Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (2024)

Coffee’s brewing — but ‘Sunburn’ is already made and ready to go.

Good Tuesday morning.

A top-of-the-burn birthday shoutout to Natalie Brown of RSA Consulting — this is her year to shine!


INFLUENCE Magazine’s recognition of the rising stars of the governmental affairs sector will be unveiled in the January issue.

Right now, we are taking nominations for those who belong on this prestigious list. We are looking for bright shiny faces from the lobbying, fundraising and public affairs arena. This will be a tight list of about 25 individuals, so make your nominations count.

Please email them to .


Happening todayBridget Ziegler resignation resolution tops School Board agenda” via Chris Porter of the North Port Sun — The Sarasota County School Board won’t delay in learning whether the majority of Board members want member Ziegler to resign. A Board resolution recommending Ziegler’s voluntary resignation is on the agenda for the Board’s 6 p.m. Tuesday session at the Landings Administrative Complex, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota. The resolution appears as item 1, before public comment. Board Chair Karen Rose asked Superintendent Terry Connor to put the item on the agenda last week. Rose’s request came after details in the investigation of Ziegler’s husband, Christian Ziegler, on a report of a sexual assault complaint, became public.


Things are so bad for Ron DeSantis that his top propaganda blog is shutting down” via Nikki McCann Ramirez of Rolling Stone — The Florida Standard has gone belly up. This particular publication is a favorite propaganda outfit of DeSantis. The Standard, which has operated on extremely friendly, very accessible terms with the DeSantis campaign for months now, has fired all of its staff and will cease operating before the new year. DeSantis had been instrumental in propping up the flailing outlet and the Governor’s Office and campaign had worked closely with the website’s management, even encouraging donors, lobbyists, and communications firms to contribute financially to the publication. Aside from Fox News, The Standard was one of the only outlets to which DeSantis regularly granted interviews.


Former state Rep. Alan Williams has been tapped to serve as Vice President Kamala Harris’ Senior Adviser for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Williams served in the state House from 2008-16, and during his tenure chaired the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and served as House Democratic Whip from 2012-16.

After hitting term limits, he ran unsuccessfully for Leon County Supervisor of Elections and in 2017 began working as a government relations consultant for the Meenan law firm. When 2020 rolled around, the campaign for then-candidate Joe Biden selected Williams to serve as a coordinated coalition strategic adviser in Florida.

In mid-2021, the Democrat from Tallahassee was appointed to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Relations in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations.

He held that role until his appointment to the Vice President’s office late last month.

Williams is a graduate of Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration as well as an MBA.


2023 Florida Chamber Annual Insurance Summit — 2; Zack Snyder’s ‘Rebel Moon’ premieres — 10; Michael Mann’s ‘Ferrari’ premieres — 12; Matt Dixon’s ‘Swamp Monsters: (Donald) Trump vs. DeSantis ― the Greatest Show on Earth (or at Least in Florida)’ released — 28; 2024 Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-In and reception — 28; Florida’s 2024 Regular Session begins — 28; CNN to host first of two GOP Primary debates — 29; 2024 Primetime Emmy Awards — 34; House District 35 Special Election — 34; Florida TaxWatch’s State of the Taxpayer Dinner — 36; CNN’s second GOP Primary debate — 40; New Hampshire Primary — 42; Red Dog Blue Dog 2024 — 43; South Carolina Democratic Primary — 53; New Hampshire and Nevada Democratic Primaries — 56; South Carolina GOP holds first-in-the-South Primary — 74; Michigan Democratic Primary — 77; ‘Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 80; Netflix to stream “The Netflix Slam,” Rafael Nadal/Carlos Alcaraz faceoff — 82; Trump’s D.C. trial on charges related to trying to reverse his 2020 Election loss — 83; Super Tuesday — 84; 2024 Oscars — 89; Georgia Democratic Primary — 91; 2024 Leadership Conference on Safety, Health & Sustainability — 149; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 163; ‘A Quiet Place: Day One’ premieres — 199; Republican National Convention begins — 217; ‘Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 227; Alien: Romulus’ premieres — 248; Georgia Tech to face Florida State in 2024 opener in Dublin — 256; Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour stops in Miami — 311; 2024 Florida Chamber Annual Meeting & Future of Florida Forum — 314; Las Vegas Grand Prix — 345; ‘Captain America: Brave New World’ premieres — 430; ‘Moana’ premieres — 563; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 591; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 696; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 696; ‘Avatar 3’ premieres — 738; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 871; Untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 897; Another untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie premieres — 1,102; ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,242; ‘Avatar 4’ premieres — 2,201; ‘Avatar 5’ premieres — 2,929.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (4)


Florida releases A-to-F school grades but with no punishment for bad marks” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida released its annual A-to-F school report card Monday, but this year bad marks carry no negative consequences for schools because the state transitioned to a new series of standardized exams and could not fully run grade calculations.

School grades, first issued in 1999, are based on student performance on state math and reading tests. The grades released Monday are for the 2022-23 school year. Schools that improved a grade or maintained an A are eligible, as usual, for extra money from the state, but those with Ds and Fs will not face state oversight or the threat of a state takeover.

“These school grades serve as a baseline for districts and provide a starting point for future achievement,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz in a statement. “I look forward to seeing schools rise to the occasion as they continue to provide Florida students a first-rate education.”

The state’s grading formula needs two years of data to be fully calculated, as it looks at both one-year performance and growth from the past year. Because the state does not yet have two years of data from the FAST, its newest standardized test, it could not calculate the “learning gain” portion of the school grading formula this year.

