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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.4.20

Good morning: Here’s your first look at the issues behind today’s Florida politics.

In a significant election year personnel change, Peter O’Rourke will exit his position as executive director of the Republican Party of Florida after seven months on the job.

In a resignation letter, O’Rourke said he completed a mission of strengthening the party and making it more transparent.

Peter O’Rourke will be yet another personnel change at the Republican Party of Florida. Image via AP.

“When I was asked to join the team last year,” O’Rourke wrote, “I was charged with helping guide and ready the RPOF for the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Since that time, I have reviewed and strengthened the Party’s policies and procedures that have enhanced accountability and transparency.”

Republican Party of Florida Chair Joe Gruters praised O’Rourke in a conference call with the state executive committee, but acknowledged O’Rourke came on during an “extremely difficult transition.”

Gruters said he would take on a more significant role after the Session wraps. Additionally, former RPOF Executive Director George Riley will assist the party as the presidential election in November nears.

“As usual, I am completely laser-focused on winning,” Gruters said.

The call did little to shed light on the true reason the former Veterans Affairs Secretary is heading back to D.C., which is supposed because of a strained relationship between Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who the President at one time called one of his “warriors” in Washington.

Notably, DeSantis also participated in the phone call, where he trumpeted Trump’s path to reelection.

“The national landscape, I think this is shaping up about as good for the President as it could,” said DeSantis, who also said he looks forward to campaigning for Republicans besides himself in the general election.

O’Rourke’s last day will be March 13.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

A budget stalemate between the House and Senate is forcing the 2020 Legislative Session into overtime. DeSantis says it’s no big thing.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— And then there were three. A new case of coronavirus has emerged in Florida — the sister of a woman who recently returned from northern Italy; now, she is hospitalized for the illness.

— The Senate votes to right an old wrong by compensating a Jacksonville man who spent 43 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

— Opponents of two bills gutting the citizen’s initiative process claim Republican lawmakers are trying to protect their own power and silence opponents by making it just about impossible for average folk to put a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot.

Steve Vancore and Peter Schorsch try to make sense out of the hectic Super Tuesday presidential primaries.

— Checking in with Florida Man, including a guy who mooned an entire restaurant and another who runs a ministry called “Hot Dogs for Hope.” Now, he faces weenie-related charges.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@KevinRoose: It’s Super Tuesday. Coronavirus fears are growing. The Fed just announced its biggest rate cut since 2008. The top-performing news story on Facebook is a Fox News post about Hillary Clinton‘s emails.

@AlYankovic: Yeah, no, sorry. Not gonna do “My Corona.”

@Mattmfm: Not sure American politics has ever seen such a rapid and immense shift toward a candidate. [Joe] Biden‘s margins in Virginia and North Carolina were unimaginable just 72 hours ago.

@DaveEigel: North Carolina was the one Southern primary Bernieworld was feeling good about, before the moderates consolidated, pointing to his 41% share there in 2016. Early exits have him at 24% there tonight.

@CHeathWFTV: [Tulsi] Gabbard hasn’t qualified for a debate in 3-months. But a single delegate from American Samoa could get her on the stage in AZ.

Tweet, tweet:

@MattYglesias: Like Twitter, cable news is not “real life,” but the cable news demographic (old people) has more in common with the real-life primary electorate (old people).

@BlaiseIngoglia: When I die I want to be reincarnated as @TomSteyer’s or @MikeBloomberg’s media buyer.

@MarcACaputo: Floridians, you cannot shoot the coronavirus.

@AlanBlinder: New statement from the N.C.A.A.’s No. 2 official amid coronavirus fears: “Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned.”

Tweet, tweet:

@TomLeeFL: The stench of dying legislation fills the air in the Senate Appropriations Committee …

Tweet, tweet:

@CindyPoloFL103: I fought for #HD103. My colleagues in the back rows stood by me and had my back! This is about residents & not reelection. TY @ShevrinJones and @evanjenne for putting forth amendments. Proving that even “friendly” Dems can’t get anything through bc playing Politics is the motto … And shout out to the back row members that shot their hands up on an Amendment! ICYDK amendments are shot up or down just by voice. BUT if 5 hands go up, we must vote on the Record. 69 Republicans voted NO to take steps to protect Veterans from the effects of the daily blasting

@WayneBertsch: This is that time of Session when you begin to learn more other issues being battled in the legislature — in addition to what you are working. Let the bills die!

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Tuesday II — 6; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 9; 11th Democratic Debate in Phoenix — 11; Florida’s presidential primary — 13; Super Tuesday III — 13; MLB Opening Day — 22; “No Time to Die” premieres — 33; Easter — 39; First quarter campaign reports due — 42; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 42; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 43; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 47; NFL Draft — 50; Mother’s Day — 67; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 72; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 96; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 114; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 131; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 135; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 142; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 167; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 173; First presidential debate in Indiana — 209; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 217; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 225; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 232; 2020 General Election — 244.

— TOP STORIES —

Could Vice President Mike Pence have been exposed to coronavirus in Sarasota?” via Zachary Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — When Pence visited Florida for a fundraiser just days after he was named the nation’s point person on coronavirus, he met 44 students from the Sarasota Military Academy. Now one of those students’ classmates is under a self-quarantine because he was possibly exposed to coronavirus. According to a leader at the school, Pence’s office has reached out to ask: Could the vice president also have come into contact with the illness? Both the student and his mother are in isolation. Neither has been diagnosed with coronavirus. Coronavirus is primarily spread through person-to-person contact.

Was Mike Pence exposed to coronavirus? Image via AP.

Third case of COVID-19 infection reported in Florida” via Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Florida officials reported a third person testing positive for a new strain of coronavirus, as states across the country struggled to keep abreast of the spreading threat from a rising number of infections. Meanwhile, Florida health officials expressed frustration that New York officials did not inform them of the infection of a New York patient who had traveled to Miami. Florida learned about the case through the news media. DeSantis told reporters that the third patient was the sister of a 29-year-old Hillsborough County woman whose infection has already been confirmed and who had recently traveled to northern Italy — one of the areas identified for restricted travel by federal authorities.

Tampa coronavirus patient says CDC did not take her health concerns seriously” via Briona Arradondo of Fox 13 Tampa Bay — Two friends have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Hillsborough County, and now one of them insists she tried to warn authorities that she was sick as she returned by plane to the United States. The two women — who represent two of the three coronavirus patients in Florida — are both their 20s. They recently got back from a trip to Italy, a country listed as a virus hot spot. Once she landed in New York with a fever, the 29-year-old said she called the CDC to let them know where she had been and how she was feeling. But despite her flu-like symptoms and travel history, she says she was cleared to fly from New York back to Tampa.

Florida keeps quiet on coronavirus patient who flew through Tampa airport” via Zachary Sampson and Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Department of Health declined Tuesday to provide further details on the case of a woman with coronavirus in Hillsborough County who flew through Tampa International Airport. “I can’t comment on ongoing epidemiological investigations,” said spokesman Alberto Moscoso. Among the unknowns are: what flight the woman arrived on, when she flew and whether fellow passengers have been notified. The woman is in her 20s, state officials said. The lack of information has added to uncertainty about the disease’s impact locally.

Disney World adds more hand sanitizers at parks, hotels amid coronavirus concerns” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Disney is also reminding employees — who make up Central Florida’s largest workforce — to take preventative steps, such as washing their hands and keep their work areas sanitized. The company is monitoring the situation at the state and federal level similar to what Universal and SeaWorld have said they are doing.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

More state money aside as third coronavirus case emerges” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The risk of the virus spreading across Florida also has spurred the Legislature to consider pumping millions of additional dollars into public health and has prompted DeSantis to work closely with the long-term care industry to ensure that the virus doesn’t get a foothold in any of the state’s 700 nursing homes. DeSantis said four Doctors Hospital staff members who had been in close touch with the COVID-19 patient have also been tested for the virus.

Coronavirus tests DeSantis’ pick for Surgeon General” via Samantha Gross and Romy Ellenbogen of the Times/Herald — Gov. DeSantis’ pick for surgeon general — a pediatrician by trade — has come under scrutiny for his lack of a public health background. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees has gone before lawmakers and the public, where he was questioned about his qualifications for leading the state’s Department of Health despite a career spent in pediatrics, academia and research rather than epidemiology or public health.

