of The Floridian — A sweeping new bill would prohibit banks from dealing in digital currency without completing a comprehensive risk assessment to be approved by the Office of Financial Services. The measure builds on DeSantis’ ban on Florida’s use of a federalized central bank digital currency. SB 914, proposed by Republican Sen. Keith Perry, defines a digital trust business as an entity dealing in any sort of virtual currency exchange services. Virtual currency—such as Bitcoin or Cryptocurrency—is an electronic representation of money, accepted and utilized online.

How and why Florida lawmakers are pushing to end civilian police watchdog agencies” via Alyssah Johnson of the Miami Herald —Civilian oversight agencies, or COAs, are citizen-led groups that provide external oversight to local police departments. Some conduct independent investigations into the complaints of misconduct against police officers. The legislation seeks to put an end to those investigations. Opponents of House Bill 601 and Senate Bill 576 say that the legislation could upend progress made towards police accountability and establishing trust between citizens and their local police departments. But proponents say that civilian oversight agencies across the state lack uniformity, and that there are other efficient measures in place to review police misconduct.

Balloon ban bills still afloat while container preemption measure appears canned in Senate” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO — Bills that would ban the release of balloons to prevent litter are moving through the Legislature —but at the same time, another that critics say would increase the litter problem appeared dead in the Senate. The Senate Committee on Community Affairs temporarily passed the bill that would preempt local governments from banning a wide range of food and drink containers, including those made of Styrofoam and plastic, and bags. But opponents said with no other meetings of the committee scheduled before the end of the Legislative Session, they hope the preemption bill focused on Styrofoam and plastic is dead.

— THE SKED—

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

8 a.m. House Health & Human Services Committee meets. Room 17, House Office Building.

8 a.m. House Infrastructure Strategies Committee meets. Room 404, House Office Building.

8:30 a.m. Senate Rules Committee meets. Room 412, Knott Building.

10:30 a.m. House Appropriations Committee meets. Room 212, Knott Building.

10:30 a.m. House Ways & Means Committee meets. Room 404, House Office Building.

10:45 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation Tourism and Economic Development Committee meets. Room 110, Senate Office Building.

10:45 a.m. Senate Finance and Tax Committee meets. Room 37, Senate Office Building.

10:45 a.m. Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services Committee meets. Room 412, Knott Building.

2 p.m. The House convenes a floor Session. House Chambers.

2 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture Environment and General Government meets. Room 110, Senate Office Building.

2 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice Committee meets. Room 37, Senate Office Building.

2 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee on Education Committee meets. Room 412, Knott Building.

4 p.m. The Senate holds a floor Session. Senate Chambers.

6:15 p.m. Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets. Room 401, Senate Office Building.

6:15 p.m. House Rules Committee meets. Room 404, House Office Building.

— THE TRAIL —

Will Donald Trump stay on the ballot? What to expect at the Supreme Court Thursday” via Ann Marimow of The Washington Post — The justices will decide whether Colorado’s top court was correct to apply a post-Civil War provision of the Constitution to order Trump off the ballot after concluding his actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol amounted to insurrection. Colorado’s ballots for the March 5 Primary were printed last week and include Trump’s name. But his status as a candidate will depend on what the Supreme Court decides. The justices — especially their cautious, consensus-building chief, John G. Roberts Jr. — may be reluctant to wade into such a politically fraught dispute, experts say. The court could rule more narrowly, finding, for example, that Colorado was wrong to bar Trump from the ballot because of a technicality.

The Supreme Court will decide Donald Trump’s fate on the Colorado ballot.

— MORE 2024 —

Time for reflection? Not for DeSantis after his loss.” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — In recent days, DeSantis has held news conferences ripping into President Joe Biden, Congress and Washington insiders. He’s weighed in on legislative battles underway in Tallahassee. The Republican Governor even offered to send 1,000 troops to the Southern border, all as he aims to resurrect his image and influence in his home state. “This guy is never going to let the grass grow under his feet,” said longtime supporter and fundraiser Nick Iarossi. “He’s hit the ground running.” The moves by DeSantis come following signs that his clout in Florida had ebbed. Questions remain over DeSantis’ political future.

DeSantis gets off the campaign trail and hits the ground running.

