Battle over citizen initiatives takes pricey detourSeptember 16, 2021
Hello and welcome to Thursday.
Remember this? — A federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump put a screeching halt to a new law this summer that placed a $3,000 cap on donations to groups pushing citizen initiatives.
Meanwhile — But the legal battle isn’t over, and well... it’s taking some interesting twists and turns.
Ruling not appealed — As previously reported, the state didn’t appeal U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor’s preliminary injunction that blocks the law. This sort of telegraphed the uphill battle ahead for those defending the law. Winsor in his order even said the “state has no significant interest in limiting speech of political committees with fewer (but bigger) contributors.”
The usual suspects — In early August, the Florida Elections Commission (which didn’t have a quorum at the time, but hey) hired Shutts & Bowen (which has become the go-to firm for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republicans) and firm lawyer George Meros (also a lobbyist, redistricting guru etc.) sought to push back the timeline for when the state needed to respond to motions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in the case.
Rationale — And why was this extension needed? Meros stated in a court filing that while working for the Republican National Committee in a separate election lawsuit that the Secretary of State’s office had turned over documents showing evidence of 700 forged signatures on citizen initiative petitions. He said he needs time to interview election supervisors, law enforcement and victims of fraud. “Who committed the fraud, why they committed the fraud, and whose funds may have facilitated the fraud are highly relevant.”
From the court brief — This is what Meros also wrote: “Big money can undoubtedly create incentives to commit crime. And there is plenty of money in Florida’s initiative process. A big money funder with a feel-good name can contribute millions of dollars to an initiative committee without the public knowing where that single corporate contributor got its money.”
A lot to unpack — Let’s set aside the irony of this since state legislators have consistently refused to bring more transparency to Florida’s campaign finance system. Let’s just note that while allegations of fraud were used to justify previous efforts to crackdown on citizen initiatives, lawmakers didn’t use that reasoning this time for the contribution cap.
Not in agreement — Lawyers for the ACLU were skeptical and in their own late August motion opposing the extension said the previous rulings Winsor relied on to side against the state “does not allow for the lengthy side investigation." They maintained the evidence had little relevance to the ongoing lawsuit. The extension was granted by Winsor anyway.
But wait, there’s more — So while this drags on, both sides filed a motion this week that says — guess what? — that the Florida Elections Commission now has information it is turning over in discovery that needs to be kept confidential. Hmm. Let me just guess what information that could be. Oh, and while this is going on a lot of taxpayer money is going be spent. Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose budget includes the commission, asked the Legislature this week for $500,000 (for this year’s budget and next) for this lawsuit because “the FEC lacks the cash and budgetary appropriation to fund the contract.”
— WHERE'S RON? — Nothing official announced for Gov. DeSantis, but there are reports he will be in Hialeah Gardens.
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THE DANCE — “DeSantis flirts with the anti-vaccine crowd,” by POLITICO’s Marc Caputo and Gary Fineout: Ron DeSantis isn't anti-vaccine. But he has started standing shoulder-to-shoulder those who are. The Florida governor’s clear and unadulterated public messaging about the need for vaccines has become more diluted in recent months, culminating with a press conference he held this week to bash President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate plan — and threaten to fine cities and counties that impose their own mandates.
Change of direction — The inclusion of anti-vaccine misinformation at a DeSantis press conference marks a major departure from the stronger and more direct case he made for vaccines earlier in the year. The shift by the Republican governor — considered a leading contender for the 2024 presidential primary — coincides with more vocal anti-vaccine voices in the GOP, who went so far as to boo former President Donald Trump for telling people in Alabama to “take the vaccines.”
— “Broward will reward vaccinated county workers and subject the unvaccinated to charges and testing,” by Miami Herald’s Samantha J. Gross
AWFUL — "‘Tell all of our family to get vaccinated’: COVID kills 6 members of Glades family in 3 weeks,” by Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave: “But despite [Lisa] Wilson’s insistence that the shots would save lives, some members of her own family ignored her. In the last three weeks, six of them died from complications of COVID-19. ‘I was in their ears almost every day. 'You’ve just got to do this,' Wilson said Tuesday, reeling from the tragedy that has consumed her large, close-knit family. ‘I’m beating myself up. Should I have pushed harder?’”
