Good Thursday morning.
I’m back from the annual meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants, and, well, I had time on the plane to write.
It seems like a decade ago that House Speaker Chris Sprowls first sounded the alarm on how genetic testing results.
In his first Legislative Session as House Speaker, the Palm Harbor Republican pushed a bill to prevent life insurance companies from using consumer genetic testing kit results to make actuarial decisions.
It was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time. It’s not that it was a bad idea — it was just one of those priority bills that seemed to be crossing a bridge we weren’t at yet.
Federal law already prevents health insurers from using genetic information when setting premiums. Sure, the law doesn’t apply to life insurance policies, but it’s not like 23andMe and Northwestern Mutual are part of some secret cabal.
Still, Sprowls said that was a “massive loophole” and put his full weight behind the proposal.
The bill passed, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it, and Florida became the first state to guarantee DNA privacy for life, disability, and long-term care insurance.
There’s a reason Insurers were opposed to the bill. They claimed that genetic testing results could lead to some customers being charged less.
There’s some truth to that, just like it’s technically accurate that the little box auto insurers install to measure how often you slam your brakes could land you a discount on car insurance. Emphasis on “could” — also lead to a rate increase.
But insurance is just the tip of the iceberg.
Sure, genetic testing can tell you whether you’re predisposed to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or dystonia. The Food and Drug Administration has even approved direct-to-consumer services to screen for those diseases and others.
But what about conditions that aren’t diseases?
A while back, I sent my DNA to 23andMe, and the results were … interesting. Apparently, I’m afraid of heights.
I knew whether I was afraid of heights long before I swabbed my cheek, so I really didn’t need 23andMe to tell me. And that’s the problem — if genetic testing companies can collect data on our fears and phobias, consumers will need protection from a lot more than life insurance companies.
Imagine if marketers got ahold of that data. You can bet there’d be a banner ad for Canadian diazepam the next time I booked a flight. Imagine if I were denied entry to the Washington Monument or Empire State Building. Imagine if the Cosmo wouldn’t give me a room above the 10th floor.
There’s really no reason for anyone to know about our fears unless we tell them.
It’s starting to look like Sprowls was ahead of his time.
Is the Tampa Bay Times admitting defeat on covering the scandals engulfing the Tampa City Council?
As much as we enjoy scoops at Florida Politics, it’s a bit jarring — and depressing — to see the Times’ apathetic, nearly invisible coverage of these significant local stories.
Today, at least 24 hours after Florida Politics and other outlets informed the community that a former employee and her daughter are suing Council member Orlando Gudes over monstrously abusive behavior, the Times finally posted something on its website.
Dan Sullivan wrote the piece, not Tampa reporter Charlie Frago, as one would expect for this type of story.
One explanation could be that the lawsuit depicts Frago as more focused on carrying Gudes’ water and casting the investigation into his behavior as a political witch hunt instead of exposing an elected official for abusing a single parent and employee.
So much for comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
In any case, by the time the TBT managed to get around to reporting news of the Gudes lawsuit, Florida Politics, The Tampa Bay Business Journal, and other outlets were telling readers that the city of Tampa agreed to pay $300K stemming from the investigation, including a $100K independent investigation and a $200K settlement to Gudes’ former employee as part of a mediation agreement.
The harassment at the heart of the dispute included sexualized (referred to as “pedophiliac”) remarks directed toward the aide’s then-13-year-old daughter and the then-minor daughter of former President Barack Obama, as well as homophobic and misogynistic comments about Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and her partner, Ana Cruz.
Things got so bad that the parents of a young woman interning in Tampa from Duke University recommended she not be alone with Gudes.
The aide who brought the suit — a single Black woman raising two children — will donate part of her share of the settlement to The Spring of Tampa Bay, an organization that supports survivors of domestic abuse, and the United Negro College Fund.
For his part, Gudes is resisting calls from fellow Council members to step down.
The bottom line? Awards are lovely, and we are lucky to have a Pulitzer-caliber newspaper in our community. But I suspect many of us would prefer a reliable, consistent outlet to keep us updated on what’s happening at City Hall.
Keeping readers informed — that’s really what it’s all about.
The University of Florida climbed to the Top-10 of Money magazine’s 2022 ranking of best colleges in terms of value.
UF jumped eight spots from 2021 and landed at No. 8 in “The Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value.” It was the only Florida institution named among the Top 10 in a list that includes over 600 colleges and universities nationwide. Florida State University, by comparison, landed at No. 89.
Other schools in the top 10 included the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“UF is committed to providing an excellent education that is affordable,” said Chris Hass, UF’s associate provost for academic and faculty affairs. “We are honored that the exceptional quality of our teaching combined with the talents of our students and the success of the graduates are being recognized.”
Money noted that 90% of first-time students graduate from UF within six years, and 64% do so without debt.
Markel Trial Day 3 — It is common for opening statements by prosecutors and defense attorneys to directly contradict one another, offering competing theories or interpretations of the evidence.
But during Wednesday morning’s opening arguments in Katherine Magbanua’s retrial, there was a lot more alignment between the two teams than before — at least on a few key things.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors expressed agreement on the following facts: Charlie Adelson paid for it, Garcia did it, and Wendi Adelson is protecting her family and herself. They also shared the sentiment that Markel’s murder created a sea of loss for so many, particularly his children.
Assistant State Attorney Sarah Kathryn Dugan began the morning acknowledging the “loving father” that Dan Markel was. So did defense attorney Tara Kawass, saying, “One thing everyone in this courtroom agrees on, Dan Markel lived his life for those two boys.”