Was nonprofit CEO at home in $2M mountain retreat? We rang the bell. No one answered.” via Mary Ellen Klas and Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — The view from Tiffany Carr’s home in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Sunday offered a crystal-clear panorama of six mountaintops and rolling hillsides. Here is where friends say Carr, the former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has been living with her husband, John Patrick Howard Jr., as state investigators have demanded answers about the extent to which state and federal taxpayer funds were used to give her millions in inflated paid time off and other benefits. Carr’s 6,665-square-foot home, on 2.5 acres, is fortified by a second security gate and chain-link fence one mile up the mountain from the entrance to the subdivision. On Sunday, the residents of the Courthouse Terrace home refused to answer the bell.

Leaders point to ‘progress’ on gambling bill” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis and Senate President Bill Galvano continue to hold out hope that the state can seal a lucrative gambling deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. House and Senate leaders have huddled for weeks on a proposed agreement with the tribe that could reap the state up to $700 million a year if the Seminoles agree. Until recently, the tribe has been on the sidelines. But the negotiations took a new twist, according to Galvano, who was instrumental in the passage of a 2010 compact with the Seminoles. “We have made progress internally, and we are now engaged in negotiations with the Tribe,” the Senate president said in a prepared statement.

Bill Galvano drops a bombshell: Gambling talks are underway with the Seminole Tribe.

Lobbyist for Marriott timeshare owners wrote tax break proposal” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — “A lobbyist hired by the owners of one of the largest Marriott-branded timeshares in the world said she was behind a mysterious property-tax measure that appraisers say would save timeshares — but cost cities, counties and schools — millions of dollars a year. “We’re just looking for a fair and just value,” said Ellyn Bogdanoff, who was hired this year to lobby the Legislature by the owners association representing the 900-unit Marriott’s Grande Vista, the Orlando timeshare that is part of the network run by Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.

Florida TaxWatch urges Legislature to ‘pump the brakes’ on university mergers — In a news briefing, government watchdog Florida TaxWatch renewed its opposition against the legislative proposal to merge Florida Polytechnic University and New College of Florida with the University of Florida. “As we did immediately following HB 7087’s recent introduction, Florida TaxWatch today again urges the Florida Legislature to ‘pump the brakes’ on this proposal,” FTW President and CEO Dominic Calabro said. “It is unclear whether the risk of compromising the unique nature and mission of New College and Florida Polytechnic University justifies the alleged cost savings of the proposed mergers and too late in the 2020 Legislative Session to put due thought and consideration into this important issue.” FTW recommends the bill be withdrawn from consideration this Session so the plan can be studied further.

Florida National Guard Appreciation Day held at Capitol” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — The Florida National Guard rolled into the Capitol courtyard in Tallahassee Tuesday. National Guard Appreciation Day drew DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez They spent time with the Florida National Guard’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James Eifert, touring displays that included a Blackhawk helicopter, military trucks and even robots. DeSantis — who was a Navy JAG officer — also spoke at the event, thanking the 11,400 members of the guard for their service. “Our National Guard is one of the best in the country in terms of protecting our citizens in times of emergency,” he said. “Caring for our current military personnel, veterans and their families is a big focus of our administration.”

— LEGISLATION —

Senate panel moves forward on José Oliva priority” via the News Service of Florida — The Senate Appropriations Committee backed a bill that would create a 10-year pilot program that would allow certain advanced practice registered nurses to practice independently from doctors. The committee also gave the green light to a “scope of practice” expansion that would allow pharmacists to initiate drug therapy for medical conditions. Both bills are ready to go to the full Senate and likely will be integral parts of negotiations. Before approving the nurse bill (SB 1676), the Appropriations Committee added an amendment that lowered the number of hours from 10,000 to 2,000 that advanced practice registered nurses would have to practice before being able to participate in the pilot program.

House Speaker José Oliva shoehorns a priority.

Major education bill with testing changes sought by DeSantis at death’s door” via Emily Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times — A major education package, Senate Bill 62, amended last-minute to contain 115 pages of education policy from other bills, was not voted on before the Senate Appropriations Committee adjourned. The bill had language related to teacher pay raises, contained an expansion of dual enrollment for home-schoolers and would have banned the use of seclusion and curtailed physical against students who are acting out. It also contained changes to testing as part of the Department of Education’s overhaul of the state standards to eliminate Common Core at the request of DeSantis. As part of an effort to reduce high-stakes testing, it would have eliminated the required geometry test for most 10th-graders and the English test for 9th-graders.

High-level negotiations underway on E-Verify compromise via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Negotiations over E-Verify requirements have moved to the highest levels in the House and Senate. And now both chambers have put legislation on Special Order Calendars for this week. Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Cord Byrd, the main sponsors for the bills, have thus far run significantly different bills through each chamber. They remain confident legislation can make it to DeSantis’ desk that’s worthy of a signature. “I know that things are moving in the right direction,” Lee said, “but I haven’t seen any white puffs of smoke yet.”

Youth arrest bill all but doomed after Florida Senate panel refuses to hear it” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — Meralyn Kirkland and her granddaughter Kaia Rolle, a 6-year-old whose September arrest at an Orlando school garnered national headlines, sat in the Senate Appropriations Committee and waited to tell the members their story. Because it didn’t receive a vote, the bill is all but dead for this year. House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami will attempt to insert the measure into a different bill in the House, and Senate leaders could use procedural maneuvers to bring the bill to the floor, but that’s unlikely. Sen. Randolph Bracy, who filed a stand-alone bill to ban arrests of children under 12 earlier in the Session, explained to Kirkland after the meeting the measure is likely dead.

Sentencing reform bill appears unlikely to move forward in this year’s Legislature” via Emily Mahoney of the Miami Herald — After an early showing of bipartisan support for easing penalties for certain drug convictions in Florida, lawmakers enter the final phase of the 2020 Session with one bill still standing and others in the graveyard. Lawmakers have not heard bills in either the House or Senate that would allow judges to shorten sentences of hundreds of prisoners serving drug sentences no longer in state law. At this stage in the Legislative Session, which is scheduled to end March 13, that means the bills are almost certainly dead. Several lawmakers in top leadership did not express strong opposition to revisiting outdated sentences. But they indicated it was not a priority, or they had not deeply researched the issue.

Transportation omnibus a coinflip, House sponsor says — Rep. Alex Andrade said there’s a 50-50 chance lawmakers will pass the transportation omnibus he’s sponsoring, which would make nearly two dozen changes to state transportation law. As reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, HB 395 would raise the amount of debt the Florida Department of Transportation can issue from $275 million to $350 million for infrastructure purchases, among several other changes. The bill has become a vehicle for other transportation issues, which was a point of contention in the Senate Rules Committee Monday. “Some of these bills have gotten bottled up in committee one place or the other, so people are starting to look for places to put amendments,” Sen. Tom Lee said. “All those issues are going to come at you 1,000 miles a minute now. That could create some problems.”

Letter grades for cities & counties? Blaise Ingoglia’s plan gets pushback from local governments” via Steve Bousquet for WFSU — Supporters say it’s a big step for accountability. Under a plan being pushed by Republicans, every city, town and county in Florida would be required to report data to the state every year and would receive a grade from “A” to “D” in areas for spending, borrowing, the cost of government, crime and schools. “The problem is, if you’re sitting in your county, you don’t know how your county is doing, how your county is matching up … compared to other counties of similar sizes,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia. When House Bill 7069 came before the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats were highly skeptical. When House Bill 7069 came before the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats were highly skeptical.

Blaise Ingoglia wants to rate Florida towns and counties on an A-F scale.

Criticism mounts as citizen ballot initiative rollbacks stumble through Legislature” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 7093/SJR 7062) would require citizen initiative backers gather a minimum of signatures from across the state’s congressional districts rather than in only half. Another effort (HB 7037/SB 1794) includes provisions shortening how long petition signatures would remain valid and raising the threshold for petitions to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review. Opponents say the legislation makes it harder for grassroots organizations to raise funds and to staff a statewide operation. Clearing judicial review is a key funding hurdle for citizen initiative backers. Getting ballot language approved through that process, the strategy goes, gives donors confidence to invest in the initiative.

’Play Responsibly’ lottery tickets label a step closer in the House” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Rep. Will Robinson‘s bill to put warning labels on lottery tickets inched closer to passing the House after earning preliminary approval. But Republicans might still not have the set of winning numbers for the bill (HB 991) to become law. DeSantis vetoed a similar bill last year, as did then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. The bill would require the Department of the Lottery tag tickets with “Play Responsibly” labels. Additionally, it would also untie sports gambling from the department and disallow bettors from playing the lottery from electronic devices.

‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ proposal runs out of time in Florida Senate amid controversy” via Emily Mahoney of the Miami Herald — A wide-ranging bill that would create a new chapter of Florida law entitled the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” failed to get a vote in the Senate Rules committee Monday, with the committee adjourning in the middle of the final debate over the bill because the senators ran out of time. Unlike House committees, Senate committees rarely vote to extend their meetings and are cut off at the minute they’re scheduled to end. The meeting ended in the middle of a speech by Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, about why he was against the bill. This means the bill may be dead in the Senate, as the Rules committee did not have any more meetings scheduled as of Monday evening.

— MORE LEGISLATION —

Higher ed package moves in Senate — The Senate Appropriations Committee OK’d the chamber’s higher education package, which is now poised for a floor vote. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the bill was amended to bring it closer to the House’s plan, though the chambers differ on some provisions. For instance, the House plan would give the state’s three preeminent universities (UF, FSU and USF) an equal share of funding for a research pedestal. The Senate plan would not, instead leaving the Legislature to set the funding split.

House tees up presidential search exemption” via the News Service of Florida — During floor discussion, Rep. Chris Latvala said the bill (HB 7081) would allow the state to attract a more talented pool of candidates to head Florida’s higher-education institutions. But House Democrats hammered Latvala, arguing there is no evidence that shows the state has been unable to draw applications from talented candidates. “Isn’t this to some degree a solution in search of a problem?” Rep. Joe Geller asked. But Latvala defended the proposal, saying it would protect candidates from retribution by their current employers. Opponents of the bill have said making the application process less transparent would result in well-connected insiders landing the president jobs.

Chris Latvala believes a public records exemption would get a better class of university president candidates.

THC cap for kids resurfaces in House” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A THC cap on medical marijuana for minors was a non-starter in the Senate Monday, but it’s back in the House. Rep. Ray Rodrigues filed an amendment to HB 713 that would resuscitate a 10% cap for patients under 21. HB 713, which addresses the Children’s Medical Services Program and Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program, is up Thursday on the House Special Order calendar. Some will sense déjà vu, after Senate Rules likewise pondered one of the most controversial issues of 2020, a THC cap on cannabis, as an amendment on a previously unrelated bill. The amendment, filed by Sen. Gayle Harrell, was ultimately withdrawn.

Bill provokes protests and intense questioning over labor ‘union-busting’” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — For nearly two hours Tuesday, state Rep. Jamie Grant stood at the front of the Florida House chamber and defended his plan to require teachers, state workers and police officers to renew their membership in a labor union every year. Thirteen Democrats lined up to question the Tampa-area Republican about provisions of his bill (HB 1). And no matter how they asked, Grant steadfastly maintained his measure was not a union-busting bill, but an employee pay-protection plan. More than 100 union members held “Union busting is disgusting” signs and, like cheerleaders before a football game, high-fived Democratic lawmakers as they walked into the House chamber for Tuesday’s session. All the to-do, however, may wind up being more political theater than policymaking.

Penalty for missed jury duty should be limited, Florida Senate says” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A Palm Beach County judge caused a national furor last year by locking up a juror for 10 days when he missed jury duty. The Florida Senate responded on Tuesday by passing a bill limiting jail time for the offense to three days. The issue made headlines last year after Judge John Kastrenakes sentenced Deandre Somerville to serve 10 days in jail, complete one year of probation, perform 150 hours of community service, write an apology letter and pay $223 in court costs. Somerville, who had no criminal history, said he overslept, and that’s why he didn’t report for jury duty. The Senate voted unanimously to limit sanctions to three days.

Senate set to ‘streamline’ Space Florida financing” via the News Service of Florida — With little discussion, the Senate Appropriations Committee backed a proposal (SB 1070) that would allow the public-private agency to issue revenue bonds or any other type of debt, including bank loans, without the currently required three-fourths approval of the governor and Cabinet. The proposal also would repeal a requirement that Space Florida advise House and Senate presiding officers and appropriations chairs before presenting a bond proposal to the governor and Cabinet. Bill sponsor Tom Wright said the proposal is intended to “streamline” the bonding process. “As you all know, the Legislature has previously set forth financing responsibilities for Space Florida, a special district, in order to do what they need to do to improve our space industry,” Wright said.

Proposed referendum on electing Duval superintendent hitting dead-end” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — A push for a Duval County referendum on making the school superintendent an elected office is fizzling out in the state Legislature where the bill remains stuck in committee as the days count down to the end of the Session. The proposal for a November referendum had backing from the Duval County Legislative Delegation, but it faced unanimous opposition from the Duval County School Board. The Legislature, whose Session will finish March 13, has a Tuesday cutoff date on any more regular committee meetings.

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

 The Senate will hold a floor session, 10 a.m., Senate Chamber.

The House will hold a floor session, 10:30 a.m., House Chamber.

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group will meet to schedule bills for a hearing on the Senate floor, 15 minutes after the floor session adjourns, Room 401, Senate Office Building.

— LILLY PULITZER DAY —

It’s Lilly Pulitzer Day, when participants in The Process chuck their conservative wear for the unmistakable bold, colorful prints that are the hallmark of the born-in-Florida business.

The background of the brand is pure Florida: Socialite Lilly Pulitzer opens up a stand in Palm Beach, selling juice from oranges grown in the family’s groves. The task is splashy, and she sews up some sleeveless cotton shift dresses in tropical colors and prints to camouflage the stains. Buyers — her classmate Jackie Kennedy was one — like the dresses, and they become more popular than the juice. Thus, Pulitzer’s eponymous brand was born and became a uniform for preppies from the 1960s through the early ’80s.

Florida’s next specialty license plate designer?

Erin Ballas of Public Affairs Consultants lobbying group said Lilly day has an unmistakable connection to the Sunshine State. “This day celebrates a person who was a Floridian and created a business based on everything Florida stands for,” she said.

When she was just an intern at her firm, Ballas said owner Keyna Corey always wore a red outfit on Fridays and during the final week of Session “so all the members of her team could find her.”

One of the bills Ballas is tracking this Session would create a new Florida vanity plate to support the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. If approved, plans are afoot to have the Lilly Pulitzer team create the design.

Lilly lovers should be on the lookout for Pink Narcissus Store Manager Laura Wittenberg. She and another associate from Tallahassee’s locally owned Lilly Pulitzer store will be on hand between about 10 a.m. and through the noon hour snapping photos and handing out $25 gift cards to those bedecked in their bright Lilly finery.

— #SUITSFORSESSION SUCCESS —

The fifth annual Suits for Session service project resulted in the collection of 4,796 items of professional attire, according to Volunteer Florida and Uber.

The donated clothing will be distributed to Dress for Success Tampa Bay, Sulzbacher, CareerSource Chipola and CareerSource Gulf Coast — organizations supporting Florida job seekers who are striving to enter or reenter the workforce.

Suits for Session was an unqualified success. Again.

The clothing count breaks down as:

— Total women’s items collected: 2,985

— Total women’s accessories (shoes, handbags, etc.) collected: 381

— Total men’s items collected: 1,207

— Total men’s accessories (shoes, ties, etc.) collected: 223

“With every item donated, we are providing confidence and support to job-seekers across our state,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram.

“Uber is proud of our continued partnership with Volunteer Florida in supporting women and men entering the workforce and gaining meaningful employment in their local communities,” said Uber Senior Public Policy Manager Stephanie Smith. “We are sending our best wishes to those about to embark on their career path.”

“America is the land of opportunity and, especially right now in Florida, there are great career prospects in our booming state economy,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “Everyone should be able to look and feel their best as they walk into a job interview.”

— GOVERNORS CLUB LUNCH BUFFET MENU —

Old fashion chicken and rice; mixed garden salad with dressings; tortellini pasta salad; tropical fruit salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and bread; grilled breast of chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and basil cream; lemon and walnut crusted cod with lemon-dill cream; tenderloin tips au Poivre; blend of wild rice pilaf; candied carrots with whiskey smoked sugar; Brussels sprouts with bacon; zebra icebox cakes for dessert.

— NEWS BY THE NUMBERS —

— SUPER TUESDAY —

Joe Biden grabs win in Virginia via Associated Press — Biden notched his first major … winning battleground Virginia to start the most pivotal night of the Democratic presidential primary … Virginia and its 99 delegates to the Democratic National Convention … was an early lift for Biden after Bernie Sanders and Bloomberg heavily contested it.

