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Sunburn for 6.8.17 – Split-screen madness; Med. marijuana in play; Rick Scott to D.C.; Blockbuster ACLU report; Gator vs. plane

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

What time is too early to make popcorn?

As fascinating as Florida politics is, even in what is supposed to be the slow time of late spring, it will be difficult for aficianados not to keep one eye on Sunshine State politics and another on events transpiring Thursday in D.C. and beyond.

FBI director James Comey will recount a series of conversations with President Donald Trump that he says made him deeply uneasy and concerned about the blurring of boundaries between the White House and a law enforcement agency that prides itself on independence.

Corey’s testimony begins at 10 a.m., although some bars in Washington D.C. are opening early so those in the District can tie one on this morning.

“They really should declare a national holiday, since no work is going to get done,” Sally Quinn is quoted in this New York Times story by Michael Grynbaum and Katie Rogers.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, polling stations across Britain opened for national elections amid heightened security Thursday. The election was supposed to be dominated by Britain’s pending departure from the European Union, but voters are anxiously aware of the threat the country faces from international terrorism following attacks in London and Manchester.

Of course this is a newsletter about Florida politics and it promises to be a fascinating day in the Capitol.

So make sure you have a fresh set of batteries in your TV remote control as you prepare to scroll through The Florida Channel, Fox News, and BBC throughout this extraordinary day.


When it comes to medical marijuana, lawmakers are getting another puff of the pipe.

The Legislature appeared to reach an agreement on a deal to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, announced Wednesday they would include an implementing bill in the Special Session call.

The agreement came just hours before the start of a planned three-day special session, and ended weeks of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation about medical marijuana.

“Our constitutional duty is to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana in the manner prescribed by Florida voters,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, who filed the bill (SB 8A) just before the Special Session started. “This patient-first legislation will expand access to this medicine, while ensuring safety through a unified regulatory structure for each component of the process from cultivation to consumption.”

Senate President Joe Negron talks to Sen. Rob Bradley on the Senate rostrum Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Phil Sears

The bill, among other things, calls on the state to license 10 new growers this year, in addition to the seven that are already licensed under existing state law. It also requires four licenses to be issued for every 100,000 patients who register with the state’s medical marijuana registry.

While earlier negotiations broke down over how many dispensaries each grower could have (reminder: the Senate wanted caps; the House didn’t), the proposed legislation includes caps on dispensaries. Growers would be capped at 25 dispensaries; however, they would be able to add five dispensaries for every 100,000 patients. Those caps would sunset in 2020, unless of course the Legislature were to act.

In return for caps on dispensaries, the House appears to have received one of its priorities — making medical marijuana and marijuana delivery devices exempt from sales tax.

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 15-1 to approve the bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, on Wednesday. The Senate Health Policy and Appropriations committees are set to take up the bill Thursday.

— “Rick Scott expands special session call to include medical marijuana” via Florida Politics

— “Medical marijuana bill would add more licensed growers” via Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Are vaping and smoking the same? Ray Rodrigues won’t say” via Florida Politics – As the medical marijuana implementation bill winds its way through the Special Session, some lawmakers still are grappling with whether smoking medicinal cannabis is the same as ‘vaping’ it. Before the Health and Human Services Committee approved the House bill (HB 5A), members asked bill sponsor Rodrigues, the House Republican Leader from Estero. “Are we allowing smoking?” asked Rep. Thad Altman, an Indialantic Republican. Nope, said Rodrigues, just vaping—short for vaporizing.

— “Jeff Brandes files strike-all amendment” via Florida Politics

John Morgan: I’m still suing the Legislature” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Where there’s no smoke, there’s a John Morgan lawsuit. Morgan—attorney, entrepreneur and main backer of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment—Wednesday said he still plans to sue the state despite lawmakers brokering a deal to include implementation of the measure in this week’s Special Session. Mainly, Morgan’s hair’s on fire that Florida doesn’t allow smokeable medicinal cannabis. Morgan first said he planned to sue last month. “Done is better than perfect and this is far from perfect,” he said in a statement to “I will be suing the state to allow smoke. It was part of my amendment.”

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Mystery mailers from Illinois target Joe Negron” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – Voters in Negron‘s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district are getting mailers from a newly formed Illinois-based PAC criticizing Negron’s role in an education bill that’s closely identified with House Speaker Corcoran … The mailer from a group called SunshinePac from Evanston, Illinois, criticizes HB 7069 and focuses on Negron rather than Corcoran. SunshinePac was formed May 25 as a federal committee, according to Federal Election Committee records. It is headed by John Hennelly, a former Florida director for the Service Employees International Union who’s now a consultant with the liberal Chicago-based firm Democracy Partners. “What has politician Joe Negron been up to in Tallahassee this Session? Making backroom deals and our schools are paying the price,” says one side of the mailer, which shows a picture of Negron and Corcoran but doesn’t identify the House speaker.