More specifically, the two legal teams align on motive. Both sides told the jury how Markel’s ex-wife Wendi was “desperate” to relocate to Miami with the couple’s young boys following their divorce, and that she and her mother Donna Adelson were upset by a court motion Markel filed that would have removed Donna’s ability to have unsupervised visits with the children due to disparaging remarks she had made about him to them. While neither lawyer mentioned that Markel had also written motions alleging financial wrongdoing by Wendi in their divorce — a serious allegation that could have had consequences for her law license — acrimony such as that may have also contributed to the family’s motive to “take care of the problem.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@BaseballCrank: Today marks the 126th anniversary of Plessy v Ferguson. Yesterday marked the 68th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. We commemorate the courage required of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a 58-year-old precedent that was unfaithful to the Constitution.
—@DaveWeigel: If people don’t like the way @TaylorLorenz frames a story, they could scoop her. Easier said than done.
—@KyLamb8: Tom Homan, former ICE director, just stated on @FoxNews that 95% of fentanyl in the U.S. right now is coming across the southwest border. Both @ChristinaPushaw and I are old enough to remember when some attempted to ‘fact check’ @GovRonDeSantis for stating this.
—@DataByler: — (Donald) Trump’s endorsement is helpful in GOP primaries — His endorsement isn’t all-powerful. Never has been — Trump is still the dominant figure in the GOP
—@NickPrimrose: As Pennsylvania is still counting vote-by-mail ballots in the Senate race, in addition to other irregularities, it is a good reminder that Florida allows counting of VBM ballots prior to Election Day for efficient reporting of results. Leading the way on election administration.
—@GElliottMorris: The real takeaway from (John) Fetterman’s win last night is that we should all be allowed to wear shorts whenever we want
—@JosephHarding: I drink cheap beer and shoot it to you straight …. In the @JoeBiden world, $8.00 beers and $5.00 gas is the norm. How has Sleepy Joe not been impeached yet?
—@SalNuzzo: Overheard in a meeting today … in #Tallahassee, when you die, you have to go through Atlanta to get to heaven …
— DAYS UNTIL —
Property insurance Special Session begins — 4; 2022 Florida Chamber Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Solution Summit — 6; ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ starts on Disney+ — 6; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ premieres — 8; Hyundai Air and Sea Show National Salute to America’s Heroes, sponsored by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association — 9; ‘Platinum Jubilee’ for Queen Elizabeth II — 14; California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota hold midterm Primaries — 19; ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ premieres — 22; Pixar’s ‘Lightyear’ premieres — 29; 2022 Florida Chamber Learners to Earners Workforce Solution Summit — 40; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 50; 36th Annual Environmental Permitting School — 61; San Diego Comic-Con 2022 — 63; Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner novel ‘Heat 2’ publishes — 82; FRLA’s Operations and Marketing Summit — 90; ‘House of the Dragon’ premieres on HBO — 94; 2022 Florida Chamber Technology & Innovation Solution Summit — 104; ‘The Lord of the Rings’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 106; NFL Opening Night: LA Rams vs. Buffalo Bills — 112; 2022 Emmys — 116; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 140; Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 158; Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Passenger’ releases — 159; Jon Meacham’s ‘And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle’ releases — 159; ‘Black Panther 2’ premieres — 176; ‘The Flash’ premieres — 182; The World Cup kicks off in Qatar — 186; The U.S. World Cup Soccer Team begins play — 186; McCarthy’s ‘Stella Maris’ releases — 187; ‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 209; ‘Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 273; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 291; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 309; 2023 Session Sine Die — 351; ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ premieres — 351; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ premieres — 379; ‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 435; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 519; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Part 2 premieres — 680; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 799.
“Citizens Property Insurance looks to buy reinsurance amid ‘collapsing’ market” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Citizens Property Insurance board members voted Wednesday unanimously to buy $4.3 billion worth of reinsurance coverage for $400 million.
At least, that’s what they’re going to try to do.
The “collapsing” nature of the reinsurance market, which staffers said is partially fleeing Florida, means the state-run company could get less coverage as reinsurance becomes more expensive. “This marketplace is completely 100% out of control,” Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway told the board. “Big players and other major players have cut back their capacity in the Florida marketplace by 50%, 80%.”
“Although we’re presenting a request for a $400 million placement … it will be an amazing event if we place a significant portion of what we’re proposing,” Gilway said. “And it all has to do with the total collapse of the Florida marketplace.”
Reinsurers have already grown skittish because of global events such as Russia’s war on Ukraine, but Gilway and board members pointed to the skyrocketing litigation and claims experienced by Florida property insurers as the specific reason they are shying away from the Sunshine State.
“We’re still subject to absolutely insane litigation rates that are occurring across the state,” Gilway said.
— 2022 —
“Ron DeSantis: Joe Biden deserves honorary Mexican drug cartel membership” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis says Biden has done more to help drug cartels than anyone else. DeSantis says Biden is violating his oath of office by allowing “massive numbers of people,” he estimates 2.5 million since Biden took office, to cross the border illegally. “Those border communities are just getting killed down in southern Texas with everything coming in,” DeSantis said. “Honestly, Biden should be given an honorary membership in the Mexican drug cartels because nobody has done more to help the cartels than Biden with his open border policies.”
“Research shows DeSantis with second-worst LGBTQ reputation of any Governor” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — DeSantis holds one of the worst reputations in the country for policies targeting LGBTQ Americans. That’s the finding from corporate consulting firm Signal AI, which researched media coverage of Governors in all 50 states to find which holds the best (and worst) media sentiment as it relates to LGBTQ issues. The firm found DeSantis behind only Texas Gov. Greg Abbott regarding bad reputation related to the topic. The level of attention places DeSantis second among all Governors in terms of close association with queer politics, with the second-most negative coverage.