Former Vice President Joe Biden talks with customers as people watch through the windows at the Buttercup Diner during a campaign stop in Oakland. Image via AP.

Biden picks up North Carolina, AlabamaBiden took Alabama and the battleground state of North Carolina. That opened Super Tuesday for Biden with a trio of key Southern state victories. Biden trumpeted his strong support among African American Democrats and is looking to rack up wins across the South. In addition to Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina — a key swing state that backed President Barack Obama in 2008 and that his party is hoping to take back from Trump in November — he may get a chance in Arkansas and Tennessee.

Biden projected to win Minnesota Democratic primary” via Ursela Perano of Axios — Minnesota had been Sen. Amy Klobuchar‘s to lose, as both her home state and an example of her Midwestern appeal. But Klobuchar dropped out Monday and endorsed Biden, leaving thousands of voters who had not already cast their ballots in mail-ins or early voting to switch their support.

Biden scores in series of six states” via Associated Press — Biden took Oklahoma, Tennessee and the battleground state of … Minnesota, a strong start … A once-jumbled race arrived at the most pivotal night of the primary as an increasingly well-defined battle between leftist Democrats who back the likes of Sanders … and centrists preferring Biden.

Biden upsets Elizabeth Warren in her home statevia Associated Press — Biden swept past Massachusetts Sen. Warren and Sanders in Warren’s home state… handing Warren a stinging defeat as the momentum from Biden’s win in South Carolina stretched into New England… Warren didn’t stay long in the state. She headed off to participate in a campaign rally in Detroit.

Biden wins eight states, Sanders wins four ” via Associated PressBiden scored a series of Super Tuesday victories. AP VoteCast showed Biden continuing to demonstrate strength with black voters.

Bernie Sanders wins home state Vermont” via Associated Press — Vermont favorite son and Senator … cruised to victory in his home state’s presidential primary. The Associated Press declared Sanders the winner … shortly after the polls closed statewide at 7 p.m. Sanders and his wife, Jane, returned home to Vermont to vote in Super Tuesday’s presidential primary, with the U.S. senator telling reporters that he looked forward to doing well.

Sanders wins Oklahoma” via Associated Press — Sanders has won Colorado’s Democratic presidential primary. The state has 67 delegates at stake … Colorado held presidential primaries to 2000, then dropped them to save money … In 2016, voters approved reinstating primaries after complaining about the caucus system.

Bernie Sanders, accompanied by his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders, speaks during a primary night election rally in Essex Junction, Vermont. Image via AP.

Sanders wins California” via Associated PressSanders won California’s Democratic presidential primary. The state has 415 delegates at stake, the biggest haul on the electoral map. Sanders’ campaign has long seen the nation’s most populous state as a critical early contest … Sanders has also won Utah.

Mike Bloomberg wins in American Samoa” via Associated Press — Bloomberg and Rep. Gabbard of Hawaii won their first delegates thanks to American Samoa. The island has six Democratic delegates and their caucus awarded five to Bloomberg and one to Gabbard, who hails from Hawaii. Bloomberg got nearly half the votes.

Bloomberg looks to Florida to keep hopes alive after Super Tuesday struggles” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — “As results come in, here’s what is clear: No matter how many delegates we win tonight, we’ve done something no one else thought was possible,” Bloomberg said from a stage in the Palm Beach County Convention Center. “In just three months, we’ve gone from 1% in the polls to being a contender for the Democratic nomination for President.” But early results suggested otherwise. Within minutes of polls closing on the East Coast, early results showed Biden romping in Virginia, a state with 99 delegates, and taking North Carolina, with 110 delegates. Vermont Sen. Sanders quickly won his home state. As the night wore on, the two candidates competed for first and second place across states reporting results, with California and Utah reporting late.

Bloomberg to reassess after disappointing results” via Kathleen Ronayne of The Associated Press — A person close to the Bloomberg campaign confirmed the deliberations. Bloomberg spent more than half a billion dollars on his presidential campaign. But Tuesday marked the first elections where he was on ballots. Biden won key states like Virginia and North Carolina where Bloomberg had spent millions of dollars and campaigned heavily

— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY — 

Voters are voting — According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Tuesday afternoon, Supervisors of Elections have 1,017,401 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 519,539 have returned, 485,144 are outstanding, and 6,077 are unsent. There have been 6,641 early in-person votes cast. As for Democrats, supervisors have a total of 1,123,717 vote-by-mail ballots; 335,245 have returned, 772,173 are outstanding, and 9,157 are unsent. There have been 7142 early in-person votes cast. Those classified as “other,” 245,182 vote-by-mail ballots, 11,945 have returned, 35,919 are outstanding and 197,304 are unsent. There have been 14 early in-person votes cast.

Texas or Tejas? Bloomberg deploys his famous Spanish in Miami.” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — Bloomberg ordered Cuban coffee in Little Havana but without the beverage’s signature sugar kick. “Sin azúcar para mí,” he said. His use of Spanish did not end there. A few minutes later, when a reporter asked him about the Texas primary, Bloomberg interrupted her. “Tejas, we’d say here.” “You’re in a Cuban neighborhood. So, you’ve got to know the audience.” When asked if a third-place finish in Tuesday’s contests would be acceptable, Bloomberg asserted, “There are only three candidates. You can’t do worse than that.” Then a reporter reminded him that Warren remained in the race, not just Sanders and Biden. “I didn’t realize she’s still in,” Bloomberg said. “Is she?”

Mike Bloomberg having a café con leche-flavored ice cream at Azúcar on Calle Ocho in Florida. Image via Bianca Padró Ocasio/Twitter.

Orlando Mayor Dyer endorses Bloomberg during campaign stop in town” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Bloomberg picked up an endorsement from Orlando Mayor Dyer on Tuesday as part of a campaign swing through Florida, a state that could end up being the do-or-die bellwether for his presidential chances. “I’ve known Mike for a long time now, and he’s been so supportive of our city and everything that mayors do … from public safety and fighting gun violence to climate change,” Dyer told Bloomberg supporters at the campaign’s field office in downtown Orlando. Bloomberg, a former New York Mayor, said he didn’t need to win the March 17 Florida primary. Bloomberg told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview, “the real answer is not to win states, it’s to win delegates.”

Jill Biden heads to Florida — On the heels of her husband’s solid Super Tuesday performance, former Second Lady Jill heads to the Sunshine State on Saturday for the United Teachers of Dade Family Picnic, at Tropical Park in Miami, and then the Leadership Dinner for the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus Winter Conference, at Marriott Orlando Airport Lakeside in Orlando. She will remain in the state Sunday. The trip comes less than two weeks out from Florida’s March 17 Presidential Preference Primary.

Hillsborough election chief: Coronavirus won’t affect primary” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer says he’s not worried about problems connected with coronavirus in conducting the March 17 presidential primary and doesn’t believe it will depress turnout. “We’re simply instructing our people to follow the recommendations of the CDC and the public health people” on techniques for preventing the spread of contagion, Latimer said — hand-washing, covering coughs or sneezes, and, “If you’re sick, stay home.” Anyone worried about heading to the polls on Election Day can still order a mail-in ballot through Saturday by phone or online, he said.

Turnout for first day of early voting in Orange County about the same as in 2016” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — With 3,216 votes cast in Orange County, that is just slightly more than the 3,125 voters who went to the polls on the first day of early voting in the 2016 presidential primaries, when both the Republican and Democratic races still were hot contests, and favorite son Republican Sen. Marco Rubio still was competing in Florida. “I’m a little surprised with the turnout so far,” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. “But again, as you’re seeing the latest news, another Democrat is dropping out. Maybe the [Democratic] voters are just waiting to see if there’s anybody left before they vote.”

— MORE 2020 —

Sanders campaign was caught off guard by quick massing of opposition” via Sydney Ember of The New York Times — The swiftness of the coalescence around Biden caught the Sanders team off guard. Even after Biden handily won in South Carolina on Saturday, beating Sanders by nearly 30 percentage points, aides had spent Sunday reluctant to declare the primary a two-person race between Sanders and Biden. “We always anticipated that there would be consolidation of an establishment side,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in an interview. “It’s one thing to know it’s going to happen, and it’s another thing to watch it happen so very quickly. Because of the swiftness with which it moved, it’s becoming clear that in order for us to win this nomination, that road clearly flows through Joe Biden.”