The daily rundown — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that there were 10,723 Covid-19 infections on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 10,539 beds were being used in the state for Covid-19 patients. The Florida Hospital Association reported Wednesday that 39.5 percent of adult patients in intensive care units are infected with Covid-19.
REVERSAL — “Two Florida counties back off from school mask mandates,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Atterbury: “School leaders in Lee and Volusia counties this week reversed course on mandating masks for students and will allow them to opt out of wearing face coverings, falling in line with rules from the DeSantis administration after facing pressure from state officials and parents. These school districts are the first to back off from student mask mandates since an appeals court last week expressed serious doubts about a high-profile lawsuit challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis over his Covid-19 response.”
A WIN FOR GOVERNOR — “Federal judge refuses to block DeSantis mask order," by News Service of Florida: “A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request by parents of disabled children to block Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to prevent school districts from requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal Judge K. Michael Moore issued a 34-page ruling that denied a request for a preliminary injunction against an executive order that DeSantis issued July 30.”
THE TOLL — “Florida leads nation in nursing home resident and staff COVID-19 deaths," by Tampa Bay Times’ Hannah Critchfield: “More nursing home residents and staff died of COVID-19 in Florida during a four-week period ending Aug. 22 than in any other state in the country, according to an AARP analysis released today. Florida accounted for 21 percent of all nursing home resident deaths due to the virus nationwide. The data shows the state with 17 percent of staff deaths nationally during this time. ‘These sadly predictable data trends are also preventable,’ said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida state director, in a press release. ‘The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated.’”
HERE IT COMES — “Florida COVID ‘vaccine passport’ fines kick in Thursday for businesses, governments,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Austin Fuller: “Businesses and governments that require customers to show proof of a coronavirus vaccine will start to face hefty fines on Thursday, but some details about how the new law will work remain unclear. The Florida Department of Health will be responsible for enforcing the $5,000 per violation charge under a law blocking so-called ‘vaccine passports’ signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this year.”
LOOK WHO’S IN AN EARLY PRIMARY STATE — “Ex-Trump voting battle adviser set for South Carolina forum,” by The Associated Press’ Meg Kinnard: "A GOP lawyer who advised former President Donald Trump in his campaign to overturn the 2020 election results and the lawmaker leading Republicans’ efforts to win back a Senate majority, are among speakers planned for a South Carolina gathering billed as a must-stop on the road to the state’s first-in-the-South primary. Cleta Mitchell, a longtime Republican lawyer and conservative advocate, and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida — current chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — are scheduled to participate in next month’s First in the South Republican Action Conference, the South Carolina Republican Party announced Wednesday.”
AGAINST THE GRAIN — “Moderate Murphy votes ‘no’ as W&M approves Democrats tax plans," by POLITICO’s Brian Faler: A moderate Democrat voted Wednesday against her party’s tax plans as the House Ways and Means Committee approved its portion of their sweeping “reconciliation” plans. The committee OK'd $2 trillion in tax increases, as well as a slew of tax cuts, on a 24-19 vote, with Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) voting “no.” That’s an ominous development for Democrats who can only afford to lose three votes when the bill comes to the chamber floor.
MURPHY’S LOGIC — Here’s more from POLITICO D.C. Playbook: Behind the scenes, we’re told, Rep. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-Fla.), a Blue Dog leader who hails from a battleground district, has also been prodding leaders to do more to get buy-in from the Senate before moving forward. Notably, Murphy voted against the Ways and Means multitrillion-dollar tax provisions in committee, which were not “pre-conferenced” with the Senate. We caught up with Murphy on Wednesday, and she told Playbook pre-conferencing is the most efficient way to proceed. “Every minute that we spend debating provisions that will never become law is a moment wasted, and is going to delay much-needed assistance to the American people,” she said, adding that these early votes on the reconciliation bill should be based on political reality, not “aspirational.”
ROUND 2 — Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday did not sound reassured by statements from Gen. Mark Milley about his calls to China that were revealed as part of a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa detailing the end of the Trump presidency. The book suggested that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made calls because he was concerned that former President Donald Trump might start a war. POLITICO reported that claims in the book “are greatly exaggerated, according to two people familiar with the discussions.” The Pentagon also issued a statement that acknowledged the calls but characterized them as routine and that they were coordinated with the Department of Defense.