By state law, it also had to issue grades during this transition year that mirrored those issued after the 2021-22 school year. So, in both school years, 32% of schools got As, 25% got Bs, 37% got Cs, 5% got Ds and 1% got Fs.

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Donald Trump holds massive lead in Iowa five weeks from Caucuses that kick off GOP race: poll” via Paul Steinhauser of Fox News — The former President stands at 51% support among those likely to take part in Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses, with DeSantis a distant second at 19%, and Nikki Haley at 16%, according to the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. The survey, conducted Dec. 2-7, was released Monday, with five weeks to go until the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses. Trump’s lead over the rest of the field of 2024 GOP nomination rivals — which has expanded by five points since October — is the largest recorded so close to a competitive Republican caucus in the history of the survey, which is considered by many to be the gold standard of Iowa caucus polling.

DeSantis accuses Trump of ‘cowardice’ for refusing to debate rivals” via Nicholas Nehamas of The New York Times — “Trump denigrates military service by claiming it is ‘braver’ that he debated Hillary Clinton than what soldiers endure on the battlefield,” DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer, wrote on the social media platform X on Sunday. “Debating isn’t ‘brave;’ it’s the bare minimum any candidate should do. Hiding from debates, on the other hand, is an example of cowardice.” The Governor was responding to comments that Trump — who has said he is too far ahead of his rivals in the polls to debate them — had made during a speech to New York Republicans on Saturday. Calling the former President a coward represents something of an escalation for DeSantis as his campaign continues to underperform expectations.

Spotted — DeSantis made an appearance on the Simon Conway Show, talking about liberal universities justifying comments about the genocide of Jews: “There’s a sickness in these universities. You saw it on display there. You’ve seen it on display with these ridiculous protests in favor of Hamas that we’ve seen since Oct. 7. But we’ve got to get smart about how we deal with these universities. We can’t keep funding universities that are creating this type of toxic environment and toxic ideology.”

To listen to the show, please click the image below:

Nikki Haley’s New Hampshire bank shot” via Stef Kight, Erin Doherty and Hans Nichols of Axios —The soft money flowing into New Hampshire on behalf of Haley has a hard target: independent voters. Winning the support of the state’s “undeclared” voters — which make up 40% of the electorate — has always been the key to winning the first-in-the-nation Primary. With the Democratic National Committee essentially boycotting the Primary, that’s even more true this year. All the action is on the GOP side. That means the number of independent voters (399,395) can exceed the number of registered Republicans (298,470) on Election Day. The former South Carolina Governor’s supporters — many of whom are donating “soft money” to super PACs, which don’t have limits on campaign contributions — are planning to leverage Haley’s broad anti-Trump appeal and relatively moderate views to win over independents.

As Trump’s rivals push to persuade Iowans, DeSantis warns that he would fire up Democrats” via MaryAlice Parks of ABC News — DeSantis recounted elections he’d witnessed firsthand in his state and argued Trump was a driving force for bringing out Democratic voters — a pattern that could repeat with him on the ballot next year. “Democrats know they have a turnout problem with Biden as their nominee because he’s not invigorating anybody. He’s not inspiring anybody. What they need is … they need that negative partisanship that they can say, ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ and get people to come out. That’s been their formula,” DeSantis said. “It will just be a clown show. Lawsuits and impeachments — just like it was the first time — instead of getting anything done,” Tristen Golden, a farmer from Sioux Center, told ABC News after listening to candidates at the “faith and family” forum, hosted by Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra.

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— MORE 2024 —

For Joe Biden, it always seems to be sunny in Philadelphia” via Marisa Iati of The Washington Post — Meals at downtown restaurants. Philadelphia Phillies games at Citizens Bank Park. A stop at Pat’s King of Steaks for a “Wiz witout.” The City of Brotherly Love has been a part of Biden’s public identity for as long as he’s been in politics. As a Senator from neighboring Delaware, he called Philadelphia leaders to collaborate on housing and labor initiatives. As Vice President, he addressed graduates at the University of Pennsylvania and later attended his granddaughter Naomi Biden’s commencement there. As President, Biden had traveled to Philadelphia 18 times before this week, more than any other city outside Delaware and he returned Monday to tout federal funds that will enable the Philadelphia Fire Department to reopen three fire companies.

Federal judge asked to place Dean Phillips on Florida Primary ballot” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Florida Democrats continue to defend their decision to short-circuit the Presidential Primary in favor of Biden. But now they will have to do it in federal court. A Tampa lawyer who has run for office previously wants a federal judge to order state election officials to put the name of Rep. Phillips on the March 19 ballot along with Biden. The lawsuit filed last week against both the Florida Democratic Party and Secretary of State Cord Byrd contends the process used by Democrats — as outlined under Florida law — is unconstitutional.

Trump flexes Mississippi muscle in Primary tussle” via Marc Caputo of The Messenger — Trump is on his way to a clean sweep of the first four Presidential Primary contests, but his team is so committed to crushing his Republican rivals that it’s focusing on states like … Mississippi. On Monday, the Magnolia State became the first in the Primary where every Congressman, U.S. Senator, and nearly every statewide elected official endorsed Trump. Only Secretary of State Michael Watson is remaining neutral because he’s in charge of managing elections. If the polls are right in the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the Primary could well be over by the time Mississippi votes on March 12.

