Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.12.24

Gun Rights

Good Monday morning.

Breaking Overnight — “Chiefs win Super Bowl over 49ers with Patrick Mahomes TD pass” via The Athletic — The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl champions. Patrick Mahomes found Mecole Hardman for a 3-yard touchdown to give Kansas City a 25-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime of Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday in Las Vegas. The Chiefs are the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004. Is it a dynasty? “It’s the start of one. We’re not done,” Mahomes said. Scrambles. Escapes under pressure. Intermediate throws. Short dimes. Mahomes made every play on the final drive. He will be MVP. Third Super Bowl comes in his sixth season as a starter. First back-to-back Super Bowl winner in two decades. Tom Brady has someone hot on his heels.

The Kansas City Chiefs prevail in a Super Bowl that went to overtime under new NFL rules. Image via AP.

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A very special top-of-Sunburn birthday shoutout to our good friend, former Sen. Jeff Brandes, who seems to be finding his place as a more effective voice outside the Legislature than when he was serving. Keep your eyes on Jeff these next few years!

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Happy birthday Jeff Brandes! Image via Florida Policy Project.

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Florida’s cultured meat ban grinds ahead — and China can’t be happier” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Florida could soon be the first state to criminalize cultivated meat — and China appears thrilled. A legislative package is headed to a House Subcommittee for a Monday vote. That bill, as written, would outlaw the manufacture, sale or distribution of lab-made meats, a move industry advocates say will compromise both the state’s economy and America’s food security. China appears to be tracking the legislation in Florida. State-run media published an article on China.com and other distribution channels last week that noted the action of Florida lawmakers. The article was titled: “China’s breakthrough in cultured meat technology.”

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Congratulations on this appointmentDavid Clark to the Florida Talent Development Council. Clark, of Havana, is the Chief Executive Officer of MyGovGuide and the Managing Partner of Allegiant Strategies Group. He previously served as a Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Ron DeSantis and currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Tallahassee Collegiate Academy.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@DylanEWells: Nikki Haley’s son, Nalin Haley, is kicking off her event in Gilbert tonight. “Senator Judas — excuse me, Senator Scott,” he says of Tim Scott’s endorsement of (Donald) Trump.

@KateSullivanDC: Trump is now claiming it would be “disloyal” for Taylor Swift to endorse (President Joe) Biden (as she did in 2020) because Trump argues he “made her so much money”

@JustinSayfie: What many news organizations will do is selectively contextualize Trump: contextualize him when doing so may hurt him, and not contextualize him when doing so may help him.

@BasedMikeLee: The Senate wants to send your money to Ukraine — a lot of it. The bill has some serious problems that are being overlooked. I spoke at length about those problems tonight in the Senate, and plan to do the same tomorrow. It takes hours even to summarize what’s wrong with it.

@GovGoneWild: Congrats to @JoeGruters the new National Committeeman for Florida! On to the RNC.

@JayCollinsFL: Communism is a stain on human existence. We need to teach our children the truth about it.

@MDixon55: Max McGee is the all-time Super Bowl GOAT for this Hungover off a party night, dude scored first Super Bowl TD, had seven catches for 138 yards and two total touchdowns Went on to be a Packers radio guy for two decades

— DAYS UNTIL —

Ninth Annual Suits for Session begins — 8; Season 6 of ‘Drive To Survive’ premieres on Netflix — 11; South Carolina Republican Primary — 12; Michigan Democratic Primary — 15; James Madison Institute’s ‘Red, White and Bluegrass’ dinner — 16; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 18; Michigan/Idaho/Missouri GOP Primaries — 19; Netflix to stream “The Netflix Slam,” Rafael Nadal/Carlos Alcaraz faceoff — 20; Super Tuesday — 22; State of the Union address — 24; last day of Regular Session, if Legislature completes work in 60 days — 25; 2024 Oscars — 27; Georgia Democratic Primary — 29; Arizona/Florida/Illinois/Kansas/Ohio Primaries — 36; James Madison Institute’s ‘2024 Naples Dinner’ with keynote speaker Laura Ingraham — 38; ‘3 Body Problem’ premieres on Netflix — 38; The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the mifepristone/abortion pill case — 43; Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2024 season — 45; March Madness Final Four (women’s) begins — 52; March Madness Final Four (men’s) — 55; Florida TaxWatch’s Spring Meeting — 59; The Masters begin — 60; Kentucky Derby — 83; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 88; ‘Bridgerton’ new season (part one) premieres on Netflix — 93; French Open begins — 98; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 100; Dave Matthews Band 2024 Summer Tour begins in Tampa — 100; Monaco Grand Prix — 104; the 2026 World Cup begins — 120; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 138; Republican National Convention begins — 154; the 2026 World Cup ends — 158; 2024 MLS All-Star Game — 163; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on NBC/Peacock — 165; Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 183; Democratic National Convention begins — 189; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 194; Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 249; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 249; 2024 Presidential Election — 264; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 280; MLS Cup 2024 — 295; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 365; ‘Moana’ premieres — 498; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 529; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 634; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 634; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 676; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 813; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 829; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,040; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,180; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,139; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,861.

