Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.3.24

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Wake up right: Get your scoops and other news about Florida politics.

Good Wednesday morning.

The COVID-19 virus, which spurred a pandemic in 2020 and froze the tourism industry vital to Florida’s economy, also undercut the effectiveness of the state’s investment in its main tourism marketing agency, VISIT FLORIDA, according to a report by state economists.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research report shows that from 2019-2022, the state received 58 cents back for every $1 it invested in VISIT FLORIDA. However, the report also says the drop in revenues generated by the program was due to the shutdown of the travel industry due to the pandemic.

VISIT FLORIDA’s ROI took a hit during COVID.

“The largest contributor to the decline in ROI over this review period was the effect of the COVID health crisis on Florida’s tourism industry,” the report states. “Real Disposable Personal Income attributed to VISIT FLORIDA decreased by almost 58% during this period.”

A representative for VISIT FLORIDA didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

In fact, in prior reports conducted by EDR — VISIT FLORIDA’s return on investment is evaluated every three years — VISIT FLORIDA had a positive return of at least 2 to 1. For 2016-2019, the return was $3.27 for every $1 spent.

The reduced effectiveness came despite a decrease in state funding. In the prior three-year reporting window, VISIT FLORIDA received $230 million in taxpayer funds, while from 2019-2022 it received $147 million.

But as tourism rebounds from the pandemic doldrums, state economists project the positive return on investment to come back as well.

“EDR believes that the current working ROI of 3.3% is more reflective of the VISIT FLORIDA program over a longer period of time and should be used for all forward-looking analyses,” the report states.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@KKFla737: We have a long history of people voting for left-leaning initiatives and then voting for Republicans not only for President & Governor but also for the legislature. What the furor of the last 12 hours has taught me is that so many people who weigh in on Florida do not actually know our state or no more history. But that’s nothing new I guess … Plus, I don’t think (Donald) Trump is quite the extremist on this issue that the Republican legislators in this state are. Granted, he appointed the justices that made the SCOTUS ruling, but at the same time, how many actual voters think four-dimensionally and come to that conclusion? It’s political insider baseball.

@DianneHartFL: April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day. Today we celebrate all of the wonderfully awesome individuals in our lives. Take some time today to educate yourself on Autism, and lead with love and kindness.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

March Madness Final Four (women’s) begins — 1; March Madness Final Four (men’s) — 4; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 8; The Masters begin — 8; Kentucky Derby — 31; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 37; ‘Bridgerton’ new season (part one) premieres on Netflix — 45; French Open begins — 47; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 49; Dave Matthews Band 2024 Summer Tour begins in Tampa — 49; Monaco Grand Prix — 53; the 2024 World Cup begins — 69; season two of ‘House of the Dragon’ returns to Max — 74; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 87; Republican National Convention begins — 103; the 2024 World Cup ends — 106; 2024 MLS All-Star Game — 111; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on NBC/Peacock — 113; ‘Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 132; Democratic National Convention begins — 139; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 143; 2024 NFL season kicks off — 156; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 198; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 201; 2024 Presidential Election — 216; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 229; MLS Cup 2024 — 244; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 314; Florida’s 2025 Legislative Session begins — 335; 2025 Session ends — 395; ‘Moana’ premieres — 445; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 476; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 478; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 583; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 625; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 762; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 778; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 989; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,129; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,088; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,810.

— ELECTION RESULTS —

Lake Worth Beach voters overwhelmingly re-elect Betty Resch as Mayor in runoff” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Lake Worth Beach voters have re-elected Mayor Resch to a second three-year term — by a landslide. With all 23 of the city’s precincts reporting at 7:31 p.m., Resch had 60.5% of the vote to defeat former Commissioner Andy Amoroso for the city’s top elected office. Of the city’s roughly 42,000 residents, 2,545 cast ballots on Election Day and 535 votes separated the candidates. A runoff was called last month after neither Resch nor Amoroso secured more than 50% of the vote to win a four-way contest for the mayoralty. Resch, who took 48% of the vote, and Amoroso, who took 31%, were the top two vote-getters.

Betty Resch wins another term as Lake Worth Mayor.

Wellington voters elect Amanda Silvestri, Maria Antuña to Village Council in runoff” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Wellington voters have elected insurance executive Silvestri and Palm Beach County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Antuña to the Village Council, choosing them over two others in a runoff race. With all 24 of the village’s precincts reporting at 7:39 p.m., Silvestri had 52% of the vote to defeat former Mayor Bob Margolis for Seat 1 on the five-member Village Council. Antuña took 52% of the vote to beat longtime Wellington resident Shelly Albright for Seat 4. Silvestri will replace Council member Michael Drahos. Antuña will succeed Michael Napoleone, who vacated his Council seat last month for a successful mayoral bid. Each won a four-year term.

Voters re-elect Jeremy Clark, pick Linda Robinson for Davenport City Commission seats” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Voters have re-elected Vice Mayor Clark for his Seat 2 spot on the Commission. Meanwhile, Robinson won an open Seat 1 post. Robinson was up against Timothy Scott Woodlee. She won Seat 1 with nearly 71% of the vote — 196 votes to Woodlee’s 81 — according to unofficial Polk County election results. Some vote-by-mail ballots await tabulation. Clark faced a challenge from Christopher Lopez for his Seat 2 spot on the Commission. He won nearly 64% of the vote, with 175 votes to Lopez’s 99, according to unofficial final results. Clark was the only incumbent drawing a challenge this cycle. He first won election to his seat on the Commission unopposed in 2021, after being appointed to the body the prior year.