The Authoritarian Parallel: U.S. and Russia” via Rick Wilson for Substack — Fiona Hill is one of the smartest and most serious thinkers on topics that matter right now; the emerging parallel between the United States and Russia when it comes to autocratic and authoritarian leadership. She walks us through how Vladimir Putin came to be, how it could emerge here, and how Putin keeps stealing Trump’s lunch money with every encounter.

To listen to the podcast, please click on the image below:

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (11)


DeSantis seeking $2.2 million for election police force” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — DeSantis wants another $2.2 million for a controversial election police force. But there’s no guarantee the Legislature will provide the funding. This week, DeSantis released his “Focus on Florida’s Future” budget and requested funding for 16 full-time positions in the Office of Election Crimes and Security. The salaries for those positions make up more than $1.38 million in the Governor’s budget. DeSantis also wants about $411,000 for various contracted services, more than $224,000 for nonstaff expenses and about $90,000 in other equipment and personnel costs. That’s all pretty much the same as DeSantis requested a year ago for the current budget year, but it’s nearly $1 million more than lawmakers included in the 2023-’24 budget.

Real estate titans battle DeSantis over China property crackdown” via Michael Smith and Anna Kaiser of Bloomberg — A group that represents companies including Blackstone Inc., Steve Ross’ Related Cos. and Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital wants to roll back a law that went into effect in July that bans most Chinese investment in real estate in Florida. Other developers, including homebuilder Lennar Corp., also are pushing back on the statute. Lobbyists are pressing state lawmakers to pass legislation early next year to relax the restrictions, people involved in the process say. The law also bans most Chinese capital from being used to fund projects in Florida, choking off a relatively cheap source of financing for an engine of the state’s economy at a time of high-interest rates and distress in commercial real estate. Firms with Chinese investors are barred from taking even small, non-controlling stakes in real estate deals under the statute.

Floridians are quitting their jobs more than anywhere else in the country, study says” via Nicolas Garcia of NBC 6 South Florida —The study analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that while the nation’s quit rates fell by 11.54% from September 2022 to September 2023, Florida’s jumped by 7.41%. That’s a total of 281,000 workers that quit their jobs statewide compared to last year, which was only 261,000 employees, the study says. The results were gathered by resume specialists at ResumeBlaze, comparing the quit rates from September 2022 and September 2023 and seeing which had risen and which had fallen. That makes Florida one of three states with a rising quit rate year-over-year, joining Louisiana and Texas.

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SCOTUS approves extension in Gaming Compact battle” via Florida Politics — The U.S. Supreme Court has granted an extension to a pair of gambling companies challenging the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Gaming Compact. After the para-mutuel companies lost their Gaming Compact challenge in federal appeals court, the Seminole Tribe resumed offering remote sports betting. The move took West Flagler and Bonita-Fort Myers by surprise, causing them to file an emergency request asking the Florida Supreme Court to place a stay on the Compact and take up their case. The state Supreme Court rejected the request for a stay, and it is unclear whether it will hear the case. Still, the state-level request has added a wrinkle to West Flagler’s challenge. Now that it is juggling state and federal challenges, a ruling in either case would greatly impact the other. That places the company in a position where its only option is to wait and see which court acts first.

Spotted — Former OAS Ambassador Carlos Trujillo at the President of Argentina’s swearing-in ceremony.

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Legislation proposes allowing condos to insure roofs at current value instead of replacement value” via Anne Geggis of Florida Politics — Bipartisan legislation would introduce a new option for insuring condominiums that’s aimed at reducing the cost of insurance and improving condos’ resale options, but it also reduces the payout should disaster strike. Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Rep. Hillary Cassel filed identical bills (SB 802, HB 655) that would create a pilot program for condominiums insured with Citizens Property Insurance. Instead of the current system, by which a condo must pay premiums based on the cost of replacing a roof, a condo would have the option of getting a policy whereby the premium is calculated according to the actual cash value of the roof. That would mean the premium is based on the roof’s age-depreciated value.

Alex Andrade files bill criminalizing panhandling in most cases” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News-Journal — A new bill filed by Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade adds criminal penalties for panhandling in most circ*mstances and adds the potential for panhandling to be a felony. Andrade filed a new bill (HB 759) that amends Florida’s charitable solicitation law in a way that he said gives law enforcement the tools to remove aggressive panhandling from roadways across the state. The bill’s various changes to the charitable solicitation law do two key things. First, it restricts panhandling by place and time, essentially banning it in most public areas, and limits legal panhandling to 9:01 a.m. to 3:59 p.m. Laws cracking down on panhandling have often been overturned by courts on free speech grounds.

Tweet, tweet:

Few things worse than uninvited pests at the party. Thank you to the Florida Keys Mosquito Control for all you do! @HollyRaschein @Sen_Albritton

— Wilton Simpson (@WiltonSimpson) December 8, 2023

LGBTQ advocates sound alarm on expanding so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation into workplace” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The latest proposed restriction on where sexuality can be discussed has LGBTQ advocates worried. At a news conference in Orlando, LGBTQ business leaders and political advocates condemned a bill threatening state funding for certain organizations. They noted a broad reading of the bill (HB 599) would make it virtually impossible for transgender Floridians to live in the state. “This is the Don’t Say Gay or trans at work bill,” said former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, senior policy adviser for Equality Florida. Rep. Ryan Chamberlin filed the legislation in November, and he characterized the bill as a protection for conservatives who don’t accept a gender ideology. The bill would prohibit any state funding going to nonprofits that require LGBTQ sensitivity training.