— OTHER STATEWIDE —

DeSantis gives update on major conservation improvements for Florida manatees” via Allison Petro of WESH — DeSantis delivered a news conference on Tuesday addressing manatee conservation improvements in the state of Florida. DeSantis was joined by Roger Young, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director and Shawn Hamilton, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary. During the news conference, DeSantis said that Florida has experienced the lowest rates of mortalities in manatees during 2023 since 2017. Blue Springs has been a safe haven for manatees as they seek warmer waters during the winter months. As of Jan. 1, Blue Springs recorded a total of 736 manatees. DeSantis said that major improvements have been possible thanks to the investments that have been made in environmental restoration.

A coming attraction for Netflix subscribers in Florida – a state tax” via Tom Hudson of WLRN — It’s not a sci-fi horror show but it is a bit of a mystery. Subscribers to Netflix in Florida will begin seeing a state tax on their monthly bill. The tax itself is not new and it is not clear why Netflix has only now begun to tack the tax onto subscriber’s monthly charges. The tax dates back to 2001 on cell phone service and satellite and cable TV subscriptions. As technologies have evolved, so has the services lawmakers include in the tax. In 2012, cable service was redefined as video service.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Florida’s Joe Gruters in the mix for RNC Chair as Ronna McDaniel expected to depart” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — With McDaniel expected to step down soon as Republican National Committee Chair, a Florida lawmaker who was an early supporter of Trump is in the mix to replace her and lead the national GOP leading up to the 2024 election. Sources close to Trump say he has floated Florida state Gruters’ name as a possible replacement for McDaniel, according to multiple media outlets, although another candidate is Trump’s favorite. “Whenever you’re even mentioned for something like that, it’s pretty spectacular, but at the end of the day, the President’s continuing to build his team so we can win in November, and I support wherever he goes,” Gruters said.

Joe Gruters has been floated as the next RNC Chair.

‘Matt sure knows how to troll’: Matt Gaetz stands by endorsement of Kevin McCarthy as RNC Chair” via Mia McCarthy of POLITICO — Rep. Gaetz stood by his recent endorsement of nemesis McCarthy for Chair of the Republican National Committee — even as some of his Republican colleagues suggested it was a joke. “The tweet speaks for itself,” Gaetz repeatedly said when asked about the endorsement he posted on social media Tuesday night. The former speaker’s name was floated on X, formerly known as Twitter, as a “dark horse” option to replace Ronna McDaniel as Republican National Committee Chair, who is rumored to be stepping down. But Gaetz threw a curveball on Tuesday night after posting a glowing endorsement for McCarthy as RNC Chair.

— DOWN BALLOT —

Barry Rubin, Pete Boland offer conservative choice for St. Pete City Council” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — With St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari, the only Republican member of the technically nonpartisan Board, departing when his term ends after this year, conservative voters in the district will be looking for an alternative to represent them for the next four or eight years. Now voters have two choices — restaurateur Boland, who filed for the race Tuesday, and Treasure Island and Madeira Beach (TIMB) Chamber of Commerce CEO Rubin, who filed for the race Saturday. While Boland’s entrance into the race has long been anticipated, Rubin’s may be a bit more of a surprise to voters. Like Boland, Rubin is running in the conservative lane, though party affiliations won’t appear on ballots and candidates can’t campaign on political affiliation.

Barry Rubin and Pete Boland bring conservative voices to the race to succeed Ed Montanari.

Torrie Jasuwan lands 2 more endorsements for St. Pete City Council bid” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Jasuwan is building support for her bid for St. Petersburg City Council in District 5, as she seeks to make incumbent Deborah Figgs-Sanders a one-term Board member. The latest endorsers include former St. Pete City Council member Jay Lasita, who served in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and more recently, former Council member Jim Kennedy. “I am thrilled to have the support from two more pillars of the St. Pete political community,” Jasuwan said of the latest nods. “Council member Lasita had a unique ability to foster cordiality and consensus on the City Council, which we desperately need today. Council member Kennedy’s environmental stewardship on seagrass restoration efforts inspires me, especially as we have suffered critical losses in the past few years.”