Haines City re-elects Morris West, 2 advance to City Commission runoff” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — West has won re-election. Voters also advanced Clarence Daniels and Kim Downing to compete for another spot on the Commission. West faced two challengers — Joseph Burgos and Jayne Hall — for his Seat 3 post. He won more than 52% of the vote, or 1,149 votes to Burgos’ 624 and Hall’s 433, according to unofficial final election results from the Polk County Supervisor of Elections Office. Meanwhile, Daniels and Downing were part of a four-candidate field running for an open Seat 4 position on the Commission. Other candidates included Buster Raggs Sr. and Carlos Surita. Downing won the most votes, with 716, ahead of Daniels’ 671. Surita wasn’t far behind with 641 votes, but not close enough to trigger a recount. Raggs received 149 votes.

Joshua Fuller re-elected, ‘Ezzy’ Eric Rappaport elected to Bay Harbor Islands Council” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Bay Harbor Islands residents voted to keep Vice Mayor Fuller in office for a third consecutive term alongside real estate investor Rappaport, whom they elected to the seven-member Town Council. With the town’s lone precincts reporting at 7:18 p.m., Fuller had 37% of the vote while Rappaport received 36%. They outpaced two other candidates, Kathleen Kennedy and Alex Rangel, who respectively received 14% and 12% of the vote. Rappaport will take the seat of Mayor Elizabeth Tricoche, who is leaving office after eight years. Less than 29% of the town’s 3,132 voters cast ballots Tuesday. The election was at large and nonpartisan, with voters choosing from all four candidates and the two biggest vote-getters winning seats.

Joshua Fuller and ‘Ezzy’ Eric Rappaport both emerged victorious in Bay Harbor Islands.

Carol Gillespie upsets Daniel Krueger in Lake Wales, Daniel Williams clings to 1-vote lead” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Lake Wales City Commissioner Krueger lost his re-election bid to challenger Gillespie. Meanwhile, fellow Lake Wales City Commissioner Williams is clinging to a one-vote lead on challenger Brandon Alvarado. Unofficial final election results showed Williams with 939 votes to Alvarado’s 938, and Polk County election officials confirmed all tabulation was done for the evening. Crystal Higbee, a third candidate, received 347 votes. The winner-takes-all election will not result in a runoff, and state law requires a recount for any election where results fall within a half-percentage point. Additional votes may yet be tabulated before results are certified Thursday, but the results will almost certainly trigger at least a machine recount. Gillespie’s win was more decisive. She won 1,325 votes to Krueger’s 983, taking more than 57% of the total vote.

Sanquetta Cowan-Williams, Everett McPherson elected to Pahokee City Council” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Two new members of the Pahokee Council are headed to City Hall. In the city’s Runoff Election, voters replaced incumbent Council member Sara Perez with community activist Cowan-Williams in Group 2. They also chose retired assistant prison warden McPherson over small-business owner Monique Gordon. McPherson will replace outgoing Group 1 Commissioner Juan “Johnny” Gonzalez, whom he and Gordon outpaced in the city’s General Election last month. Cowan-Williams took 63% of the vote, while McPherson won with 53.5%. Both won three-year terms. Cowan-Williams is an education professional who has worked with the Palm Beach County School District. She made at least one prior attempt at running for the City Council, but Tuesday marked her first success in doing so.

— FALLOUT —

Republicans say abortion ballot question more ‘extreme’ than their six-week ban” via Alexandra Glorioso of the Miami Herald — Florida is entering a unique period for pregnant women after a set of state Supreme Court decisions dropped late afternoon Monday both cleared the way for a six-week ban on abortions and opened the door for broad access to the procedure come November. From May until November, a Floridian who needs an abortion just six weeks into their pregnancy will be largely without options. But after November, if voters approve a constitutional amendment on the ballot, that same Floridian who needs an abortion would likely be able to get one. Only, what would the new limit be? While the ballot language approved Monday points to “viability” as the point at which abortions become off-limits — typically considered 24 weeks — Republicans are arguing that the proposed constitutional amendment would allow pregnant mothers to receive an abortion up until birth.

Republicans call the abortion amendment more extreme than the six-week ban.

Florida’s 6-week abortion ban will have nationwide impact, critics warn” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — The law will shutter clinics, limit abortions performed here each year, delay care and send thousands of people across state lines to terminate their pregnancies, they said Tuesday. “[This ban] will affect the entire country,” said Megan Jeyifo from the Chicago Abortion Fund, who added that Florida’s six-week cutoff is “essentially an all-out ban.” Many low-income women can’t afford travel, prompting them to carry pregnancies to term or take abortion pills at home past six weeks, prescribed via telehealth by doctors from other states. “People, rightfully so, are excited about the opportunity to vote to enshrine abortion up to 24 weeks in the state constitution of Florida. But we can’t forget that these are real people’s lives, in the meantime, that are impacted — who won’t be able to access care, who are going to confront many more challenges,” said Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, executive director of the Florida Access Network.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell pounces on abortion rulings as ‘game changer’ in Senate race” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Voters don’t want a restriction on nearly all abortions in Florida, according to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mucarsel-Powell. She expects voters this November to make that clear by firing Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. The Miami Democrat spoke to Florida Politics the morning after a court ruling upholding a ban on most abortions 15 weeks into pregnancy. That decision also triggered a more restrictive ban on most abortions six weeks into pregnancy, which will go into effect 30 days after the ruling. Mucarsel-Powell voiced outrage over the law, which she called a political “game changer.