Legis sked

8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. At 8 a.m., the House Appropriations Committee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. At 9:30 a.m., the Senate Appropriations Committee also meets for an update. House meeting in Room 212, Knott Building. Senate meeting in Room 110, Senate Office Building.

9:30 a.m. The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee meets to consider SB 7000, SB 7002 and SB 7004 from Sen. Corey Simon to reduce regulations on schools. Room 412, Knott Building.

10 a.m. The House Education & Employment Committee meets to discuss apprenticeship programs. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

10 a.m. The House State Affairs Committee meets to consider HCR 693 from Rep. David Borrero which expresses support for congressional term limits. Room 212 Knott Building.

1 p.m. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee meets to consider HB 607 from Rep. Rachel Plakon to set a minimum requirement for retaining sexual-assault kits of victims who do not report assaults to law enforcement. Room 404 House Office Building.

1 p.m. The House Energy, Communications & Cybersecurity Subcommittee meets for an update on automotive-electrification technologies. Reed Hall, House Office Building.

1 p.m. The House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Subcommittee meets for an update on adult-education programs. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

1 p.m. The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on the My Safe Florida Home program, which helps residents pay for home upgrades to try to reduce insurance costs. Room 212, Knott Building.

3:30 p.m. The House Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee meets to consider HB 87 from Rep. Jason Shoaf to allow people to kill bears on their property without permits when they feel threatened or think it is necessary for protection. Room 404, House Office Building.

3:30 p.m. The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. Room 314, House Office Building.

3:30 p.m. The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on DeSantis’ proposed 2024-2025 budget. Morris Hall, House Office Building.

4 p.m. The Senate Agriculture Committee meets for an update on Florida’s beef industry. Room 301, Senate Office Building.

4 p.m. The Senate Health Policy Committee meets to consider SPB 7016 and SPB 7018 to make changes in the state’s health care system, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. Room 412, Knott Building.

6:15 p.m. The House Rules Committee meets to set the special-order calendar, which lists bills that will be heard on the House floor. Room 404, House Office Building.

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Happening today:


Happening tonight:


Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (21)

— LOCAL: S. FL —

Miami-Dade Mayor pushes to pay $133M over market value for old office buildings” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Mayor Daniella Levine Cava wants Miami-Dade County to spend $205 million on a 1970s office complex that two appraisals said is currently worth about half that. The deal for a new West Dade Government Center is set for a final vote Tuesday without Committee review or the detailed look at long-term costs the administration had planned to give County Commissioners this week. The county would borrow money to purchase a former Florida Power & Light operations center at 9250 West Flagler Street, which was built in 1974 and currently has only about a quarter of its office space rented.

Miami prosecutors drop $1.2 billion case against banker linked to Venezuelan-laundering ring” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — In a rare move, Miami federal prosecutors have dropped a criminal case against a Uruguayan banker who was accused of helping politically connected business owners launder $1.2 billion that authorities say was fleeced from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and later invested in Europe and South Florida. Marcelo Federico Gutierrez Acosta y Lara was accused with other defendants in 2018 of conspiring to commit money laundering by moving the proceeds of massive loans to Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) through a lucrative currency exchange system to Malta, Switzerland, and Miami during Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s administration.

Randy Fine says he wants to tackle APD waitlist” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — A powerful House Republican said providing services to people with disabilities is one of his top priorities for the 2024 Session. House Health & Human Services Committee Chair Randy Fine told Florida Politics that he is concerned about the number of people on the waitlist for the Medicaid iBudget program, a waiver program that provides home- and community-based services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. According to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD), 21,587 people qualify for the Medicaid waiver services available in the iBudget program but are on a waiting list for services. More than half (51%) were between the ages of 23 and 59, APD documents show. Roughly 29% are between the ages of 15 and 22.

Sheriff wants local Republican official to cease ‘derogatory or defamatory’ statements” via Will Greenlee of Treasure Coast Newspapers — An attorney representing recently-appointed St. Lucie County Sheriff Keith Pearson wants the Chair of the St. Lucie County Republican Executive Committee to “cease and desist” making “derogatory or defamatory” statements regarding Pearson. Kenny Nail, Chair of the St. Lucie County Republican Executive Committee, provided the Dec. 8-dated letter from attorney Patrick W. Lawlor. The Sheriff’s Office has been in the public spotlight as of late after longtime Sheriff Ken Mascara abruptly retired on Dec and DeSantis appointed Pearson, at the time a lieutenant, to be Sheriff. Pearson, who joined the agency about two decades ago, has said he was called about 30 minutes before a news release was issued about the appointment.

Boca Raton marks a milestone on building safety inspections after the Surfside collapse” via Abigail Hasebroock of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Board members of Admiral’s Walk, a 17-floor beachfront condo building in Boca Raton, wasted no time after the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside collapsed: They wanted to ensure their own building would never be at risk of such a disaster. Daniel Gonzalez, the condo’s property manager, recalled sitting down with the Board’s president, Howard Somers, the day after the Surfside building came down on June 24, 2021, claiming the lives of 98 people. Gonzalez and Somers started planning what needed to be done to assess the state of their nearly 50-year-old building — to ensure residents’ safety.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (24)

— LOCAL: C. FL —

Ballots set for 2024 municipal elections in most Orange County cities” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Voters in Winter Park and Oakland will choose new Mayors during municipal elections on March 19, but four Orange County cities won’t have contested local races on the ballot because of a lack of candidates. Qualifying for municipal office wrapped up Monday in Edgewood, Windermere and Winter Park while most of Orange County’s other cities concluded qualifying without a contested race. No election is required when a candidate is unopposed. Orlando held city elections in November, but other cities scheduled municipal elections to coincide with Florida’s Presidential Primary when Democrats and Republicans vote to nominate their party’s White House contender.