“Gov. DeSantis agrees with Elon Musk about Biden teleprompter reliance” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — DeSantis referenced what “Musk said the other day” before quipping, “Whoever puts that stuff into the teleprompter is kind of who the President is.” The Musk musing on Biden has been widely reported on the right. “The real President is whoever controls the teleprompter. The path to power is the path to the teleprompter,” Musk said. “I do feel like if somebody were to accidentally lean on the teleprompter, it’s going to be like Anchorman.” DeSantis paid homage to Musk amid an extended and otherwise familiar listing of grievances, including observations about gas prices going up as a “huge failure” of the Biden White House.
“Casino mogul Steve Wynn accused of acting as unregistered Chinese agent. He’s a major DeSantis political donor” via Zach Anderson of Tallahassee Democrat — The U.S. Justice Department accuses a casino mogul who contributed $100,000 to DeSantis’ re-election campaign of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China and lobbying Trump on the country’s behalf. The federal government sued Wynn on Tuesday to compel him to register as a foreign agent. In a news release, the Justice Department alleges that between June and August 2017, Wynn contacted Trump and his administration officials to relay China’s request to “cancel the visa or otherwise remove from the United States a Chinese businessperson” who had sought asylum in the United States.
Former Planned Parenthood CEO endorses Charlie Crist for Governor — Barbara Zdravecky, the former CEO of Planned Parenthood for Southwest and Central Florida, has endorsed Crist in the Democratic Primary for Governor. Under Zdravecky, Planned Parenthood opened its first facility providing abortion services in Florida. They serve 39,000 patients across 61,000 appointments annually. “Charlie Crist has been a long-standing fighter for women’s reproductive freedoms across Florida,” she said. “His record is clear: As Congressman, he has stood with Planned Parenthood and the rights of Florida’s women 100%, and as Governor, he will continue to do the same. Charlie is who we need in Tallahassee to firmly defend and protect a woman’s freedom to decide from Republican attacks. He has my full support and endorsement to be Florida’s next Governor.”
“Attorneys for Florida seek stay on replacement congressional map” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Retaining a Black-performing congressional district bears a resemblance to “political apartheid,” according to attorneys for Florida’s Department of State. Two days after Circuit Judge Layne Smith lifted a stay on his decision to replace Florida’s new congressional map, the state wants the decision on hold again. Attorney Mohammad Jazil filed a 67-page motion Wednesday morning asking the 1st District Court of Appeal to stick with cartography signed by DeSantis. Jazil’s brief leans heavily on the notion the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will favor the map designed by DeSantis’ staff precisely because it dismantles a North Florida district officials say was wrongly drawn with race as a primary motivator.
“Jason Fischer labels himself ‘conservative fighter’ in first TV ad in CD 4 race” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Even as courts ultimately decide whether Florida’s new 4th Congressional District will survive as the Legislature and DeSantis would prefer, a Republican is already up on television in the district touting ties to the Governor and a certain former President. State Rep. Fischer is featured in a new 30-second spot (“Tested and trusted”) from the “Florida Trust PAC.” The ad proclaims Fischer a “conservative fighter,” walking in lockstep with the Governor on various issues seemingly important in a GOP Primary. The ad started running Wednesday on WJXT in Jacksonville.
“Mike Prendergast endorses Gus Bilirakis’ re-election bid” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Prendergast put his political force behind U.S. Rep. Bilirakis. He endorsed the Palm Harbor Republican for re-election in Florida’s 12th Congressional District. “I strongly endorse the re-election of Congressman Gus Bilirakis to serve as our Member of Congress, and I urge you to become involved in his re-election efforts as well as to vote for him during the 2022 Election cycle,” Prendergast said. Prendergast joins Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis in backing Bilirakis. He cited the incumbent Congressman’s record supporting veterans and law enforcement.
“Amanda Makki paid her home energy bill using campaign funds, potentially violating federal law” via Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider — A Republican U.S. House candidate in Florida may have violated federal campaign laws by using donor funds to pay for her home’s electric bill. Makki‘s campaign sent more than $600 to Duke Energy. FEC rules prohibit candidates from using donor funds for personal use, whether for rent, personal travel, or paying for an energy bill. The Commission has made narrow exemptions for cases where candidates use donor funds to pay for security at home, on their phones, or on computers.
“Ken Russell catches another viral wave on TikTok with videos targeting sea polluters” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — In early January, Florida Politics reported on how Democratic Miami Commissioner Russell was harnessing the video-based social media app TikTok to broaden his exposure and reach younger, more digitally engaged voters as he seeks federal office. At the time, Russell had just gone viral for posting a video introducing himself and telling users of the platform how he believed it could impact the outcome of a federal election. Within days, his following skyrocketed to 22,000. That number has since grown nearly tenfold. While videos posted in subsequent months garnered him even stronger viewership, Russell’s engagement levels on the platform have exploded over the past week after he posted a pair of videos about sea pollution
— MORE 2022 —
“‘We need everyone on the field’: Shevrin Jones stresses urgency ahead of re-election campaign launch” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — When Sen. Jones kicks off his re-election campaign Thursday in Miami Gardens, attendees should expect a different message from the one he shared three years ago. This time around, Jones said he intends to turn the focus away from himself and more on the 500,000-plus people he represents in Senate District 34, the largest Black district in Florida and the third-largest Black district in the country. The message now is clear, Jones said. The time for passive hope is over. “We can’t sit on the sidelines at this moment,” he said.
Happening today — Jones hosts an event to kick off his re-election campaign, 6:30 p.m., Lorna’s Caribbean & American Grille, 19752 N.W. 27th Ave., Miami Gardens.
