Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.13.24

Sunburn Orange Tally (5)
Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

Breaking late Tuesday — “Legislature sends ‘Live Healthy’ bills to Gov. Ron DeSantis” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Senate President Kathleen Passidomo’s proposal to fortify a network of providers, including dental hygienists and physicians, to prepare for the aging Baby Boomers who call the Sunshine State home has been sent to DeSantis. Three bills account for over $1.27 billion in health care spending, with the largest appropriation ($717,105,294) reserved for SB 7016. The bill earmarks $134.6 million to enhance hospital Medicaid reimbursement rates to support moms and babies during labor and delivery, $5 million for LINE and PIPELINE programs to strengthen health care workforce development partnerships and $50 million for graduate medical education to expand Slots for Doctors, creating 500 new residency slots to address workforce shortages.

—“DeSantis poised to sign homeless camping ban he wanted” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics

—”DeSantis receives bill banning IDs for undocumented immigrants” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics


A top of Sunburn congratulations to our dear friends Christina and David Johnson on their 25th wedding anniversary.

The Johnsons are celebrating their Silver Anniversary.


Gunster, one of Florida’s oldest and largest full-service business law firms, announced that Thomas Fleming has joined its Business Litigation practice as a shareholder in its Naples office.

Fleming is an accomplished trial lawyer with a wealth of experience spanning general commercial litigation, patent disputes and trade secret matters. Specializing in pharmaceutical and life sciences cases, he has represented a host of Fortune 500 companies.

Commercial litigator Thomas Fleming gets picked up by Gunster.

His expertise extends to directing complex intellectual property matters, primarily in patent and trade secret litigations for international clients, as well as negotiating and litigating intellectual property licensing transactions, showcasing his proficiency in navigating complex legal landscapes.

In his career, Fleming has also co-chaired multiple jury patent trials, ITC litigations and arbitrations across diverse sectors such as biotechnology, medical devices, and wireless technology.

“Tom’s addition underscores our commitment to delivering comprehensive legal solutions tailored to our client’s needs, especially in the intricate fields of general commercial litigation, patent disputes and trademark law,” said Bill Perry, CEO and managing shareholder of Gunster.


Tweet, tweet:

@KenDilanianNBC: The Robert Hur hearing is a perfect example of what American politics has become. A career public servant spends a year reaching conclusions that are inconvenient for partisans of each party. So, they set about questioning his motives and ethics on national television.

@RepMoskowitz: Nothing came out of today’s Robert Hur testimony other than that James Comer may need to submit to a cognitive test.

@CBSNews: Rising air and ocean temperatures around the world could set the stage for an “explosive hurricane season,” Weather Channel meteorologist Stephanie Abrams told @CBSMornings on Tuesday.

@Fineout: One week to go before Fla’s Republican Presidential Primary (and some local races) and so far, more than 601k voters in the state have either voted early or voted-by-mail. Nearly 455k GOP voters have voted by mail.


Arizona/Florida/Illinois/Kansas/Ohio Primaries — 6; James Madison Institute’s ‘2024 Naples Dinner’ with keynote speaker Laura Ingraham — 8; ‘3 Body Problem’ premieres on Netflix — 8; Donald Trump’s New York hush money trial begins — 12; The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the mifepristone/abortion pill case — 13; Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2024 season — 15; Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ released — 16; March Madness Final Four (women’s) begins — 22; March Madness Final Four (men’s) — 25; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 29; The Masters begin — 30; Kentucky Derby — 53; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 58; ‘Bridgerton’ new season (part one) premieres on Netflix — 66; French Open begins — 68; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 70; Dave Matthews Band 2024 Summer Tour begins in Tampa — 70; Monaco Grand Prix — 74; the 2024 World Cup begins — 90; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 108; Republican National Convention begins — 124; the 2024 World Cup ends — 128; 2024 MLS All-Star Game — 133; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on NBC/Peacock — 135; ‘Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 154; Democratic National Convention begins — 160; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 164; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 219; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 222; 2024 Presidential Election — 237; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 250; MLS Cup 2024 — 265; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 335; ‘Moana’ premieres — 465; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 496; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 499; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 604; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 646; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 783; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 799; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,010; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,150; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,109; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,831.