“House, Senate divide grows as lawmakers begin Special Session” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida – Lawmakers made little progress Wednesday toward narrowing the gap between the House and Senate on the major funding issues – education and economic development – that drove Gov. Scott to call a special session. With only two days remaining in the scheduled three-day session, lawmakers must quickly find compromise on policy fights that have been made more complicated since the regular 60-day session ended early last month. State Sen. David Simmon, R-Altamonte Springs, summed up the vibe at the Capitol best when he all but said Friday’s scheduled final day is flexible. “These three days here, they’re an artificial deadline for all of us,” he said. “They’re a real deadline, but they’re one that we can work around.”

Lawmakers will likely have to extend session but will Senate Republican fundraiser be in the way?” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald – With the Senate insisting that any budget agreement follow the 72-hour cooling off period, the House Republican leadership agreed to go along, even though they read the constitutional waiting period as not applying to the budget bills they will be passing this session. House leaders asking for in return … telling the Senate it wants them to come back to finish their work Tuesday, June 13 — same day the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has scheduled its annual golf fundraiser in California. The traditional golf fundraiser, often held at the prestigious Pebble Beach golf course, moved this year to Torrey Pines, the swanky municipal course situated along the cliffs of San Diego … The bad news for Senate Republicans is that the fundraiser is scheduled for June 12-13. Sen. Rob Bradley said the fundraiser should have no impact on the Special Session.

“House panel clears Special Session infrastructure, job training bill” via Florida Politics – The House’s main budgeting panel cleared one of the bills planned for the Special Session dealing with tourism promotion, job training and public infrastructure. The Appropriations Committee, on a unanimous vote, OK’d the measure (HB 1A). Among other things, it creates the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, and awards $76 million to and imposes accountability and transparency measures on VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

Great profile on Jeff Clemens: “U2 by UV drummer makes noise in state Senate, too” via Ben Crandell of


Rick Scott, Lenny Curry to attend White House event with Donald Trump” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – With the Special Session underway in Tallahassee, Scott will be at the White House for a “listening session” on infrastructure with President Trump. He will join a number of governors and state, local and private sector leaders “who are interested in working together to improve our nation’s infrastructure” … Also participating in the White House event is Jacksonville Mayor Curry and Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

Governor and Cabinet to take up environmental land-acquisition priorities” via Florida Politics —The newest project on the state’s priority list for conservation land buys is a 4,700-acre spread in eastern Alachua County, containing valuable wildlife, water, and plant resources, but also largely given over to pine harvesting. That’s if Gov. Scott and the Cabinet approve an updated Florida Forever work plan during a meeting scheduled next week. Sitting as the Board of Trustees of State lands, Scott and the Cabinet also will review the Florida Forever land-buy priority list and five-year plan for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. … New to that plan is Lochloosa Forest, assessed at nearly $5.3 million … containing flatwoods, swamps, and marshes, with Hatchet and Bee Tree creeks flowing through.

Carlos Smith: Since Pulse, Rick Scott has done nothing for LGBTQ community” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising –The openly-gay Orlando representative wondered whether Scott would, and whether he should, attend next Monday’s memorial ceremonies in Orlando for the 49 people who were murdered and 53 people who were wounded that night … “He’s done nothing. And he should be held accountable,” Smith said of the governor … he watched Scott evolve with exposure to Pulse families and survivors and become more understanding and sensitive – but then, devolve over ensuing months, to the point that Scott once again did not acknowledge the gay community when he talked about Pulse in his opening address to the Florida Legislature. Smith said Scott now is in an awkward position regarding Pulse, the same position he was in a year ago. Smith said the governor had appeared at the massive Pulse vigil held at Lake Eola Park June 19, 2016, asked if he should speak, was advised that he might be booed, and so did not speak. “Why would he be booed? Because the LGBTQ community knows that he’s done nothing for us,” Smith said.

Sarah Palin accidentally bashes Florida Republicans in Paris accord meme” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO FloridaPalin took a strong stand in support of Trump’s decision to withdraw from a global warming agreement, warning her Facebook readers with a meme that intoned, “Don’t be Fooled! The Paris Climate Accord is a SCAM.” However, the picture the former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee used — featuring well-dressed people celebrating — was pure fake news …  it depicts a group unlikely to support either the idea of man-made climate change or the Paris accord: highly conservative Republican members of the Florida House of Representatives on the chamber floor. Palin deleted the post after Politico reported her error.

“Labor relations panel will hear complaint against Sarasota Herald-Tribune” via Florida Politics – A Florida-based division of the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing on a complaint against the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the paper’s leadership intimidated and threatened “reprisals” if newsroom employees voted to form a union. The hearing is Aug. 21 in Tampa. Last September, the Herald-Tribune’s newsroom staff voted to unionize under the NewsGuild-CWA by a vote of 22-16. Among the allegations, the complaint said publisher Patrick Dorsey in August “created an impression among employees that their union activities were under surveillance.”