Ander Crenshaw endorses Chet Stokes for HD 16 — Former U.S. Rep. Crenshaw, a former Senate President, has endorsed Stokes in the Republican Primary for House District 16. “The time has come for a new generation of conservative leadership in Tallahassee. Chet Stokes is the clear choice for State Representative District 16,” Crenshaw said. Crenshaw joins Jacksonville City Councilmember Rory Diamond, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Chris Hoffman, Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown, and Jacksonville Beach Councilmembers Dan Janson, Cory Nichols and Fernando Meza in endorsing Stokes, who is one of four Republicans running for the seat. He faces Heath Brockwell, Kiyan Michael and former Rep. Lake Ray in the Primary.
Robert Brackett snags endorsement from Vero Beach businessman — Waddell & Williams Insurance Group President and former Indian River County School Board member Gene Waddell has endorsed Vero Beach Mayor Brackett in the Republican Primary for House District 34. “He is ready to fight for parental rights and involvement in our public school system. In Tallahassee, I know he will serve as an advocate for school choice and greater transparency in what’s being taught to our young people,” Waddell said. Brackett faces Karen Hiltz in the Primary Election.
“Randy Ross files to run in HD 39” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Ross, a Republican consultant, has filed to run for the House in the increasingly crowded new House District 39 covering the Apopka area of Central Florida. Ross, a longtime community activist and a sometimes-provocative factional leader in the Orange County Republican Party, is taking on his longtime rival, Orange County Republican Party Chair Charles Hart, among others, for a seat that has no incumbent. In a news release announcing his candidacy, Ross of Orlando contended he would be “first” in championing senior and elder care and services, Second Amendment rights, parents’ rights, and support for first responders.
“Bill Olson switching from congressional run to HD 51” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Olson is dropping his bid for Florida’s 9th Congressional District and will file to run for the state House District 51 seat in Polk County, he said Wednesday. Olson would be challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow. Redistricting essentially drew Olson out of CD 9. The new maps, including the one approved in Special Session last month and then rejected by a Circuit Court judge, as well as the replacement map pushed by the judge, redraw CD 9 to lose its old representation of eastern Polk. The maps replace eastern Polk with more of Orange County. Court appeals will sort out which map applies. Olson is an Army veteran, a security guard, and a substitute teacher from Davenport.
“Hillary Cassel keeps up fundraising lead in three-way HD 101 Primary race” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — A three-way Democratic contest to represent Broward County’s House District 101 sees Cassel firmly leading the money race with $11,750 raised in April. With that haul, between her personal political account and her committee, Friends of Hillary Cassel, the Dania Beach lawyer has more than three times the amount of cash on hand than her closest competitor holds. After April’s expenditures of $8,482, Cassel has nearly $310,000 for the contest to represent the district. That amount includes a $50,000 loan she made to her campaign. Senate Democratic Leader Evan Jenne served the area but is term-limited.
“Gov. DeSantis’ office considered a bill to target libel laws, records show” via Skyler Swisher of the Orlando Sentinel — A top staffer for DeSantis worked on a proposal that sought to challenge decades-old First Amendment protections for the news media and make it easier for high-profile people to win defamation lawsuits. The idea didn’t make the 2022 Legislative Session’s agenda. A bill was never filed, according to Florida’s First Amendment Foundation. But public records show Stephanie Kopelousos, DeSantis’ legislative affairs director, shared a draft proposal and briefing document just before lawmakers kicked off their annual Session on Jan. 11.
“Lawmakers deliver controlled substances bill to DeSantis” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Legislative leaders have officially delivered DeSantis a proposal to stiffen penalties on drug dealers and change other drug laws. The measure (HB 95) would broaden a prosecutor’s ability to pursue a first-degree murder charge against a dealer if a drug overdose leads to a person’s death. However, the Republican-led Legislature agreed against decriminalizing fentanyl test strips during ping-pong negotiations over the controlled substance bill. Under current law, a drug dealer may face the death penalty or life in prison if they sell a controlled substance that verifiably caused the death of a consumer. But prosecutors often struggle to convict in cases involving multiple controlled substances or alcohol.
“Governor signs law that bolsters students’ mental health” via Florida Politics — DeSantis signed a bill (HB 899) into law Wednesday that aims to fill in gaps in the care of students with mental health problems that became apparent after bullets flew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, leaving 17 people dead. The law will require each school district to have a mental health coordinator, much like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act requires each school to have a school safety coordinator. It also requires that any student receiving behavioral health services through school connect with community resources to allow for better coordination between the school and the community.
“Jimmy Patronis asks Florida Bar to disbar ‘unethical’ property insurance lawyers” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Ahead of next week’s Special Session on property insurance, Patronis is calling on the Florida Bar to disbar lawyers he says are unethically defrauding homeowner insurance policyholders. Earlier this month, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation received $1 million in a settlement with three firms the state-operated insurance agency accused of artificially inflating the severity of insured damage. In the letter sent to Florida Bar Executive Director Joshua Doyle, the Panama City Republican accused “unethical law firms” of defrauding Floridians of millions and called on the Bar to act.
“Policy changes approved by state Insurance Commissioner violate policyholders’ rights, lawsuit says” via Ron Hurtibise of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Changes to terms of home insurance policies approved by Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier violate policyholders’ rights by depriving them of the ability to sue over disputes or be reimbursed for work by repair contractors, a new lawsuit charges. The suit was filed Tuesday by the trade association Restoration Association of Florida and a statewide contractor, Air Quality Assessors, which performs mold and moisture remediation. The company’s President Richie Kidwell is also president of the trade association, which lists on its website 46 member companies.