Condoms, campaign ads: The fight for Florida voters after abortion rulings begins” via Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is calling Florida “a key state” and vowing to target voters there as part of a Spring ad campaign. College Democrats are handing out condoms emblazoned with the words “protect abortion in Florida.” Students are giving women tulips to raise awareness and register voters. It has been less than a day since the Florida Supreme Court allowed one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws while also agreeing to put the issue before voters in November. But already, the fight for Florida has begun, the rulings transforming a once-lackluster race into what is now likely to be a fierce duel. “We have a new situation here in Florida,” said Jayden D’Onofrio, Chair of Florida Future Leaders, a new group aligned with the Democratic Party that was handing out condoms and tulips after the rulings. “Florida is in play.”

Something about the marijuana amendment? — Florida’s sheriffs, business leaders and Attorney General Ashley Moody are holding a news conference to highlight the findings of a research report jointly conducted by the Florida Sheriffs Association’s Research Institute and the Florida Chamber of Commerce focused on securing Florida’s future success: 11 a.m., Marion County Sheriff’s Office, 692 NW 30th Ave., Ocala.


— STATEWIDE —

General revenue exceeds forecast by $217M — Florida general revenue collections topped forecasts by about 6% in February, according to an Office of Economic & Demographic Research report. Overall collections measured in at around $3.54 billion, which is $217.6 million higher than state economists predicted in their January estimate. The majority of the revenues — $2.84 billion — came via sales tax collections. The figure topped projections by $93.7 million. Further, corporate income taxes were by $42.5 million above estimates and the state’s earnings on investments topped estimates by $25.1 million.

A federal judge says migrants can sue the company that flew them to Martha’s Vineyard” via Greg Allen of WUFT — A federal judge in Boston has ruled that migrants flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022 can proceed with a lawsuit against the Florida company that took them there. The judge also dismissed claims against Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials named in the suit. Three migrants from Venezuela, along with an immigrant rights group, filed the lawsuit. They say that Florida’s Governor, others in his administration and an air transport company conspired to mislead them and deprive them of their civil rights when they recruited and flew them to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022. The plaintiffs say a videographer hired by the DeSantis administration recorded them arriving and boarding vans. But apart from the videographer and van drivers, the plaintiffs say no one else in Martha’s Vineyard had any advance notice of their arrival.

Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard now have standing to sue the charter company.

Florida consumer sentiment dips for first time in half a year” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — After nearly a half year of increased consumer sentiment in Florida, March figures showed a slight decrease in economic confidence. The consumer sentiment figure in the Sunshine State, which measures the general feeling of consumers toward the economy, fell by 2.1 points from February’s figure of 74.1 to March, settling at 72. The Florida figure also cuts against the national consumer sentiment, which increased by 2.5 points in March. “The drop in consumer sentiment was largely driven by Floridians’ views on their personal financial situation a year from now, which plummeted sharply in March,” said Hector Sandoval, Director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Florida features 4 out of top 5 fastest growing metro areas in U.S.” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — It’s no secret that Florida is one of the fastest growing states in the U.S. But a U.S. Census Bureau analysis recently released shows that out of the top 5 fastest growing metro areas in the country, four are in the Sunshine State. The Wildwood-Villages area, which nearly splits the distance between Ocala and Orlando, is the nation’s fastest-growing metro area. The population of that area now stands at about 151,000 people. Census officials say The Wildwood-Villages area grew by 4.7% between 2022 and 2023. From 2021 to 2022, that metro area saw 7% growth, which was also tops in the nation for the period. The Lakeland-Winter Haven area came in a close second in the country from 2022-2023, maintaining a population of about 818,000 while posting a 3.8% growth rate in the past year.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Judge: PACE loans must be included on tax rolls statewide” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — A Leon County Circuit Court judge ruled that the Florida PACE Funding Agency program can be administered statewide, allowing Floridians from the panhandle to the keys to access affordable financing to protect their homes against hurricanes and rising sea levels.

But with hurricane season looming in less than two months and millions of dollars of PACE projects stuck in limbo, the spotlight is on tax collectors and local governments — will they once again defy the judge?

A judge rules that tax collectors must account for PACE funds.

Some financial experts are concerned that the tax collectors’ continued defiance of the judge could raise questions about ratings on the state’s municipal bonds, whose repayment depends on the tax collectors fulfilling their duties.

The Leon Circuit Court judge’s ruling follows legislation passed overwhelmingly by the Florida House and Senate that would improve the PACE program even further. SB 770 includes key new provisions that enhance consumer protections, including reducing the maximum term of financing from 30 to 20 years, adding an ability-to-pay test, and requiring that only 20% or less of the home’s value can be financed.

And if that weren’t enough, PACE also plays a huge role in lowering insurance premiums. As Florida’s homeowners’ insurance crisis continues and has led to multiple Special Sessions and intense focus from DeSantis, a University of South Florida study estimated that PACE home improvements have amounted to well over $1 billion in insurance premium savings.

The ball now lies squarely in the court of local officials.