‘Here I am’: Democratic women lawmakers get candid about being in minority” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — Already outnumbered as a Democrat, Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis is even more in the minority in the state Capitol as a Black woman. “We are operating in spaces that weren’t designed for us,” Davis said during a livestreamed panel for Women’s History Month. “When the Florida Legislature was created, it wasn’t created for people like me to speak truth to power in the halls of the Capitol, but here I am. … So, I have to speak, and I have to speak on behalf of those I represent.” What followed next was a one-hour candid discussion where five Central Florida lawmakers talked about everything from why they ran for office to inspiring the next generation of women leaders.

LaVon Bracy Davis has some honest talk about being in the minority.


Creator of Charlotte’s Web CBD urges DeSantis to veto hemp bill” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Paige Figi said she has been trying to talk to DeSantis but hasn’t reached him. The stated purpose of the bill (SB 1698) is to outlaw synthetic chemicals in hemp that can induce euphoria. But Figi, whose late daughter Charlotte took what became known as Charlotte’s Web, a form of non-euphoric CBD, to treat her severe epilepsy, says the measure would also signal the death knell for CBD in the state. Figi said the legislation either was inadvertently too broad or was specifically focused to target hemp and help larger medical marijuana dispensaries. Floridians could vote in November about whether to make recreational marijuana legal because of a citizen’s initiative bankrolled by Trulieve, Florida’s largest medical pot dispensary. “I don’t think anybody has ill will toward the CBD health industry, unless you own a dispensary and want this in your store [instead],” she said.

The founder of Charlotte’s Web wants a veto on what could be the ‘death knell’ of CBD in Florida.

Many Florida insurance bills approved by Legislature aim to save homeowners money” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Lawmakers approved a $200 million extension of the My Safe Florida Home program and created a separate program to help condo owners. But a bill allowing surplus lines carriers to take out second-home policies from state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was approved, which critics say could subject snowbirds to failures by insurers whose policies are not guaranteed by the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association. The Legislature also failed to approve bills that would allow the Office of Insurance Regulation to increase limits on insurable values eligible for Citizens coverage and prevent cancellation or nonrenewal of policies covering flood-damaged homes.

A First Amendment recap of Legislative Session” via Douglas Soule of USA Today Network — The 2024 Florida Legislative Session is over. Its effects are soon to come, especially as they relate to First Amendment issues. A number of bills were passed in the Session that ended Friday. They intersect — and maybe clash — with the values and five freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights: speech, religion, press, assembly and petitioning the government. If it gets DeSantis’ expected signature and survives expected court challenges, Floridians younger than 16 years old would be banned from social media platforms deemed “addictive” — unless they’re 14 or 15 and get a parent’s permission. Floridians soon will have to be the drinking age to be able to strip for money, if DeSantis signs this legislation.

Legislature shoots down bills to broaden gun safety requirements, background checks” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — The GOP-controlled Legislature this year shot down proposals to strengthen safety strictures for Florida gun owners, ban untraceable weapons and boost court protections for at-risk family members. Dubbed the “Responsible Gun Ownership Act,” the measure would have required universal background checks even in private sales, increased safe storage standards and expanded risk protections so residents could seek safeguards for family members they believe intend to break the law. The legislation by Sen. Tina Polsky and Rep. Christine Hunschofsky would have also required serial numbers for so-called “ghost guns” — firearms sometimes made partially or entirely of 3D-printed plastic that can bypass metal detectors and many security scanning systems. Both versions of the legislation (SB 518, HB 291) died without a hearing.

Lawmakers set sights on broadband, TV ‘advisers’” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — At issue are companies or individuals who contract with homeowner associations to advise on services such as broadband and cable TV, and then broker contracts with service providers. While these companies claim they help HOA members get the best services for the lowest cost, some companies receive signing bonuses or other payments from telecom companies without disclosing it to the HOA. Near the end of the 2024 Session, Sen. Jason Pizzo filed an amendment to HB 1021, a comprehensive HOA package, which would have required companies to disclose potential conflicts of interest. If they failed to do so, any contract signed with an HOA would be voided. Pizzo’s amendment was withdrawn, however, after discussion because a late change would have required the House to act, jeopardizing the overarching bill.

Jason Pizzo’s amendment of an HOA bill may have endangered the whole proposal.

