Politics

Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email during the 2022 Special Session — 5.22.22

Good Sunday morning; welcome back to “Brunch,” a pop-up newsletter covering the upcoming Special Session of the Florida Legislature and other political issues.

“Brunch” will be in your inbox this Sunday and next and then will return later in the Summer to spice up your weekends during the thick of the campaign season.

— Check out the latest edition of “He Said, She Said” for Michelle and my interview with Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Jeff Brandes talks it up on a brand-new ‘He Said, She Said.’

— Check out our choices for the Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida Politics.

— Happy birthday to our friends, DEO chief Dane Eagle and Eileen Stuart of The Vogel Group.

— Playing inbounds —

The sport of redistricting now must be played in a court (room) instead of the political arena. But will the clock run out before the Midterms?

Slam dunk: Plaintiffs enjoyed a big win when Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith called foul on the maps and let a Harvard professor substitute a new congressional plan preserving U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s seat.

Long shot: But was it too big a play? Friday, an appellate court stayed Smith’s decision and put the Governor’s map back in play. Moreover, a new order said there was a “high likelihood” the judge’s decision was “unlawful.”

The battle for CD 5 hits the courtroom.

Working the refs: Granted, a final decision belongs to the Florida Supreme Court. Justices five years ago tossed a map for crossing Fair Districts, the same accusation Gov. Ron DeSantis’ map faces. There are fresh faces on the court, but that’s a tough precedent.

Managing time: But what’s the long game? At this point, the state’s best play may be to run out the clock. Candidate qualifying starts June 13, and some election officials say they need maps sooner. Is it too late to rewrite the lines for 2022?

— Call an agent —

The Florida Senate has one insurance agent working in the chamber, Sen. Jim Boyd. The Bradenton Republican had sponsored reforms that actually passed in 2021. So, how’s Boyd feeling on a deal shaping up before a Special Session?

Outward optimism: “If everything we want is included in the deal, I am very confident it will help the market and, most importantly, consumers.”

Wide-ranging changes: Boyd sees a number of elements that must be addressed in legislation, and which were included in bills, including legal fee reform, solicitation prohibitions and increased insurer transparency.

If you want to know about insurance, ask an agent — Jim Boyd.

Raise the roof: The most critical moves in reform packages filed Friday night in Boyd’s eyes include a roof deductible. He has pushed for an ability to offer diverse types of policies on roofs than replacement value since he was elected to the Senate in 2020. But he also wants to make sure carriers can’t turn down homes with 15-year or newer roofs.

Marc Dunbar’s take —

Tallahassee-based lawyer Marc Dunbar offered Florida Politics several takes on what needs to be done to address the state’s rising property insurance market as he ends his four-year term on the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors.

The problem: The state’s property insurance market is in crisis. Legal spending of Citizens, which is supposed to be the insurer of last resort for Floridians, has nearly doubled in the last four years.

What’s being done? Lawmakers will attempt to tackle skyrocketing premiums, fraud and rapid growth in Citizens during the Special Session starting Monday.

What to make of the Special Session — Marc Dunbar sorts it out for you.

Judicial challenges: The current process does not provide an inexpensive and speedy mechanism for adjudicating coverage disputes under the insurance policies, Dunbar said.

Not all trial lawyers: Dunbar argues that there’s a fundamental problem in the Judiciary. While the one-way attorneys’ fees statute is definitely an issue, he says, the bigger issues involve the current process. He added that trial judges just aren’t doing their jobs to try and curb the bad practices by a handful of bad lawyers. “It’s only a handful of bad lawyers. It’s not all trial lawyers.”

Special Session woes: Dunbar worries that lawmakers will try and figure out how to deal with the attorneys’ fees statutes but not deal with the judges.

— AFP offers insurance market fixes —

As lawmakers ready for the Special Session on property insurance, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Florida is putting out a plan to help improve dire market conditions.

Citizens adjustments: AFP wants lawmakers to “limit the glide path, or cap on rate adjustments, to primary residences.” AFP is also pushing for a faster glide path for extensive properties and the requirement that Citizens build up reserves “comparable to those required for private insurers.