— 2024 —

Joe Biden campaign makes clear that Florida is in play for 2024 — probably” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Biden’s re-election campaign told the press that a court ruling upholding a six-week abortion ban puts Florida in play for 2024. But officials with the campaign also argued that, unlike Trump, the Democratic ticket sees multiple paths for victory. “We’re clear-eyed about how hard it will be to win Florida,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s Campaign Manager, “but we also know that Trump does not have it in the bag.” Even before the court ruling, the Biden campaign announced a Florida leadership team for Florida. But the decision prompted a more aggressive tone from the campaign regarding the Sunshine State.

Joe Biden assures Democrats that Florida is in play.

Donald Trump won’t commit on Florida abortion vote” via Marc A. Caputo of The Bulwark — Florida just threw Trump a curveball on the issue. On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment protecting access to the procedure can go to a vote this Fall. The Republican Party of Florida opposes the measure, which will be on the same ballot as Trump. That raises the question: Will Florida’s best-known Republican vote yes or no? Trump isn’t saying. A written statement from his campaign Monday evening avoided taking a position on the Florida initiative: “President Trump supports preserving life but has also made clear that he supports states’ rights because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves.”

Trump doubles down on ‘bloodbath’ warning as he criticizes Biden’s handling of the border” via David Jackson of USA Today Network — Trump returned to the campaign trail Tuesday and, in two battleground states, again employed the violent imagery of a “bloodbath,” this time to link crime and illegal border crossings. “There’s never been a border like this,” Trump said while criticizing Biden during a prepared speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Standing behind a podium sign that read “Stop Biden’s Border Bloodbath,” Trump noted that he was criticized for using the term during a rally last month in Ohio. In that case, he used it to allege the American auto industry would suffer under current U.S. trade practices. Trump also repeated his “bloodbath” comments during an early evening rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, another key Midwest state that could well decide the 2024 Presidential Election.

Trump spotlights ‘Biden’s Border Bloodbath’ during stop in crucial battleground state he lost in 2020” via Paul Steinhauser of Fox News — Trump is turning up the volume as he accuses Biden of failing to protect Americans from violent crime that Trump says is being committed by illegal immigrants and deadly drugs pouring over the nation’s southern border with Mexico. During a campaign event Tuesday in this western Michigan city, Trump fired numerous salvos at his successor in the White House, arguing that “under Crooked Joe Biden, every state is now a border state.” Trump’s stop came in the wake of the March 22 murder of Ruby Garcia, a 25-year-old woman allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant who had been deported to Mexico in 2020 but returned to the U.S. Garcia’s death — her body was discovered alongside a road in Grand Rapids — is dominating local conservative talk radio and social media.

Trump returns to Wisconsin with false claims that he won the state in 2020” via Matt Dixon of NBC News — Trump returned to Wisconsin Tuesday night for the first time in nearly two years, re-introducing himself to the battleground state with misleading claims about the 2020 Election. “You know we won this state. We won this state by a lot. It came out that we won this,” Trump told the crowd at a rally here. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016; he did not win the state in 2020. Turnout was higher in 2020 than it was four years earlier, so Trump did get more votes than he did in 2016 — but it was over 20,000 votes short of what Biden received. On Monday, Trump also spread the falsehood during an interview. “We actually did much better than the first time,” he said. “We won it in Wisconsin, as you know, the first time. The second time we did much better, but I guess it was delayed. They found out a lot of wrongdoing. And after the wrongdoing was found, people said, ‘Well, he actually did win.’”

— D.C. MATTERS —

Democratic lawmakers seek ways to change Israeli approach in Gaza” via Rachel Oswald of Roll Call — Frustration has been steadily growing among Senate Democrats about the tactics that the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used in its war against Hamas, particularly an intense air bombardment over the densely populated Gaza strip and the restricting of practically all aid deliveries by land. While it remains unclear what will happen to the Senate-passed supplemental in the House, Democrats in both chambers could seek to revisit the provisions related to funding for Israel in light of the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. If House Speaker Mike Johnson decides to bring the measure up under suspension of the rules, there might be enough votes to clear the bill without reopening for changes to the Israel and Palestinian-related provisions.

Democrats demand that Benjamin Netanyahu change strategy in the latest war between Israel and Hamas.

Muslim leaders decline White House Ramadan invitation” via Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Yasmeen Abutaleb of The Washington Post — A group of six Muslim leaders will meet with Biden and Kamala Harris on Tuesday evening to discuss U.S. policy in the Gaza strip after they were invited for a small Ramadan dinner but rejected such a gathering as inappropriate given the administration’s continued support of Israel amid devastation in the territory. Biden initially invited the leaders for iftar, the meal in which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the leaders “expressed the preference” of a policy meeting, and the White House adjusted its plans to accommodate their request.

White House rejects tying Ukraine aid to reversing natural gas policy” via Ari Natter and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg — The Biden administration has dismissed a deal with Johnson to tie Ukraine aid to lifting the Biden administration’s pause of new liquefied natural gas export licenses. “The President has been clear that House Republicans should pass the bipartisan national security agreement that already passed the Senate as soon as possible to get Ukraine the aid it urgently needs to defend itself from Russian tyranny,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday. “The President supports the pause on pending, additional approvals of LNG export licenses to evaluate the economic and climate impacts on consumers and communities.”