— LOCAL: S. FL —

‘That’s my girl’: Uncle Luke backs Daniella Levine Cava for re-election as Miami-Dade Mayor” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Miami bass pioneer Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell wants Miami-Dade County voters to “Shake It” to the polls and re-elect Mayor Levine Cava. The former 2 Live Crew leader and past mayoral candidate endorsed Levine Cava in an emphatic X post. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls the great people of Miami-Dade County,” he wrote just before 1 p.m. Wednesday. “I am putting all of my support behind. @MayorDaniella that’s my girl get out and vote for her.” Then, in what might be interpreted as a defense of her performance in light of reports on the county’s lagging transit development and disrepair in public transportation infrastructure, Campbell added, “She’s doing a great job and has a lot more to do. Rome wasn’t built or rebuilt overnight.”

Uncle Luke goes all-in for Daniella Levine Cava.

Leadership coach Norby Belz to challenge Fort Lauderdale Commissioner in District 1” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Small-business owner Belz has worked for nearly two decades to improve the operations and management of universities, schools, businesses and individuals. He now wants to bring his expertise to the Fort Lauderdale Commission. Belz is mounting a challenge against first-term Commissioner John Herbst, who won his District 1 seat by a 17-percentage-point margin in 2022. Belz vows to support and attract local businesses, improve public safety, combat homelessness, fight coastal flooding, keep living costs down and back responsible development while preserving community integrity. “I’m ready to step up and ensure city leadership is focused on the issues that matter most to us — the residents,” Belz said in a statement.

Port St. Lucie debate over contracts, bids heats up in latest City Council meeting” via Wicker Perlis of Treasure Coast Newspapers — An ongoing debate over the process by which the city awards construction contracts spilled over into the City Council’s first-ever special meeting, an addition to the Council calendar intended to increase transparency. The 4½-hour meeting was dominated by the discussion, which included accusations lobbed between Council members and disagreements between two City Administrators. City procurement staff made it about halfway through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the three types of construction bidding processes before Council members broke off into a discussion of the controversial $16 million Public Works Department building that prompted the presentation.

Fort Lauderdale to recoup $400K from massive water pipe break caused by FPL subcontractor” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Fort Lauderdale is finally recovering $400,000 spent repairing a massive water pipe it didn’t break. A subcontractor for Florida Power & Light drilled a hole into the city’s main water supply line close to five years ago, leaving tens of thousands of residents without water along with hundreds of businesses. Faucets stopped flowing and toilets stopped flushing, forcing hundreds of businesses to close that day, on July 17, 2019. The crippling outage affected not only Fort Lauderdale but water customers in other cities, including all or parts of Davie, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Port Everglades, Oakland Park, Sea Ranch Lakes, Tamarac and Wilton Manors –— close to 250,000 customers.

Sugar heir Alexander ‘Nico’ Fanjul arrested for strangulation, robbery” via Mara Siegler of Page Six — Fanjul, the son of sugar baron Alexander Fanjul, was arrested for domestic violence, including allegations of strangulation and robbery, on Monday night in Palm Beach. Fanjul’s family owns Florida Crystals and Fanjul Corp, the sugar and real estate conglomerate in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. According to the police report, Palm Beach cops arrived at his home at 11 p.m. when a neighbor called 911 after hearing a woman screaming. When an officer arrived, they heard a woman screaming “Get off me,” reads the report, adding Fanjul was standing over the woman who was “in a defensive ‘fetal’ position.” The officer saw her face bleeding, the report said. The unidentified woman told police she had been physically assaulted by Fanjul and “thought she was going to die.”

Alexander Fanjul is arrested for domestic violence.