“Central Florida lawmakers expect Special Session will only scratch the surface of property insurance reform” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Next week’s Special Session will only be the start of addressing Florida’s growing property insurance crisis, Central Florida lawmakers caution. “We will pass something. It would be political suicide not to. So, something is going to be done. Is it everything? No, you don’t do everything in a Special Session. But it’s going to set the tone for the Regular Session in 2023,” Republican Rep. David Smith said Wednesday. Smith sits on the House Insurance and Banking Committee. Smith said the Legislature will likely start with remnants of bills from the 2022 Legislative Session, HB 1307, and its counterpart SB 1728, which he said died in the closing days from lack of a deal.
“Central Florida lawmakers view Reedy Creek-Disney tussle as no harm, but yes foul” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Last month’s Special Session revocation of The Walt Disney Co.’s special government district likely will lead to no ramifications for taxpayers, Central Florida Republican lawmakers insisted Wednesday. “This is going to work itself out,” assured Rep. Smith. But the precedent of DeSantis and the Legislature smacking down a corporation for opposing DeSantis’s political agenda may have lasting effects, Democratic lawmakers warned. “The state will assume control of a local government, dissolve it, and then force a private company, Walt Disney World, to pay a billion dollars of bond-issue debt,” predicted Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
“Judge in ‘ghost’ candidate case shields ex-lawmaker’s contacts” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — The names of former state Sen. Frank Artiles’ contacts, obtained by Miami prosecutors investigating an alleged vote-siphoning scheme in a 2020 state senate race, will not be released publicly, a South Florida judge ruled. The contacts, found on Artiles’ phone and other personal devices, were collected as part of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office’s investigation into the former lawmaker, who is accused of paying a friend nearly $45,000 to run as an independent candidate in a Miami-area Senate race in an attempt to siphon votes from his Democrat opponent.
“Free speech activist says he’s been blocked out of the Rotunda’s Free Speech Zone” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Chaz Stevens always uses public forums to make his point, like when he publicly led a prayer to Satan at a government meeting to quell the Judeo-Christian invocations there. But now, the Deerfield Beach provocateur, whose overriding aim is to get religion out of government, says he’s blocked from the venue that first drew him to national notice: the Capitol Rotunda’s Free Speech Zone. In 2013, the ardent church-state separation activist erected a Festivus pole made of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in the zone. That propelled him onto Comedy Central.
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida Constitution shields abortion rights — but might not for much longer” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — The Florida Supreme Court’s embrace of abortion rights was sweeping, extending not only to adults but also to minors who feared abuse at the hands of parents or guardians should they reveal that they were pregnant. But that was in 1989 in a case called “In re T.W.” Recent interviews with legal experts on both sides of the abortion debate left little doubt that today’s Florida Supreme Court, rendered solidly conservative by DeSantis’ judicial appointments, would reach a vastly different conclusion. The court hasn’t ruled in an abortion case in years, said Bob Jarvis, a constitutional law professor at Florida’s Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University.
“Rising gas prices shouldn’t impact Florida tourism, experts say” via Chip Osowski of WFLA — With gas prices inching closer and closer to the $5 per gallon mark in the Tampa Bay area, one might think the tourism industry in Florida might suffer this summer travel season. Those in the know, however, say that isn’t so. Dana Young, the CEO of VISIT FLORIDA, and Carol Dover, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO, spoke in Sarasota on Monday at The Argus Foundation’s “Meet the Minds: The State of Florida Tourism. Young says despite the price at the pump at an all-time high, tourism in Florida is thriving. Dover has similar thoughts. She says there are so many destinations within the state, the high gas prices are convincing Floridians to explore and vacation in their backyards.
“Sugar, other farmers fire back after ‘political attacks’ from Brian Mast, environmental activists” via Florida Politics — The Florida Sugarcane Farmers are bemoaning the continued “political attacks” from environmental activist groups and their biggest antagonist in the Florida congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Mast. Mast has partnered with the VoteWater campaign, formerly known as “Bullsugar.” The organization has repeatedly gone after sugar farmers in the state. The group’s website features quotes from Mast going on the attack against sugar farmers and pushing for some policies at odds with the farming community. For years, Mast has been at odds with Glades farmers over the Lake Okeechobee water supply. Mast has consistently pushed to keep Lake O’s water levels on the low side to lessen the need for discharges, spreading toxic blue-green algae.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“How the Biden administration let right-wing attacks derail its disinformation efforts” via Taylor Lorenz of The Washington Post — On the morning of April 27, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the first Disinformation Governance Board with the stated goal to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security.” The Biden administration tapped Nina Jankowicz, a well-known figure in fighting disinformation and extremism, as the board’s executive director. In naming Jankowicz to run the newly created board, the administration chose someone with extensive experience in the field of disinformation, which has emerged as an urgent and important issue. The author of the books “How to Be a Woman Online” and “How to Lose the Information War,” her career also featured stints at multiple nonpartisan think tanks and nonprofits.
“Biden warns of ‘another tough hurricane season’ this year” via The Associated Press — Biden warned Wednesday that the country will likely see “another tough hurricane season” this year, and he pledged that his administration was prepared to respond to the storms and help Americans recover from them. “We know hurricanes are coming our way. They grow more extreme every season,” Biden said before a briefing from top federal officials, including Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge. Biden urged Americans to “pay attention to hurricane warnings and follow the guidance of your local authorities.”
—“Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost baby formula manufacturing to ease shortage” via Spencer Kimball of CNBC
“Rick Scott attaboys Elon Musk’s Democratic dis” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Musk said he was disinclined to vote for Democrats earlier this week and would vote for some Republicans. Scott, appearing on Fox Business Tonight, credited Musk with saying what many people believe. “I think every American’s thinking this way,” Scott said in response to a question from host Dagen McDowell, saying the Biden administration was “bad for all American families.” “I agree with Elon Musk: you can’t vote for Democrats right now,” added Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the re-election arm of the Senate GOP. Scott compared the Biden administration to an “ostrich” trying to “play the blame game.”