A new investigation from the American Civil Liberties Union found Florida officials didn’t provide the public with timely or trustworthy information during the 2016 toxic algae bloom that impacted Treasure Coast communities.

The report — published Tuesday and titled “Tainted Waters: Threats to Public Health and the People’s Right to Know” — looks at state’s record of transparency when it comes to disseminating information about the public danger to the public’s health posed by the algae flor.

Algae blooms from excess nutrients in the waterways are common and becoming more common in developed countries. Photo credit: EPA.

John Lantigua, an investigative reporter with the ACLU of Florida’s, investigated the state’s response to the algae outbreak. Lantigua, a Pulitzer Prize winner reporter, conducted his research with the help of local residents, scientists, media and state employees willing to cooperate.

The report found state scientists testing the river and estuary water for toxins did so in places where the algae was the thinnest, as opposed to along the shores and inlets where algae accumulates and where people interact with the water interacts the most. It also notes that local officials and groups complained that a task force created by statute to try and mitigate the effects of algae infestations has not been funded since 2001.

“Open government means people have a right to be informed about what public officials and employees are doing, and that information is particularly crucial when it comes to public health issues,” he said. “What we found was a lack of urgency and transparency on the part of the state in reporting information about the crisis, caused by the release of tainted waters from Lake Okeechobee.”


In the final part in a series looking at online education, Jessica Bakeman with POLITICO Florida looks at how the fierce rivalry between the University of Florida and Florida State University hasn’t entered the online education arena.

Bakeman writes that as the two preeminent universities plan for the future there has “been surprising little between the longtime rivals.”

According to the report, the University of Florida, aided by the Florida Legislature, “has undertaken an aggressive expansion of distance learning, billing itself as an international hub, while Florida State has resisted pressure from state officials to grow its non-traditional offerings, preferring to see itself as a physical destination for students.”

Those differences, Bakeman notes, could have a disproportionate effect on how online education evolves and whether the state meets its goal of having thousands upon thousands of undergraduate students taking nearly half their courses virtually by 2025.

University of Florida now counts 31 percent of its undergraduate programs delivered online. But Bakeman reported that the path hasn’t always been a smooth one. More than a year ago, the school ended its multi-million dollar contract with Pearson after the company failed to attract enough students from outside the Sunshine State. At FSU, the school’s reluctance to embrace online education has “put the school in conflict with Gov. Scott and the State University System’s board of governors,” reports Bakeman.


“Andrew Gillum ‘slams’ Special Session” via Florida Politics – Tallahassee Mayor Gillum issued a brief statement calling this week’s Special Session “a complete embarrassment to our state.” Gillum also took a swipe at an education policy bill (HB 7069) Gov. Scott is considering that, among other things, could funnel more money to privately-managed charter schools. The session “was called with a total lack of transparency, and thanks to HB 7069, Floridians’ tax dollars are almost certainly about to enrich for-profit charter school executives,” Gillum said in the statement.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla faces foreclosure on out-of-district home” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald – On campaign filings for the District 40 state Senate race, Diaz de la Portilla lists two addresses: a mattress company that belongs to his father and a five-bedroom West Miami home facing foreclosure. Both lie outside the district he is running to represent, a large swath of Southwest Miami-Dade County. According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Diaz de la Portilla and his ex-wife jointly own the West Miami home. In April, Wells Fargo filed a notice in county court seeking to foreclose on the home … Diaz de la Portilla listed the home as being worth $603,357 in a financial disclosure form. Diaz de la Portilla said the foreclosure was a necessary step toward modifying the loan on his home following a divorce.

Democrat who switched parties too late withdraws from state Senate race” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald Steve Smith signed an oath when he qualified as a candidate for the state Senate last week saying he’s been a registered Democrat for a year. Not quite. Florida law requires anyone qualifying as a party candidate to state in writing that they have not been a member of another party for a full year before qualifying. Smith … registered as a Democrat June 10, 2016, less than a year before he and six other candidates qualified May 30 — 12 days short of a year — for the District 40 seat left vacant by former Sen. Frank Artiles. Hours after a Miami Herald story went online Tuesday about the apparent violation, Smith he withdrew his candidacy, saying he did not want to jeopardize the Democratic Party’s chances to turn the seat blue and his own political aspirations down the road. “It is what it is,” he said.