Fired “Sundial” host says WLRN discriminated against him” via Martin Vassolo of Axios — Award-winning Miami journalist Carlos Frías says his former employer, WLRN, discriminated against him by canceling his local talk show and firing its team of Latino journalists. The Cuban American journalist and former “Sundial” host filed a federal discrimination complaint Tuesday asserting that he and his staff experienced discrimination at the radio station, including being told by an editor that the show was “sounding very Latino.” Less than two weeks after Frías filed a complaint with human resources, WLRN fired him and the show’s two Latina producers, he says in a charge of discrimination submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Largest commercial development in Martin County to expand by more than 400,000 square feet” via Keith Burbank of Treasure Coast Newspapers — A massive Palm City business park is getting even bigger. Sands Commerce Center, the largest commercial development in Martin County, received County Commission approval to add 456,600 square feet to its already large footprint. Commissioner Ed Ciampi lauded the center and its owner, the Sands family, before the Commissioners approved the expansion unanimously. The expansion is the fourth phase of the center. “It is, in my opinion, the remarkable example of how work should be done,” Ciampi said. “They bring in top-notch tenants.” The Sands family has been a “remarkable business partner for the county,” Ciampi added. Thousands of people work at the center, a warehouse-and-distribution complex at 4201 Southwest Martin Highway.

Brutal January for Florida home sales, but Miami-Dade scores big” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The largest housing markets in Florida saw a drop in single-family home sale contracts in January with the exception of just one area. But analysts say the numbers are just a momentary lapse before what promises to be a big rebound this year. Looking at property sales in Florida’s largest metropolitan areas, the “Elliman Report” showed very sluggish numbers last month. While sales hit a slump, new listings of homes for sale increased in the Sunshine State. The Miami-Dade County market is the only one that showed an uptick in single-family home contracts signed for sale in January. That figure was a staggering 76.8% increase from January 2023 to January 2024. That’s an increase from 423 single-family new signed contracts a year ago to 748 last month.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Black Central Florida leaders share tales of racism in United Way film” via Desiree Stennett of the Orlando Sentinel — In the months following George Floyd’s death, Jeff Hayward, president and CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way, knew his organization needed to respond. Hayward said he took the time to look internally first, analyzing his hiring practices, the diversity of his staff and Board of Directors and the initiatives the nonprofit supports. Then it was time to look externally. But he didn’t want to plan yet another panel discussion that would quickly be forgotten. He wanted to do something with lasting power. That thought launched the more than three-year process that led to the premiere of “Know Your Place.”

Jeff Hayward wants to do something concrete to fight racism.

Split Oak Forest dispute headed to court later this month” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Defenders of Split Oak Forest insist Orange County can’t agree to anything that harms the conservation land — arguing that should nix a plan for a toll road to slice across 60 acres of the preserve in neighboring Osceola County. More than two dozen Split Oak defenders, some holding signs that read “Save Split Oak” or “Land Swap = Trickery,” urged the Board to fight the road and reject a development group’s offer of 1,550 other acres in exchange. But whether Orange County can stop the road is unclear as a one-hour Board discussion revealed. “It may be out of our control to stop the expressway,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

Police: Former OPD school resource officer under investigation for inappropriate relationship with minor” via Amanda Rabines of the Orlando Sentinel — A former Orlando Police Department (OPD) school resource officer assigned to Jones High School is under investigation for allegedly engaging in an inappropriate relationship with someone under the age of 18, according to police. The current SRO assigned to Jones High School was notified that the suspect, Darius Barker, is under investigation. In an email, the agency said Barker resigned in July 2022 while under investigation for an unrelated case. He is an employee with the City of Orlando’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative and is assigned to the Academic Center for Excellence School in downtown. City representative Ashley Papagni said Barker was suspended from his position pending the results of the investigation.

Brevard County approves Cocoa Beach race grants; renaissance festival’s future up in the air” via Tyler Vazquez of Florida Today — After months of back and forth, the Brevard County Commission voted to give grant money to two major sports events in Cocoa Beach this coming year. For the last several months, participants and organizers of special events have sparred with County Commissioners over the future of events such as the Space Coast triathlon and the Space Coast Renaissance Festival. Although the Commission previously voted against funding the events, repeated appeals from organizers, participants and the city of Cocoa Beach resulted in the two popular running events, which have long attracted visitors to the area and generated revenue for the county from hotel bed taxes, receiving grants.

Louisiana-based firm lands $141M contract in Volusia County’s Ian recovery program” via Sheldon Gardner of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Volusia County Council members unanimously approved a $141.3 million contract to a Louisiana firm to handle construction services for housing projects for the federally funded Hurricane Ian recovery program. Lemoine Disaster Recovery landed the largest contract so far in the Transform 386 project, which will bring about $328.9 million to Volusia County to help meet the remaining needs in the community following Ian’s destruction. That includes repairing housing and strengthening infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is funding the project through Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds.

