Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
Bonjour from the Renaissance Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Our transatlantic cruise reached its final destination in Copenhagen, where we disembarked to take in the fascinating Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. It was here where Walt Disney found the inspiration for the theme parks that would bear his name.
Unlike other “seedy” amusement parts of the day, Tivoli was a “a clean and orderly park in Copenhagen … with ‘lush flowers, tame rides’ and a festive family atmosphere,” Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer wrote in their book The Idea Hunter: How To Find The Best Ideas And Make Them Happen.
During a 1951 trip to Tivoli, Disney walked through the amusement park scribbling down notes about the seats, gardens, rides, food, and every other detail he noticed.
Disneyland opened in California four years after the trip.
After two days in Copenhagen, we made our way to the City of Lights for the second part of our journey.
The Florida political world took a breather for Memorial Day, but now it heads into a month where so much is in the uncertain. The number one question: Will there be a special session of the Legislature?
— WHEN, NOT IF —
Lawmakers hoping for a special session to act on medical marijuana could be racing against the clock.
Facing a rapidly approaching July 3 deadline to write rules to govern the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry, the Department of Health published a notice last week outlining procedures it will use to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.
While it wasn’t immediately clear when rules will be published, health officials have to give 15-day notice before adoption. It also allows for a three-day public comment window.
But that doesn’t leave much time for lawmakers to act before the Department of Health, which has been criticized for the slow implementation of the state’s low-THC law in the past, puts its rules into effect. And a month after lawmakers failed to pass implementing legislation, there still appears to be plenty of support for a special session on medical marijuana.
The Department of State has received 16 letters from lawmakers asking for a special session. If 32 lawmakers send a letter asking for a special session, the department must poll the Legislature. Three-fifths of each chamber need to agree before a call is issued.
“I believe it is our duty as the Legislative Body of the State of Florida to implement the framework needed to adopt the significant amendment,” wrote Sen. Greg Steube in his May 18 letter Secretary of State Ken Detzner asking for a special session. “We have a duty to our constituents who support this measure, and who are in need of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions.”
A rank-and-file push for a special session might be a tougher path, but a call from leadership isn’t totally out of the question. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he supports a special session, telling a Tallahassee radio station earlier this month he believed and supported the notion that “we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana.”
Senate President Joe Negron signaled he was open to the possibility, and asked his membership for input on how they thought they should move forward. Last week, a spokeswoman for the Stuart Republican said he had not yet made a decision about a special session.
With a few weeks until the DOH needs to have rules in place, lawmakers might need to act fast if they want to give the state agency instructions about how the constitutional amendment should be implemented. And as more voices call for a special session — including gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Adam Putnam, and the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposed the amendment — the question might not be if, but when the special session will be.
— “Health officials outline their plan for writing medical marijuana rules” via Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times
“Adam Putnam faces criticisms for ‘bandwagoning’ over call for medical marijuana special session” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Putnam took a swipe at state legislators for failing to reach an agreement on the bill to implement Amendment 2 earlier this month, saying they need to come back to Tallahassee and get back to work. Putnam spokeswoman Amanda Bevis [said] the change of heart was really Putnam simply recognizing the need for state lawmakers to fulfill their duty to the people of Florida … Some believes Putnam doesn’t have the right motivations on medical marijuana, though, and say the past speaks for itself. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who pushed legislation in the Florida House to legalize a low-THC form of medical cannabis in 2014, criticized the Commissioner for only recently hopping on board the medical marijuana train for his political advantage now that he’s all in the governor’s race. Gaetz tweeted that Putnam had no desire to join forces and work together on legalizing medical marijuana just three years ago, questioning whether the commissioner’s motivations were pure or just a political tactic. “As Agriculture commish he had no interest in helping w cannabis reform when I asked,” Gaetz tweeted this week. “Now he’s running for gov and is full of opinions #weird.”
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— CAPITOL INSIGHT —
“State budget uncertainty has school districts ‘very concerned’” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – While waiting for Gov. Scott to approve or veto the Legislature’s education budget, the people in charge of school district checkbooks are trying hard to find a bottom line. It has not been easy. First, they see a $24.49 increase in total per-student funding, a minimal hike of 0.34 percent. Next, they check the “base student allocation,” which helps pay for day-to-day expenses, and see a tiny decrease of $27.07 per student, down 0.65 percent. But school districts also face inflation in areas such as health insurance and utilities, as well as rising contribution rates to employee pensions, he and others pointed out. For many districts, a gap between revenue and expenses appears likely under the Legislature’s plan, which officials hope is the worst-case scenario. “We’re very concerned,” said Kendra Sittig, Hernando County school budget director. “Any time they cut our base student allocation, that dips into what we’re able to provide for our students.”