— TOP STORY —

Donald Trump plans to make Ron DeSantis a ‘political eunuch’” via Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone — The former President and 2024 GOP front-runner has continued to ridicule DeSantis in conversations with close associates, saying that the Governor doesn’t have what it takes to be the party’s “future.” Lately, Trump has told fellow Republicans that DeSantis should not be the Republican presidential nominee in 2028, in part because the Governor has proven himself — in Trump’s view — as someone who Democrats could easily beat.

Donald Trump wants to make Ron DeSantis’ political life a living hell.

One of the sources, who has spoken to the ex-President about this topic recently, bluntly characterizes Trump’s attitude on DeSantis’ future as wanting to turn “Ron into a political eunuch” who never gets to be President, much less lead his party. In months past, as Rolling Stone previously reported, Trump privately insisted that if DeSantis truly wished to earn his forgiveness, the Florida Governor would have to “kiss my ass a lot.”

For now, it appears that the adequate ass-kissing has yet to begin.

The ongoing climate of spite and mutual bitterness between the two men underscores the former (and maybe future) President’s emphasis on receiving maximum fealty from his allies and fellow conservative luminaries. It also highlights Trump’s propensity for degrading and punishing Republicans who have crossed him, as well as his commitment to vengeance and the cult of personality that he plans to return to the White House if he defeats Biden in the November election.

For the past year, the Trump campaign’s crusade to sink DeSantis’ political future wasn’t fueled only by the ex-President’s desire to punish a turncoat. Some of the highest ranks of Team Trump were staffed by Republicans who had previously worked for the Florida Governor and had such bad experiences with him that it caused some to crave revenge.

— LEGISLATIVE —

Hemp bill banning some cannabinoids headed to Senate floor, advancing in House” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — As Florida seems to get closer to voters deciding whether to legalize cannabis containing delta-9, restrictions on a closely related product are close to becoming law. On Wednesday, the full Senate will consider Sen. Colleen Burton’s bill (SB 1698), which proposes a number of material changes to what the sponsor calls an “unregulated market.” Burton’s measure contemplates a ban on currently commercially available and federally legal products, along with a cap on delta-9 THC, which could negatively affect the 487 growers and roughly 10,000 retail outlets in the state. Her bill enjoys the support of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). The bill would crack down on alternative cannabinoids that serve as functional alternatives to delta-9 THC, the euphoria-inducing compound commodified by the state’s medical marijuana program.

Colleen Burton is looking to rein in the ‘unregulated’ cannabis market.

— MORE LEGISLATIVE —

House mulls proposal to teach Florida kindergartners about Communism” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Tuesday’s PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee will mull Rep. Chuck Brannan’s HB 1349, which would compel schools to start teaching the “History of Communism” in grades K-12. The lessons are intended to be “age and developmentally appropriate,” and it would indeed be interesting to see how teachers of young students deal with such heady topics as the history of Communism in the U.S., foreign “atrocities” driven by Communism, “cultural Marxism” and other so-called “lineages” of “Communist thought,” the events of the Chinese “Cultural Revolution,” Cuban Communism, and the “economic, industrial, and political events that preceded and anticipated Communist revolutions.” The bill would also require a Communism Education Task Force to be appointed by August 2024. That panel would help to craft this curriculum.

Chuck Brannan is pushing to teach kindergartners about ‘cultural Marxism.’

Split custody exchanges ready for Senate floor” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Sen. Clay Yarborough’s bill (SB 580) is on the Special Order calendar, where it likely will be substituted with the identical measure that passed the House (HB 385). The bill is referred to as the Cassie Carli Law to honor Cassie Carli, a 37-year-old Navarre woman who vanished in March 2022 following the scheduled exchange of her preschool-aged daughter, only to be found in a grave in Alabama weeks later. The legislation would require court-approved plans for shared custody to include — unless otherwise agreed to by both parents — a list of “designated authorized locations” to exchange custody of their children. Estranged parents can opt out with a written waiver, however, should they be able to work things out more amicably.

— EVEN MORE LEGISLATIVE —

The Florida Legislature has become a safe space for White supremacists” via Jason Garcia of Seeking Rents — This Session alone, a single Republican Senator — Blaise Ingoglia, a former leader of the state Republican Party — has filed troll-ish bills meant to start fights over reparations (Senate Joint Resolution 582) and the teaching of slavery (Senate Bill 1192). Neither of those bills are moving forward this Session. But a third one: Senate Bill 1372, which would expand the state’s “Stop WOKE Act,” the suppressive law — currently blocked by the courts — tries to stop teachers and professors from talking to their students about the impacts of racism and sexism. It sometimes seems as if there is no depth that some Florida leaders won’t sink to in the name of stoking racial grievance.