Disney beats earnings estimates, hikes guidance as it slashes streaming losses” via Sarah Whitten of CNBC — The Walt Disney Co. reported better-than-expected fiscal first quarter earnings on Wednesday as the media giant slashed costs while revenue stagnated. Disney said it is on pace to meet or exceed its goal of cutting costs by at least $7.5 billion by the end of fiscal 2024. The company said it expects fiscal 2024 earnings per share of about $4.60, which would be at least 20% higher than 2023. Disney also announced it will take a $1.5 billion stake in Fortnite studio Epic Games and launch its flagship ESPN streaming service in Fall 2025. The string of announcements and progress in its cost-cutting initiatives comes as the company faces pressure to improve its results from activist investor Nelson Peltz.

Bob Iger talks Disney parks expansion, but mum on fifth gate coming to Orlando” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — After Universal Orlando revealed renderings last week showing off Epic Universe’s scenic atmosphere and first rides, its competitor, The Walt Disney Co., responded by pledging to spend billions more to build new attractions at its parks. But where? Could Disney build the long-rumored fifth gate at Walt Disney World, the one that theme park fans dream about? If Disney enthusiasts were hoping for some big announcements during Wednesday’s Disney earnings call, they will have to wait longer. The company plans to spend $60 billion over the next 10 years on its theme parks and experiences. Of that $60 billion, about 70% is earmarked for increasing capacity around the world, which indicates new attractions and rides.

UCF’s online degrees get kudos in U.S. News & World Report rankings” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — The online degree programs at the University of Central Florida (UCF) are attracting national recognition. In the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, UCF tied for No. 7 for the best online bachelor’s programs in the outlet’s prestigious rankings. It was a jump one spot higher than last year. Meanwhile, individual UCF online degree programs were singled out. UCF is tied for the fourth-best online psychology bachelor’s degree and tied for the 10th-best online business bachelor’s degree in lodging and restaurant management. “Of the 14 UCF national rankings from U.S. News, six programs made the top 10, two made the top 15 and three were in the top 50,” according to the school news release.

UCF student shakes off threats from Taylor Swift’s lawyer over jet tracker” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — University of Central Florida student Jack Sweeney defended his Swift private jet tracker accounts in the wake of a legal challenge from the megastar’s attorneys, saying the information comes from publicly available sources. “Her fans, who have grown the TaylorSwiftJets accounts and subreddit, are the ones truly interested,” Sweeney said. He also cited recent reports about the viability of Swift flying from Japan to Las Vegas in time to see her boyfriend Travis Kelce play in the Super Bowl on Sunday and the carbon emissions from her overall jet use. “When the Embassy of Japan in the [U.S.] expresses confidence that Swift can make a flight from Tokyo to the Super Bowl, it indicates public interest,” Sweeney said. “Therefore, one should reasonably expect that their jet will be tracked, whether or not I’m the one doing it, as it is public information after all.”

— LOCAL: TB —

Remembering the 110 people who died homeless in Hillsborough last year” via Olivia George of the Tampa Bay Times — Their names hung in the damp, early evening air, each read aloud as a prayer and a plea. Joe Morgan, 71. Katherine Coleman, 49. William Perez, 62. The names of 110 people — known to have died while homeless in Hillsborough County last year, the most in three years and a grim epilogue to a year and region marked by an unrelenting surge in the cost of living. On Monday, dozens gathered in downtown Tampa for a vigil seeking to offer dignity for those whose lives often ended with little of it. They died in the dawn and the dark and under the midday sun. The first death came on the first day of the year, and they continued through the last days of December.

Homelessness can be deadly in Hillsborough.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

Sheriff says Jacksonville officer accessed, shared police information with ‘criminals’” via The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters announced the arrest of an officer accused of accessing and sharing information with “criminals in our community” and there’s a “strong possibility” it’s related to gang activity. Christopher Barr, 28, was charged with two counts of an “offense against computer users” on Jan. 27. The four-year veteran resigned upon his arrest, Waters said. He said protective databases were used to “access and disseminate law enforcement information to unauthorized individuals.” While the Sheriff’s Office does not specify further details about Barr’s background, the name and birthdate match the personal information listed by the University of South Florida’s website for former Jacksonville football standout Chris Barr.