— DOWN BALLOT —

Paul Renner sends $100K to RPOF — House Speaker Renner cut a $100,000 check to the Republican Party of Florida, party Chair Evan Power announced in a news release. “We thank Speaker Renner for his commitment to building the Republican Party to help from School Boards, county, city to statewide races. Speaker Renner has delivered big conservative victories in the legislature and his commitment to the party will help us continue to deliver electoral victories,” Power said. Renner added, “The 2024 Elections will be one of the most consequential in our history and it is critical the Republican Party of Florida has all the necessary resources to elect Republicans at the local, state, and federal levels to keep our state and our nation moving forward.”

‘Incredible support’: Mike Davey campaign for CD 27 reports $300K raised in Q1” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Former Key Biscayne Mayor Davey’s campaign for Florida’s 27th Congressional District is reporting that it raised $300,000 in the first quarter of 2024. Of that, he had more than $286,000 on hand as of Tuesday — 13 days before candidates must turn in their official campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission. Davey’s campaign reported in late February that he amassed over $100,000 in his first 72 hours running for the CD 27 seat, currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar. He attributes the subsequent haul, over roughly five weeks, to “incredible support” from the community.

Mike Davey makes solid bank in Q1.

Daryl Parks launches challenge to Corey Simon in SD 3” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — North Florida will see a competitive state Senate race this Fall, after all, as Democrats look to take back a seat they lost two years ago. Parks, a Civil rights lawyer, is launching a campaign to unseat Sen. Simon in Senate District 3, a seat that includes Apalachicola, Tallahassee and Live Oak. Reportedly, the buzz around Parks’ candidacy in the swing seat has been building since February. On Tuesday, he made it official, framing his campaign as a populist crusade against politics as usual. “I am proud to announce my campaign to be your next State Sen.,” Parks said.

Tom Leek rounds up congressional support for state Senate bid” via Florida Politics — U.S. Reps. Mike Waltz and Cory Mills are backing state Rep. Leek in his bid for state Senate. Leek is running in Senate District 7 to succeed state Sen. Travis Hutson who is facing term limits and has already endorsed Leek in the GOP Primary, where he faces Gerry James. Waltz, the first Green Beret elected to Congress, praised Leek for upholding “conservative values and consistently” delivering “results for the people of Northeast Florida. He is a true servant leader who respects and protects our men and women in uniform, as well as their families. There is no question in my mind that he will continue this important work in the state Senate, and as a veteran, I am extremely proud to offer him my endorsement,” said Waltz, who represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District on Florida’s east coast from south of Jacksonville to New Smyrna Beach.

James Reyes campaign for Miami-Dade Sheriff reports $400K haul in Q1” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Miami-Dade Chief of Public Safety Reyes’ campaign for Sheriff is reporting that it raised more than $400,000 in the first quarter of 2024. Official campaign finance reports for Reyes and 16 other candidates vying to be the county’s first elected top cop since the 1960s are due April 15 in accordance with Florida’s recently changed campaign finance laws. In a statement, Reyes said he has been “humbled and inspired” by the “tremendous amount of support” his campaign has received since he entered the race for Sheriff in late January. “Over the last 25 years, I’ve led with a commitment to transparency and integrity while always prioritizing the safety of our residents and families,” he said.

— LOCAL: S. FL —

Broward School Board asked to fire General Counsel over charter school dispute” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Broward School Board’s top lawyer could be fired this month following questions over whether the School District failed to share enough money from a 2018 tax referendum with charter schools. General Counsel Marylin Batista could be terminated without cause at the April 16 School Board meeting, under a proposal from School Board member Daniel Foganholi. “In recent weeks, concerns have arisen regarding the conduct and decision-making of the General Counsel, despite the Board’s explicit directives and established protocols,” Foganholi wrote in an agenda item. “The General Counsel has undertaken certain actions independently, which have led to unfavorable outcomes for the School District.” He specifically listed the School Board’s efforts to resolve the dispute over charter school funding.

Daniel Foganholi calls for Marylin Batista’s termination.

Former Martin County school Superintendent John Millay files to run for School Board” via Colleen Wixon of Treasure Coast Newspapers — Millay wants to return to the School District, but this time on the School Board dais. He filed paperwork to seek election to the District 2 School Board seat, running against incumbent Marsha Powers. Sydney Marie Thomas also has filed to run for the seat in the Aug. 20 election. Millay, hired in November 2020, was the district’s first appointed Superintendent after Martin voters decided in 2018 to change from an elected Superintendent to an appointed one. He resigned abruptly about 2½ years later, in the midst of a three-year $170,000-a-year contract. At the time, Millay had no specific reasons for his resignation.

No more $100 ankle monitors as Miami-Dade ends inmate fees in county jails” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Jail time in Miami-Dade will soon be free after County Commissioners voted to eliminate fees for booking, medical care, ankle bracelets and other detention expenses currently billed to inmates. While people in jail get billed $25 for being booked and $15 per doctor’s visit, many low-income inmates don’t pay. The vote erases $24 million worth of inmate debt the county considers “unlikely to be recovered” in a corrections system where small amounts of money can keep someone in jail even after a judge has cleared them for release. “I had so many clients who couldn’t get out of jail because they didn’t have someone who could put the money up for them,” said Maya Ragsdale, a former public defender.