Lawmaker has proposed eliminating local business taxes; Volusia County already has” via Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — For many communities across the state, local business taxes provide more than revenue for local governments. The data collected helps planners ensure that businesses are operating within proper zoning, fire departments know when a safety inspection for a new business is needed, and economic development departments keep track of what’s opening and what’s closing. But a lawmaker whose family runs a small marina business in Southwest Florida has filed a bill taking aim at local business taxes. And the Volusia County Council, with a vote in November, has already eliminated its own local business tax.

After two record-setting years, Volusia tourism weathers downturn in 2023” via Jim Abbott of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — After two record-setting years capped by two devastating storms, Volusia County’s tourism industry took a downturn in 2023, but hoteliers and industry leaders are looking ahead to the coming year with resiliency and high expectations. A little over a year after back-to-back tropical storms ravaged the Volusia County coast, ripping apart seawalls and destroying pool decks at beachside hotels and residential homes, that resiliency is obvious to visitor Jason Scharrer. “Since the last time we were here, this past Spring, we’ve noticed the improvements in cleaning up the beach area,” said Scharrer, 50, a regular visitor to Daytona Beach for years with his family from their home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Trouble in paradise: Jupiter Island awash in scandal” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Most recently, the town said goodbye to a Town Committee member awash in allegations of antisemitism. Robert “Robin” Geddes resigned after documents revealed a controversial text message referring to two local Realtors as “Jewish real ‘estatebabes’ (sic.)” He also warned that “Miami is on its way here” and “nobody wants this to become Miami North,” a comment some believed was a veiled reference to new Jewish residents. In just the last few months, there has been a Town Committee member who resigned over antisemitic controversy, a Town Manager who blamed not the maker of the comment, but the discoverer of it, and a Mayor found in violation of public records laws. In the words of famous pitchman Ron Popeil: “But wait, there’s more!”

Former County Commissioner Helen Voltz returns to politics as West Melbourne City Council member” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Former Brevard County Commissioner Voltz has returned to the political dais, as a member of the West Melbourne City Council. Voltz was appointed to the City Council to fill a vacancy; five candidates applied for the position. She also plans to run for the seat in the November 2024 Election. Voltz’s current City Council term will expire after the 2024 Election. During her interview with the Council members, Voltz said she loves being an elected official. “Being an elected official is a calling,” Voltz said. “I thoroughly enjoyed all my time being an elected official, and just always being able to help people.”

UCF Athletics receives largest financial gift from former Knights athlete” via Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel — UCF Athletics has received its most significant financial commitment from a former Knights football player in school history. Ron Thow, who played fullback for UCF from 1989-92 and was on the 1990 team that finished 10-4, earning a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, made the legacy-gift commitment. “By coming to UCF, I was provided the opportunity to earn a college degree from an amazing institution and play a sport I love. It’s time for me to return the favor and invest in the future of UCF football,” Thow said. “I feel an overwhelming sense of pride when I think of what UCF has meant to me over the years.”

“Disney is suddenly and without warning cracking down on third-party tour guides, some of which have operated for decades and help curate park experiences for disabled visitors” via Katie Hawkinson of Business Insider — Nicholas Deniz was waiting to enter Disney World in Orlando with his clients last month when a park manager pulled him out of line. Deniz is a third-party tour guide. He said he was waiting with clients at the time to help them navigate the park. When Deniz walked away with the manager, he said two Orange County police officers greeted him. Corinne, one of Deniz’s clients who was present at the time, said she “felt horrible” as she watched the scene unfold. “It felt like he had done something terribly wrong, the way that they pulled him aside and spoke to him,” said Corinne, whose last name is known to Insider and has been withheld for privacy concerns.

Haven’t been to Disney’s Epcot in a while? It looks totally different” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — Visitors can once again walk through the center of Epcot, though the park is not completely wall-free yet. The new CommuniCore Plaza, which will feature a garden and a covered performance stage, is still under construction. But the redesign makes it feel like there is more elbow room, and they’ve opened the line of sight from The Land all the way to Mission: Space. The expanded seating areas are close to the new Connections Cafe and are equipped with 110v and USB charging points to keep those smartphones juiced. The park also unveiled a new statue of Walt Disney himself posing on a bench. There was a long line of fans waiting an hour or more all day on Tuesday to get a selfie with the “Walt the Dreamer” statue.

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—”Tampa first to get new water cleaning technology” via Fox 13

Can Florida teachers use outside books and movies? Ask the principal.” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — During the days surrounding holidays, as throughout the year, teachers often turn to outside materials to supplement their course lessons. Their choices have become more scrutinized over the past year as groups of parents and residents throughout Florida have raised questions about the appropriateness of what children see and read. State lawmakers gave school principals the role of deciding what’s permissible. And the school leaders are increasingly denying the use of anything off a preapproved list. “I cannot be more serious about this and what it can mean for you,” one Brevard County elementary school principal wrote.

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— LOCAL: N. FL —

Nick Howland files legislation for certain no-bid contracts to go through Jacksonville City Council” via Hanna Holthaus of the Florida Times-Union — New legislation could bring the end to no-bid lobbying contracts in Jacksonville city government — filed in response to a contract Mayor Donna Deegan’s Office approved. The City Council Finance Committee criticized the $300,000 federal grant writing and lobbying contract to Langton Consulting, owned by Deegan supporters, because the administration offered it directly without shopping for other bids. Committee Chair Howland asked the administration to drop the contract and filed a bill to require all future state and federal lobbying and grant-writing contracts to be approved by the City Council. “It has become clear to us on the Finance Committee that this process reeks of a sweetheart deal for a political supporter,” Howland said in a statement.