T.K. Waters tries to fix a leak in the JSO.

Businesses near massive fire in downtown Jacksonville open up again” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — Some businesses surrounding the RISE Doro apartment building in Jacksonville’s Sports Complex downtown are starting to return to operations after fire torched the structure more than a week ago. Intuition Ale Works pub, brewery and entertainment establishment finally opened again this week after the inferno caused so much damage to the Doro that city officials forced Intuition just to the south of the fire to temporarily close. They shut down after fire and public safety officials noted Intuition was in the “collapse zone” and were worried the remnants of the burnt structure could fall on Intuition and other shops. But at Intuition at A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Bay Street, customers started to trickle back into the establishment this week following the demolition work on Doro began.

Divided Alachua County School Board finalizes superintendent’s contract” via Lillian Lawson of The Gainesville Sun — The Alachua County School Board held its regular meeting Tuesday to discuss the fate of the superintendent’s contract, among other items. After calling off a national search for a superintendent in October, a monthslong endeavor to vote on Superintendent Shane Andrew’s proposed contract began. Andrew — who was brought on in March 2022 to serve as interim superintendent — has had a somewhat controversial tenure thus far. The Sun reported that during an Oct. 17 meeting, Andrew suggested the Board vote down the search and that a Board member could just make a motion to negotiate his contract, which would include a pay raise and severance package and avoid public input on the matter.

Should Tallahassee City Commissioners make more money? Charter Review Committee debates” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The city’s Charter Review Committee debated the pros and cons of expanding the ranks of the City Commission — an issue that’s already sparked partisan battle lines — during its third meeting. The CRC also discussed the possibility Thursday of paying City Commissioners more money, moving City Commission elections with only two candidates from the August Primary to the November General Election, and requiring periodic reviews of the charter, the city’s governing “constitution.” The Committee is tasked with reviewing those four issues before deciding whether to recommend any proposed charter changes to the City Commission. If they advance any of the proposals, City Commissioners will decide whether to place them on 2024 ballots for voters to consider.

Former FAMU Law dean says in resignation letter ‘abusive’ oversight was reason she quit” via Tarah Jean of the Tallahassee Democrat — In her resignation letter, the now former dean of Florida A&M University’s law school explained she had to step down because the university’s treatment of her was getting “abusive.” Deidré Keller, dean and professor at FAMU College of Law in Orlando, wrote to FAMU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Allyson Watson; she expressed how her protestations about the law school’s bar exam passage rates “fell on deaf ears.” “Specifically, at this juncture, it is clear that the university’s vision for the College of Law no longer resonates with my vision for sustained success at the college,” she wrote in the letter, provided to the Tallahassee Democrat by Keller after an email request.

Deidré Keller says FAMU Law is no longer invested in success.

Andrew Gillum reveals feeling abandoned by former friends after hotel scandal: ‘Lonely, angry, mad’” via Ike Morgan of Atlanta Black Star — Gillum, whose prominence in politics once gave high hopes for the Democratic Party, opened up about his past scandal in a Florida hotel, saying his actions were a result of someone slipping drugs in his drink and that everyone makes mistakes in life. Gillum also said he felt his so-called friends were “aloof, disappeared, vamoose” after his hardships hit the fan. Gillum insisted those were people in his inner circle whom he didn’t expect to leave his side. “Everything that happened, my run for Governor of Florida, I had assumed that people who benefited financially, personally, who got their jobs or holding those jobs and those advances because of doors you open,” would have his back, Gillum said.

Frontier Airlines launching nonstop flights between Pensacola and Philadelphia” via the Pensacola News Journal — Frontier Airlines will begin offering nonstop flights between Philadelphia and Pensacola this May, according to a news release from the airline. Frontier, the self-described “ultra-low fare carrier,” is introducing a new route between Pensacola International Airport (PNS) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) on May 22. The flights will be three times weekly. Through Friday, Feb. 9, Frontier is offering fares as low as $19 and premium seat upgrades starting at $19 on all routes operating from PHL.