House toppled the estoppel, preventing $100M in new HOA fees” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The House in the waning hours of the 2024 Legislative Session stood its ground on the “Home Tax” bill dealing with estoppel certificates and who can pay for them. Its unwillingness to budge left the measure (HB 979) dead for the Session. As it was originally filed, the measure would have blocked homeowner associations (HOAs) from charging a fee to prepare an estoppel certificate — a document used to outline any outstanding fees owed to the HOA during the home sale process. It protects buyers who would be on the hook for any dues owed. The House Judiciary Committee in February amended the legislation to alleviate concerns, proposing a prohibition on charging homeowners and buyers for the estoppel certificates.

Legislature puts brakes on bill requiring advanced notice of roadside memorial removal, relocation” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Legislation to require that advance notice is given to families before the relocation or removal of a roadside memorial honoring a loved one went unheard this past Session. Now, one of the measure’s sponsors is vowing to bring it back with improvements that should see it fare better next year. The bill, dubbed the “Dori Slosberg, Carolina Gil Gallego, Margo Scher, Crystal Cordes and Ryan Rashidian Memorial Notification Act,” is named for five teens who died in a horrific car crash in Boca Raton on Feb. 23, 1996, and the memorial installed for them. Last August, Palm Beach County road crews removed the memorial, consisting of four Christian crosses and a Jewish star, from Palmetto Park Road. After a week and a half of outcry and an admission by the county that the memorial was removed “in error,” crews reconstructed it.


DeSantis’ mixed bag in culture-war fights includes settlement over LGBTQ subjects in schools” via Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix — DeSantis was quick out the door with a claim that a settlement in a legal challenge to his Parental Rights in Education Act — or Don’t Say Gay — vindicated his efforts “to keep radical gender and sexual ideology out of the classrooms of public-school children.” In fact, the settlement agreement’s terms also limit enforcement of that law (HB 1577), which the Governor pushed through the Legislature two years ago to bar public school instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity through grade three (subsequently expanded through higher grades). The state signed the settlement on Monday, one week after a federal appeals court blocked another DeSantis law, the 2022 Individual Freedom Act, (HB 7) known as the Stop Woke Act.

When it comes to the culture war, Ron DeSantis’ Session was a mixed bag.

Power plants keep Florida manatees warm. What happens when they close?” via Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — As we bent Florida’s waterways to our will, diverting rivers, draining water that fed springs, paving over creeks, manatees had to find other sources of warm water to keep them alive during the winter. More than half of the state’s manatees now depend on power plants to survive, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But in an ironic twist, human efforts to help the environment and address climate change will mean that these plants, powered by fossil fuels, will eventually be converted to cleaner energy sources that don’t involve warm-water discharges. The Commission estimates that this transition will happen within the next 30 years for all the major sites manatees visit.

Florida joins federal lawsuit against cancer charity over alleged fraud” via Jack Lemnus of WPEC-CBS12 — Attorney General Ashley Moody is taking legal action against a cancer treatment charity that allegedly mismanaged money meant for patients. The Federal Trade Commission and agencies from 10 states, including Florida, filed suit against Cancer Recovery Foundation International, Inc. and its founder and president, Gregory B. Anderson. The foundation claimed that it provided financial support directly to help cancer patients and families in need. It also operated and solicited donations under another name: Women’s Cancer Fund.

FPL agrees to credit customers $5M for nuke plant outages” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO — Florida Power & Light Co. agreed to credit its customers for replacement power costs due to plant shutdowns, Public Counsel Walt Trierweiler said. The Office of Public Counsel told the Public Service Commission in a pre-hearing statement that FPL had agreed to credit customers for power purchases due to plant outages between 2020 and 2022. State regulators in February had recommended the PSC should refund more than $11 million, citing an agency audit that blamed mismanagement for some of the more than 40 shutdowns and fines at the Turkey Point and St. Lucie nuclear power plants.

— 2024 —

Congressional hearing on the Joe Biden classified documents probe turns into a proxy campaign battle” via The Associated Press — Lawmakers turned a hearing on Biden’s handling of classified documents into a proxy battle between Biden and Trump, as a newly released transcript of Biden’s testimony last Fall showed that he repeatedly insisted he never meant to retain classified information after he left the vice presidency. Special Counsel Hur, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, stood steadfastly by the assessments in his 345-page report that questioned Biden’s age and mental competence but recommended no criminal charges. “What I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows, and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe,” Hur said. “I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the President unfairly.”

