Lawmakers, Lobbyists Join DeSantis on Israel Trip




Gov. Ron DeSantis will lead a contingent of more than 100 people, from elected officials and educators to lobbyists and religious leaders, on a weeklong trip to Israel that will include a state Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem where a bill targeting anti-Semitism will be signed.

DeSantis’ office Wednesday released a list of the people who will take part in the trip that starts Saturday, though the head count does not include security personnel. Also, the information did not provide a cost breakdown for taxpayers.

DeSantis deferred a question on costs to Enterprise Florida, a public-private economic development agency that is orchestrating the trip.

“I’m not sure exactly who’s all going,” DeSantis said while appearing Wednesday at the North Florida School of Special Education in Jacksonville. “There’s going to be people that go that are not part of my official party.”

An Enterprise Florida spokeswoman did not immediately provide information about costs.

But Helen Ferre, a DeSantis spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday that trip co-chairs, business and religious leaders, state lawmakers and educators — who combine to account for about 80 members of the traveling party — are paying their own way.

The DeSantis administration released information about the trip Wednesday amid increased scrutiny about issues such as who will take part, costs and how Floridians could watch the Cabinet meeting.

DeSantis and members of the Cabinet will meet at 3:30 p.m. on May 29 — 8:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time — at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The event is expected to be live-streamed in the Cabinet meeting room in Tallahassee and on The Florida Channel.

An agenda posted on the Cabinet website includes a resolution on the state’s relationship with Israel and presentations on “victims of terror,” “water quality” and “emergency management.”

DeSantis said Wednesday he will also sign a bill (HB 741) to combat anti-Semitism during the meeting.

“That’s going to be a special moment,” DeSantis said.

Under the bill, Florida’s education system would add religion as a protected class regarding discrimination against students and employees. Currently, people are protected from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, marital status or disability.

The signing, however, is not listed on the agenda, which also notes, “This agenda does not involve the composition of any collegial body consisting of the Governor and Cabinet as a board, commission, or otherwise.”

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, who has questioned why a Cabinet meeting is being held more than 6,000 miles from the state Capitol, called the statement on the agenda “nonsensical” and “meaningless.”

“The Cabinet is a collegial body,” Petersen said. “A meeting is any discussion of public business between two or more members of the Cabinet. I’m totally perplexed by this. But then, I’m perplexed by the whole notion of holding a Cabinet meeting in Israel.”

The Cabinet is scheduled to meet again June 4 in Tallahassee.

The trip, DeSantis’ first international excursion as governor, includes a traveling party of 20 people with ties to state agencies; 12 elected officials, including the Cabinet members and five legislators; 27 members of the business community; 25 educators, mostly from state colleges and universities; and a trio of religious leaders, according to the list released Wednesday.

Participants include Florida Power & Light President and CEO Eric Silagy, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Philip Brown and Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson. Florida Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley noted the business organization has participated in dozens of trade missions, including visits last year to the United Kingdom, Ireland and China.

“With one in four jobs in Florida tied to trade, ensuring Florida’s global economy is competitive is vital to securing Florida’s future,” Ousley said. “The Florida Chamber invests in economic development trade missions because of their benefit to jobs and economic prosperity in Florida.”

Among the registered lobbyists making the trip are Jason Unger of the GrayRobinson firm, Fred Karlinsky of the Greenberg Traurig firm, Scott Ross of the Capital City Consulting firm and Danielle Scoggins of Florida Realtors.

The announced traveling party of 103, which includes several spouses, also features eight co-chairs.

Among the co-chairs are former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a lobbyist whose clients range from the city of Miami and Tampa Electric Co. to the Florida Association of Jewish Federations; Simon Falic, CEO and chairman of Duty Free Americas, and Jana Falic, co-president of the Women’s International Zionist Organization; Republican Jewish Coalition Board Member Marc Goldman; philanthropists Carlyn and Lothar Mayer; and Jeffrey Feingold and former State Board of Education member Barbara Feingold.

Jeffrey Feingold’s MCNA Dental Plans was one of three managed-care plans chosen by the state Agency for Health Care Administration last year to offer dental services to the state’s Medicaid population.

Besides DeSantis and members of the Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the traveling party includes elected officials such as state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation; Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor; Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay; Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, and Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.

People with ties to state agencies include Enterprise Florida President and CEO Jamal Sowell; Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein; Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young; Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello; and state Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.

— News Service staff writer Christine Sexton contributed to this report.