A journey almost 200 years in the making: Union Bank Museum reopens after renovation” via Alicia Devine of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Union Bank Museum, a historical landmark in Tallahassee, will reopen its doors to the public Saturday after being closed since 2020 because of the pandemic, then a restoration. Built in 1841, the Union Bank is considered Florida’s oldest surviving bank building. The building opened as a “planter’s bank” during the antebellum period before becoming home to the National Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company following Emancipation. But it didn’t always serve as a bank. Over the next century, the building’s main chamber-sized room beneath a vaulted ceiling sheltered a church, a beauty parlor, a lock-and-safe service, city offices, a dance academy and a dental lab.

— LOCAL: SW. FL —

Collier Republicans endorse Ted Blankenship in Naples Mayor race” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The Collier County Republican Executive Committee (REC) has picked its favorite in the upcoming Naples Mayor race. The REC voted unanimously to endorse Naples City Council member Blankenship, who kicked off his campaign in October. “Our party is united and ready for change at all levels of government,” said Collier County GOP Chair John Meo. “We are a party of lower taxes, less government and more freedom. Ted Blankenship’s record clearly exemplifies that. He has the full endorsement of the Collier County GOP and our members.”

Collier County Republicans fall in line behind Ted Blankenship.

Rick LoCastro expected to be released from medical care soon” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Attorneys for Collier County Commissioner LoCastro expect him to be released from medical care Wednesday afternoon. Donald Day, a criminal defense attorney, said he has spoken to his client since a medical emergency put him under physicians’ care. The medical event occurred the same day prosecutors in South Florida issued an arrest warrant on a misdemeanor charge. “We cannot do anything but wait for the medical clearance process,” Day said. Day said medical confidentiality prohibits the disclosure of any information about LoCastro’s medical condition, though he dismissed many rumors as “lies.” The attorney also maintains LoCastro’s innocence in the criminal case.

As Bridget Ziegler scandal looms large, Sarasota School Board approves new jobs, purchases land” via Steven Walker of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — A middle school student’s minor-key orchestral performance ahead of this week’s Sarasota County School Board meeting set the tonal backdrop for an equally gloomy Board meeting that followed. For a third straight meeting, Ziegler dominated the atmosphere inside and outside of the School Board chambers, as the subject of the sex scandal that has engulfed her and her husband, Christian, prompted another stream of people calling for Ziegler to resign. Investigators declined to pursue sexual assault charges against Christian Ziegler after a complaint late last year, but the State Attorney’s Office is considering whether to file video voyeurism charges. Details of Christian and Bridget’s sexual relationship with another woman came to light through sworn testimony given by Bridget Ziegler to investigators.

Manatee County to consider speed limit cameras in school zones next week” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Those who speed in school zones may soon be caught on camera in Manatee County and subject to penalty if a new initiative by officials is approved next week. Manatee County Commissioners will consider plans to install speed cameras in local school zones during the County Commission meeting on Tuesday. The measure would not be the first time Manatee County employees have cameras to monitor traffic safety and penalize offenders who put school children and parents at risk. The county previously operated red-light cameras to monitor traffic infractions at select intersections. However, the county ended the program in 2022.

Dueling protests at the Lee County School Board over ‘woke indoctrination,’ teacher rights” via Luis Zambrano of the Fort Myers News-Press — Tensions stretched taut at a Lee County School Board meeting as residents clashed over politics, freedom of speech, and what can and can’t be in a classroom. From one side of the Lee County School Board building, protesters yelled, “Sexuality has no business in the classroom,” and “Stop Woke Indoctrination,” while counterprotesters yelled, “Let teachers teach,” and “No more hate.” Lee GOP organized a protest over a flag hung up in a Fort Myers school that they say promotes “woke indoctrination” and violated the “Stop Woke Act.”

Marco Island delays second reading of Bill of Rights sanctuary ordinance” via J. Kyle Foster of the Naples Daily News — A second reading and further discussion of Marco Island’s proposed “Bill of Rights Sanctuary” ordinance is delayed until the City Council’s Feb. 20 meeting as City Attorney Alan Gabriel continues research. The Council also approved an agreement with a state agency for the design of a replacement for the Caxambas Court Bridge. The Marco Island City Council took on the Bill of Rights proposal by Council member Greg Folley in January and approved it on first reading with the caveat that Folley works with the City Manager and Gabriel on wording and details that would help with enforcement. The City Council is following Collier County in its declaration in August as a “Bill of Rights sanctuary.”