Robert Hur doubles down on his report outlining how Joe Biden handled classified papers.

Donald Trump leads Biden narrowly in Georgia as General Election comes into focus” via Kabir Khanna, Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus of CBS News — With Biden and Trump on the verge of clinching the presidential nomination, their rematch in Georgia in the General Election looks like another close race. Trump is just ahead of Biden in likely voters’ current preferences, with a three-point lead that is within the margin of error. This edge is driven by a small group of Biden’s 2020 voters switching to Trump, boosted by favorable views of how Trump’s policies would affect Georgians’ pocketbooks. Biden’s message in his State of the Union address that democracy is under threat at home may resonate with Democrats, but voters in Georgia are likelier to say it’s Trump than Biden who would strengthen U.S. democracy. In fact, Biden’s numbers on this issue are net negative, with a third of his own voters saying his second-term policies wouldn’t make a difference.

Trump aides, taking over RNC, order mass layoffs” via Shane Goldmacher, Michael C. Bender and Chris Cameron of The New York Times — Days after allies took over the Republican National Committee (RNC), Trump’s advisers are imposing mass layoffs on the party, with more than 60 officials, including senior staff members, laid off or asked to resign and then reapply for their jobs, according to two people familiar with the matter. The swift changes amounted to a gutting of the party apparatus eight months before the November election, with one person familiar with the operations estimating that the RNC had only about 200 people on payroll at the end of February and about 120 at its headquarters near Capitol Hill. The heads of the communications, data and political departments were among those let go.

Aaron Rodgers and Jesse Ventura top RFK Jr.’s list for running mate” via Rebecca Davis O’Brien of The New York Times — Kennedy Jr. has recently approached the NFL quarterback Rodgers and Ventura about serving as his running mate on an independent presidential ticket, and both have welcomed the overtures, two people familiar with the discussions said. Kennedy confirmed that the two men were at the top of his list. It is not clear if either has been formally offered the post, however, and Kennedy is still considering a shortlist of potential candidates, the people familiar with the discussions said. Kennedy said that he had been speaking with Rodgers “pretty continuously” for the past month and that he had been in touch with Ventura since the former Governor introduced him at a campaign event last month in Arizona.


Rick Scott’s ‘End Fentanyl Act’ to help border security heads to Biden’s desk” via Florida Daily — Scott announced that his bipartisan legislation, the Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating Effective New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act, passed the House of Representatives, marking a unanimous full Congressional passage, and now heads to the President’s desk. The END FENTANYL Act will require the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure operational field manuals, including their drug interdiction guidance, are up-to-date.

Rick Scott wants to stop fentanyl at the border. Image via Sen. Rick Scott’s Office.

Conservation group celebrates establishment of Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Florida Conservation Group (FCG) Executive Director Julie Morris joined Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to announce the establishment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area in southwest Florida. The Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area will allow the USFWS to work with landowners to secure conservation easements over ecologically sensitive lands, protecting those lands in perpetuity while allowing continued agricultural operations. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area is the result of decades of work by multiple state and federal agencies and the larger conservation community,” Morris said. “This region stands out due to its tremendous biological diversity and the strong partnerships between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local, state, and federal agencies, NGOs, landowners, sportsmen, and others who have come together to make this happen. Floridians have shown how much we value conservation.”


Realtors back Danny Nix in HD 75” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Nix will have the support of his industry as he seeks a House seat. The Florida Realtors PAC is endorsing Nix for House District 75. “As a hardworking REALTOR and engaged Southwest Florida resident, Danny is in a unique position to recognize and serve the needs of the citizens of HD 75,” said Jarrod Lowe, Chair of Florida Realtors PAC trustees. “He not only has a deep understanding of the neighborhoods in his area, but he also has a history of leadership in the community and a ‘roll-up-the-sleeves’ work ethic. He will be an outstanding representative for his district.”

Danny Nix gets thumbs-up from Florida Realtors.