Blaize Ingoglia’s bills are attractive to White supremacists.

Christian Ziegler case leads Lauren Book to revisit Marsy’s Law” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — One of the main supporters of Marsy’s Law, which established a slate of rights for crime victims, is criticizing the way Ziegler invoked it to block information from his cellphone recovered by law enforcement while investigating a sexual assault allegation against him. “I’m a little surprised. I don’t know that that’s exactly what we intended,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, a vocal supporter of Marsy’s Law. “That’s not necessarily the way it was intended. It’s for true victims of crime.” Book says part of the confusion surrounding the law and its haphazard interpretation around the state stems from the lack of an implementing bill passed by the Legislature to define parameters and procedures for law enforcement officials and the courts on a statewide basis to enforce the rights of victims.

Florida sees its first major purge of public sector unions following passage of Republicans’ anti-union law” via McKenna Schueler of Orlando Weekly — Thousands of public workers in Florida lost union representation last month, a result of anti-union legislation signed into law last year. Public records show that in January alone, at least 30 public bargaining units for city, university and non-instructional school employees were decertified by the state. Decertification means the bargaining unit is no longer recognized as valid, and any current contracts they’ve negotiated with employers — covering things such as grievance procedures and negotiated pay raises — are no longer enforceable. Florida’s Senate Bill 256, touted as a “paycheck protection” measure by DeSantis in 2023, was broadly opposed by union members, many of whom traveled to Tallahassee to speak against it last spring — and was only publicly supported by organizations that have historically sought to undermine public sector unions.

— THE SKED —

2 p.m. House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets. Room 212, Knott Building, the Capitol.

5:15 p.m. House Rules Committee meets. Room 404, House Office Building, the Capitol.

— THE TRAIL —

Florida GOP endorses Trump, elects Joe Gruters to represent state party” via Marco La Manno of WFLA — The Florida Republican Party endorsed Trump for President and elected a local Republican to represent the state party on the Republican National Committee. Sarasota State Sen. Gruters narrowly beat out another candidate to become Florida’s Republican National Committee member. Gruters is the former Chair of the Florida GOP, Sarasota GOP, and served as Co-Chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Florida. The Florida GOP also re-elected former Manatee County GOP Chair Kathy King as a National Committee member.

Donald Trump is keen on Joe Gruters becoming RNC Chair.

Could Gruters ascend to chair the Republican National Committee?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Months after Trump weighed in on a National Committee member race, Gruters’ name is being bandied about for the Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair position. News broke this week that sitting RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel may step aside so that Trump, the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, can pick a party leader. Shortly afterward, The Washington Post reported Gruters and North Carolina Republican Party Chair Michael Whatley as potential successors. A day later, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Gruters was “in the mix,” and the article was picked up in papers throughout the USA Today network. Gruters appreciated the mention but clarified that it’s ultimately up to Trump to pick his favorite.

Nikki Haley continues long shot campaign ahead of home state Primary” via The Associated Press — Haley skipped the Nevada Caucuses, condemning the contest as rigged for Trump, and has instead focused on South Carolina, kicking off a two-week bus tour across the state where she served as Governor from 2011 to 2017. Speaking to about a couple of hundred people gathered outside a historic opera house in Newberry, Haley on Saturday portrayed Trump as an erratic and self-absorbed figure not focused on the American people. Haley reprised her questions of Trump’s mental fitness, an attack she has sharpened since a Jan. 19 speech in which he repeatedly confused her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Why do we have to have someone in their 80s run for office?” she asked. “Why can’t they let go of their power?”

—“Haley to troll Trump in South Carolina with mobile billboard highlighting his age” via Natalie Allison of POLITICO

Nikki Haley continues to troll Trump.

Trump tells National Rifle Association members ‘no one will lay a finger on your firearms’ if he returns to the White House” via Jill Colvin of The Associated Press — “During my four years nothing happened. And there was great pressure on me having to do with guns. We did nothing. We didn’t yield,” he said as he addressed the NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Friday evening. Casting himself as “the best friend gun owners have ever had in the White House,” Trump pledged to continue to protect gun owners’ rights, even as the country grapples with a crisis of gun violence and mass shootings that have left more than 3,000 dead since 2006.

Trump makes peace with Club for Growth” via Alex Isenstadt of POLITICO — After being at war with each other for the past year, Trump and Club for Growth President David McIntosh met for dinner Wednesday evening at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. McIntosh is also flying with Trump on Saturday to South Carolina, where the former President is campaigning ahead of the state’s Feb. 24 Republican Primary. The rapprochement represents the latest turn in the ongoing, hot-cold relationship between Trump and the conservative organization. Tensions had been especially high between the two sides over the past year when a Club for Growth-affiliated outside group waged an unsuccessful multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign aimed at sinking Trump in early Primary states. The Club-linked group halted its anti-Trump effort last August after it became clear it wasn’t working.