“Matt Gaetz, other Florida Republicans offer comments akin to ‘replacement theory’” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Some Florida Republican politicians, including U.S. Rep. Gaetz, state Sen. Dennis Baxley and two congressional candidates have espoused rhetoric like the racist “great replacement theory” cited by the suspect in the Buffalo mass shooting on Saturday. Supporters of the theory allege Black and Brown immigrants are being brought into this country by Democrats and a secretive, Jewish cabal to “replace” white voters. Asked about his comments this week, Gaetz said that he has “consistently rejected ethno-nationalism.” “I’ve never spoken of replacement theory in terms of race,” Gaetz wrote.
“Primaries show limits, and depths, of Trump’s power over GOP base” via Michael C. Bender and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — The tumultuous start to the Republican Primary season, including a down-to-the-wire Senate race that divided conservatives in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, has shown how thoroughly Trump has remade his party in his image, and the limits of his control over his creation. In each of the most contentious Primary races this month, nearly every candidate has run a campaign modeled on the former President’s. They promote his policies, and many repeat his false claims about election fraud in 2020. But Trump’s power over Republican voters has proved to be less commanding. Candidates endorsed by Trump lost Governor’s races in Idaho and Nebraska, and a House race in North Carolina.
— LOCAL NOTES: N. FL —
“Plea deal by ex-U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown settles indictment that ended career in Congress” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Former U.S. Rep. Brown pleaded guilty Wednesday to a single charge of repeatedly lying to avoid paying taxes, ending a six-year legal fight about a charity scam that helped sink her 24-year career in Congress. U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan sentenced the Jacksonville Democrat to time served in an earlier prison stint and payment of substantially less restitution than he ordered after her first trial five years ago. The guilty verdict in that trial was overturned last year by an Atlanta appeals court. Brown pleaded guilty to only one of the 18 counts she would have faced if prosecutors had persisted in plans for a second trial, which was scheduled for September.
“Jacksonville’s secret police and an $87,401 invoice for public records” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — $87,401: That is what the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office wanted to charge Times-Union partner First Coast News before officials would even begin working on what should have been a routine and basic request for public records housed on the agency’s servers. JSO actually invoiced that amount. “Payment must be made within 30 calendar days or the request will be considered withdrawn, closed and no further action will be taken on this request,” the office helpfully added. In July 2017, JSO tried to charge $314,000 for a batch of records requested by the attorney representing the family of a pedestrian who was hit and killed by an officer with his police cruiser.
“Petition to rename Andrew Jackson Middle School underway due to trail of tears, slavery” via Bailey Gallion of Florida Today — Noting Jackson’s slave-owning past and his role in the Trail of Tears, a group of community members are calling for Andrew Jackson Middle School in Titusville to be renamed. But on a website created to spearhead the effort, most commenters opposed the change. Of 49 comments, only seven support changing the name. Comments against the idea call the push to change the name “another instance of cancel culture” or an attempt to “erase history.” Two community meetings have been held on the proposal. A third and final community meeting will be held in August before the potential name change appears before the School Board for a final decision.
“Repairs on Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier damaged in Hurricanes Matthew, Irma nearly complete” via Alexandria Mansfield of The Florida Times-Union — After it sustained damage nearly six years ago, the Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier will reopen to the public with its repairs this summer. The repaired and replaced sections of the pier got closer to being completed as cranes last month removed the working pier built alongside the main pier for its construction. Hurricane Matthew initially destroyed a portion of the 1,300-foot-long pier in October 2016, and a year later, Hurricane Irma did even more damage. Since then, the beginning half of the pier has been opened for use, but it closed again in 2019 for what was expected to be two years’ worth of repairs.
“DeSantis approves $3.2M for Okaloosa industrial site through job fund” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis is gifting Okaloosa County $3.2 million for infrastructure improvements at the Shoal River Ranch industrial site. DeSantis is distributing the funds through the Job Growth Grant Fund, a pot of infrastructure dollars over which the Governor’s Office has sole discretion. The funding will help expand roads, rail lines, and utility infrastructure at the industrial “gigasite.” The project will bring an estimated 11,000 jobs to Okaloosa County, including doubling manufacturing jobs with 4,000 new openings. Speaking in Crestview, which is just 7 miles west of the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite, DeSantis told reporters several companies are on the verge of announcing partnerships there.
“Small vessel speed restrictions likely for Florida’s right whale calving grounds” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — One of the next paths for improving North Atlantic right whale conservation in the Southeastern calving grounds is going to affect a lot of folks who live and like to visit Northeast Florida, speed restrictions on recreational vessels. “Right now, any vessels under 65 feet — this is kind of the group that we’re targeting, 30-, 40-, 50-foot, oceangoing recreational boats and charter captains and such — their speeds aren’t regulated,” said Clay George, a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (Georgia DNR). Part of this is spurred from the last recreational vessel strike in February 2021, when the About Time, a 54-foot recreational vessel, slammed into a North Atlantic right whale calf at 20 knots, half a mile off St. Augustine Inlet.
“Flu in May? In Central Florida, cases are rising alongside COVID-19” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — Have a cough, sore throat, runny nose? It could be COVID-19, but it could also be the flu. Flu cases are increasing in most of the state, including Central Florida, at a time when they’re normally winding down. Florida’s flu season typically runs from October to May. This year saw a December surge, then a steady decrease in activity until about two months ago, when cases seemingly began rising and haven’t stopped since.