— LOCAL: S. FL —

United Teachers of Dade endorse Daniella Levine Cava for re-election as Miami-Dade Mayor” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Florida’s largest teachers union is getting behind Miami-Dade Mayor Levine Cava’s bid to keep her office for four more years. United Teachers of Dade (UTD), which represents some 24,000 school system employees, endorsed Levine Cava over five others seeking to supplant her as the county’s top official. The UTD Executive Board unanimously chose to back her, a note from the Mayor’s campaign said. “UTD is proud to endorse and support our friend and a champion of our teachers and public education,” said UTD President Karla Hernández-Mats, a 2022 candidate for Vice Mayor. “At a time when some politicians seek to make our teachers’ lives and jobs more challenging, Mayor Cava is a breath of fresh air for parents, educators and students.” Levine Cava said in a statement that she is “honored” by UTD’s backing.

Dade teachers fall in line behind Daniella Levine Cava. Image via Daniella Levine Cava.

Miami Seaquarium refuses to close its park and give land back to Miami-Dade County” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — The Miami Seaquarium told Miami-Dade County it will fight termination of its waterfront lease, claiming efforts to evict the theme park are based on faulty allegations about poor animal care and building maintenance. “We received your notice with grave concern and disappointment,” Edwin Gonzalez, a leader of the company that owns the Seaquarium business, wrote in a letter to the office of Mayor Levine Cava. “We have found substantial evidence that contradicts the claims made in your notice.” There was no immediate response from the Mayor’s Office to the Gonzalez letter.


Clearwater Mayor’s race draws big money as March 19 election draws near” via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — The race for Clearwater Mayor has become one of the more expensive contests in recent years, with both candidates raising six figures so far. And as the March 19 election approaches, their campaign money is coming from strikingly different corners of the community. Support for City Council member Kathleen Beckman is almost exclusively from individuals — and one in particular. Of the $145,373 she raised through March 1, $63,211 is from her own pockets. Of the $126,636 raised by lawyer Bruce Rector, nearly 14% is from political committees, 20% is from businesses and about $4,000 is from himself. Those numbers come close to the record $155,000 set in 2020 by former Mayor Frank Hibbard in his four-way race. But the tone of this year’s race marks a shift in intensity for elections in Tampa Bay’s third-largest city.

The race between Bruce Rector and Kathleen Beckman becomes an expensive affair.

Anti-transit legislative effort could pose threats to Tampa Bay projects” via Henry Queen of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — New transit projects in Florida will face additional hurdles if DeSantis signs two bills recently passed by lawmakers. House Bill 287 seeks to cap how much of the state’s $14.1 billion transportation trust fund can go to transit projects, with some exceptions. House Bill 1301, meanwhile, restricts transit agencies’ advertising efforts, redistributes unallocated transit money to high-priority highways, requires transit administrative costs to be kept under certain thresholds and eliminates funding to airports, ports and transit agencies that mandate vaccines or masks.

Local Dozier School survivor reacts to compensation fund” via Mark Parker of St. Pete Catalyst — For the past eight years, Sen. Darryl Rouson has sponsored a bill to compensate victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse at the state-run Dozier School for Boys. Florida lawmakers approved a $20 million fund on March 4 that will provide a modicum of justice for the hundreds of men who survived the now-defunct “reform school” outside of the small panhandle town of Marianna. The unanimous vote resolves a 16-year impasse. Rouson has a personal connection to the infamous saga. He developed a relationship with a victim, James Golden, who is now a deacon at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. “I really thank him for everything he’s (Rouson) done for us,” Golden added. “Not only for me but all the other guys that were there. We never thought that day would ever come.

Manatee County votes to expand nature preserve along Tampa Bay. What happens next?” via Ryan Ballogg of the Bradenton Herald — Manatee County leaders voted to approve a land purchase that will significantly expand Emerson Point Preserve on Tampa Bay. Commissioners instructed staff to negotiate a contract to purchase a 98-acre parcel next to the existing preserve for $15.5 million. The contract will return to the Commission at a future meeting for final approval. If the purchase goes through as planned, it will be the county’s second land buy thanks to a local conservation referendum passed by voters in 2020 with majority and bipartisan support. The program is funded by dedicated property taxes and up to $50 million in bond funds.

Pinellas County mayor and others ask Gov. DeSantis to veto vacation rental bill” via Chad Mills of ABC Action News — John Pfanstiehl said over the past few years, he and others have had problems with some of their other neighbors — the very temporary ones who rent out homes here short-term through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Those problems and others pushed the City of Indian Rocks Beach to pass an ordinance last year that regulates vacation rentals in various ways. The city ordinance sets rules for both the people who own and those who rent them.