— MORE 2024 —

‘Hair on fire’: Democratic worries grow over claims about Joe Biden’s memory lapses” via Ashley Parker, Michael Scherer and Tyler Pager of The Washington Post — The Thursday evening tableau was emblematic of the challenges facing Biden’s re-election bid and the broader concerns roiling the Democratic Party, as many donors, operatives and voters have real concerns about how Biden’s age will impact his electability and privately say they wish he was not the party’s nominee. The Biden theory of the case hinges on two related corollaries: In the coming months, the more the public sees Biden, the more confident they will feel about his leadership — and, conversely, the more the public sees Trump, the better Biden will fare as well. But the Thursday news conference tested those contentions, underscoring that putting Biden — who has been known as gaffe-prone since his days in the Senate — in public settings will not always accrue to his benefit.

Democrats are betting that the more people see Joe Biden, the better they feel about him.

Inside the White House’s fight to defend Biden’s fitness” via Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson of Axios — Day Two of the White House’s damage-control plan defending Biden’s fitness for office called for a coordinated attack on special counsel Robert Hur. Biden’s team scrambled to counter Hur’s report that called the President an “elderly man with a poor memory” — and aides rushed to defend Biden’s performance at a late-night news conference that left even some Democrats thinking Hur had a point. Biden officials — led by Vice President Kamala Harris — questioned Hur’s motives, echoing Biden’s anger that Hur’s zinger about Biden’s memory overshadowed Hur’s decision not to charge the President over his handling of classified documents.

DeSantis rips ‘senile’ Biden, wonders how he has ‘nuclear codes’ at this point” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — During a typically friendly interview with Fox News’ Mark Levin, the Governor weighed in on a special counsel report that judged Biden as having retained classified documents, but as apparently being plagued by a “hazy” and “significantly limited” memory. “Well, I think there’s been a lot of focus understandably on the provision saying, ‘Hey, this guy is just too senile to actually stand trial. A jury wouldn’t convict him.’ And I think that is something that ‘OK, you can’t stand trial, but somehow you can have the nuclear codes,’” DeSantis articulated. “What about invoking the 25th Amendment?”

— OTHER STATEWIDE —

Top DeSantis aides could be deposed as part of travel records lawsuit” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Several current and former officials working for DeSantis’ administration and the state’s law enforcement agency could be questioned about a behind-the-scenes fight to keep the Governor’s travel records from being turned over to The Washington Post. Court records in a lawsuit filed by the Post against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that lawyers representing the publication want to depose up to 10 people, including two former top staffers who were pushed out of the agency. The Post’s move to question the aides has drawn an angry denunciation from the outside lawyers hired to represent the agency who contend that the news organization wants to generate “headlines” and “smear” DeSantis and his administration.

DeSantis is adamantly refusing to allow The Washington Post access to his public records.

DeSantis praises COVID-19 grand jury report, which some scientists criticize” via Romy Ellenbogen and Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — After a 14-month investigation, a statewide grand jury impaneled by DeSantis published a report blasting mask and lockdown mandates adopted during the pandemic. The panel, charged with investigating “criminal or wrongful activity in Florida relating to the development, promotion and distribution” of COVID-19 vaccines, made it clear that its work is far from finished and that it’s gathering “much more testimony and evidence.” The grand jury process has been blasted by Democrats as a political stunt while its report — released last week — has been criticized by some scientists for being one-sided.

DeSantis wants to ban ‘fake meat.’ The world is watching.” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Legislature got an unlikely shoutout earlier this month. China Weekly, a Chinese language publication, mentioned a Florida bill that would ban the sale and manufacturing of cultivated meat, also sometimes referred to as lab-grown meat. The Chinese government is investing heavily in the technology behind cultivated meat, the publication noted. A Florida ban would strengthen China’s position, the publication said. The cultivated meat issue could put Florida’s Republican leaders in an awkward position. As a candidate for President, DeSantis ran to make American food production more competitive.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Chief witness against Matt Gaetz is cooperating with House ethics investigation” via Robert Draper and Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times — Fritz Scheller, a lawyer for Gaetz’s former friend and political ally Joel Greenberg, said he provided documents to the Committee related to claims Greenberg has made about Gaetz. Greenberg previously told federal investigators that he had witnessed Gaetz having sex with a 17-year-old girl. “Greenberg has and will cooperate with any congressional request,” Scheller said in an email on Friday. Scheller said the documents he handed over to Congress came in response to a request from the House Ethics Committee.

Joel Greenberg is talking; not a good sign for Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz stopped at airport security for having a Taser, report says” via Kirb1y Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — U.S. Rep. Gaetz was stopped by airport security in Dallas when it was discovered he had a Taser. As he was headed to his flight, an agent with the Transportation Security Administration stopped Gaetz and made him throw away the weapon. Gaetz told the outlet that he thanked the security agent.