“Legislature failed transparency test this year, TaxWatch chief Dominic Calabro says” via Michael Moline of Florida Politics – In an interview tied to Florida TaxWatch’s release of its annual list of budgetary “turkeys,” Calabro praised House Speaker Corcoran especially for subjecting member projects to unprecedented scrutiny. Where Corcoran fell down, Calabro said, was in failing to collaborate with the Senate leadership under President Negron from the beginning.“He just threw it out there — we’re going to do this,” Calabro said. “The process requires consensus from both sides at some point.” The result was an “I win, you lose” atmosphere. “That’s not a way to run the ship of state. The voters really don’t want that. We want the Sunshine State to be the best it can be. That requires principled compromise.” Still, Calabro sees an opening to improve the process. “We could learn a lot from this year’s missteps, and have a process that could go on for decades,” he said.
— “Another day, another call for the Governor to veto at least part of the budget” via John Lucas of The Capitolist
“Joe Negron defends funding for anti-opioid drug buy” via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – The Stuart Republican this year secured $10.5 million in funding for VIVITROL after budget writers in the House torpedoed spending for it. Negron increased by 50 percent funding for the drug, manufactured by Alkermes, in private backroom negotiations between him and House Speaker Corcoran during the waning days of the 60-day session. “I completely stand by it,” Negron told POLITICO Florida. “I think it’s the responsible course of action and I think it’s very sound public policy.” Alkermes, a firm based in Dublin, Ireland, made $156,500 in campaign contributions in the 2016 election cycle, including contributing $50,000 to Negron and political committees he controls or is affiliated with. The company has already contributed $39,000 this year, much of it going to committees associated with GOP state senators.
“Darryl Rouson takes heat over exemption vote” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – Rouson … is taking heat from area public officials — including some who gave him crucial support in his 2016 election — for switching his stance on the proposed constitutional amendment to increase the homestead tax exemption … local government officials say it would force layoffs, service cuts or property tax rate increases, and most Democrats opposed it. In late April, Rouson [said] he opposed the measure as “devastating” to this area, potentially forcing cuts in services including police and fire protection. He repeated that April 28, saying his position wouldn’t change. But May 1, Rouson voted for the measure, which passed easily and will go on the 2018 ballot. Six of 15 Senate Democrats and 11 of 41 House Democrats voted for it, along with nearly all Republicans.
“I evolved, like people do when they receive information over a period of time,” Rouson said. He said changing the bill to exempt “fiscally constrained counties” swayed him, and he decided, “The good policy is giving voters the choice. We created the opportunity for voters to weigh the facts and decide for themselves.” He denied that GOP leaders offered him any incentive for his vote.
“Noah Valenstein cellphone is primary contact for business he says he doesn’t run” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – Florida’s new Department of Environmental Protection secretary, Valenstein, flatly denied this week he had any role in the political consulting and polling businesses he turned over to his wife when he came to work for the governor in 2012. But the company website still listed his personal phone number as the contact. It was the same phone number Valenstein used on his application for the DEP job. “Thank you for raising this issue to my attention,” Valenstein said in an email to the Herald/Times. “I have asked my wife to immediately remove my cellphone number from her company’s website. Upon entering public service in 2012, I removed myself from the business and my wife has owned and operated it since. I was not aware my cellphone number remained on her website and neither was she.” The companies, Voter Opinions, LLC and Campaign Facts, LLC, (with website Facts2Win.com) are income-producing businesses for Jennifer Valenstein. Started by Noah Valenstein in 2010 out of their Tallahassee home, the companies have been paid nearly $1 million by candidates and political committees.
“Constitution commission to vote on rules June 6” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times – Chair Carlos Beruff … called a meeting for the entire 37-member commission for June 6 in Orlando to vote on rules. “Although consensus was achieved in some areas, there were many other areas where consensus was not reached,” Beruff wrote in letter to commissioners. “In light of the extensive time required by the working group to continue its work and the likelihood that much of their discussion will need to be reiterated with the full Commission, I think you will agree that consensus on Rules must be achieved on an expedited timeline to ensure we can continue our very important commitment to Floridians.”