Palm Beach County schools settle lawsuit with charters for $54M” via Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County School Board leaders will vote Wednesday on a $54 million settlement in a lawsuit that stems from money raised by a 2018 property tax increase that was not shared with charter schools. If approved, $54 million will be divided among 45 charter schools that have opted to receive past-due referendum money and interest. The School Board’s agenda does not list the amount of money to be awarded to individual schools. The settlements end a yearslong dispute about whether Palm Beach County’s charter schools were entitled to money collected from the referendum approved by voters for school safety initiatives and higher teacher pay.

Gov. Ron DeSantis names Kevin McDonald to District 5 vacancy on Indian River County School Board” via Colleen Wixon of Treasure Coast Newspapers — McDonald was appointed to the School Board, replacing Brian Barefoot, who resigned in February from the District 5 seat. The appointment was announced in a brief statement by DeSantis. McDonald, a 10-year Indian River County resident, is the former Chair, president and treasurer of The Geneva School of Manhattan, a New York City classical private school. He previously was the business development manager of Ricoh Americas Corp., according to a news release from DeSantis’ Office. He is one of two candidates who has filed paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office to run for the District 5 seat in the Aug. 20 election.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Orlando brushes off Orange County concerns, annexes Sunbridge” via Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Without discussion, Orlando City Council gave final approval to annexing a 6,300-acre piece of Tavistock’s Sunbridge development, brushing aside objections from Orange County and setting up a second giant addition as early as next month. Before the vote, Jon Weiss, Deputy Orange County Administrator, reaffirmed county concerns which he outlined in great detail last week in a four-page letter to city officials that included maps and the legal basis for the objections. He pointed out county staff had spent more than a decade working with the Suburban Land Reserve, the real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owner of the land that Tavistock plans to develop.

Despite concerns, Orange County pushed through with annexing Sunbirdge.

Orange County teachers OK contract, will get nearly 10% raises next week” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Public Schools teachers overwhelmingly ratified a new contract that gives most of them nearly 10% raises but also hikes their insurance costs in the coming years. More than 99% of teachers who voted by mail-in ballot said “yes” to the new contract, ending a monthslong labor dispute between the teachers union and Central Florida’s largest school district. Now that it has passed, OCPS teachers will get raises starting April 10, with about 90% getting pay hikes of 9.7%. Next week’s paycheck will also include a lump sum of back pay as the salary hikes are retroactive to the start of the current school year. Starting teacher pay in the district will go to $49,375, up from $48,400.

Brevard County Commission backs extending state lobbyist Ron Book’s contract for another year” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — The Brevard County Commission says it supports extending the state lobbying contract of a firm headed by Book for another year — and likely will offer him a pay raise — rather than putting the contract out to bid. Book has more than 35 years of lobbying experience and has more than 100 lobbying clients around the state, including other counties and cities. His firm has been Brevard County’s state lobbyist since October 2016. The current contract ends May 30. County Commissioner John Tobia had proposed extending Book’s contract for three more years. But Commissioner Rob Feltner suggested making the extension just one year.

Lakeland Electric will spend $9.2M to purchase power from OUC to meet Summer peak demand” via Sara-Megan Walsh of the Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland Electric will spend $9.2 million over the next two years to ensure it has the power necessary for customers to keep their lights on and air conditioners cranked up in the Summer heat. Lakeland Commissioners unanimously approved extending the municipal-owned utility’s power purchase agreement with the Orlando Utilities Commission on Monday through Dec. 31, 2026. “It will give us a couple of years to bring in more resources and, from my understanding, renewable resources we are looking at specifically that we don’t have at this time,” said Paul Shipp, LE’s power resources manager.

Magic Kingdom ferry crash sparks Disney lawsuit” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — An overcrowded Magic Kingdom ferryboat crashed into the dock last year, according to a new lawsuit filed by a Florida man who said he was hurt in the collision. Justin Tripp sued Disney for more than $50,000 in Orange Circuit Court and accused the theme park company of negligently running the ferry. The crash, according to Tripp’s lawsuit, occurred April 27, 2023, as the Richard F. Irvine ferry — named after one of the early Disney leaders — didn’t slow down as it approached the dock at the Magic Kingdom. The lawsuit doesn’t say how fast the boat was traveling. Passengers weren’t warned about the “imminent collision,” the lawsuit said. “One passenger was knocked unconscious,” the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, Tripp was “thrown into a steel pillar where he hit his neck and head. He eventually fell into a trash can which prevented him from possibly being thrown overboard.”

— LOCAL: TB —

Kathy Castor backs Charlie Justice as he faces stiff opposition in re-election bid” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Castor is lending her name recognition to Justice as he seeks re-election to the Pinellas County Commission amid a coordinated push by the GOP to further grow its power on the dais. Castor and Justice are both Democrats, meaning the endorsement is not much of a surprise. But Castor’s name is, if not revered, at least well known in the Tampa Bay area, not just among Democrats. “Congresswoman Castor is a tremendous public servant for our community who has done the hard work to deliver real results in securing federal resources for local priorities,” Justice said. He’s facing opposition from Vince Nowicki, a government watchdog who has made a name for himself in St. Petersburg where he worked to uncover a residency issue with a City Council member who, as a result, resigned from her position.

Charlie Justice gets a big thumbs-up from Kathy Castor.