— DOWN BALLOT —

He endorsed Jared Moskowitz for Congress in 2022. Now he’s challenging him for re-election.” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Robert Weinroth was a Democratic County Commissioner until a Republican defeated him in 2022. Now, he’s repudiated his old party, registered as a Republican, and is running for Congress “to stop the radical Democrats.” His target: U.S. Rep. Moskowitz, a Democrat serving his first term representing a Broward-Palm Beach county district — the very same Moskowitz who Weinroth endorsed in the last election. Weinroth isn’t alone. Six Republicans say they’re running for their party’s nomination to take on Moskowitz; six months ago, there were no challengers. And the roster is in flux. In recent days, one more candidate entered the race and one dropped out.

Robert Weinroth endorsed Jared Moskowitz; now he is a challenger.

Leon County Commissioner Christian Caban announces bid for re-election” via Tallahassee Reports — In a news release Caban stated he “proudly launches his campaign for re-election” and noted a list of accomplishments. Caban referenced sidewalk projects, septic to sewer conversions in Woodville, Capital Circle SW widening, and State Road 20 safety improvements. Caban also noted his efforts to protect “Leon County tax dollars from runaway spending” related to the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency. “I am extremely proud of the work we have done and the support along with the positive feedback we have received from the residents of District 2. I want folks to know we are just getting started. Caban is the only candidate filed for District. The deadline for candidates to file is in June.

— LOCAL: S. FL —

Super PAC backing Francis Suarez’s presidential bid reported super high fundraising costs” via Ben Wieder and Sarah Blaskey of the Miami Herald — A political action committee supporting Miami Mayor Suarez’s failed presidential campaign paid its top fundraising consultant more money than the super PAC raised in new donations last year, according to an analysis of the committee’s latest report filed last week. The pro-Suarez super PAC paid nearly $2.2 million to Virginia-based consulting firm Starboard LLC, while raising just $1.5 million, the report showed. The report underscores the desperation and inexperience of Suarez’s campaign, which relied on gimmicks to drum up support, including an AI version of the candidate and an offer of a $20 gift card to each $1 donor. Experts said it’s also an example of how super PACs, which by law are supposed to operate independently, are taking on functions formerly handled by campaigns directly.

Ethics Board to advise strictures on Coral Gables Commissioner’s in-city business dealings” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Nearly a year after Coral Gables Commissioner Melissa Castro asked for guidance on whether her permit-expediting business can keep working for clients in the city, the county’s Ethics Board is saying yes — but in a very narrow fashion. Castro and her lawyer, meanwhile, have a different interpretation of the rules highlighted in a Feb. 4 proposed opinion the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) will weigh approving Thursday. They believe it clears her to continue business as usual in the city without having to divest herself of her company, MED Expeditors, or leave office. The proposed opinion comes at the request of Castro, who solicited the agency’s opinion after she took office last April. It follows a draft opinion the COE released in September warning she’d likely violate the county ethics code by profiting directly or indirectly from services MED provides to clients through interactions with the city.

Melissa Castro seeks guidance from the county Ethics Commission.

Lost at Parkland: ‘Peter was always my translator’” via Amy Qin of The New York Times — Six years after 17 families lost loved ones in the Parkland massacre, Linda Zhang and her husband, Kong Feng Wang, are navigating the wilderness of grief in unusual isolation. Peter’s parents, who do not speak English fluently, struggled to keep up with those conversations or to take the kind of action that might have given them an outlet for their grief. In court, a place of catharsis for some families, they relied on translators to speak for them and to give them a bare understanding of the proceedings. “All I want is to be able to do something for Peter,” Mr. Wang said. “But how can we? We don’t speak the language. We don’t know the culture.”

Auditors say Florida Keys’ tourism agency paid thousands to a company that doesn’t exist” via David Goodhue of FL Keys News — A second critical audit into the taxpayer-funded office that promotes tourism in the Florida Keys accused a longtime public relations firm of regularly double billing Monroe County by reimbursing a company that investigators say doesn’t exist. The first audit from the county in November resulted in the paid suspension of Tourist Development Council marketing director Stacey Mitchell, who is responsible for approving expenditures at the agency. The report sent shock waves throughout the county after revealing what investigators said was lack oversight over how the agency, known as the TDC, spends the roughly $60 million it receives annually through a 4% tax levied on every hotel and short-term rental room booking in the Florida Keys.

When new Miami center opens, arrestees with mental illness can be treated, not jailed” via Brittany Wallman of the Miami Herald — It is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation. Many of those who will be helped are chronically homeless. Most have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Many abuse drugs or alcohol. All of them find themselves in and out of jail, at great cost to taxpayers, after being accused of committing non-violent crimes. They’re largely invisible to society, except when they cause problems. An alternative to jail, the center will be a place where judges can send non-violent defendants accused of misdemeanors or low-level felonies instead of locking them up. Offering the gamut of services a person might need to turn their life around, the center represents a starkly more humane approach than the neglectful, abusive treatment federal authorities documented in Miami-Dade jails as recently as 2011.