Rubio put out a video on Twitter where he said he had been hoping for a “denial” from Milley. Instead he said the statement issued by the Pentagon makes it “clear now” that Milley was the source for the information for Woodward and Costa’s book. “He wanted to make himself look good,” Rubio said. Rubio repeated his calls for Milley to be fired (which isn’t going to happen) and said that what he did was “treacherous” and undermined civilian control of the military.
— “Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio take another shot at paid parental leave,” by Deseret News’ Dennis Romboy
DEPARTURE — “Facing fierce criticism, head of Florida’s troubled program to aid brain-damaged kids quits,” by Miami Herald’s Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang: “On the eve of what was expected to be a contentious board of directors meeting, the head of Florida’s compensation program for brain-damaged children has abruptly resigned. Kenney Shipley, who has overseen the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, for the past two decades, announced her resignation in a letter Wednesday. It takes effect Jan. 4, 2022, though Shipley intends to exhaust accrued leave time after an interim director is appointed.”
— “DCF recommends using American Rescue Plan money for enhanced child abuse prevention,” by Florida Politics’ Christine Sexton
— “Florida Cabinet to consider $53.1 million in land-preservation deals,” by News Service of Florida
UM, WHAT? — “Broward County removes Dancing Taco GIF posted for Hispanic Heritage Month after backlash,” by Miami Herald’s Kalia Richardson: “Broward County on Wednesday removed a controversial dancing taco after receiving a barrage of backlash via social media for National Hispanic Heritage Month. The one-second GIF, or short video, featured a smiling taco wielding multicolored maracas in each hand and a swirl of sour cream for hair. Within about five hours, the GIF was removed from both their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Sabrina Javellana called the post ‘extremely embarrassing’ on Twitter — whereas others called for ‘sensitivity training’ and expressed disgust with the county’s gif selection.”
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND — "SpaceX’s all-civilian crew makes history with lift off from Kennedy Space Center," by Orlando Sentinel’s Richard Tribou: “A new era of space travel blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday night with the launch of the all-civilian crew aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. The four members of the Inspiration4 mission rode what is only the fourth trip for a Crew Dragon with humans on board after its first three missions ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the first time any craft in 60 years of space travel has flown without at least one professional astronaut on board.”
A BEER BY ANY OTHER NAME — “‘Cuban’ beer is being sold in Miami. Is it a communist invasion or clever capitalismo?” by Miami Herald’s Carlos Frías: “Tony Haber had grabbed a six-pack of Mi Cristal beer at a Latin grocery store in Miami when an older customer in line pointed at his purchase and scolded him. The beer in his hand, Mi Cristal, was owned by the Cuban government, the man insisted. And he yelled at Haber with increasing ferocity that he was propping up Cuba’s communist regime with his purchase. Customers turned to watch. The cashier froze. Haber had no choice but to leave the beer and hurry out of the store. He did it even though he knew something the customer didn’t: The beer he was buying was his own.”
— “Cuba starts vaccinating 2-year-olds, as COVID cases spike among children on the island,” by El Nuevo Herald’s Nora Gámez Torres
— “Search on for Florida woman missing from cross-country trip,” by The Associated Press’ Curt Anderson: “A Florida woman who vanished while on a nomadic cross-country trip in a converted camper van with her boyfriend is the subject of a nationwide search while authorities labeled him Wednesday as a person of interest in her disappearance. Investigators say Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, 22, was last in contact with her family in late August when the couple was visiting Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Much of their trip was documented on social media accounts that abruptly ceased.”
— “Florida paddleboarder fends off attacking alligator with oar,” by Fresh Take Florida’s Elise Elder: “A week later, in her first extensive interview about the incident, [Vicki] Baker said she remains puzzled over the encounter. She said she presumed that someone else on the water had been feeding the alligator, desensitizing it to humans and helping it associate paddlers on the river with food. More than 1 million people have seen photos and videos of the encounter, so far. ‘I was afraid,’ she said. ‘You can hear it in my voice that I was really scared. I’ve seen them my whole life and have never been afraid.’”
BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Stephanie Murphy … WFTV investigative and political reporter Christopher Heath … Former Rep. David Rivera
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