Bernie Sanders receives an honor blanket from Cornel Pewewardy at the annual Comanche Nation Fair Powwow, in Lawton, Oklahoma. Image via AP.

Bloomberg denies he’s siphoning votes from Biden” via Caitlin Oprysko and Marc Caputo of POLITICO — “I’m not helping Bernie combined. I’m trying to help myself,” he told POLITICO. Criticism of Bloomberg has spiked in recent days after the race’s two other prominent moderates — Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg — ended their bids over the last 48 hours and endorsed Biden. Bloomberg said he planned to stay in the race despite signs of a resurgence from the former Vice President. “I got in because I thought that I could beat Trump, and I thought I could do the job of being president,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”

— CORONAVIRUS —

Federal Reserve cuts rates by half percentage point to combat virus fear” via Nick Timiraos of The Wall Street Journal — The action lowered the federal funds rate to a range between 1% and 1.25%. It was the first rate cut in between scheduled policy meetings since the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed has typically reserved such actions for times when the economic outlook had quickly darkened, as it did in early 2001 and early 2008 when the U.S. economy was heading into a recession. The action was approved unanimously after the rate-setting committee met by videoconference. In a statement, officials held out the prospect of additional cuts by pledging to “act as appropriate” to support the economy. “The virus and measures being taken to contain it will weigh on economic activity here and abroad for some time,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said.

Donald Trump coronavirus effort undermined by mixed messages and falsehoods” via Philip Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Ashley Parker of The Washington Post — One week after Trump returned home from India to confront an unfolding health crisis and tasked Pence with managing the government-wide response, the effort has been undermined by mixed messages, contradictions and falsehoods — many of them emanating from the President himself, including when he repeatedly spread false information about just how soon a coronavirus vaccine would be available. The White House is handling the rapidly expanding coronavirus as a public relations problem as much as a public health crisis. Officials are insisting on message discipline among government scientists and political aides alike, part of what they say is a responsible effort to try to calm jittery Americans and provide uniform and transparent information.

Donald Trump’s statements are not helping things in the coronavirus crisis.

’You don’t want to go to war with a President’” via Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO — Anthony Fauci might be the one person everyone in Washington trusts right now. But at 79, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is in the thick of one of the biggest battles: The race to contain coronavirus when the nation is deeply polarized and misinformation can spread with one tweet — sometimes, from the president himself. “You should never destroy your own credibility. And you don’t want to go to war with a president,” Fauci told POLITICO. “But, you got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.” And the truth about coronavirus? “I don’t think that we are going to get out of this completely unscathed,” he said.

U.S. weighs paying hospitals for treating uninsured coronavirus patients” via Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal — In natural disasters such as hurricanes, hospitals and medical facilities can be reimbursed under a federal program that pays them about 110% of Medicare rates for treating patients such as those evacuated from hard-hit areas. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been in discussions about using that program to pay providers who treat uninsured patients with coronavirus. In 2018, 8.5% of people, or 27.5 million, didn’t have insurance at any point during the year. It was an increase from 2017, when 7.9% of the population, or 25.6 million, were uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The official coronavirus numbers are wrong, and everyone knows it” via Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic — The data are untrustworthy because the processes we used to get them were flawed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s testing procedures missed the bulk of the cases. Then cases began popping up with no known international connection. What public-health experts call “community spread” had arrived in the United States. In total, fewer than 500 people have been tested across the country. As a result, the current “official” case count inside the United States stood at 43 as of this morning (excluding cruise-ship cases). This number is wrong, yet it’s still printed continuously and quoted. In other contexts, we’d call this what it is: a subtle form of misinformation.

Estimates fall short of FDA’s pledge for 1 million coronavirus tests” via Katie Thomas and Knvul Sheikh of The New York Times — The figure includes orders for commercial tests that companies say are still weeks away from approval. Public health laboratories say their capacities don’t come close to that. At a press briefing, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the FDA’s commissioner, said actions taken by the agency to allow private labs and companies to begin making their own tests would greatly expand the capacity to test. “With this new policy, we have heard from multiple companies and multiple academic centers, and we expect to have a substantial increase in the number of tests this week, next week, and throughout the month,” Hahn said.

CDC weighs in on telehealth and coronavirus As the world prepares for a possible coronavirus pandemic, it could be a perfect time for telehealth in Florida. “This week, officials from both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization urged hospitals and clinics to expand their use of telehealth services — also known as remote or virtual care — to help triage the sick and keep the worried well out of already-crowded medical facilities,” reports Stat News. What the CDC says: “Shifting practices to triaging and assessing ill patients (including those affected by COVID-19 and patients with other conditions) remotely using … video conference, or other telehealth and telemedicine methods can reduce exposure of ill persons with staff and minimize surge on facilities.”

Our lack of paid sick leave will make the coronavirus worse” via Christopher Ingram of The Washington Post — As a nation, we are sicker than we need to be. That reality could make a widespread coronavirus outbreak here worse than it would be in a comparable country that takes sick leave seriously. But to find out just how much worse, a paper by Stefan Pichler and Nicolas Robert Ziebarth examined what happened in cities that implemented mandatory paid sick leave in the 2000s. San Francisco was the first to do this, in 2007, followed by Washington, Seattle and New York. Connecticut, California, and other states also adopted policies. At the population level, cities with paid sick leave policies are considerably healthier than those without them.

To encourage production, the U.S. government is promising to buy all excess coronavirus masks” via Justin Rohrlich of Quartz — Last week, a pre-solicitation issued to suppliers by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) laid out its intention to procure up to 500 million N95 respirators and face masks over the next 18 months for its Strategic National Stockpile. HSS says the masks and respirators will be used to protect health care workers and first responders from airborne pathogens, which is “essential to maintaining resilience of the US health care system.” But manufacturers have long warned that U.S. face mask production wasn’t robust enough to keep up with demand in the event of a pandemic. Companies are already struggling to meet demand, which is reportedly outpacing supply.

Stop touching my face? Why the easiest way to prevent coronavirus is so hard.” via Reis Thebault of The Washington Post — By now, most readers have seen the entreaties from agencies like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands; don’t touch your face. It’s some of their simplest advice, yet it’s some of the most difficult to follow. “It’s very hard to change, because you don’t even know you’re doing it,” said William Sawyer, a family doctor in Sharonville, Ohio, and founder of Henry the Hand, a nonprofit organization. “It’s habit, and habits are hard to change.” Especially those as pervasive as face touching. A 2015 study found that we touch our face an average of two dozen times an hour, and 44 percent of that touching involves contact with eyes, nose or mouth.

Coronavirus outbreak prompts mom’s group to push for national paid sick days” via Mark Bergin of Florida Politics — A national organization of more than 1 million mothers and their families is pushing for the federal government to allot national paid sick days as coronavirus continues to spread. MomsRising Senior Vice President Ruth Martin said the organization is also asking for signatures to petition against a single company from monopolizing a possible coronavirus vaccine. There is not a vaccine to treat the virus as of Tuesday. “We need to use this moment in time as an opportunity to talk about where the gaps are in our systems, as a country and our infrastructure, in order to properly respond to a situation like the coronavirus,” Martin said in a phone call with Florida Politics.

How we can help kids increase their sense of control as the coronavirus approaches” via Ned Johnson of The Washington Post — 1. Make a plan … and a Plan B. Visualizing how to navigate a situation activates neural pathways in ways similar to actually doing the thing. 2. Make a list. Putting plans, thoughts and concerns on paper can increase a sense of control. 3. Assign kids something to do. Parents want to make kids feel safe. 4. Teach kids where to get help. 5. Teach kids how to help. When kids can see washing hands as something that helps others and not just themselves, it increases their sense of control. 6. Spread calm. 7. Make an effort to recognize things you cannot control. 8. Take the long view. 9. Talkback against your own fear in front of your kids.

— MORE CORONAVIRUS — 

Florida nursing homes exploring virtual visitation to limit COVID-19 spread” via Daylina Miller of WUSF — The respiratory illness is especially dangerous for the elderly and those with health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. Four nursing home deaths in Washington state have been linked to the illness. Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said. At the same time, family members and nonmedical staff are not being kept out of facilities, officials are exploring opportunities for virtual visitation. “But if we can limit the number of people coming in and out of the building, that’s best for everyone.” Florida Department of Health Deputy Secretary Shamarial Roberson said the state has protective gear, including masks and N95 respirators, which are designed to fit people’s faces precisely.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Vern Buchanan discuss coronavirus response” via David Conway of YourObserver — Sarasota Memorial Hospital staff members held a news conference today alongside U.S. Rep. Buchanan to discuss the local response to COVID-19 in the wake of a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus disease in a patient at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. Both SMH officials and Buchanan said they wanted to see increased testing for COVID-19 on a local level. There are currently no presumptive positive cases of the disease at SMH, but the hospital did say an unknown number of tests from patients are outstanding and awaiting results from a lab in Tampa. Following the news conference, SMH said about a dozen patients are hospitalized with respiratory illness and tested negative in the past 24 hours for flu and other seasonal viruses.