Raise the roof: AFP is asking for more “transparency” and “accountability” when contractors submit roof claims on behalf of homeowners. The group also says lawmakers should reexamine a rule requiring an entire roof to be brought up to code if 25% or more is replaced, which can raise the replacement price.

For AFP, transparency is the keyword for property insurance reform.

Tort reform: AFP includes a standard ask for legal changes which dissuade frivolous lawsuits. AFP also wants the state to reform the high fee award multipliers.

Other ideas: The organization says legislators should consider allowing policies that include copays above the deductible. Deductibles could also move from specific dollar amounts to percentages of an insured property value.

— Crist property insurance proposal —

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for Governor, has his own seven-point plan to prevent the large rate hikes and canceled policies homeowners have experienced this year.

FAITH Act: The Fueling Affordable Insurance for Homeowners Act is a proposal originally released by Crist on May 5. It calls for creating a federal fund to loan states money to reduce reinsurance costs.

CAT Fund: Crist wants to eliminate the 25% surcharge homeowners pay into the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, or CAT Fund, which acts as a reinsurance fund to help insurers pay claims in the event of a large hurricane. Separately, he wants to lower the threshold for the CAT Fund so that homeowners can save money. Crist’s plan calls for reducing the attachment point for the CAT Fund from $8.2 billion to $4.5 billion, meaning insurance companies could draw from the CAT Fund for a storm that caused $4.5 billion in damage, instead of one that caused $8.5 billion.

Charlie Crist weighs in. Image via Colin Hackley.

Ax Altmaier: Crist said he would look to install a new Insurance Commissioner who will “hold the line on rate increases.” Current Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has approved numerous rate increases for insurers. But Crist couldn’t appoint a new Commissioner on his own. He’d have to get the approval of the Cabinet too.

Dual insurance offerings: The plan would push companies that sell auto insurance in the state to sell homeowners insurance as well. Some companies have stopped offering new policies in Florida, although they continue to service legacy policies.

Task force: Crist would create an insurance fraud task force to crack down on fraudulent claims.

Free inspections: Finally, the proposal provides free wind inspections and incentives for homeowners to harden their homes against damage during hurricanes. Crist wants to resurrect the “My Safe Florida Homes” program he oversaw as Governor.

— Fried makes digital hire —

Kelley Layton is joining Team Fried, with Nikki Fried’s gubernatorial campaign bringing Layton on in a Digital Organizer role.

E-experience: Layton joins the Fried bid after working as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at The Literacy Alliance of Northeast Florida. Layton’s time there saw her “building capacity of services, helping students and volunteers through creative solutions, and working on in-field recruitment utilizing digital tools,” according to a campaign release.

Kudos to Kelley Layton, the new digital point person for Team Fried.

FDP vet: Layton also served as a field organizer for the Florida Democratic Party during the 2020 cycle. She worked on recruiting and managing volunteers for phone banking, voter registration and canvassing.

Coming online: “Leaders like Kelley are a critical part of our campaign and key to keeping the momentum of our campaign going,” Fried said. “I know Kelley will be a key resource for our volunteers online and on the ground. Please join me in welcoming her to the fight.”

Fried is battling for the Democratic nomination against Crist, state Sen. Annette Taddeo, and others. Polls and fundraising have largely put Crist in the lead, with around three months until Election Day.

— Best in Show —

The Seminole Tribe of Florida took home a whopping 10 Pollie awards at this year’s ceremony, held in Puerto Rico.

Biggest wins: The Tribe placed first in two major categories in this year’s awards, winning Overall “Best in Show” and Overall Best Digital or Internet Campaign for a ballot initiative. Overall, the Tribe took home six first-place awards, three second-place nods, and a third-place recognition. No initiative in the country nor any firm in Florida won more awards than the Tribe and Cornerstone Solutions.

Oscars of advertising: The Pollies, doled out by the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC), aim to recognize the best in political advertising each year.

Campaign team: The Tribe’s campaign team this year included Rick Asnani of Cornerstone Solutions, Max Goodman of the Max Goodman Agency, Adam Goodman of Ballard Media and Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies.

The Seminole Tribe cleans up at the #2022Pollies.

