First Read for Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023

The must-read morning roundup of Florida politics and government.

Good morning. It’s National Kite Flying Day. Here’s a list of the best beaches and parks in Florida to fly one.


After raising concerns last year about Florida’s move to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Fitch Ratings indicated that new legislation could resolve the issues. A House bill proposed this week would undo the potential dissolution and give power to Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint the board of the taxing district, created in 1967 and essentially let Walt Disney Co. control issues such as land use, fire protection and sewer service typically handled by local governments. 

The bill also would change the name of Reedy Creek to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. But the district would continue to have wide-ranging authority, including the ability to levy property taxes and fees, issue bonds and provide services. Last year, Fitch placed what is known as a “rating watch negative” on Reedy Creek because of concerns about how bonds would be paid after a potential dissolution. 

But in a statement Tuesday, Michael Rinaldi, head of local government ratings at Fitch Ratings, indicated that the new bill could clear up the concerns. “The bill appears to address key uncertainties created following last year’s dissolution legislation, primarily, preserving the revenue-raising powers of the district,” Rinaldi said. 

Lawmakers voted last year to dissolve Reedy Creek after Disney angered DeSantis by publicly opposing a law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. But the dissolution would not take effect until June 1, giving lawmakers time to re-establish the district and make changes. The bill was filed as part of a special legislative session that started Monday.

– The News Service of Florida


* COVID AID FRAUD: Watchdogs say the feds moved too quickly during the pandemic to provide emergency unemployment insurance and small business assistance, contributing to billions of dollars worth of fraud.

* MIGRANT FLIGHTS: The Florida Senate today likely will take up a plan to bolster Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to send migrants to “sanctuary” cities and states, as Republicans and Democrats battle over the issue. 


* President Joe Biden took credit in his second State of the Union speech for what he said was the country's economic revival while pushing an agenda of reducing prescription drug costs, protecting abortion rights and banning assault weapons, USA TODAY reports

* Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a combative speech in response to Biden’s State of the Union address, drawing a sharp contrast with Biden as she delivered a series of blistering criticisms of the president, CNN reports

* Fresh off his speech to Congress that challenged opposition Republicans to help unite the country, President Joe Biden heads to Wisconsin and Florida, two states crucial to his expected 2024 re-election bid, Reuters reports

* In a televised roundtable with a studio audience, DeSantis raised the possibility of passing legislation that could lower the bar for prominent people to successfully sue news outlets for defamation, the Miami Herald reports

* The recently revived Florida State Guard could more than triple in size and add aviation and maritime equipment, with funding going from $10 million to more than $95 million, the News Service of Florida reports.

More news below …


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* Florida's High School Athletics Association called an emergency meeting for its board of directors to consider scrapping questions about student athletes' menstrual period history on its annual physical examination forms, the Palm Beach Post reports.

* Retired administrator Earlean Smiley will become interim superintendent for Broward County Schools, but the district will first have another administrative leader for the next few weeks, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports

* Leon County Republican Party chair Evan Power received endorsements from 16 members of the state committee to become chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Florida’s Voice reports.

* Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III, director of Miami-Dade’s police since 2020, confirmed he’s interested in a 2024 run for sheriff, a post Florida’s constitution now mandates be elected in every county, the Miami Herald reports

* Former Plantation Mayor Lynn Stoner will pay a $1,200 fine to the Florida Elections Commission after admitting to violating state campaign finance law during her 2018 reelection bid, Florida Politics reports


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From his official schedule: In the morning, he participated in a roundtable discussion in Hialeah Gardens where he discussed possibly lowering the bar to prove defamation in lawsuits. In the afternoon, he had a call with Chief of Staff James Uthmeier.


* Former President Donald Trump, who ripped through the 2016 presidential field with attacks on his rivals, reposted images of a young Ron DeSantis allegedly partying with high school teens and adding his own mocking commentary, the Daily Mail reports

* DeSantis is signaling plans to ramp up his attack on the news industry ahead of his likely 2024 run for president, Politico Florida reports

* Trump lashed out at the Club for Growth, a leading conservative group, after he was left off the guest list of its annual donor retreat, The Hill reports

* By this time in an American president’s term, the next presidential race is typically in full swing. But the GOP’s Trump problem is making the 2024 race an unusual one, the Atlantic’s Isabel Fattal writes

* In 2020, Biden managed to win the presidency almost by default. If right-leaning Americans aren’t careful, he’ll sleepwalk his way to reelection, the National Review’s Charles Cooke writes


* DeSantis’ worst instincts and the impotence of the Legislature that should be restraining him are on full display in this week’s special session, the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board writes

* Florida is still learning a hard COVID lesson as deaths increased again this winter, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board writes

* Union membership has reached new lows and Big Labor is to blame, Sen. Marco Rubio writes in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

* As a parent of a New College graduate, Rose Wilson Parvaz says she is absolutely heartbroken at what is happening to the institution, Parvaz writes in the Orlando Sentinel


HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis … to retired graphic artist John Roberge, who designed Florida State University’s original Osceola head icon … to Circuit Judge Layne Smith of Tallahassee. 

ON THE MOVE: Archie Collins, president and chief executive officer of Tampa Electric, will serve as Tampa Bay Regional chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce for the second year. Collins serves on the Florida Chamber board of directors, was regional chair in 2022 and has 30 years of experience in the energy industry.

Gov. DeSantis reappointed Christopher “C.J.” Maier and Rafael “Ralph” Martinez to the Central Florida Expressway Authority. Maier, of Orlando, is the director of development for NextEra Energy. Martinez, also of Orlando, is managing partner of McEwan, Martinez, Dukes & Hall. 

DeSantis announced two judicial appointments: Jamie Tyndal, of Jasper, to serve as Judge on the Hamilton County Court; and Richard Martin, of Tampa, to serve as Judge on the Hillsborough County Court. Martin, who was chief of staff to Attorney General Ashley Moody, replaces Susan Lopez, tapped as interim Hillsborough County State Attorney while Andrew Warren remains on suspension. 

CONGRATULATIONS: Moore – the state’s top-ranked public affairs agency, according to O’Dwyer’s – celebrated its 30th anniversary this week by naming seven new partners: Andrea Blount, Jordan Jacobs, Audrey Goff, Nanette Schimpf, D’Arcy Toffolo, Fern Senra-James and Liz Underwood.

HAPPENING TODAY: Business leaders, physicians, lawmakers, and advocates will join in support of proposed legislation (SB 112, HB 183) to limit barriers to care for Floridians with serious mental illnesses. Speakers will also share findings from a new study assessing the cost of step therapy. That’s at 8:30 a.m. on the 4th floor Capitol rotunda. 

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YOUR MESSAGE HERE: City & State First Read is the must-read morning roundup of Florida politics and government. Reaching thousands of subscribers each morning, it's the most effective and targeted digital ad venue to get your message in front of city and state elected officials, agency and industry leaders, and the staff, advocates, media and operatives who drive the issues of the day – all by 7 a.m. each weekday. For advertising information, please email:



“If the feds were securing our border, states wouldn’t have to take on illegal immigration. … The left & media can clutch their pearls, but here in Florida, we’ll keep working to solve problems – not spin false narratives.”

– Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, via Twitter, responding to Miami Herald coverage of a bill to bolster the DeSantis administration’s migrant flights program.