Vern Buchanan calls for a faster response to coronavirus. Image via Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media.

Jane Castor delivers coronavirus info to Latin community” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Tampa Mayor Castor gave a bilingual interview with Noticias Univision Tampa Bay and Orlando Senior Reporter Filippo Ferretti to update the Hispanic community on coronavirus and provide information on how to stay safe as the virus spreads. The interview was shared nationally and in Puerto Rico. Reaching the Hispanic community amid a health crisis is crucial as those communities are less likely to seek help either due to language barriers or fear of deportation if individuals are undocumented. “When it comes to matters of public health, it’s paramount that we reach all members of our community — and that includes our Spanish-speaking residents,” Castor told Florida Politics.

Coronavirus prompts Orlando conference to go ‘handshake free,’ suggests fist bumps, elbow taps” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — Officials with the RadTech conference, a meeting of ultraviolet and electron beam professionals, posted a notice on its website. The conference is scheduled for March 8-11. “RadTech is closely monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak and continues to provide regular updates,” the posting read, going on to say that the conference would go on as scheduled. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has publicly deemed the health risk of coronavirus for the general American public to be low at this time.”

Disney World adds more hand sanitizers at parks, hotels amid coronavirus concerns” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — With the growing uncertainty of the coronavirus, Disney World is adding more hand sanitizers at its theme parks and resorts, the company said Tuesday. Disney is also reminding employees — who make up Central Florida’s largest workforce — to take preventive steps, such as washing their hands and keep their work areas sanitized. The company is monitoring the situation at the state and federal level similar to what Universal and SeaWorld have said they are doing. Disney was unable to say how many hand sanitizers had been put out.

Coronavirus prompts 1st Orange County Convention Center cancellation” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — Ellucian Live, a higher education technology conference, announced the cancellation on its website. Last year, 8,000 people from 1,300 higher education institutions attended the event. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced earlier that a third person in Florida was diagnosed “presumptive positive” for the virus. “The health and well-being of all Ellucian employees, customers and partners throughout the world is of utmost importance to me, to our board of directors and all of us at Ellucian,” a statement on the trade show’s website attributed to President and CEO Laura Ipsen read.

Business conferences set for Miami cancel amid coronavirus spread” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Companies began canceling business meetings and conferences after state health officials confirmed two coronavirus cases in Florida. The move follows a wave of cancellations worldwide, including Art Basel’s Hong Kong fair and ITB, a mammoth travel industry meeting set this month for Berlin. In the U.S., Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, California in May, is among the casualties. In Miami Beach, about 2,300 people who had planned to attend a customer service software conference will be staying home after the San Francisco company, Zendesk, announced the meeting was canceled. Smaller groups are canceling or postponing their meetings at Miami hotels for May or June, say hoteliers, hoping the coronavirus outbreak will have subsided.

Florida ports brace for possible coronavirus disruption of business” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Business could become rather unusual at Florida’s 15 international seaports if the coronavirus continues its spread from its epicenter in China. Florida ports handle nearly $10 billion worth of Chinese imports annually, most of it passing through ports in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Tampa. Florida port officials are monitoring the outbreak and preparing health and security measures for if they are needed. “I’m not sure I would use the word ‘standby,’ but there are things being put in place,” said Doug Wheeler, President and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “If this continues to progress as it has, I think you will start to see more and more of those plans come online.”

FSU exploring distance learning options in event of coronavirus-related shutdown of campus” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State University has started conversations to activate its distance-learning options in case the campus is forced to closed because of coronavirus. There have been no reports of anyone confirmed with COVID-19 in Leon County. FSU Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie met with key university teams Monday to discuss provisions the university already has in place for such an event. “FSU has great emergency plans for all kinds of emergencies, from hurricanes to power outages,” McRorie said in an email. “Luckily, we have a very good emergency plan for how to continue to teach our students via distance learning in the event that we must.”

MLB has no plans yet to cancel or postpone games over coronavirus” via Jeff Passan of ESPN — The memo outlined suggested preparations for teams. Among the recommendations, according to the memo: Players avoid taking balls and pens directly from fans to sign autographs — a suggestion that will be fleshed out in training materials the league intends to send to teams — and opt against handshakes. Teams open lines of communication with the local public health authority. Front offices consult a local infectious-disease specialist who can serve as a conduit to health officials. Medical personnel ensures all players have received the 2019-20 flu vaccine and are up-to-date on other vaccinations. The most common question posed to MLB regards the access to clubhouse facilities by media and scouts who have traveled to countries in which the virus has spread.

— ONE FUN CORONA STORY — 

Listen to Vietnam’s insanely catchy coronavirus PSA” via Rania Anifos of Billboard — Vietnam, in particular, seems to have nailed the awareness strategy by releasing a wildly catchy PSA promoting preventive measures such as hand-washing and sanitation, as highlighted on the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. “Ghen Co Vy,” based on the melody of the V-pop hit “Ghen,” was written by Khac Hung, in collaboration with the National Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health. It’s performed by the tune’s original singers ERIK and MIN. The goal is to communicate how to protect yourself from the virus and boost public morale. “Vietnam made a song about washing your hands to prevent coronavirus infection, and it absolutely slaps,” Oliver said. “That’s a genuine club banger right there.”

To watch the segment, click on the image below:

— D.C. MATTERS —

Trump’s baffling coronavirus vaccine event” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — At the event, Trump peppered the drug companies with questions that were some variant of “How fast can you get it done?” But despite this having been a focal point in recent weeks, he still didn’t seem to process the fact that producing a vaccine means conducting months of trials before it can be deployed. At one point, he asked whether the flu vaccine could combat coronavirus. What’s remarkable is that Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained all of this — in front of Trump and publicly. Eventually, Trump turned to the efficacy of the potential vaccines, and again seemed unfamiliar with how much is known at this point.

Donald Trump demonstrated a profound lack of comprehension of how vaccines work. Image via The Washington Post.

This really is huge —Trump says he spoke to a Taliban leader, had ‘good talk’” via The Associated Press — Trump confirmed Tuesday that he spoke on the phone to a Taliban leader, making him the first U.S. president believed to ever speak directly with the militant group that harbored al-Qaida before the 9/11 attacks and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. troops in nearly 19 years of fighting in Afghanistan. “We had a very good conversation with the leader of the Taliban today, and they’re looking to get this ended, and we’re looking to get it ended. I think we all have a very common interest,” Trump said. “We had, actually, a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban.” Tuesday’s call, which the Taliban said lasted 35 minutes, came days after the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement calling for the withdrawal of American troops.

Attorney General William Barr visits Sun City Center” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — Kellyanne Conway introduced Barr and a laundry list of speakers for the “Keeping Seniors Safe Summit,” including federal prosecutors and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Barr announced the launch of the Department of Justice’s new National Elder Fraud Hotline, which will instantly connect callers 60 years old or older with multilingual caseworkers who can provide support for those worried they have become victims of financial fraud. Barr also announced the new National Nursing Home Initiative focused on increasing criminal investigations into nursing homes providing “grossly substandard care” to residents.

 Feds deport 119 Cubans back to Havana on Miami flight” via Monique Madan of the Miami Herald — The Cuba repatriation flight is at least the third in the past six months. The Trump administration’s efforts to detain and send undocumented Cubans back to the island got a boost in September, when the agency announced it successfully completed what it called one of the “largest” Cuba repatriation missions in recent history. The size and nature of that “historic” flight — which deported 120 Cubans out of Louisiana — has now become the norm, some local immigration experts say, with recent repatriation flights regularly taking more than 100 Cubans back to Havana. Over the years, special privileges for Cubans have withered away.

— STATEWIDE — 

State offers food safety tips with eye on coronavirus” via the staff of News4Jax — Florida restaurants are getting a reminder from the state on best practices a day after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state. As of Tuesday, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it has been in communication with the majority of the more than 40,000 grocery stores, convenience stores, markets and food manufacturing facilities in the state to share food safety practices that protect public health. “With coronavirus spreading throughout the country, we should take every action possible to limit its transmission,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “As residents of the nation’s third-largest state, Floridians should adhere to warnings and guidelines from federal, state, and local officials and public health personnel.”