Behind the scenes: That team was assembled by Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, Seminole General Counsel Jim Shore and Seminole Tribal Chair Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.

— HCA Healthcare honored —

Speaking of Pollies, HCA Healthcare was also honored with an award from the AAPC.

— Good Government: HCA netted the award for its work on the Good Government Group. The group “arms HCA employees with tools and information to educate policymakers and shape public opinion,” according to HCA.

— “Committed to serving”: “We’re pleased to be recognized by AAPC for conceiving and effectively realizing the potential of our unique Good Government Group,” said Bryan Anderson, vice president of government relations for HCA Healthcare. “HCA Healthcare employees are committed to serving the health care needs of our communities, and the success of our Good Government Group is a result of our shared passion and dedication to caring for and improving human life.”

— Making an impact: “The Good Government Group empowers us to have a voice in public policy and legislation and to support the best interests of health care, the hospital industry, and the patients we serve,” said Rachael Bjorklund, Director of Public Affairs for HCA Healthcare, National Group.

— Katie Martin makes ‘40 under 40’ list —

Katie Martin of Big Dog Strategies is being recognized on a new “40 under 40” list from the AAPC.

— The list: The AAPC’s list recognizes the “40 best and brightest campaign professionals under 40 years old.” This year’s consultants were split between 20 Republicans, 19 Democrats and one independent.

— Big dog: Martin joined Big Dog Strategies following a nearly two-year tenure in the State Department under former President Donald Trump. There, Martin served both as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Media Strategy and Press Secretary under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Congratulations to Katie Martin for her solid accomplishments.

— Campaign work: Martin has extensive experience on the campaign side, working as Communications Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2018 election cycle. She previously served in the same role for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

— Top tier: “Katie is a best-in-class and top-tier consultant who has helped candidates, committees and companies win — and that’s why clients and colleagues have a deep respect and admiration for her,” said Big Dog Strategies CEO Christopher M. Grant. “We are proud that she plays such an important role on our Big Dog Strategies team and could not ask for a better teammate or friend.”

— Markel trial round up —

In the first week of Katherine Magbanua’s retrial in the murder of Dan Markel, the State delivered a steady build of motive, data, and corroboration, telling the story of who hired the defendant, why they did so, and who she then hired to carry out the deed. Notably:

Gloves came off by both the prosecution and defense in handling Wendi Adelson, Markel’s ex-wife. Her 2019 testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and falsehoods, many of which were readdressed — notably, her unusual route past the crime scene and her later denial of having done so. The two witnesses that immediately following Wendi’s testimony amplified speculation about her involvement: Officer Bill Brannon, and ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Lacasse.

In the first week of the Dan Markel murder retrial, the gloves came off. Image via Tallahassee Democrat.

The State’s approach is sharp and focused regarding specific parts of Luis Rivera’s confession as an accomplice to the murder, standing up against a barrage of questions launched by the defense that seemed designed to confuse the witness intentionally. Rivera’s memory is unwavering on key facts regarding Magbanua’s involvement, and these are backed up by evidence — notably, cellphone and location records presented by TPD Sgt. Chris Corbitt for all conspirators.

Defense attorneys are challenging Magbanua’s role as middleman in the conspiracy by suggesting that Sigfredo Garcia and Charlie Adelson had a direct connection. They have produced no evidence of such a connection but scored a few points by highlighting inconsistencies in Rivera’s memory.

This coming week, prosecutors Georgia Cappleman and Sarah Kathryn Dugan are anticipated to focus attention more narrowly on Magbanua herself, calling witnesses who will attest to her finances, her employment records (or lack thereof), her telephone conversations, and her behaviors following the murder.

What else is going on?

Pinellas v. State: Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments Monday in a case brought by Pinellas County against a new election provision that would put two of the Commission’s single-member seats up for election in 2022. The hearings will start at 9 a.m. at the Leon County Courthouse, 301 South Monroe St.

“Bad Republican” heads to West Palm: Meghan McCain, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain and former co-host of “The View,” will speak at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches. McCain will be part of a discussion moderated by liberal comedian Michael Ian Black on Tuesday at noon at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts Cohen Pavilion, 701 Okeechobee Blvd. Tickets here.