Scoop — “Tampa settled its portion of Orlando Gudes lawsuit for $200K as main suit against Gudes continues” via Daniel Figueroa of Florida Politics — The City of Tampa has entered into a settlement agreement with a former legislative aide that an independent investigation found was sexually harassed by Gudes. Tampa taxpayers are now on the hook for $300,000 stemming from the Gudes investigation, including a $100,000 independent investigation and a $200,000 settlement. Gudes also is being sued by the aide and her daughter in a separate filing. The city signed the agreement and a letter of apology on May 10, six days before Tampa lawyer Ethan Loeb filed a lawsuit against Gudes on behalf of the aide.
“Pinellas Co. man sues Facebook for $8K over ban from site” via Sam Sachs of WFLA — A Bellair Bluffs man is suing Facebook parent company Meta for $8,000 over a ban that “blocked” his use of the platform. According to his lawsuit, he was banned “immediately” due to a comment made “in jest” to a friend. According to the suit filed in the small claims division of Pinellas County Court, the man claims Facebook banned him for commenting to someone he calls a “close personal friend” on Facebook. According to the lawsuit, the ban came “within moments” of making the comment on May 15. Since that time, he claims he has lost revenue due to an inability to access Facebook. His court filing also says it is not the first time he was prohibited from using Facebook in 2022.
— MORE LOCAL: S. FL —
“‘Stay Woke Go Vote’ rally aims to awaken South Florida’s voting might” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — In a county where voter turnout consistently falls below the state average, South Florida politicians plan a rally to spur the region to exercise its demographic and Democratic might. Wednesday’s announcement of the “Stay Woke Go Vote” campaign on Saturday in Miramar lists all the reasons Black voters should beat a path to the voting booth, along with some participants whose names will resonate with political junkies. If voter turnout in Broward County increased by 2% more than the last Midterms, it would mean 95,450 more Broward County voters. And that could make an enormous difference, considering that DeSantis won with a 32,463-vote margin in 2018.
“Yet again, Miami Beach ducks legal fight over law used to arrest people filming cops” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — Two months ago, Miami Beach’s city prosecutor told a court it would defend a constitutional challenge to a controversial ordinance used to repeatedly arrest people who were filming police officers on city streets. The much-anticipated legal showdown was finally set for Wednesday. Instead, the prosecutor walked into court Wednesday to announce the city was dropping the case against a woman charged 10 months ago. The move was blasted by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Florida Justice Center, which has looked to use the case to strike down the ordinance they believe is unconstitutional and criminalizes protected free speech.
“Retailers in Miami-Dade County must accept cash under new law or face fines” via Douglas Hanks of Florida Politics — Tapping the brakes on the region’s move to a more digital economy, Miami-Dade County Commissioners on Tuesday passed a law requiring most retailers to accept cash from customers. The ordinance adopted on a unanimous vote imposes fines of up to $1,000 for stores that don’t accept cash from customers paying with bills of $20 or less. First offenses would get a warning, followed by increasing fines for later violations. The legislation exempts online transactions and service providers. It also exempts sports venues if they supply a gift-card machine that accepts cash for attendees who don’t want to pay electronically.
“Hey, Mayor Francis Suarez? Is that you in the $20,000 seats at courtside? Mayor’s office is mum” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — As the Miami Heat rebounded from a rough first half to take the win during Tuesday’s first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami Mayor Suarez basked in the national TV spotlight, seated courtside, where a ticket to the game costs $20,000 and up on the resale market. Was it a freebie from a friend? A personal extravagance? The county ethics code mandates reporting gifts exceeding $100 in quarterly financial disclosures. No one is saying the ticket was a gift. No one is saying it wasn’t a gift. Neither the Mayor nor his underlings were talking Wednesday.
— TOP OPINION —
“The MAGA formula is getting darker and darker” via Thomas Edsall for The New York Times — The chilling amalgam of Christian nationalism, white replacement theory, and conspiratorial zeal — from QAnon to the “stolen” 2020 Election — has attracted a substantial constituency in the United States, thanks in large part to the efforts of Trump and his advisers. By some estimates, adherents of these overlapping movements make up as much as a quarter or even a third of the electorate. Whatever the scale, they are determined to restore what they see as the original racial and religious foundation of America. I asked Katherine Stewart, the author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,” how much Christian nationalism and the great replacement theory intersect: “There is definitely a wing of the Christian nationalist movement that overlaps with the great replacement theory and demographic paranoia in general.”
— OPINIONS —
“The time for drug cartels’ reckoning has come” via Michael Waltz for Fox News — Earlier this month, the D.C.-based foreign policy establishment seemed to be aghast by allegations from former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s new memoir that Trump asked about launching missiles into Mexico to “destroy the drug labs” and take out cartels. My reaction: we shouldn’t dismiss Trump’s idea that the time for these drug cartels’ reckoning has come. These cartels have been terrorizing our country for years by importing drugs and violence, as well as playing a part in destabilizing our southern border. Foreign policy groupthink has plagued our government in recent years as new crises arise across the globe. One of the benefits of having a disrupter like Trump was his ability to see things differently and challenge the status quo of Washington.
“What’s next in Ukraine? Americans deserve a plan” via Marco Rubio for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — This week, the Senate advanced $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to support Ukraine’s effort to repel Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion. Much of that spending is incredibly important; it will provide direct security assistance to Ukraine, but it will also replenish depleted U.S. military weapons stockpiles and support American troops deployed to NATO countries earlier this year. Nevertheless, Biden should not assume Congress will rubber-stamp his next request. America cannot afford an endless, undefined commitment.