— TOP OPINION —

State lawmakers intent on making Florida the nation’s corruption capital” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The shady Florida Legislature is really breaking the mold this time: Lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that, taken together, would amount to a kind of informal sanctioning of unethical behavior by elected officials and government employees. Were they to become law, Florida could very well become the corruption capital of the United States simply because it’s the only place dumb enough to damn near make it legal.

One bill, which has already passed unanimously in the Senate, would effectively prevent ethics officials across the state from investigating even credible, documented allegations of wrongdoing.

The other, which has gained crucial support in both chambers, would put journalists at heightened risk of being sued for relying on anonymous sources — a time-honored and crucial component of investigative journalism that routinely brings to light government dysfunction, waste, and criminality.

Ethics officials defanged, journalists under threat, anonymous whistleblowers framed as liars: The only potential winners here are corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Worries about this particular bill run the ideological gamut: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, has argued the legislation might turn Florida into a haven for frivolous litigation. And even some right-wing commentators have figured it out: This law will apply for conservative whistleblowers and liberal ones alike.

The common theme here is obvious: Privileging the concerns of elected officials and subordinating concerns about good government. Protecting politicians while silencing their critics, if not outright punishing them. Corruption won’t be literally legal — it might take a few more Sessions before someone proposes that— but it’ll sure feel like it all the same.

— OPINIONS —

Taxpayer-funded campaigns in Florida – a failed, wasteful experiment” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Many Floridians don’t even realize that their taxes help pay for something most people loathe — ugly attack ads. Yes, millions of your tax dollars are spent by politicians from both parties who use public funds to beat the snot out of each other. In the last election cycle alone, seven candidates for statewide office helped themselves to more than $13 million in public money. More than half went to one guy: DeSantis. Yes, the Governor who believes others should pull themselves up by the bootstraps and who has rejected federal funds for hungry kids and families without health insurance took $7.3 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies for his political campaign in 2022. In the cycle before that, DeSantis was also the state’s largest recipient of what Jeb Bush once described as “welfare for politicians.” That year, DeSantis helped himself to $3.2 million.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Disney invests $1.5B in Epic Games, with plans to create new universe featuring franchise IP” via Alex Weprin of The Hollywood Reporter — In a major initiative, The Walt Disney Co. and Fortnite studio Epic Games will create a new “games and entertainment universe” that brings Disney characters from franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and Avatar together. Disney CEO Iger announced the partnership in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday. The new experience will be interoperable with Fortnite and powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine. Disney is also making a $1.5 billion equity investment into Epic Games to support the multiyear project.

With Disney cash, Fortnite will get even more epic.

ESPN will launch its own streaming service in Fall 2025, alongside joint venture” via Alex Sherman of CNBC — ESPN will launch its flagship direct-to-consumer service in either August or the Fall of 2025, Disney CEO Iger announced. The service will include all of ESPN’s programming and feature new personalization and integration with ESPN’s fantasy platforms and ESPN Bet. The date of this launch has been long anticipated by the sports media world, although the news is somewhat muted by Disney’s announcement that ESPN will be available in a new sports bundle this Fall. The direct-to-consumer service would have been the first time noncable subscribers could access ESPN outside of the traditional cable bundle. Now, the yet-to-be-named joint venture from Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery will take over that role.

Surprise ‘Moana’ sequel hitting theaters in November” via Aaron Couch of The Hollywood Reporter — Moana and Maui are hitting the ocean once again. In a surprise move, Iger announced that the company will release an animated sequel to the 2016 film that will hit theaters on Nov. 27. The announcement came during an earnings call in which Iger emphasized that the ship was being righted at Disney’s film and TV divisions several months after he acknowledged the company had done too much too fast in order to feed Disney+, leading to some cases of lower quality projects hitting the marketplace.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Michelle McGovern, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs at Comcast, and Rachel Witbracht, Director of Government Relations at the University of West Florida.

___

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 FloridaPolitics.com, 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.



#FlaPol

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.

Email: [email protected]
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