‘Conversation about Israel’: Alan Dershowitz campus visit riles UM protesters” via Patrick McCaslin of the Miami New Times — Upon entering the venue for attorney Dershowitz’s “A Conversation About Israel” event in Coral Gables, attendees found wrapped kosher Danish pastries placed in the center of each seat. Beneath the treat sat an article written by Dershowitz on Feb. 6, a day before his scheduled appearance for the event. “Anti-Israel groups are trying to shut down my defense of Israel by demanding that I not be allowed to speak because of the false and disproved accusation against me that has been legally withdrawn,” Dershowitz wrote in his article. He was referring to the backlash over his planned arrival on the University of Miami’s campus, stemming in part from an Instagram post by Canes for Palestine, an affinity group of UM community members who advocate for Palestinian rights.

Florida journalism loses Nancy Ancrum, whose courage and poise drove Herald editorial board” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Nancy led the editorial board the way she approached everything in life: with compassion, humor, humility, joy and an occasional dose of sternness. “I’m channeling my mother now,” she would laugh after she had to use a steely tone during a particularly difficult interview with a political candidate. She died on Friday at age 67 after a long illness. She fostered an environment where members of the editorial board could express their opinions without fear or embarrassment. Nancy lived up to the principles of journalism and democracy, where the free exchange of ideas is paramount.

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Lobbyist wrote bill to protect Visit Orlando but sought to hide his role” via Stephan Judak of the Orlando Sentinel — A state bill that would have restricted the ability of Orange County Commissioners to cut Visit Orlando’s funding was written not by the Senator who carried it, but by a lobbyist for the county. Lobbyist Chris Carmody sought to hide his role in the legislation, which is now raising eyebrows and stirring anger among County Commissioners who believe he was undermining the county’s interests when he is paid to defend them. “Try not to mention my name on this one,” he texted the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, early in the process.

Linda Stewart’s bill to protect Visit Orlando had lobbyist support.

Probable cause found in ethics complaint against Polk School Board member Lori Cunningham” via Paul Nutcher of The Ledger of Lakeland — The state Ethics Commission also found there was no probable cause that her company sold uniforms to a district school, a release from the Commission stated. Cunningham, who has served on the School Board for about 20 years, owns and runs a company founded in 2011 called Applied Images Inc. It sews logos onto uniforms and other apparel for a variety of organizations, Commission documents show. Her attorney, Robin Gibson, who is also general counsel for Lake Wales Charter Schools and a Lake Wales City Commissioner, called the case against Cunningham an “unintentional mistake,” in a prepared statement.

— LOCAL: TB —

Chad Chronister to officially kick off re-election campaign later this month” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County Sheriff Chronister will officially kick off his re-election bid later this month. Chronister announced in early January that he would seek a third elected term. Chronister has served since 2017 when he was appointed to office by then-Gov. Rick Scott. He was subsequently elected by voters in 2018 and re-elected in 2022. The kickoff reception will be held Feb. 28 at The Gathering at Armature Works from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The minimum suggested contribution to attend the VIP event is $250, with maximum contributions of $1,000 per person or business entity. Chronister will face a familiar foe. Democrat Gary Pruitt has filed to run and it will be the second time the two face each other at the ballot box. Chronister dispensed with Pruitt in 2018 with nearly 55% of the vote, and again in 2020 in addition to a no-party candidate, Ron McMullen.

Chad Chronister is ready to launch his re-election campaign.

Pasco County takes hard-line stance against DeSantis’ Live Local Act” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Pasco County has taken a hard-line stance against the Live Local Act, telling two developers to withdraw their applications for tax exemptions — or not apply at all — to “avoid the time and expense” of litigation. The county sent letters to The Richman Group of Florida and California-based Passco Cos. on Wednesday, the same day the Florida Senate voted unanimously to approve amendments to the legislation that DeSantis signed into law in March 2023. The amendments passed Wednesday do not include changes proposed by Pasco County leaders. The Live Local Act incentivizes mixed-income and mixed-use development with tax breaks and measures to shorten the time frame it takes for projects to be approved by local municipalities. It also removes local restrictions on zoning, density and building heights in certain areas.

— LOCAL: N. FL —

JSO settlement was in the works before Donna Deegan took office, memo shows” via Nate Monroe for The Florida Times-Union — About one month before Mayor Deegan took office last Summer, City Hall attorneys indicated they were interested in settling a federal lawsuit over the death of Jamee Johnson, a 22-year-old Florida A&M University student killed during the course of a traffic stop in 2019. The memo, dated May 26, 2023, notified the attorney representing Johnson’s parents that although city lawyers stood by the actions of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office officer Josue Garriga, they also “recognize the potential costs” of continuing litigation and were planning to meet in the coming days “with the goal of resolving this conflict and reaching a reasonable agreement.” By July, both sides had agreed to a $200,000 settlement — significantly less than the $5 million Johnson’s parents had originally sought.