— Beruff also set a new schedule for the commission, promising to have its work done by May 10, 2018.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
Happening this week — Andrew Gillum returns to campaign trail with speech at Miami Women’s March — The Tallahassee mayor is scheduled to give the keynote address at the March for Truth Rally, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday at the Government Center, 111 NW First Street in Miami. The event marks Gillum’s return to the campaign trail after the birth of his son, Davis. The Women’s March for Truth includes a coalition of grassroots groups, including the Women’s March National, Indivisible 305, Indivisible Miami, Rise Up Florida, and MoveOn.
South Florida lawmakers endorse Graham — Five South Florida state Representatives have thrown their support behind Gwen Graham, the former Democratic congresswoman from Tallahassee. Graham’s campaign announced that she has earned the backing of Reps. Emily Slosberg, David Silvers, Kristin Jacobs, Evan Jenne, and Richard Stark. “Gwen believes we need to build a state that works for small business and home-based business owners, not just the largest corporations,” said Silvers in a statement. “On her Workdays, she gains firsthand experience learning about the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face. As governor, she will build an economy that creates growth and opportunity for businesses of all sizes.” In a statement, Graham said she was “honored to have the support of these South Florida representatives.”
“Richard Corcoran has a new committee to help him become governor” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O’Lakes Republican says he will remain Speaker of the Florida House through the 2018 session and decide after that whether or not he will run for governor.
“Jeb money trickles into Putnam’s bid for governor” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times — A year ago, Bush’s Right to Rise PAC put $1,171 in money left over from his failed presidential run into a fund called SSLP Political Committee, which Putnam used for his 2014 re-election campaign for Florida Agriculture Commissioner. After the Right to Rise donation, SSLP was up to just over $221,000 and has not spent any money since, according to records with the Florida Division of Elections. But … Putnam moved all of SSLP’s unused money over into Florida Grown, a new committee he runs that has already raised $11 million since the start of 2015. … It’s no surprise Jeb Bush money would end up in Putnam’s campaign. For years, Bush has been encouraging Putnam to run for Governor. Even in 2014 while Putnam was still seeking re-election as agriculture commissioner, Bush used an event in Charlotte County to hint that Putnam should run for governor in the future.
“In South Florida, Nancy Pelosi says Democrats will take on Carlos Curbelo” via Amy Sherman of the Miami Herald – What she didn’t explain was why her party has yet to find someone to run against him. “We will be having a strong focus on Florida in the next election and certainly the Curbelo race will be one of them,” Pelosi pledged in Wilton Manors. Several Democrats intend to run for the Democratic-leaning 27th Congressional District being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring. But none have challenged Curbelo, a sophomore lawmaker whose 26th District also leans blue. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials have met with potential Curbelo challengers including while in South Florida this week for fundraisers that Pelosi attended. (Pelosi told the Herald that she herself hadn’t met with any potential candidates.)
Assignment editors – U.S. Rep. Brian Mast will speak at a Palm Beach County Tea Party breakfast beginning 10 a.m. at the Abacoa Country Club, 105 Barbados Dr. In Jupiter.
Qualification period begins in Senate District 40 – The two-day qualifying period for candidates in the Senate District 40 special election begins at 8 a.m. A special primary election is July 23, with the special general election for Sept. 26 to replace Miami Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned the seat in April.
“Special elections set for House District 44 in August, October” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — Special elections were set Friday for the vacancy in Orlando-based House District 44, with primary elections to be held on Aug. 15, and the election on Oct. 10, under an executive order signed by Gov. Rick Scott. he election is to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, whom Scott appointed to fill a vacancy on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Already there are five candidates vying for the position, including four Republicans, John Newstreet, Bruno Portigliatti, Bobby Olszewski, and Dr. Usha Jain, and one Democrat, Paul Chandler. All filed for the 2018 election and will have to refile for the special election.
More legislative hopefuls announce 2018 bids — LobbyTools’ Legislative IQ reports several candidates filed to run for legislative seats in 2018. Linda Rinaldi, a Surfside Republican, has announced she plans to challenge Democratic Rep. Joe Geller in House District 100 in 2018. Geller was unchallenged in 2016 and the seat is considered a safe Democratic district. Republican Luis Rolle has filed to run in House District 118. He will go head-to-head against Anthony Rodriguez in the Republican primary. Both men are hoping to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio.