Meghan McCain to dish the dirt in South Florida. Image via AP.

Money, please: House District 50 candidate Jennifer Canady is hosting a fundraising reception Tuesday starting at 5 p.m. Lakeland. Canady is running to succeed term-limited Rep. Colleen Burton. RSVP to [email protected].

Econ Summit: The Florida Chamber Foundation will hold a “Florida Prosperity & Economic Opportunity Solution Summit” this Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Rosen Plaza Hotel, 9700 International Dr., Orlando.

Make it rain: Floridians can look forward to the state’s hurricane sales-tax “holiday” starting next Saturday, May 28, and lasting through June 10. The holiday will allow Floridians to stock up on hurricane supplies without the burden of sales tax.

— Making Magic? —

The recent years have not been kind to the Orlando Magic. They have just 43 wins combined in the last two seasons, including a morbid 22-60 in the just-completed campaign. Compare that to 53 wins this season alone by their downstate rivals, the Miami Heat. But better days may be coming in O-Town.

— #1 Pick: The Heat may be playing for the Eastern Conference title right now, but the Magic just scored a big win that could reshape their future. They pulled the No 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery for the first time since 2004 when the team drafted Dwight Howard. Orlando also has a pair of second-round picks.

— For the fans: “I’m so happy for our fans tonight,” president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said after the drawing. “They really stuck with us and nights like this help when you can show the fruits of why you go through these phases and cycles. Hopefully, they’re really excited by this. We’re going to add another good young player to our talent base. It’s an exciting night.”

Will the Orlando Magic offer hope to O-town? Image via AP.

— Magic mystery: But who will that player be? Unlike when Orlando took Shaquille O’Neal when it won the lottery in 1992, there is no consensus No. 1 pick now. SB Nation has the Magic taking Duke forward Paolo Banchero with the pick. Its assessment of him: “At 6’10” 250 pounds, Banchero has the ball-handling and live dribble passing chops of a guard with multiple avenues to produce points for himself and his teammates.”

— Other options: Gary Parrish of CBS Sports projects Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren. Others prefer Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. or Iowa forward Keegan Murray.

Weltman said the Magic will evaluate all the top prospects (a process that has been underway) and be ready to go by June 23, when the draft is held in Brooklyn. “Pressure is a privilege,” Weltman said. “We’re privileged to have the pressure of the No. 1 pick.”

— Brunching out —

Bagel sandwiches, good coffee and baked goods are the draw at Square Mug Cafe, a laid-back nook with a friendly personality, located in Railroad Square. But it’s the community vibe that makes so many customers feel at home here.

— Backstory: Donna Elliott, who opened the cafe nearly three years ago, collects nonperishable goods that are free to everyone, including kids who live in the area. When Hurricane Ida hit, she ran a food collection. Elliott has recently helped launch an event called Second Saturday at Railroad Square Art Park (to complement Railroad Square’s First Friday gathering.)

— The setting: You order at the counter and servers bring food to the tables, inside and out on the patio. Various paintings and drawings from local artists decorate the dining room, while other walls are papered with information from community groups.

— Breakfast choices: Eggels, two eggs served on toast or bagels, are a hearty way to start the day. A native New Yorker, my friend Gail says these are her favorite local bagel sandwiches. The bagels do come from Brooklyn. Gail’s choice combines fresh spinach, roasted red peppers, Greek olives, feta, microgreens and a balsamic glaze. I go for the combo with fried eggs, baby portobellos, wilted spinach, mozzarella, microgreens and the balsamic glaze. Pick up baked goods like pumpkin bread or blueberry muffins to eat there or to go.

Pair an eggel or egg sandwich with a flavorful cappuccino at Square Mug Cafe in Railroad Square. Image via Tallahassee Table.

— Beverages: On the list of coffee drinks — a cappuccino, latte or just a house blend made with local organic fair trade coffee. Teas, including seasonal flavors, are available along with iced drinks, wine and beer from Florida breweries.

— The details: Open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Address is Railroad Square, 663 Railroad Square, Tallahassee. Phone number is 850-765-8356.


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