“We should take every action possible to limit its transmission,” says Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Image via News4Jax.

Ashley Moody recovers $2M+ for Florida seniors” via Mark Bergin of Florida Politics — The Seniors vs. Crime Project aimed to prevent crime and fraud, assist consumers in resolving civil disputes and have senior volunteers assist the attorney general’s office. The recoveries came through dispute resolution and fraud avoidance mechanism that saved Florida seniors collectively millions. Moody’s announcement came at the U.S. Department of Justice Summit on Fighting for Elder Justice in Sun City, Florida. “Protecting Florida’s seniors is a major focus of my office, and I am grateful for U.S. Attorney General Barr’s commitment to this important mission,” Moody said. “Since taking office, we have recovered more than $2 million for older Floridians through the efforts of our Senior Protection Team and Seniors vs. Crime.”

Court refuses to block 17 felons from voting” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Siding with plaintiffs, a federal appeals court has refused to put on hold a decision that bans the state from denying the right to vote to felons who are unable to pay court-ordered fees and fines. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows the 17 plaintiffs in the case — felons who claim they are unable to pay “legal financial obligations” required by state law — to cast ballots in the March presidential primary elections. DeSantis and his administration had asked the Atlanta-based court to put the Feb. 19 panel decision on hold, as the state seeks what is known as an “en banc,” or full court, review.

Florida Bar says ticket app practiced law without a license” via Jennifer Kay of Bloomberg Law — Drivers just had to upload photos of their tickets, pay a flat fee, and get on with their lives as quickly as the traffic around Miami would allow. The app, TIKD, would find an attorney to take the case to court, and the traffic fines could be reduced or dismissed. But traffic ticket attorneys complained to The Florida Bar that TIKD and its founder, Christopher Riley, were practicing law without a license. And now the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether TIKD poses a legal risk to its customers or merely represents the evolution of legal technology. “TIKD has temporarily paused its traffic ticket service, pending the outcome of the arguments before the Supreme Court,” Riley said in an email.

— MOTHER NATURE —

FPL’s solar plan wins OK despite opposition from PSC staff analysis, consumer advocate” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Pointing to issues such as expanding renewable energy, state regulators approved a $1.8 billion plan by Florida Power & Light to add 20 solar-power plants by the middle of next year. The Florida Public Service Commission’s decision came after its staff recommended rejecting the utility’s “SolarTogether” program because of the way it is structured. The plan also drew opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues. But commissioners said the program, which involves adding a total of 1,490 megawatts of solar capacity, will expand renewable energy and reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

FPL’s SolarTogether gets the nod from the PSC.

Water district experts: ‘No’ on Nestlé request” via Emily Mavrakis of the Ocala StarBanner — The water management board that may next week decide whether to allow Seven Springs Water Co. to renew its water-use permit and allow Nestlé to continue to pump up to 1.152 millions of gallons of water from the springs a day is being told by its own experts to vote no. Katelyn Potter, the Suwannee River Water Management District’s spokeswoman, said the agency’s staff considers Seven Springs’ application incomplete. The application does not provide specific information about engineering plans to ensure it will be able to accommodate for all the water it plans to pump, she said.

Florida DEP fines company for illegally cutting 500 mangroves in Wilbur-by-the-Sea” via Abigail Brashear of the Pensacola Beach News-Journal — The mangrove trees were cut in early January, causing an outcry from residents and environmental advocates. Three parties were determined responsible: the Wilbur Improvement Association, which is the homeowner’s association; SB Tree Service; and Peter Zarcone, the individual who hired the tree trimming company. The state-protected trees are known to foster important habitats for fish and birds. According to the consent order, $5,000 of the fine against SB Tree Service is for violating Florida Statute 403.121, which states the state can recover damages for “for any injury to the air, waters, or property, including animal, plant, and aquatic life, of the state caused by any violation.” The other $1,000 was for the cost of the investigation.

— THE TRAIL —

Florida Democrats tout voter registration success — The latest book closing report produced by the Florida Division of Elections shows registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans by 280,000 in Florida, an increase of 17,000 since October 2018. The Florida Democratic Party heralded the increase in a Tuesday news release, adding that recent efforts have helped them grow their ranks — in February, FDP said it averaged 482 registrations per day, up from 28 a day at the start of registration efforts in July. FDP said it is on pace to collect an additional 150,000 registrations before the start of the general election in August.

Bill Nelson endorses Allison Tant for HD 9 — Former U.S. Sen. Nelson is backing Tant in her campaign to succeed Rep. Loranne Ausley in House District 9. “Allison Tant has been a true public servant in Tallahassee by leading community efforts that have helped many. From her work in the disability community to lifting up opportunities for public education and hurricane relief efforts in the Big Bend area, Allison Tant is always ready to jump into action to help a neighbor. She always leads with her heart and I know she will be an excellent state representative for the good people of Leon County,” he said. Tant, a former chair of the Florida Democratic Party is the front-runner for the seat, which is open due to Ausley opting to forgo reelection and run for Senate.

Allison Tant nabs a major endorsement — Bill Nelson.

 Daniel Horton-Diaz joins Democratic primary in SD 39” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Horton-Diaz, a former District Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, is throwing his hat into the ring for the hotly-contested seat in Senate District 39. That race will be one of the most-watched races this cycle, as GOP Sen. Anitere Flores is term-limited out of office. Democrats are now hoping to flip the seat blue. Horton-Diaz will challenge Rep. Javier Fernández for the Democratic nomination. Horton-Diaz previously filed for the SD 39 seat back in 2016, but eventually swapped seats to run for the Florida House, where he was defeated.

Gepsie Metellus launches bid for District 3 seat on Miami-Dade County Commission” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Metellus, the co-founder of the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center, is announcing a run for the District 3 seat. Audrey Edmonson, who currently represents District 3, is being forced out of that seat due to newly installed term limits. Metellus joins a jam-packed field. She’ll become the seventh candidate who has filed for the seat. “For the past 30 years, I have worked to address the challenges families face every day in our communities,” Metellus said. In addition to co-founding that organization, Metellus also mounted an unsuccessful bid in 2006 for the District 2 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board.

— FIDO’S VOTE —

Just like humans, any animal that lives in a group must make decisions as a group — they rely on one another for survival, protection or finding food. So, animals must come to some consensus as what to do in a group.

While they may not hold caucuses or primaries, most species, from primates to insects, have developed some sort of democratic process, according to The New York Times.

— Meerkats call to one another as they travel, in what researchers call a “move call.” Scientists also found that about three group members — a critical mass — had to make the sound before the group moved along. They call this phenomenon” quorum response.”

Meerkats and other animals are more democratic than you would think.

— Honeybee colonies send out a few hundred scouts to search for a new home. When a promising location is found, the scouts return and do a “waggling, repetitive dance” that informs the rest of the colony what they found.

— African wild dogs spend a fair amount of time socializing in a pack and greet one another with “high-energy rituals called rallies.” Researchers also found that the decision to either stay or hunt is mostly democratic. “To cast a vote for hunting, the dog sneezes.”

— Baboons in a group move across the landscape as a unit, with subtle signs indicating where they would go next. When several baboons are moving in the same direction, the group is more likely to follow along. But if two or more leaders moved in directions less than 90 degrees apart, most likely, the group would take a middle path.

— LOCAL —

And then there were seven: UCF narrows university president search” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Among those out in the first round of deliberations by UCF’s presidential search committee is Ken Lawson, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. In are: Barbara Boyan, of Virginia Commonwealth University; David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences at the University of California San Diego; Amr Elnashai, vice president and vice chancellor at the University of Houston; Vistasp Karbhari, president of the University of Texas at Arlington; Richard Larson, executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center; Cato Laurencin, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering at the University of Connecticut; and Javier Reyes, Vice President for StartUp West Virginia, at West Virginia University.

Political committee created to support Duval schools tax referendum” via Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — The chairman of the Duval County School Board and president of the local teachers union announced Tuesday they’d formed a political committee to help pass a half-cent sales tax for school improvements that could go on the ballot in November. The announcement about the committee, Duval Citizens for Better Schools, comes a week after legislation was introduced to the Jacksonville City Council that could end the School Board’s monthslong battle with City Hall to allow voters to decide whether to pass the tax, which would be used to pay for a $1.9 billion list of building improvements and technology upgrades for the city’s badly aging schools.