Rest in peace — Developer of Wesley Chapel’s Saddlebrook, home to top tennis players, dies” via Paul Guzzo of the Tampa Bay Times — Tom Dempsey would say, is how he rose from an impoverished Depression-era kid to developer of Wesley Chapel’s 480-acre Saddlebrook Resorts, which turned an area known for cow pastures into a vacationing oasis and training center for No. 1-ranked tennis players. Dempsey, whom friends and family called TD, died Friday. He was 97. “TD led a legendary life,” grandson Masterson Dempsey said. “As family members, fortunately, we were beside him and witnessed his dreams actually happen.”

— C. FL —

Brightline gives green light to Cocoa stop for its Orlando-to-Miami passenger rail service” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Next stop: Cocoa. That’s the word from passenger rail company Brightline, which said it plans to have a Brevard County train stop at what’s known as “the Cocoa curve,” on land it owns in north Cocoa, although it hasn’t yet said when construction of a station would begin. Brightline currently operates 32 trains a day — 16 in each direction — from early morning to late evening on the roughly 3½-hour route between Orlando International Airport and Miami. But it has no stop in Brevard County. The Cocoa City Council at a workshop unanimously voted to commit $5 million in city money for a Brightline station project at that site, which helped trigger Brightline’s commitment to have the train stop there.

Brightline gives a green light to a Cocoa train stop.

7th Circuit to fill 2 judicial openings amid a lack of diversity in applicants” via Frank Fernandez of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — DeSantis will choose from six finalists to fill a vacancy on the 7th Circuit bench while steps are already underway to fill a second seat opening soon, marking significant turnover on the circuit’s bench, leaving it with less experience and less diversity. The retirement of Raul Zambrano in December and the pending retirement of James Clayton on April 1 will complete the departures of two of the 7th Circuit’s most experienced Judges. Zambrano’s departure makes the circuit less diverse, leaving it without a Hispanic Judge. Apparently, only one minority candidate applied for his seat, Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally, who was not selected as a finalist.

Lake Wales City Manager suspends Police Chief Chris Velasquez, plans to seek replacement” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — Lake Wales City Manager James Slaton plans to replace Police Chief Velasquez, citing concerns about favoritism and a lack of transparency. In a memo sent to Velasquez on Monday, Slaton informed the chief of a three-day, unpaid suspension to begin on March 18. Slaton also wrote that he will launch a search for a new police chief beginning next month, ending Velasquez’s 13-year tenure as the department’s leader. Slaton’s actions follow years of complaints against the police department from the Poor and Minority Justice Association. In delivering the suspension, the City Manager cited Velasquez’s handling of an officer’s promotion to the position of lieutenant in November.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

Randy White appears a lock for Council President as Kevin Carrico, Michael Boylan vie for VP” via Casmira Harrison of Jacksonville Today — White, the Jacksonville City Council Vice President who represents a large swath of the city’s Westside, appears set to take the reins as the President of the government body this Summer — that is, if all the promises of support for White turn into votes. Meanwhile, Council member Carrico’s succeeding White as Vice President seems almost certain, too, despite a challenge from Boylan. While no actual vote was taken Monday, a majority of Council members gathered at City Hall to pledge their support to White, who represents District 12, and Carrico, who represents District 4. A new President and Vice President will take the helm on July 1.

Randy White seems to be a shoo-in for Jacksonville Council President.

Lawmakers add projects to state budget. What made the cut for Jacksonville area?” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The University of North Florida’s (UNF) expansion plans and Flagler College’s Ponce de Leon Hotel renovations emerged as two big winners in the state budget approved by the state Legislature. On the other side of the ledger, Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan’s request for $63 million in state support for developing two downtown riverfront parks hit a dead end in the annual jockeying for local projects. UNF would get $40.2 million for the construction of a 60,350-square-foot building between the Thomas G. Carpenter Library and the University Green. UNF wants to increase enrollment to 25,000 students by 2028. The student support and academic building would have study space, learning centers, tutoring, career development and other academic enhancements.