“Kellyanne Conway to headline Miami GOP Lincoln Day Dinner” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Conway will be headlining the Miami-Dade Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner June 27 … Conway has not spent a great deal of time in Florida since Trump took office. She worked as a pollster and was put in charge of Trump’s campaign shortly before Election Day last year … Miami-Dade was one of the nine counties Trump lost in November and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took more votes in that area than anywhere else in the state.
— IS THIS FOR REAL? —
“Donald Trump set to roll back Barack Obama’s Cuba policies” via Alex Pfeiffer of the Daily Caller – The development is due to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Sen. Marco Rubio, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. This information coming from an anti-embargo group …was confirmed Sunday by John Kavulich of the nonpartisan U.S. – Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “The Trump Administration has been ‘ready’ since February 2017 to announce changes, but issues unrelated to Cuba have intervened,” Kavulich said. Former President Obama worked to enact several changes to Cuban policy during his tenure in office. He ended the policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” that gave Cuban illegal immigrants a path to legal status, opened travel to the island nation, re-established diplomatic relations and loosened restrictions on doing business in the country. These moves were applauded along bipartisan lines, but Cuban hardliners weren’t pleased. Trump himself has been on both sides of the issue. He told TheDC in 2015 that the “concept of opening with Cuba is fine,” but on the campaign trail he threatened to “terminate” deals that the Obama administration made with Cuba.
— STATEWIDE —
What the Governor’s Office is reading – “Florida’s economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall” via Robert Trigaux of the Tampa Bay Times – New figures show Florida’s real gross domestic product (GDP) rose 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016 … ranking the Sunshine State fourth in growth among the states and District of Columbia, behind Texas, Utah and Washington. For all of 2016, Florida’s GDP increased 3 percent, ranking fifth behind Washington, Oregon, Utah and New Hampshire. Among the five most populated states, Florida’s GDP was fastest growing in 2016, with California’s 2.9 percent GDP growth following a close second. For the fourth quarter last year, Texas’ GDP outgrew Florida’s, 3.4 percent to 3.1 percent, but the Lone Star State grew at a much slower pace for all of 2016. U.S. growth has averaged 2.1 percent a year since the recession ended in mid-2009. The nation’s GDP growth rate slowed to just 1.5 percent over the year and 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter — well below Florida’s pace.
The worst story you’ll read today – “11 years old, a mom, and pushed to marry her rapist in Florida” via Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times – When she was a scrawny 11-year-old, Sherry Johnson found out one day that she was about to be married to a 20-year-old member of her church who had raped her. A government clerk in Tampa, refused to marry an 11-year-old, even though this was legal in the state, so the wedding party went to nearby Pinellas County, where the clerk issued a marriage license. The license lists her birth date, so officials were aware of her age. Not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out — two-thirds of marriages of underage girls don’t last, one study found — but it did interrupt Johnson’s attendance at elementary school. Today she is campaigning for a state law to curb underage marriages, part of a nationwide movement to end child marriage in America. Meanwhile, children 16 and under are still being married in Florida at a rate of one every few days. A great majority of the child marriages involve girls and adult men. Such a sexual relationship would often violate statutory rape laws, but marriage sometimes makes it legal.
“Governor cleared to sign death warrants again, experts say” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel – Florida can start executing condemned killers again, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand the state’s changes to its death-penalty law, experts say. But so far, Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t signed a warrant for any of the 366 prisoners on Death Row. “Other than the typical motions that defendants file and exhaust before a death warrant being signed, both federal and state, I don’t think there’s another barrier out there to stop the governor from moving forward,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls … a former Pinellas County prosecutor and legislative leader on death penalty issues. Scott could be ready to begin executions again soon. “Our office is currently reviewing the next steps in the process” of selecting a case and signing a death warrant, Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. Scott has signed death warrants for 23 prisoners, more than any other Florida governor since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
“Florida could pave new changes in ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press – A measure before Scott would effectively require a trial-before-a-trial whenever someone invokes self-defense, making prosecutors prove the suspect doesn’t deserve immunity. Scott hasn’t revealed his intentions, but he’s a National Rifle Association supporter, and this is an NRA priority. … Florida Republicans made this bill a priority after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the defendant has the burden of proof before trial. If Florida starts a national trend to shift that burden to prosecutors, it’ll be just fine with Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who sponsored the bill. “It’s about following our right of innocent until proven guilty,” Payne said. “It’s about Fifth Amendment rights, it’s about due process, it’s about having a true immunity, for when folks really believe they’re in imminent threat of great bodily harm or death, to defend themselves properly.” Senators originally wanted prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” before trial that self-defense didn’t justify a violent crime. The final legislation lowered the threshold to “clear and convincing” evidence. Either way, it makes prosecuting violent crimes more difficult, experts say.
“Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for preschoolers” via Terry Roen of Orlando Rising – Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the under four age group with 7.5 per 100,000 population, according to 2013 statistics from the Florida Department of Health. Enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown each year in Florida and do not live to see their fifth birthday. Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool … Kelly Whittemore, founder of Swim Life, said children die in Central Florida because parents don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted when watching their children around water. “A child can drown in the seconds it takes to return a text message,” said Whittemore, who has been teaching swim lessons for 25 years. “Hollywood has done us all a big disservice. They’ve made it look like there’s lots of splashing and noise involved. In reality, a child can slip in without a splash and there’s no noise. That’s how quickly and silently it happens.”
“Pam Bondi says charities she helps aren’t required to register with state” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Bondi’s office this week responded to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases. Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, writing on Bondi’s behalf, said in part that some of the organizations criticized by Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.” Rather, they need to register as charities if they plan to “solicit,” or ask for, charitable contributions, Williams added. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson of Tallahassee ordered Bondi to show why he shouldn’t find for Smith, giving Bondi 40 days to respond. Williams’ response came on the 40th day. “Florida law expressly and unambiguously authorizes (the Attorney General’s office to require) a settling party’s promise to make a contribution to a third party,” said the response to the order to show cause. “Nowhere in the relevant statutes does it say that these third-party entities must be registered charities.”
“As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet” via Jeremy Wallace of the Tampa Bay Times – Since 2010, the agency has lost 993 troopers to retirement or resignation, or a little more than half of its current workforce of 1,946 troopers, said FHP Director Col. Gene Spaulding. “That’s a big turnover,” said Spaulding, a 24-year highway patrol veteran himself. “That’s really tough.” Spaulding had 240 vacancies in the department this spring. Reinforcements are not filling the void. The state’s trooper academy typically has 80 recruits per class three times a year. Spaulding said the current class doesn’t even have half of that. Meanwhile, the workload is increasing. In 2011, the state reported 229,000 crashes. In 2016, that rose to 395,000. Local governments are stuck picking up the slack, said Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight, who spent 20 years working for the Highway Patrol.
— NEVER TOO EARLY —
“Gary Croke: Past hurricanes help prepare for tomorrow” for Florida Politics – As a hurricane builds, so does the need to communicate. Police departments need to coordinate with fire and rescue to ensure the most vulnerable have a route out of the path of destruction, and to provide emergency care to those unable to get to safety in time … microwave technology, provided to local organizations … has enhanced communication between first responders. It has also helped reduce costs, and improve local networks’ reliability and performance. As the microwave provider to these local organizations, Aviat is proud to play a part in helping these communities be prepared with additional network capacity in future weather emergencies. However, natural and man-made disasters will continue to test the limits of this technology. As demonstrated by recent public safety incidents in Florida, during times of immediate crisis, lines of communication are often flooded by the number of individuals on the ground trying to help. The addition of more technology, such as body cameras on law enforcement officials, will only add to the onslaught of vital data that needs to shared. It’s also impossible to predict how intense future hurricanes may be. The emergency responders that have prioritized communications are entering hurricane season as well prepared as possible.
— REST IN PEACE —
“Sergio Bendixen, pioneer pollster of Hispanics, dies at 68” via Patricia Mazzei and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – Bendixen had been suffering from a bad cold in recent days, according to his friend and business partner, Fernand Amandi. The two ran the Coconut Grove-based Bendixen & Amandi International polling firm, though Bendixen was semi-retired. “Sergio led the way in capturing the opinions of and understanding how Hispanics in America thought and felt about the most important issues in our time,” Amandi said. “He was largely responsible for giving Hispanic America a voice.” Bendixen not only focused on polling Hispanics: He also chose to survey them in Spanish, if they were more comfortable in that language, an industry innovation now considered standard in multilingual polling. He later expanded his work to other ethnic groups and worked for political candidates internationally, especially in Latin America. His best friend of 40 years, Mike Abrams, called him “the single greatest political mind I’ve ever met,” and said that all of Bendixen’s grandest political plans started humbly — sketched out on a napkin over lunch. “He could be a little Machiavellian to his political foes, but his loyalty and compassion for friends far outweighed any of that,” he said.