Gaming Control Commission seizes 70 illegal gambling devices in Havana” via Adrian Andrews of WFSU — The department’s gaming division seized the devices Friday after a search warrant. Criminal charges are pending for the owner of an illegal internet cafe in Havana. On Friday, investigators found more than 70 illegal gambling devices, an ATM and cash in Rio Arcade, located at 6766 Florida Georgia Highway. The Café is where Havana’s popular L & J adult lounge once stood, but recently it has housed an illegally operated internet cafe. Lawmakers banned cafes back in 2013 and according to Eric Carr, the external affairs director for the state’s Gaming Commission, a person who violates that law could face fines and criminal charges, including racketeering, money laundering and more.

State Attorney reviewing Escambia Commissioners’ texts for possible Sunshine Law violation” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News-Journal — State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden announced Monday that her office is conducting a review of communications between Escambia County Commissioners after her office received several concerns and allegations that there was improper communication. The announcement comes in the wake of an article published by the News-Journal that details leaked text messages from 2021 between District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh and The Lewis Bear Company CEO David Bear, in which Bergosh asked Bear to share his redistricting proposal to move Perdido Key to his district with other Commissioners.

‘Disturbing’: Chronic absenteeism in Leon Schools on the rise as district seeks solutions” via Alijah Brown of the Tallahassee Democrat — Over 13,000 students in Leon County schools have missed over 10% of their classroom time for the 2023 school year. The report shows 13,029 students were declared chronic absentees in the 2023 school year, with Second Chance at Ghazvini Learning Center and Success Academy at Ghazvini Learning Center recording the most absences. This compares to 2021-22 when 12,426 students were declared chronic absentees. Chronic absence typically refers to missing at least 10% of the school year. And while the percentage of students who missed 10% or more of school throughout Florida decreased from the 2021-22 school year to 2022-23 from 32.3% to 30.9%, in Leon County the percentage went up from 34% to 36.4%.

Donna Adelson pleads ‘not guilty’ and pleads, and pleads some more” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Adelson appeared in a purple jumpsuit before Judge Stephen Everett on Monday afternoon in Leon County, the same place authorities allege Donna’s daughter Wendi Adelson hated so deeply that she and her family were willing to kill Dan Markel, the father of her children, so she could leave. The arraignment was held in the same room where Donna’s middle child, Charlie Adelson, was convicted of Markel’s murder, plus conspiracy and solicitation, just over a month ago. And, when he is sentenced for these crimes tomorrow, he’ll sit in the same seat Donna was cuffed at today. Wendi, who has been named as a co-conspirator in Markel’s murder, wasn’t present to see or support the family matriarch despite a relationship she described as extremely close as recently as during Charlie’s trial.

Adelson asks to be moved off suicide watch” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Adelson pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation in the 2014 murder-for-hire killing of her former son-in-law, Markel. Adelson appeared before Leon Circuit Judge Everett for arraignment and a hearing on a motion filed by her defense last week to move her off suicide watch at the Leon County Detention Facility. It was the first time Adelson, who was arrested on Nov. 13 in Miami and transported to the Leon County Detention Facility on Nov. 20, appeared in person in a Tallahassee courtroom.

UF to create ‘world-class destination’ with project in Gainesville’s Innovation District” via The Gainesville Sun — The University of Florida announced last week plans to develop about 13 acres in Gainesville’s Innovation District just east of campus aimed at creating a world-class destination for Fortune 500 research companies and a talent pipeline for UF students seeking high-paying jobs. In collaboration with Concept Companies and Trimark Properties, the project, slated to begin in late 2024, includes a total build out of 1.2 million square feet of space. It includes science and technology research and design buildings, four parking garages, multifamily housing and a mix of retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (31)


Cape Coral to vote on stipends: $5,000 for Mayor, $3,333 for Council members” via Luis Zambrano of the Fort Myers News-Press — The Cape Coral City Council is slated to change its bylaws and give each member a monthly stipend of $3,333 and the Mayor $5,000. The stipend is to help cover costs for the Council members while accounting for the added duties of taking over the Community Redevelopment Agency. “For me, it’s something I support because of the expenses that I incur throughout my dealings with the city job,” Council member Tom Hayden said. Council members are paid a base yearly salary of $37,368.96. The Council members will vote on this item and several other items on the consent agenda at Wednesday’s meeting.

No reaction from DeSantis, FDLE about Sheriff Carmine Marceno video: ‘Commit a crime in Lee County and your a — will get beat.’” via Céline McArthur of WINK — Marceno is producing videos inside the Lee County Sheriff’s Office you are not allowed to see. We continue to push for transparency from LCSO after WINK News investigative reporter Céline McArthur uncovered a video where Marceno talks about beating people. Céline received the video from a source concerned about your safety and safeguarding your rights. She continues our exclusive investigation and shows you why the Sheriff could face a legal battle over his message. “Jumpsuits are red, justice is sweet, commit a crime in Lee County and your ass will get beat,” said Marceno. Marceno won’t tell me why he recorded it or who it was for, but in a Facebook response to my story, he claimed, “In the Public Affairs Office, we run several, if not dozens of scripts for videos.”