Charlotte School Board discusses political materials in classrooms” via Elaine Allen-Emrich of the Port Charlotte Sun — Charlotte County School Board member Kim Amontree said some classroom teachers have shared websites critical of DeSantis and promoting Black Lives Matter with students. At a School Board workshop, Amontree said she looked at websites with political content shared with students. She said one website urged people to “fight back against the DeSantis slate of hate.” “It is my understanding there’s materials from Black Lives Matter, which if I go to their website, the first thing I see is seven demands (including) convict and ban Trump from political office, expel Republican members of Congress (who attempted to overturn the election),” she said. Amontree added if there were Make America Great Again flags on campus, she wouldn’t deem that appropriate either.

Kim Amontree says BLM websites have no place in Charlotte schools.

Longtime Sarasota Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates announced re-election campaign” via Christian Casale of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — When Ford-Coates was first appointed as the Sarasota County Tax Collector, Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States, “Ghostbusters” was the highest grossing film of the year, and the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $1.13. Now, Ford-Coates will seek her 11th term in office, her campaign announced. A Democrat in a solidly red area, Ford-Coates campaigns in presidential election cycles and has weathered partisanship for 40 years in a county that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Serving as your Tax Collector has been an honor and an exciting challenge,” Ford-Coates said in a statement.

Sarasota litigation lawyer appointed to County Court position in 12th Judicial Circuit” via Gabriela Szymanowska of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The 12th Judicial Circuit will see a new face on the bench following the appointment of a local litigation attorney to the Sarasota County Court, the third appointment made by Gov. DeSantis within a year to the circuit. The 12th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties, has seen a shuffling of new faces as DeSantis has made appointments to fill open positions created by the retirement and resignation of several Judges. The newest appointment is that of Shannon Hankin, a former Assistant Public Defender and Assistant State Attorney and current lawyer at the Hankin and Hankin Law Firm.

School paraprofessional charged with battery no longer with Lee County School District” via Tomas Rodriguez of the Fort Myers News-Press — A former Lee County school paraprofessional accused of sending thousands of text messages to at least one student that included nude photos and sexual videos remained in custody on a six-figure bond. Lauren Angelica King, 32, of Fort Myers, is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a victim between the ages of 12 and 16. She remained at the Lee County Jail on Monday afternoon on a $350,000 bond. Rob Spicker, representative for the Lee County School District, has confirmed King is no longer employed at the Lee County School District. Spicker said roughly 100 K-12 students are enrolled at Royal Palm Exceptional Center, where she was employed and the student attended school.


Trump repeats Obama’s mistake” via David Graham of The Atlantic — When the new leaders were announced last month, I suggested that the GOP was ceasing to function as a political party, and becoming another subsidiary of Trump Inc. But there is another way to view it.

For years now, the RNC has struggled. Republicans might have lost the 2016 Presidential Election if not for the emergence of Trump, who shook up the party’s longtime platform and forged a new coalition, turning out voters no other recent candidate had. Since then, however, Republicans have continued to lag, even with Trump juicing turnout. Republicans got slammed in the 2018 Midterms, lost the 2020 Presidential Race, and missed expectations in 2022. Special Elections have been a Democratic playground. The RNC is entering the 2024 Election with a third of the Democratic National Committee’s reserves.

From this perspective, it’s about time that Trump took charge and cleared out the deadwood. Allies such as Charlie Kirk and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene were jubilant at the overhaul. Although Trump’s appointments of his daughter-in-law and a top campaign aide are unusual, nominees typically take over the campaign apparatus ahead of a presidential election, the better to align aims.

The problem is that Trump sees his own success and the success of the Republican Party as bound up together. But some things that are good for Trump are not good for the Republican Party over the long run. This is where Obama offers a cautionary tale.

Obama viewed the Democratic Party as essentially a national organization, with the goal of supporting his political goals and his re-election. The result was a badly weakened DNC.


Biden’s memory: The problem that won’t go away” via Byron York of The Washington Examiner — Just four days ago, after the State of the Union address, Democrats were exultant in the belief that Biden, with a high-volume, one-hour-plus speech, had put to bed the question of whether he has the mental sharpness to serve a second term in the White House. Now, some of those same people are angrily denouncing congressional testimony that revives the Biden competency question. The testimony was from Hur, the special counsel who concluded that Biden illegally mishandled classified information.

