New blood, new storm
As members of Florida TaxWatch met in Coral Gables, piles of reports greeted guests outside ballrooms and meeting spaces at The Biltmore. But Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal repeatedly stressed the organization will update its practices, and its print output, with the times.
“We’re a too-much-paper kind of organization,” he said. “We’re continuing to evolve, understanding the next place is a digital place that we have got to go.”
Besides ink usage, the organization has prepared a succession plan for whenever President and CEO Dominic Calabro, the 41-year face of the organization, eventually retires. Carvajal stressed the group has diversified its own staff through the years.
The organization will always focus on producing relevant and influential research, and at the meeting, members discussed a desire for data on child care costs, Census under-representation and housing affordability, all issues in need of policy attention in the immediate future.
But Carvajal also asked members to help the organization remain a nonpartisan operation capable of bringing all voices together. A group famous for issuing “turkey lists” targeting member projects for the veto pen, TaxWatch knows how to make enemies on both sides of the aisle. Carvajal also wants friends throughout the halls of the Capital.
“If you’ve got an issue that is personal, we are probably not going to get into it because we are not in the food fight business,” he said. “We are a policy think tank based in research for the good of Florida. We’re unrelenting in our pursuit, but we are not personal in that.”
As TaxWatch discussed their future this week, they also addressed the next storm.
As lawmakers prepare for a Special Session on property insurance on Dec. 12, few voices are in such demand as Fred Karlinsky, Global Co-Chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Insurance Regulatory and Transactions Practice Group. He told Florida TaxWatch that Florida’s property insurance market is “broken.” That’s in part, he said, to simple geography, and Florida has struggled in many ways to wrap its arms around the problem since Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992.
“When you think about the development and the population growth in the state of Florida, it’s no surprise that when you see a natural disaster like Andrew or even more recently Ian and Nicole, they really do teach us a lot and they become wake-up calls,” he said.
A decade after Andrew, the state established Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which has become the largest writer for policies in the state. Karlinsky told event-goers to expect the Legislature to try and change that with policies discouraging use of the state insurer of last resort.
“Something’s going to have to change in order for those entities to be effective,” he said.
Karlinsky said discussion of cash value policies on roofs will likely come under discussion. That’s less because of roofs recently genuinely destroyed by storms and more because of the proliferation of roof contractors replacing roofs with no storm damage year-round. He also said there will be discussions of curbing litigation, as Florida sees more contested claims than all other states combined.
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first …
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Andrew Warren suspension trial begins and ends — The first round of the legal battle between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Warren ended Thursday. Although U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle says to expect a decision at least two weeks, appeals could keep the case lingering for months. After each side gave closing arguments in the case, Hinkle said he hadn’t made up his mind and would likely take at least two weeks to render a decision. Much of the action in the three-day trial centered on DeSantis’ motivation for the suspension, with mentions of Tucker Carlson and George Soros. Plus, the trial has exposed some of the inner workings of DeSantis’ comms shop.
Florida divests from BlackRock — At the behest of Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the Florida Treasury is divesting an initial $2 billion from BlackRock as the state steps up its fight against stakeholder capitalism. By the beginning of 2023, Patronis expects the Treasury to fully separate itself and the state’s Treasury Investment Pool from BlackRock for backing ESG standards over a more traditional investment model. “If (BlackRock CEO Larry Fink) and his friends on Wall Street want to change the world, they should run for office, start a not-for-profit and go donate to the causes they care about,” Patronis said. “But using our cash — the state of Florida’s cash — to fund BlackRock’s social-engineering projects isn’t something Florida ever signed up for.”
DeSantis book bolsters hype — DeSantis’s second book hitting the shelves early next year, and the news is perpetuating rumors of a potential 2024 bid. “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival” will be released by Broadside on Feb. 28. As Fox News Digital first reported, the book will cover DeSantis’ “growing up in a working-class family, playing in the Little League World Series, working his way through Yale University and Harvard Law School, volunteering for the Navy after 9/11 and serving in Iraq.” The timing of the book comes amid continued buzz that the Governor could and should challenge the former and current Presidents to become the Commander-in-Chief, particularly after Florida’s shining moment on an otherwise dreary Election Night for Republicans.
Joel Greenberg sentenced to 11 years in prison — Former Seminole County Tax Collector Greenberg, who cooperated in the sex trafficking probe of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. U.S. Judge Gregory Presnell handed down the sentence Thursday, remarking that in his 22 years on the bench he had “never seen a defendant who has committed so many different types of crimes in such a short period.” In a short statement at his sentencing, Greenberg apologized to the girl he pleaded guilty to trafficking, his family and Seminole County residents for his “shameful” conduct. He faced nearly three decades in prison but received a lighter sentence due to his “substantial cooperation to the government,” said Presnell, who also sentenced Greenberg to 10 years of supervised release after leaving prison.