Charlotte County pulls out of American Library Association” via the Port Charlotte Sun — Charlotte County intends to withdraw from the country’s oldest and largest library organization. A brief news release announced the decision. “The Charlotte County Library System on Monday notified the American Library Association of its intention to withdraw from the organization,” it stated. “The decision was made to eliminate potential controversies that would distract from the Library System’s ability to provide exceptional service to its patrons.” County spokesperson Brian Gleason said the decision did not require a vote by the Charlotte County Commission. He said the county is declining comment beyond what was in the news release. Charlotte County joins other counties in Florida that have withdrawn from membership in the ALA, including Sarasota County.

Naples-based My Florida Green wants a say in case over recreational use of marijuana” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Naples-based My Florida Green hopes to weigh in on the Florida Supreme Court’s review of a ballot initiative that could lead to recreational use of marijuana being legalized in the state. My Florida Green has filed a motion asking the court to allow it to offer its perspective on the impact of the issue, which the company’s leader said only became clear after oral arguments were held Nov. 8 on whether the ballot question should go to voters. The company earlier had filed a notice of its intent to submit an amicus brief, or a friend of the court brief, which was denied due to timing, according to Nick Garulay, My Florida Green’s president and Chief Executive Officer.

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (33)


No Republican presidential candidate can sound crueler than Trump on immigration” via Jean Guerrero of the Los Angeles Times — At the fourth Republican presidential debate, they spoke of immigration as if trying out for a Western cowboy film rather than for a chance at the White House.

“There’s going to be a new sheriff in town and these cartels better buckle up,” said DeSantis, who defended his calls to shoot suspected drug smugglers at the border. (Remember Trump’s fantasies of shooting migrants’ legs?)

It was comments from Haley that showed how deeply the Republican field has fallen into Trump’s extremist mindset. She supports deporting everyone who has arrived in the country during Biden’s term, including hundreds of thousands of people who were admitted legally with temporary protected status. “You have to go and deport these people,” she said.

Trump has vowed to launch the largest domestic deportation operation in American history. He’s planning huge internment camps for immigrants, including people who’ve lived here for decades. His operation would separate millions of mixed-status families across the country and leave countless U.S. citizen children, including babies, without their parents. It would make his family separation policy, which focused on recent arrivals at the border and was halted by a national outcry, look restrained.

Trump’s challengers are all scrambling to go as low as possible on immigration, but nobody can play the tyrant better than Trump. The strategy of his challengers — to try to outperform the showman on his signature issue — is doomed to fail. Instead, it’s empowering him and stoking anti-immigrant hate that is endangering the lives of ethnic minorities across the country. No matter what his rivals promise to inflict on immigrants, Trump, the despot, wins with hate.


DeSantis ‘banned China from buying land in the state of Florida.’ How did we get here?” via Mae Ngai for The New York Times — Florida is just one of several states that are passing laws prohibiting the sale of residential, business or agricultural property to Chinese nationals, Chinese-owned companies or the Chinese government near military facilities, airports and other critical infrastructure. In many states, restrictions also apply to those from Iran, Russia, North Korea and other countries of concern. The rationale behind today’s version of the alien land laws is familiar: People and companies of foreign adversaries with property in the United States pose a threat to national security. Since the late 19th century, the yellow peril fearmongering fueled racist legislation throughout the West against Chinese and other Asian people. It’s hard to oppose the purported justification for these measures: national security.

DeSantis, Haley should stop cowering, tell truth” via the Chicago Tribune — The fourth Republican presidential debate thankfully featured just four candidates rather than the cattle call we saw in previous sessions. But whether there are four or 14 running, the same problem persists. There’s only one, Chris Christie, willing to tell Primary voters what too many of them apparently don’t want to hear. Trump is unfit to be President and presents an unacceptable threat to our democracy. The key moment in the debate was when Christie answered that question directly and then challenged the other three to say whether or not they considered Trump fit to return to the White House. DeSantis danced around the issue, saying he thought a younger person than Trump ought to be the one.

Antisemitism on elite campuses like UPenn threatens America’s democratic future” via David Masteo of the Miami Herald — University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is the first to lose her job in the controversy over a wave of antisemitism at elite college campuses across the country. The outbreak of Jew hatred has me worried because it does not bode well for America’s future as an open, ever-improving multiethnic democracy. Since the takeover of higher education by the diversity, equity and inclusion ideology in the early years of the 21st century, we have trained more than a generation of students that the core reality of American life is an intersectional complex of interlocking oppression where our identity determines our role as oppressor or victim. It is no coincidence that UPenn finished second to last in the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s rating of the free speech environment on campus.

Justice demands that court reinstate Orlando prosecutor” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The integrity of Florida’s government and the rights of its voters stand on a precipice and Orlando State Attorney Monique Worrell’s fight for reinstatement after being suspended by DeSantis is a glaring illustration of that. At the Florida Supreme Court last week, Worrell fought to reverse the Governor’s August coup, while DeSantis’ attorney argued that the suspension is a “political question” beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The Sentinel showed that Worrell refused to prosecute some drug trafficking cases brought by the Osceola County sheriff for good reason: They were riddled with flaws. That raises a larger question: Why didn’t the Governor’s Office do its homework before it took the extreme step of invalidating an election and removing her from office?