50 years later, athletes are again pawns in a shameful Florida fight” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times — “It makes me very sad to see all of the sacrifices made on our behalf, and now we seem to be turning back the clock. Now, we’re putting these young athletes in the same position we were in having to make a tough decision,” said Gator football player Leonard George, a retired attorney now back home in Tampa. “Why? You ask yourself why is this going on now? Why is it necessary now to get rid of these programs? It seems the more progress we make, some people — and I’m not saying which ones, but the people who vote for these things — why are they doing this? It hurts me to have to talk to young people about this. Why? I thought we’d come so far. Why? You would have to ask the people in charge why they want to take us back to a place that existed more than 50 years ago.”

Don’t stick Floridians with out-of-network ambulance bills” via Mark Postma and Terence Ramotar of the Tampa Bay Times — Ambulance providers are on the front lines of health care, acting as a critical public service. Yet despite the vital role emergency ground transportation plays, more and more health insurance companies are no longer covering or providing adequate reimbursement for EMS providers for these essential lifesaving services. As a result, many Floridians are being forced to pay for their ambulance trips out of pocket. Floridians can help by telling their state lawmakers to fight to make sure they don’t get stuck paying for their next ambulance ride by filling this gap in the system during the next Session. With the bill stalling this year, patients are left at the mercy of their insurance companies — often forced to consider monetary implications during an emergency. Similar bills have passed in Louisiana and Arkansas in recent months, while Texas, California and Colorado have similar statutes.

She worked with Disney lobbyists. Now she’ll run the Disney district” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis announced that his latest choice to run the state’s new Disney government district is a staffer who was previously exposed for secretly working to secure special favors for … wait for it … Disney. DeSantis’ top aide worked with GOP legislators to insert a provision into the bill that exempted any company that “owns and operates a theme park.” The language was inserted just four weeks after Disney cut a $50,000 check to DeSantis’ political committee. And the staffer who helped ensure Disney got special treatment is the same one DeSantis just announced as the district’s new leader — his legislative aide, Stephanie Kopelousos. Kopelousos sent emails from the Governor’s Office to legislative staffers in 2021 that suggested ways to ensure Disney wouldn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else.


— ALOE —

‘The Batman Part II’ delayed a year to 2026” via Aaron Couch and Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter — The Batman Part II is flying off to a new date. The film will now open on Oct. 2, 2026. That’s back a year from when the film’s original date. It wasn’t the only notable change made to Warner Bros. release calendar on Tuesday: the Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed “The Bride!” starring Christian Bale, will take Batman 2‘s old date of Oct. 3, 2025; Barry Levinson’s gangster pic Alto Nights is being delayed from Nov. 24, 2024 to March 21, 2025; and Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled star-studded event has landed an Aug. 8, 2025, release date. All of the titles will be offered in IMAX.

Batman returns, but not until 2026. Image via Warner Bros.

TSA offers big advice to Florida Spring Break travelers at airports” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials issued advisories for visitors coming to Florida and for many wayfarers leaving the state for Spring Break to help make the process of getting through airports much easier and safer. TSA officials held a media event at Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) to offer key helpful hints to make it through airports quicker for Spring Breakers in the Sunshine State. Spring Break officially runs through April 1, and TSA Supervisor Alexander Vargus and Lead Transportation Security Officer Zenna O’Malley detailed some essential elements for travelers coming and going through Florida airports during the annual migration marking the break from winter. At JIA alone, the TSA predicted their agents will be screening at least 12,500 passengers at concourse gates each day, and that number could reach as high as 13,500.

Aquatica Orlando opens Tassie’s Underwater Twist in time for Spring Break” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — Aquatica Orlando’s newest waterslide has an unexpected twist. Tassie’s Underwater Twist is a water raft ride with video projections and a soundtrack. That means that all around you as you glide by are sharks, fish and dolphins in an underwater scene set in Australia’s Shark Bay. Water park President Brad Gilmore called it “the world’s most immersive waterslide” during a media preview. “When you guys ride it,” Gilmore told journalists, “you’ll think of things like, ‘never before’ or ‘one-of-a-kind.’” Employees get ride previews before the ride officially opens to the public on Friday.


Belated best wishes to great dad and husband Frank Mayernick, Abby MacIver, and Sarah Revell. Happy birthday to former Rep. Scott Plakon, Bob Asztalos, smart guy and good dad Ryan Cohn of Sachs Media Group, Scott Maddox, Chris Mitchell of Statecraft Digital, The Southern Group’s Mike Moore, Megan Sirjane-Samples, and Jennifer Wilson.


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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