— MORE LOCAL —

Transparency denied: Court records in lawsuit question if some in Nassau County government concealed public records” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — In November 2018, Raydient Places + Properties (Raydient) and Rayonier initiated litigation against Nassau County. As a part of the lawsuit, Raydient submitted a public records request to the county seeking all documents related to the dispute, including electronic communications, specifically text messages. According to the filing, the county denied three times that any text messages existed. Then, news broke that then-County Office of Management and Budget Director Justin Stankiewicz had been fired. Stankiewicz claimed, in his grievance papers, that “the county had terminated him in retaliation for his refusal to obey [Nassau County attorney Mike] Mullin’s direction on Nov. 6, 2018, to delete text messages that were responsive to Raydient’s public records request.”

A look inside Babcock Ranch: America’s first solar-powered town” via Lavanya Sunkara of Forbes — Babcock Ranch, a short drive from Fort Myers, sits on 18,000 acres adjacent to fields and across from a horse rescue. It contains housing communities, commercial buildings, restaurants, shops, a day care facility, charter school, pools and playgrounds, all surrounded by green spaces and overlooking the namesake lake. Everything at Babcock is built with a focus on preserving and appreciating the environment. Houses are energy efficient and built with sustainable materials; homes need to achieve a Bronze or higher standard of certification from the Florida Green Building Coalition. Beautiful lake vistas surround them, and 80% of the landscaping consists of low-impact native trees and shrubs. Irrigation is done with water reclaimed from the on-site water and wastewater utility.

— TOP OPINION —

Coronavirus will test our new way of life” via Charlie Warzel of The New York Times — A global pandemic also threatens to test other systems in ways that are harder to quantify. Chief among them: our complex information ecosystem. In the event of widespread illness, we’ll need to rely on accurate, vetted information to keep us safe. While the internet has made distribution easier than ever before, the democratization of information has created platforms and advertising economies built to reward misinformation. When it comes to the coronavirus, the spread of misinformation hoaxes and rumors about the outbreak in China have plagued YouTube and Facebook while adapting to new platforms. Over the past few years, it has become clear that our social media ecosystem is easily hijacked to incentivize behavior from the worst actors, further amplifying existing tensions and disagreements.

— OPINIONS —

Just when we warned Florida not screw up coronavirus, guess what happened?” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Anyone who remembers Greater Miami as ground zero for HIV infection, Zika, dengue — you name it — won’t be shocked if, or when, coronavirus crosses the county line, lands at the airport or cruises into the port. The “when” might be here. However, a Miami woman told by doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital that she “likely” has COVID-19 — coronavirus — could not get the diagnosis confirmed. As first reported by Jim DeFede, state and federal would not conduct the testing needed to verify it. Turns out, state health officials are following ridiculously narrow federal guidelines to test a very small pool of people who have been to China or who are critically ill.

Why we impeached Trump — and what’s next” via Val Demings for the Orlando Sentinel — This trial was about abuse of power, obstruction, breaking the law, and our system of checks and balances. But it was also about character. My father was rich in something no money and no powerful position can buy. He was decent. Honest. A man of integrity and good moral character. So, where do we go from here? Certainly, our congressional work will continue. We are engaged in multiple investigations and oversight actions into the president’s worsening corruption. Attorney General William Barr will be testifying before the Judiciary Committee this month. But the truth is that we need your help. Congressional action is not enough to hold this President and his administration accountable.

R.J. Lehmann: Tax competition is good for Florida, and America” via Florida Politics — One unfortunate trend can be seen in the area of state sales taxes. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned its own precedent that did not permit states to impose sales tax collection on businesses with no physical presence in that state. But collusion to stamp out tax competition is not limited to states. Members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development already begun hammering out the details of a new international tax regime, which the group itself projects will amount to a $100 billion global tax increase. What it would do is bind the United States and all other OECD members in an international cartel dedicated to stamping out competition from countries with low or no corporate taxes.

Florida may dump another $200 million into voucher ‘schools without rules’” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Legislators are poised to dump another $200 million into the black hole of accountability that is Florida’s voucher-school system. It’s a black hole because you have virtually no way of knowing whether your tax dollars are paying for any kind of meaningful education at any given school. While Florida requires public schools to disclose test scores, publicize graduation rates and hire qualified teachers, it requires none of those things from the private schools that get more than $1 billion worth of tax dollars and tax credits each year. In fact, the limited amount of statistically significant research the state released showed that most voucher school students actually fell behind in reading or math over the course of three years.

Florida Republicans remain doggedly clueless about higher education” via Diane Roberts of Florida Phoenix — The Florida Republican attitude to higher education has always ranged from cluelessness to raw hostility. They wish universities would just graduate business majors, support decent football teams, and shut up. Obviously, the way to treat the book-learning industrial complex is to slash its cash whenever possible. When the state cuts funding for higher education, universities become more and more dependent on tuition, even as the Legislature demands universities never raise tuition. What Rep. Randy Fine does not understand is that education is not merely vocational training; education is about challenging authority, cultivating the mind, engaging with ideas you don’t like, figuring out who you are, learning to think. Florida Republicans assume everything is about money. They’re wrong.

Ranchers can help improve water quality” via Jimmy Wohl for the Naples Daily News — My family’s Rafter T Ranch, noted for many environmental stewardship awards, hosts a variety of projects to preserve green spaces, wildlife corridors, enhance water quality and promote aquifer recharge. Raising cattle is one of the most environmentally friendly agricultural endeavors since we keep much of the land in native vegetative communities, grasslands and still retain water. At Rafter T Ranch, we have implemented agricultural best management practices (BMPs) and done other simple things like adjusting our calving season to coincide with weather patterns. I’m a cattle rancher. I’m a conservationist. I’m a Floridian. I want to conserve and preserve our green spaces and agricultural lands for future generations before it is too late.

— EARNINGS — 

Floridian Partners tallied $4.36M in 2019” via Florida Politics — In 2019, Floridian Partners worked a total of 138 lobbying contracts. Those were evenly split across the Legislature and the executive branch, with each showing 69 clients. The legislative lobbying effort netted $2.62 million, while the executive effort earned $1.69 million. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range. The Seminole Tribe of Florida and Consortium Holdings topped Floridian Partners’ legislative lobbying client list with each paying $140,000 in fees last year. The Seminole Tribe represents the interests of that American Indian natives.

Dean Mead earned $2.61 million in 2019” via Florida Politics — The firm had a total of 135 contracts last year. Out of those, 65 clients contracted with the firm for legislative lobbying services, which accounted for $1.34 million in median revenues. Another 69 clients hired Dean Mead for executive lobbying work in 2019. That racked up $1.27 million in lobbying fees for the firm. Lobbying firms report their pay in ranges covering $10,000 increments. Florida Politics uses the middle number of each range. Three organizations paid Dean Mead $60,000 each for legislative services. They include Lykes Bros., Scientific Games International and Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar. Those three topped the list for the biggest revenues from individual clients for Dean Mead.

— MOVEMENTS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Brian Ballard, Bradley Burleson, Ballard Partners: Google

Ron Book, Kelly Mallette: Dealer Services Network

Marsha Bowen, ML Bowen Advisors: Baptist Health South Florida, City of Homestead, Florida Association of Professional Process Servers, Florida Epilepsy Alliance, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, New World School of the Arts, Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida, University Area Community Development Corporation, Zoo Miami Foundation

Jon Costello, Capitol Strategy Group: International Bottled Water Association

Marty Fiorentino, Davis Bean, John Delaney, Joseph Mobley, Mark Pinto, Shannan Schuessler, The Fiorentino Group: Tactical Air Support

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Oh, boy: Disney’s new Mickey Mouse ride is on an upbeat track” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — The name of the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride, debuting Wednesday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, may sound like a disaster, but in the end, it may be one of the most happy-go-lucky attractions inside a Disney theme park. Passengers board vehicles tethered behind a locomotive that enters, Disney’s storyline goes, a Mickey Mouse animated short titled “Perfect Picnic.” The trailing cars disengage from one another and soon are hurled through a series of scenes with Mickey and Minnie in bits of peril. Riders also swing through a desert scene, a sewer and a wild carnival. Later they move through dance lessons given by an animatronic Daisy Duck.

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is a surprisingly happy-go-lucky ride.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to Trent Muntz, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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