A settlement with the JSO over the death of a FAMU student was in the works before Donna Deegan was in office.

Broker: Jacksonville legislation granting more power to Sheriff could cost taxpayers” via Hannah Holthaus for The Florida Times-Union — Two Jacksonville City Council Committees this week supported legislation that would expand Sheriff T.K. Waters’ influence over potential settlements in lawsuits against his officers, despite warnings from city officials that such a move could increase the city’s liability insurance costs or prompt the insurer to drop the city altogether. Introduced by Waters, the bill would require constitutional officers’ approval in lawsuit settlements involving members of their staff. The bill passed in the Rules and Finance Committees with Council members arguing the sheriff and other elected officials need “a seat at the table” in major decisions, although Council members also heard from one constitutional officer, Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, who argued there was no need to change the existing process.

Brutality, incompetence and a cover-up: Unraveling a deadly attack inside a state hospital” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — Half Sean’s age, Markeith Loyd Jr. was an accused carjacker and son of a convicted cop killer, who had cold-cocked a nurse in the face at a hospital for criminal defendants. His severe mental illness left him prone to outbursts of rage. When they were assigned rooms on opposite sides of the hall at a North Florida state psychiatric hospital, that decision would eventually lead to Sean’s death. It also would spawn five lawsuits, three adult protection investigations, two inspector general reports, two licensing probes and an administrative inquiry. The state already has paid nearly $800,000 to one whistleblower and is facing another in court in April. But if there were lessons to be learned from Sean’s abuse and death, administrators at the state Department of Children and Families seemed determined not to learn them.

First year of Ben Sasse’s UF presidency leaves some excited, some skeptical” via Julia Lejnar of WUSF — In the past year, Sasse has spelled out his plan for the future of UF in increasing detail. In comparison to his presence on campus on his first day, his hopes, strategies and initiatives have landed softly on the university and its constituents. Some have developed trust in the president and hope for his term, but others remain worried, waiting, wanting to know who exactly he is. Oscar Santiago Perez, a past treasurer of the LGBTQ+ Presidential Advisory Committee and past Student Senate president, was among the attendees at the protest. “Nothing’s really changed,” Perez said. “I haven’t really seen him doing anything that sways my concerns.” Sasse has not acted on LGBTQ+ issues during his presidency so far, but Perez said his presence on campus has a negative effect on LGBTQ+ students.

Should Donna Johns be removed from office? A constitutional dilemma for Walton County” via John Walton of WaltonCounty.org — The controversy centers around Johns presenting private text messages in a county meeting, an act that raises serious concerns about the violation of the Fourth Amendment. The source of these messages traced back to an iPad within county administration, suggests a clear breach of constitutional rights. The iPad containing the private text messages lacked any identifying marks on the conversations, indicating that individuals involved had to sift through various communications to find the messages of interest to Commissioner Johns. This act constitutes an illegal search and seizure, a direct infringement on the constitutional rights of Walton County citizens.

— LOCAL: SW. FL —

Alexandra Coe files for Sarasota County Commission” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Coe will make another run for Sarasota County Commission. The Sarasota County Charter Review Board member announced she will run for an open District 1 seat. Coe previously ran for County Commission in 2018, before redistricting shifted district lines, and also before voters approved a switch to single-member elections. She lost a Republican Primary that year to Christian Ziegler. Now, Coe is once again running in pursuit of a change in philosophy at the county level. She said the County Commission has been too influenced by development interests. “Sarasota County is home to some of the nation’s oldest populations. Our current development trajectory does not serve our seniors well,” Coe said. “We cannot afford more of the same. It’s time for governance that values people over tax base expansion.” ‘

Alexandra Coe throws her hat in the ring for Sarasota County Commission. Image via LinkedIn.

Marco Island continues affordable housing discussion: What to know” via J. Kyle Foster of the Naples Daily News — A plan to help Marco Island businesses provide affordable housing to their employees will be heard by City Council members at their Feb. 20 meeting. Marco Island Planning Board members asked city staff in January to make changes to the proposed ordinance and heard those updates on Feb. 2. The Board, by a vote of 5-1, is recommending approval of a Land Development Code amendment to allow a process for owners of multi-story commercial buildings to remodel upper levels for workforce housing. Board member Geoff Fahringer was at the meeting but left for an appointment before the vote, said Chair Jason Bailey.

Naples plane crash: What the NTSB investigators are likely doing today at the scene” via Mark H. Bickel of the Naples Daily News — As the investigation for Friday’s fiery and deadly plane crash on Interstate 75 near Naples continues today, people around Southwest Florida may be wondering what is happening at the crash site at mile marker 106.8 just north of exit 105 (Golden Gate Parkway). The I-75 southbound lanes near the crash site remained closed on Sunday as investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board analyzed the site and what remained of the Bombardier 600 dual-engine jet that crash-landed just after 3 p.m. on Feb. 9. The pilot and co-pilot were killed. Three people on the jet survived. Initially, it was expected the southbound lanes would be closed for 24 hours.