“Musk does not care about spambots” via Matt Levine of Bloomberg — Musk is the richest person in the world, and an active Twitter user. When he tweets, he gets a lot of spammy replies, many of which seem written by automated bots. He has complained about this a lot. On April 25, Twitter and Musk issued a joint news release announcing that he had agreed to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share. The news release included a quote from Musk promising to “make Twitter better” by, among other things, “defeating the spambots.” He was really mad at the spambots! He wanted to buy Twitter because of the spambots. The spam bots are not why he is backing away from the deal. The prices of tech stocks have gone down, making the $54.20 price that Musk agreed to look a bit rich. He is angling to reprice the deal for straightforward market reasons.
“Cord Byrd is too partisan to oversee Florida elections” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The whole country will be watching Florida on Election Night in November, and nobody has a bigger personal stake in the outcome than DeSantis. He must win big to be taken seriously as a presidential contender in 2024 and he did not win big last time. Whether you love DeSantis or despise him, no politician with a vested interest in the outcome of an election should be able to influence the mechanics of voting in any way. But the law gives the Governor power to appoint the Secretary of State who oversees elections, and DeSantis has chosen a Republican ally with no expertise in elections. As a legislator, Byrd had a record of favoring new barriers to voting. During a Special Session in April, he supported DeSantis’ flawed congressional map that reduced Black voting strength in North Florida and is now being challenged in court.
“Florida students pose with racial slur. That’s no middle-school joke. It’s racism” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The six middle-schoolers lined up in what appeared to be their school courtyard. Each held large letters that looked like part of an art project or a cheerleading routine, starting with an N and ending with E-R. Some letters were covered in watermelon or zebra motifs. A couple of the boys smiled as if they thought it funny to pose for a photo spelling out America’s most hurtful racial slur. All the six students in the photo taken at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City were White.
“Emmett Reed: More certified nursing assistants needed to ensure quality senior care” via Florida Politics — Nationwide, nursing centers have lost nearly 238,000 employees — or 15% of our total workforce — since the start of the pandemic. In Florida alone, that accounts for nearly 10,000 jobs lost. While employment levels of most health care sectors, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers and other health care facilities, have nearly rebounded to the pre-COVID-19 levels, the skilled nursing centers are experiencing a substantial workforce shortage. To address this critical workforce need, the Florida Health Care Association’s Education and Development Foundation and the State of Florida, Agency for Health Care Administration have partnered on a grant-funded CaregiversFL Career Program that connects skilled nursing centers with individuals seeking a career in long-term care.
— ALOE —
“Celtics co-owner donates $2M to protect manatees” via The Associated Press — A co-owner of the Boston Celtics is donating $2 million toward protecting the Florida manatees and their habitat following two seasons of record-breaking manatee mortalities in the state. Fox Rock Foundation will give $1 million each to the nonprofits Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Save the Manatee Club, the groups announced Tuesday. The foundation is a family charity overseen by Celtics co-owner Rob Hale and his wife, Karen. The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida uses the money to expand current projects to restore the Indian River Lagoon’s overall health by replanting 8 acres of vegetation at six sites in the lagoon with promising water quality.
“Florida’s own version of ‘Tinder Swindler’ to plead guilty in U.S. court” via Fresh Take Florida — Tekesia Johnson felt ready for another chance at love. Her new business venture held promise, her two children were grown, and the romantic reservations she formed after her failed engagement had since subsided. It seemed time to find someone — a man who shared her sense of ambition. The Jacksonville woman searched for suitors in May 2017 on Plenty of Fish, one of the most popular dating websites owned by Match Group, the world’s top online dating service company. Johnson, one of 150 million registered users on the site, felt confident she would find a worthwhile match. That did not happen. Like tens of thousands of other Americans who engage in online dating, Johnson said she was scammed. She warned her daughter and shared her story through local media appearances.
“Disney World limits availability, ends advance sales of skip-the-line Genie+ service” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — Starting next month, Walt Disney World guests will no longer be able to buy skip-the-line Genie+ ahead of their visit to the theme parks and could face limited availability of the service when they arrive. Beginning June 8, the service will only be available for purchase on the day of guests’ theme park visits via the My Disney Experience app. It was previously offered for pre-purchase as a park ticket add-on. A post on the Disney Parks Blog announcing the change said Genie+ is subject to availability. The company previously said the add-on would not sell out, though access to individual attractions could.
“Star Wars: The rebellion will be televised” via Anthony Breznican of Vanity Fair — George Lucas had attempted a live-action Star Wars series before he sold Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Co. in 2012. The level of quality he was looking for proved to be too expensive for a TV budget. Then, in 2017, Lucasfilm was tasked with trying again, this time making not one series but a whole fleet to bolster its parent company’s streaming ambitions. Disney+ would need the firepower of many Star Wars shows to compete against rival titans like Netflix and Amazon. The Mandalorian became a global phenomenon, which only raised expectations. Now, with 130 million subscribers waiting, Disney upped its demands to three separate Star Wars shows within a year. Lucasfilm lifted the secrecy surrounding its TV universe and how it formed, as universes do, under immense pressure.
“Reborn XFL strikes TV rights deal with Disney” via Rick Porter of Yahoo News — The third iteration of the XFL has found a TV home. The league and Disney have struck a global rights deal that will see all XFL regular season and playoff games running on ESPN, ABC, and, in its first sports rights deal since becoming part of Disney, FX. The spring football league is set to begin play in 2023. The 2023 version of the XFL will be the third try at the league. Founded by Johnson’s former boss, WWE head Vince McMahon, it lasted one season in 2001. McMahon revived the league in 2020, but its season was canceled halfway through as the onset of the coronavirus pandemic shut down play.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, Senate President-to-be Kathleen Passidomo, and former Sen. Daphne Campbell.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.