‘Thank you, God’: Lakeland makes Juneteenth an official, paid city holiday for its workers” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — After 31 years of working while others celebrate Juneteenth, city employees will be given the day off to join in the festivities. Lakeland officials voted unanimously to recognize Juneteenth, celebrated June 19, as an official, paid holiday for city workers starting this year. As it passed, a cry of “Thank you, God” could be heard from Black residents gathered in the Commission chambers. The decision comes after months of pushing by the Black community for the city to recognize Juneteenth, which was recognized as a federal holiday by Biden in 2021. The day honors the anniversary of when nearly a quarter of a million enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed they were free, and slavery was over in the United States.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

Before raising rates, JEA threw $70K holiday party with appetizers and drinks from open bar” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — JEA paid about $72,000 to throw a holiday season party for its employees at “A Night of Magic” celebration that featured magicians, tables of food platters and an open bar that served beer, wine and some cocktail selections at no cost to attendees. The party in December at the Florida Theatre was a way to thank employees for the work they’d done to manage the cost of providing electricity to customers in the face of volatile fuel prices and other expenses that factor into electric bills. City Council member Michael Boylan called it a concerning expenditure by the city-owned utility. “In the scheme of things, it’s not that big a number, but the optics of it is critical,” Boylan said.

A $70K bash is not a good look for city-owned JEA. Image via First Coast News.

Facing higher costs, more open seats, Duval schools weigh new closings. Which ones will go?” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Strained by budget overruns, Duval County school officials are weighing closing dozens of schools whose futures seemed certain after voters approved a halfpenny sales tax for building improvements in 2020. The closings could eliminate two high schools — Westside High and A. Philip Randolph Career Academies — and shutter much-loved grade schools including Atlantic Beach Elementary and John Stockton Elementary, last year ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the county’s second-best elementary and 50th in the state. But the list of threatened schools remains fluid and may change again before School Board members schedule public meetings to outline reasons closings are being sought and to seek feedback.

Jacksonville Sheriff says legalizing recreational marijuana ‘could cause more issues’” via Jim Piggott of News4Jax — People in Jacksonville and across Florida will get to say in November if they want recreational marijuana to be legal. There were opinions on this both ways in downtown Jacksonville on Tuesday, but most people said it’s just a good idea to put it on the ballot. On Tuesday, News4Jax put the question to Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters since it’s JSO that would have to deal with some of the ramifications if recreational pot is legal. “If that becomes the law of the land, the law in our state, of course, we obey the laws in our state. We’ll work around ways how to deal with that. It won’t be legal (to) use in your car, won’t be legal to use when you shouldn’t. We’ll still enforce the laws in place, but we’ll see what happens,” Waters said.

On the front line against negligence: Jacksonville’s battle for safer roads” via Hilary Tetenbaum of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville ranks in the top 10 cities in the U.S. for motorcycle accident fatalities in 2021 (4.42). Duval County, which shares the same borders with Jacksonville, records over 2,500 commercial motor vehicle crashes annually, according to the Crash Facts report. These collisions include a motor vehicle — such as a bus, delivery van, or semi-truck — that is protected by federal motor carrier statutes. It is equally risky in terms of car accidents. According to Florida’s Crash Dashboard, Duval County was involved in 24,436 traffic incidents. There were 268 bicycle accidents, 447 motorbike accidents, and 492 pedestrian accidents among these traffic incidents.

Here’s why Tallahassee will one day be the solar eclipse capital of the U.S.” via Alijah Brown of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee may not catch a full view of the total solar eclipse in April, but in about 28 years the city will have the distinction of becoming a solar eclipse capital of the United States. Florida’s capital will have seen totality in four solar eclipses between 1918 and 2052, setting a major astronomical record and making it one of the most eclipsed cities across the contiguous U.S. All told in a 200-year period, Tallahassee has seen the sun fully go dark in 1918 and 1970 and will again in 2045 and 2052.

— LOCAL: SW. FL —

Sarasota City Commission OKs density bonus for affordable housing in new districts” via Heather Bushman of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Another affordable housing incentive squeezed past the Sarasota City Commission on the second reading at a special meeting. A zoning text amendment that will offer a density and height bonus to developers that build affordable housing in certain districts passed with Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Debbie Trice in dissent. The amendment creates three new districts in growing areas that aim to encourage mixed-use developments, and it passed by the same vote on the first reading on March 4. The districts — known as urban mixed-use 1, 2 and 3 — are located along major corridors like Fruitville Road, Washington Boulevard and U.S. 41 in the North Trail area.

Jen Ahearn-Koch is a hard pass on height and density bonuses for development.

North Port commits $4M to design and permitting for new police station” via Earle Kimel of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — In the most significant vote regarding the future of a new police station, the North Port City Commission unanimously voted to commit $4 million from the general fund to pay for design and permitting of the new facility, which could be as large as 108,900 square feet plus ancillary facilities. That facility would accommodate the city’s needs through 2065, but as Board members pored over budget cuts for previously approved projects to be funded through the sales tax, some City Commissioners acknowledged that the facility — with a projected budget of $122.7 million — may need to be scaled back to 100,000 square feet, with some of those ancillary buildings put off as well, because of a lack of guaranteed funding.

— TOP OPINION —

Patricia Levesque: FFF 2024 Legislative Report Cards — who made the grade?” via Florida Politics — Each year following Florida’s Legislative Session, the Foundation for Florida’s Future ranks lawmakers on advancing key education issues and produces a report card much like teachers prepare grades for students and schools. These ratings provide a valuable tool for all Floridians to measure their lawmakers’ support for student-centered education policies, which are the Foundation’s priorities.