‘Are they alive?’ Video shows Naples man rush to help victims of fiery plane crash” via Dan Glaun of the Naples Daily News — As Kyle Cavaliere drove down I-75 in Naples, an object in motion caught the corner of his eye. He turned to look. It was an airplane, and something was terribly wrong. “After a couple of seconds, I realized it was not going up; it was actually going down,” Cavaliere told the Naples Daily News in an email. The plane, a Bombardier 600 private jet, crashed on top of a white pickup truck two cars in front of him, Cavaliere wrote. It spun out of control and burst into flames, coming to rest off the shoulder of the highway. “As I passed the plane you could feel the heat even from inside the vehicle,” wrote Cavaliere, a Naples businessperson. The jet was flying into Naples from Columbus, Ohio when its pilot reported losing power in both engines, according to a recording of flight radio traffic.

To watch video of the crash, please click the image below:

— TOP OPINION —

Florida Legislature taking the wrong approach on social media” via Jeff Brandes for the Tallahassee Democrat — By mandating social media platforms to verify users’ ages with a government-issued ID, HB 1 infringes on First Amendment rights and raises serious privacy concerns, setting a dangerous precedent for the restriction of free speech and access to information, fundamental rights that do not wane with youth.

This bill’s approach, reminiscent of unconstitutional attempts to regulate access to information, overlooks crucial legal precedents that safeguard the freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

The state’s attempt to impose age verification not only undermines these opportunities but also contradicts the principle of parental choice and responsibility in guiding their children’s interaction with the world, both online and offline.

The Legislature’s promotion of parental choice in educational contexts underscores the belief in parents’ ability to make informed decisions for their children’s welfare.

To contradict this stance by asserting, through HB 1, that parents cannot be trusted to manage their children’s social media use is both inconsistent and patronizing. This inconsistency undermines the autonomy of families and negates the principle of parental rights, which is especially pertinent when considering the educational benefits and the necessity of developing responsible online habits from a young age.

In essence, HB 1 is a legislative misstep with profound implications, not only infringing upon constitutional rights but also interfering with parental autonomy and the ability to educate children on navigating the digital landscape responsibly. The bill risks legal entanglements and societal backlash for failing to respect the nuanced balance required between protection, freedom, and personal responsibility.

— OPINIONS —

The challenges of an aging President” via The New York Times editorial board — This is a dark moment for Biden’s presidency, when many voters are relying on him to provide the country with a compelling alternative to the unique danger of Trump. On the most important questions — of integrity, record of accomplishment and the character required to be fit for the presidency — there is no comparison between them. In the most challenging moments of his presidency, in supporting our allies when they are threatened and in steering the U.S. economy away from recession, Biden has been a wise and steady presence. He needs to do more to show the public that he is fully capable of holding office until age 86.

Mr. President, ditch the stealth about health” via Maureen Dowd of The New York Times — Biden is running against a bad man, but that’s not enough. He has to acknowledge to himself that his moments of faltering — which will increase over the next five years — are a big weakness. He and his aides have to figure out how to handle that. Trump, 77, makes his own verbal slips and shows signs of aging, but he conveys more energy. Biden is not just in a bubble — he’s in bubble wrap. Cosseting and closeting Uncle Joe all the way to the end — eschewing town halls and the Super Bowl interview — are just not going to work. Democrats should grab their smelling salts for a long case of the vapors. It’s going to be a most virulent, violent year.

Racism came home to roost at Florida Capitol. GOP shocked it’s their bill’s fault” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The latest effort, a bill to prohibit local governments from removing historic monuments, appears to have floundered after a heated Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday. It took one comment from a supporter of the bill to crack the facade that Senate Bill 1122 is merely about preserving history. While some lawmakers might believe that’s what they are doing, they cannot ignore the message they are sending to racists and White supremacists. The message is that the Legislature will protect the wishes of people who want to celebrate a Confederacy that fought to preserve slavery at the expense of Black Floridians who see it as a symbol of hatred.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

A Super Bowl gig, Vegas residency and a new album. So, when is Usher coming to Miami?” via Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — Miami gets its dance with Usher and it’s a three-night engagement on his 24-city Past Present Future North American tour. Usher originally had Downtown Miami’s Kaseya Center booked for Oct. 11 and 12. On Thursday, a third night was added for Oct. 14. Presale tickets went on sale Wednesday via LiveNation and Ticketmaster. A general on-sale date is 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 12. As with other mega concerts you have to join the Ticketmaster queue to get details like prices. The three Miami October dates are the only stops in Florida for this leg of the Usher tour.

After the Super Bowl, Usher plans to take his show on the road, with three nights in Miami.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is “The Marchitect,” Marc Reichelderfer, inarguably one of the top political consultants working in Florida. Also celebrating is Marc Caputo of POLITICO, NBC News, The Messenger The Bulwark.

Belated happy birthday wishes to Ann Scott.

___

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

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