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (34)


— ALOE —

What to know about the Geminids, the best meteor show of the year” via Amudalat Ajasa of The Washington Post — Snowflakes won’t be the only tiny particles brushing through the night sky in mid-December. Falling ice crystals will be accompanied by dozens of dazzling meteors from the annual Geminid meteor shower. Dubbed “the year’s best meteor shower,” the showstopping display will peak the evening of Dec. 13 into Dec. 14. The Geminid meteor shower graces skies around the globe each December, without fail. The show is more reliable than snow for some of us. The presentation started in late November and will wrap up on Christmas Eve, according to the American Meteor Society. Interestingly, the show will peak and end on the same dates as last year. The moon won’t act as a spoiler during the peak of the shower because it will illuminate 1% on the evening of Dec. 13, according to the American Meteor Society. That means darker skies for viewing.

Gas prices in Florida are now the lowest in 2023. Will that last for the holidays?” via the Miami Herald — Gas prices in Florida fell 15 cents from last week and are now the cheapest of 2023. The average cost in the state on Sunday was $3 a gallon — and dropped even more on Monday to an average of $2.98. Will the trend continue through the Christmas and New Year’s travel season? “Oil and gasoline futures prices plummeted last week, after a weekly fuel report showed strong refinery activity, leading to big gains in gasoline supplies,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesperson for AAA.

Orlando dad helps people with autism enjoy Orlando Magic games” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — Jason Eichenholz wants his son, Jonathan, to be able to enjoy a live basketball game just like anyone else. But when the pair attended a game at the Amway Center about 10 years ago, his son found the crowd, the lights and the loud sounds extremely uncomfortable and they had to leave early. Jonathan Eichenholz, now 18, is on the autism spectrum. The developmental disorder is diagnosed in about 1 in 36 U.S. kids, many of whom experience sensory processing difficulties. Several years after that unfortunate outing, the family went to a game again. This time, they sat in a corporate suite.


Record number of Floridians expected to travel for Christmas, New Year” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics — Expect travel delays as New Year’s Day approaches. An estimated 6.6 million Floridians will travel 50 miles or more during the year-end holiday travel period between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1 — a record. That’s nearly 218,000 (3.4%) more than last year, the previous record high, not including out-of-state visitors. AAA forecasts more than 6 million Sunshine State residents will take to the road, a roughly 181,000-person increase from 2022. The not-for-profit organization anticipates another 356,790 will travel by air, a more than 15,000-person uptick over the year prior.

This family has made candy canes for 125 years — and they’ll show you how in Florida” via Jason Dill of the Miami Herald — One person stopped and peered through the Fudge Factory’s glass window. Then another. And another. They stopped to see Peter Vrinios carry on a family tradition that began 125 years ago. That legacy is making candy canes using the same marble table that his grandfather brought to America from Greece in 1898. Vrinios performs a candy cane show at the Anna Maria Island location of the Fudge Factory, 117 Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, throughout the holiday season. The demonstration in making candy canes has two shows left in 2023: 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 15 and Saturday, Dec. 16.

Do you like ‘Silent Night’? There are more than 3,700 covers for you” via Luis Melgar of The Washington Post — “Silent Night” is not that silent after all. The 19th-century Austrian Christmas carol has been covered so many times by so many artists that if you take the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of Bing Crosby’s 1942 version as a sort of average duration, you could play “Silent Night” nonstop for a week without repeating a version. There are more than 3,700 interpretations of “Silent Night,” making it the all-time most covered song, according to the online database A distant second is the aria “Summertime” (more than 2,300 covers), and another holiday banger, “White Christmas,” comes in third with over 2,100 covers.

Families spread Christmas cheer in Fort Myers, Cape Coral” via Charles Runnells of the Fort Myers News-Press — It’s the holidays and people are lining up every night to see Christmas magic glowing in the Helenbrook family’s front yard. Sometimes they even show up by the bus load. They laugh and smile and point at the Helenbrooks’ jaw-dropping holiday display: A 40-foot-tall Christmas tree made of streaming Christmas lights, glowing candy canes hanging from the trees, and about 60,000 colorful lights shining everywhere you look. Sandy Helenbrook loves bringing that Christmas spirit to her Fort Myers neighborhood. That’s why she and her husband Bill have been doing this for 25 years. “Everybody looks forward to it,” Helenbrook says. “We just do it because we truly love Christmas. We just love that people can come and enjoy it.”

These SW Florida Santas bring the cheer. ‘I’ve always loved Christmas.’” via Charles Runnells of the Fort Myers News-Press — Ron Spering is 72 years old. But every Christmas season, he gets to feel like a kid again. How does he do it? It just takes two Disney castles, a handmade sleigh and about 100,000 holiday lights. Spering’s been decorating his Marco Island home for about four decades now. The elaborate display has even been featured on the TV news. “It’s been a passion from the start,” Spering says. “I’ve always loved Christmas. “And you know what, it’s a neat way for part of me to stay six years old and nobody minds. They don’t think I’m TOO crazy (laughs).”

‘Praying for a miracle’: Fourth day of Hanukkah celebrated in Ormond Beach” via Patricio G. Balona of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Shani Chen joined her family on Sunday to celebrate Hanukkah but her memories of Israel ― sirens and 15-second runs to bomb shelters to escape incoming missiles ― still haunt her. The 34-year-old makeup artist from Rishon Le Zion, Israel, arrived in Ormond Beach a month ago, hoping to find some peace and calm for herself and her three children, ages 8, 5 and 3. She was celebrating Hanukkah with her children at Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Daytona Beach. Chen was in Israel when Hamas attacked on Oct. 7, about an hour away.


Celebrating today are former Reps. Dick Batchelor and Jennifer Webb, as well as BG Murphyand Katie Strickland.


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

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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 12.12.23 (2024)
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