This year saw successful, bipartisan support for critically important education policies — but also opposition to proven, long-standing policies that have contributed to Florida’s education success over the years. As a result, fewer lawmakers earned top grades than in past years.

For this Legislation Session, 95 of 160 lawmakers received ‘A’ grades on the Foundation’s 2024 report card.

House Speaker Paul Renner’s priority legislation requiring common-sense limits on social media access was signed by Gov. DeSantis. It should improve the declining mental health of Florida’s youth and liberate children from unhealthy habits that diminish their ability to fully enjoy life.

Some Senate lawmakers entered this year’s Session with a proposal to allow more students to enter fourth grade without being able to read at grade level and allow students to graduate high school without demonstrating mastery of basic writing and math skills.

This anti-accountability and choice package would have crippled our ability to ensure kids were ready to move to the fourth grade and reduced the value of the high school diploma students earned.

Thankfully and ultimately, policymakers rejected these ideas.

The House and Senate approved a balanced budget that increases per-student funding and teacher salaries and invests in proven education programs and policies. From incentives and bonuses for positive learning outcomes to new funding for everything from scholarships to tutoring, this year’s budget is a clear statement and commitment from our state to keep striving for excellence.

— OPINIONS —

Disney vs DeSantis: Who won? Why settle?” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Last week, DeSantis and Mickey Mouse announced they were done trying to sue each other’s pants off. That seems like particularly good news for Mickey since pants are just pretty much the only thing he wears. Anyway, while the announced settlement was bad news for the lawyers — who were enjoying taxpayer-funded payments of up to $795 an hour — both the Governor and theme park giant celebrated the settlement. DeSantis’ Twitter team declared it a total victory for their boss while the legal analysts at the “Above the Law” website scoffed, concluding: “Ron DeSantis Claims Victory Over Disney and All He Had To Do Was Give Disney Everything They Wanted.”

Legislature fails Floridians yet again on climate change” via Pam McVety of the Tallahassee Democrat — Who do you want making decisions about your health and safety? I want doctors and scientists making these decisions, not politicians. We just came through another Legislative Session where the majority party made decisions that hurt you and your family. They ignored what scientists and the medical community were telling them. They ignored facts. They ignored science. They ignored the public welfare. Put bluntly, our legislators turned their backs on the rational connections between facts and the choices they could have made for us. For example, House Bill 1645, which overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and will soon be on the way to the Governor, did the “exact opposite” of what is needed to respond to climate change and protect you. They eliminated the words “climate change” in multiple places from the Florida statutes. This included language that directed the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to consider energy efficiency and climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the state’s energy policy.

Will abortion make Florida a swing state?” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — Take a bow, Justice Samuel Alito. On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court provided further vindication for his 2022 Dobbs opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and returning abortion policy to the people to decide. The Florida court let DeSantis’ six-week abortion restriction take effect, while also approving a ballot measure that will leave its ultimate fate up to voters. The political reality since then is that the people reign, as they will in Florida. In one opinion this week, the Tallahassee justices reversed a state version of Roe, which had read abortion protections into a privacy clause added to the Florida constitution in 1980. The persuasive 6-1 ruling says advocates of that amendment, who included abortion opponents, argued it would be protection from newly computerized government data collection.

I hope to repeal an arcane law that could be misused to ban abortion nationwide” via Tina Smith for The New York Times — A long discredited, arcane 150-year-old law is back in the news in 2024, and that should terrify anyone who supports reproductive freedom. Last week at the Supreme Court, the Comstock Act of 1873 was referenced on three separate occasions during oral arguments in a case dealing with access to mifepristone, one of two drugs typically used in medication abortions. Anti-abortion activists like to bring up the Comstock Act because one of its clauses prohibits sending through the mail “every article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine or thing” that could possibly lead to an abortion. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t take the bait, a newly re-elected Trump could order his Department of Justice to start interpreting that line to mean that it is illegal to mail mifepristone.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Lace up your shoes for SeaWorld’s new 5K” via Gabrielle Russon of Florida Politics — Attention runners and theme park fans: There is a new race in town. SeaWorld Orlando is launching a new 5K this Spring centered around its food festival just in time for the company’s 60th-anniversary celebration. The Inaugural Seven Seas Food Festival 5K Fun Run is open to all ages and will take place before the theme park opens to the public on May 4. “The Fun Run will wind its way through iconic attractions, including Sesame Street Land, Orca Stadium, Infinity Falls, Mako coaster, Shark Plaza, Dolphin Stadium, Key West, and Wild Arctic, offering an unforgettable journey for all,” the company said in a news release.

Grab your running shoes, SeaWorld is hoisting a 5K fun run.

One of the oldest books in existence expected to fetch over $2.6 million at auction” via Christine Kiernan of Reuters — A book from Egypt that was written at the dawn of Christianity and is considered one of the oldest books in existence will go up for auction in June in London. The Crosby-Schoyen Codex — written in Coptic on papyrus around 250-350 AD and produced in one of the first Christian monasteries — has an estimated sale value of $2.6 million to $3.8 million, according to Christie’s. The 104 pages (52 leaves) were written by one scribe over a period of 40 years at a monastery in upper Egypt and are preserved behind plexiglass. The codex contains the first epistle of Peter and the Book of Jonah.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Brad Ashwell, Alex Heckler of LSN Partners, Robert Mons, Ivette Arango O’Doski, and our ol’ friend Billy Schmidt.

___

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.


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#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]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
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