Lawmakers’ not-so U-turn on Disney — DeSantis’ office and Rep. Randy Fine are disputing a report that Florida will reverse legislation to strip Disney of its self-governing abilities. An article published early Friday by the Financial Times purports that lawmakers are preparing a “U-turn” on a law set to dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District at the end of June. However, DeSantis’ office downplayed the characterization. “Governor DeSantis does not make ‘U-turns,’” Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement posted to Twitter. “The Governor was right to champion removing the extraordinary benefit given to one company through the RCID. We will have an even playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly owes no special favors to one company.”
One pill will kill
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency is warning that a recent investigation shows that 60% of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills contain a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl, a 50% increase from a similar DEA investigation conducted last year.
Attorney General Ashley Moody is touting the findings and warning Floridains to stay away from illicit drugs.
“I cannot stress enough how vital it is to never use drugs — as lethal amounts of fentanyl are increasingly being discovered in so many illicit substances creating a terrible spike in overdose deaths,” Moody said in a prepared release.
The DEA Laboratory tested fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills and announced the 2022 findings. A similar investigation was conducted at the DEA Laboratory last year which showed that 40% of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills were found to contain a potentially lethal dose.
Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country. It is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, a small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.
According to the CDC, 107,622 Americans died of drug poisoning in 2021, with 66% of those deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. According to the DEA, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel in Mexico are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl being trafficked in communities across the United States.
Moody’s office has developed the The Dose of Reality website so people can learn about the dangers of opioid misuse, how to receive support for addiction and where to drop off unused prescription drugs.
The day before announcing his major BlackRock announcement, Patronis gave the American Legislative Exchange Council a little teaser in Washington.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll see some changes here in the next 24 hours where we’re going to start to make our own decisions known out of our own office, in addition to the leadership changes that Governor DeSantis has instituted,” Patronis said.
The CFO, who is ALEC’s former Chair for Florida, was participating in a panel Tuesday alongside Utah Treasurer Marlo Oaks. Together, the pair discussed ways their states are pushing back against ESG.
“We decided to start pulling back and send shots across the bows, across the woke fund managers and starting to say, you know, we want to start voting our proxies. We want to start sending a message loud and clear,” Patronis said.
And on data privacy, states need to have the courage to challenge the belief that regulating Big Tech is a federal issue, he continued.
“I call baloney on it,” Patronis said. “What, is Florida chopped liver? California wants to go embrace data privacy, and I applaud the other states that have embraced some type of data privacy, policy and legislation. But we all need to be a little more aggressive with it and demand transparency, and not take the standard line, ‘this is a federal issue.’”
At the same conference, ALEC handed the gavel off to Miami Rep. Daniel Perez as its new national Chair, bringing even more influence to Florida and the House Speaker-designate.
One last shot
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week reiterated her push to pardon those who have been convicted of simple marijuana possession.
Fried, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Charlie Crist in the Democratic gubernatorial Primary, sent DeSantis a letter earlier this week making the request after the Governor canceled the final Cabinet and Clemency Board meetings for the year.
The Cabinet and Clemency Board met once this year.
In her letter, Fried said Florida should follow the lead of President Joe Biden who in October announced the decision to pardon federal conviction and reassess the criminal classification of marijuana.
“You have once again chosen to cancel our Clemency Board meeting, as well as another Cabinet Meeting. Given that we have only had one meeting of the Clemency Board this year, this is a dereliction of duty. We might have taken the first critical step towards rectifying past wrongs and moving state policy in line with the prevailing thoughts of most Floridians, and most Americans. Instead, you chose to delay justice to tens of thousands of your fellow Floridians,” Fried wrote in the letter that she also posted on Twitter.
Seventy one percent of voters in 2016 voted to legalize medical marijuana and there are now and there are more than 713,000 medical cannabis patients in Florida.
Meanwhile, a recent University of North Florida poll found 75% of Floridians support the legalization of marijuana, not just medical marijuana.
Florida officials recognized World AIDS Day along with others around the world this week by noting that while steps have been made in treating those with HIV/AIDS there is “still work to be done.”
According to the Department of Health (DOH), the rate of HIV deaths among all persons diagnosed with the virus has declined 31% over the decade. In 2021, there were more than 120,000 people with HIV in the state, which includes 4,700 new diagnoses.
“We have come a long way since the first HIV diagnosis, but there is still work to be done to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said in a statement. “I have been working directly with DOH and HIV stakeholders this past year to discuss how we can further our progress in fighting HIV/AIDS. We must continue to break down barriers to ensure Floridians can access improved and continuously evolving HIV treatment and prevention options. These are crucial to helping Floridians live long and healthy lives.”
Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said World AIDS Day is important to raise awareness about the different types of HIV prevention and treatment options. The types of treatment include both daily pills as well long-acting injectables.
“On this day, we honor the lives lost to HIV by seeking collaborative and innovative solutions to help us end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Florida and across the globe,” Ladapo said. “Today is also a day to increase awareness of the HIV treatment and prevention options that are available to people. Long-acting injectable medications promote increased accessibility to HIV prevention and treatment, but people need to know about them, talk about them, and understand where and how to access them.”
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