Bobby Olszewski qualifies by petition for HD 44 special election” via Scott Powers of Orlando Rising — Republican Bobby Olszewski has become the first qualified candidate for the special elections set for later this year to fill the vacant seat for House District 44 in western Orange County. Olszewski’s campaign said it collected more than 400 petition signatures and on Wednesday the Orange County Supervisor of Elections certified 370, enough to put him on the ballot. The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 15, with the final election on Oct. 10. “I couldn’t be more thankful to our great volunteers who helped us reach this goal with our voters in record time,” Olszewski stated in a news release. “My volunteers and I will out and about in our community throughout this election looking to bring our hometown, conservative principles to Tallahassee.”


Donald Trump nominates Stetson law professor to veterans appeals court” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times Trump has nominated a Stetson University law professor to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Michael P. Allen is director of the Veterans Law Institute and was a civil trial attorney in Boston before joining Pinellas County-based Stetson.

“Personnel note: Stephen Lawson moves to VISIT FLORIDA” via Florida PoliticsLawson has left the post of communications director for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He has become vice president of Government Relations for VISIT Florida. He announced the job change in an email. Lawson has been making the rounds of Gov. Scott’s administration, previously serving as communications director for Enterprise Florida, the public-private economic development organization.

Sachs named as agency of record for JMI – The James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank, named Sachs Media Group as its Agency of Record. Under the leadership of newly appointed president Michelle Ubben, Sachs Media will elevate JMI’s profile in Florida and nationally by providing public affairs and strategic communications services in support of JMI’s initiatives. JMI is led by president/CEO Dr. Bob McClure, who was named one of INFLUENCE Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Florida Politics.

AppointedDaniel Waters and Marielle Kitchener to Big Cypress Basin Board.

AppointedAdrian Alfonso to the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc.

New and renewed lobby registration: Bob Harris, Messer Caparello: West Coast University

— ALOE —

9 TV shows set in Florida but not Miami, like ‘Claws’ in Manatee County” via Caitlin O’Connor of the Tampa Bay Times – I Dream Of Jeannie … Maj. Tony Nelson and Jeannie called Cocoa Beach home. Second Noah … Tampa got its moment in the spotlight in this short-lived mid-’90s series about a family with a tendency to take in kids and stray animals. Fresh Off the Boat … ABC’s hit sitcom features a Taiwanese family moving from Washington, D.C., to Orlando around 1995. The Glades … This A&E show about an FDLE detective was set in fictional Palm Glade somewhere in, well, the Everglades and filmed around South Florida. Siesta Key … A reality series filmed around Sarasota County’s popular beach destination is set to premiere July 19 on MTV. Bloodline … Netflix’s recently concluded family thriller was set and filmed in the Keys. American Horror Story … 2014-15’s Freak Show season was set in Jupiter in 1952, following the lives of members of, well, a freak show. Cougar Town …  Courtney Cox & Co. were on the prowl in fictional Gulfhaven, nicknamed “Cougar Town,” somewhere around Venice and Sarasota on the map.

Florida, Florida State on the winning end of baseball’s June Madness” via Bob Sparks of Florida Politics –Both Florida and Florida State have provided significant contributions to this year’s mayhem, which saw nearly half of the 16 seeded teams and regional hosts go down to defeat. Four others, including the Gators and Seminoles, had to bounce back from losses. No team among the 64 tournament teams had to climb the mountain faced by Florida State. The Madness struck in the first game, when FSU inexplicably lost to fourth-seeded Tennessee Tech, 3-1. The Gators were moving along nicely in their regional until Sunday night. They had the opportunity for a three-game sweep, but the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, earned a reprieve with a 6-2 win. Florida restored order Monday with a 6-1 regional-clinching win, but it was 0-0 in the sixth inning.

Orlando gator killed on runway at executive airport” via Paul Brinkmann of the Orlando Sentinel – An 11-foot alligator was reportedly killed at 2 a.m. June 1 … A spokeswoman for the airport, Carolyn Fennell, confirmed that the incident occurred last week. She said there was some damage to the private plane but didn’t have details about that. “Fish and Wildlife Service said it was a 500-pound alligator,” Fennell said. The executive airport is 3 miles from downtown Orlando and is governed by Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which also governs Orlando International Airport. It covers about 1,000 acres, near several lakes, including Lake Underhill.

NASA announces new astronaut class, and one is from Florida” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel – The class of 12 astronauts will start a two-year training program in August. One candidate, Frank Rubio, 41, hails from Florida. He graduated from Miami Sunset Senior High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York The rest of the 2017 class: Kayla Barron of Richland, Washington; Zena Cardman of Williamsburg, Virginia; Raja Chari of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge, Colorado; Bob Hines of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Warren Hoburg of Pittsburgh; Jonny Kim of Los Angeles; Robb Kulin of Anchorage, Alaska; Jasmin Moghbeli of Baldwin, New York; Loral O’Hara of Sugar Land, Texas; Jessica Watkins of Lafayette, Colorado

Happy birthday to Chris Hand and PSTA’s Brad Miller.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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