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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.11.20

Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

Breaking overnight — The Florida Department of Health late Tuesday announced eight new positive cases of the novel coronavirus, with seven of the cases described as “travel-related” and involving Florida residents.

According to the Department of Health, the eight new cases are a 46-year old male in Pasco County;  a 73-year old male in Collier County; a  68-year old female in Collier County;  a 64-year old female in Collier County; a 67-year old male in Pinellas County; a 64-year old male in Pinellas County; a 68-year-old male in Nassau County. and a 68-year old female Georgia resident who is in Alachua County.

All eight are isolated and will remain in isolation until cleared by public-health officials.

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Were you watching House Speaker Jose Oliva’s Twitter feed last night? Here’s the story.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the favorite in next week’s Florida presidential primary. But the state may once again go to Donald Trump come November.

That’s according to a new survey from the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Business and Economics Polling Initiative (BEPI).

Former Vice President Joe Biden widens his lead in Florida. Image via AP Photo/Paul Sancya.

The poll showed Biden has 61% support in the Democratic primary. That tops U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s earning just 25% support.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii received 3% support in the poll. So far, she has received less than 1% of available delegates overall and is unlikely to challenge for the nomination seriously. Another 10% of respondents were undecided.

Biden and Sanders have both gained support from candidates who dropped out of the race since the previous version of the FAU BEPI survey. Biden has shot up 19 points since January, with Sanders improving by 11 points.

Sanders faces a strong headwind in Florida with state Democrats mostly backing Biden. Candidates will compete on March 17 for Florida’s 219 pledged delegates. Those delegates will go a long way to determine who will take on Trump in the general election.

But the FAU BEPI survey shows Trump on top in Florida, no matter the nominee. Trump defeats Biden 51% to 49%, according to the poll results. However, that’s within the survey’s margin of error of 2.7 percentage points.

Biden gives Democrats a better shot than Sanders, according to the poll. The survey shows Trump beating Sanders 53% to 47%.

Trump’s reelection prospects may be affected by how he handles the spread of the new coronavirus, especially given its impact in Florida.

The survey — conducted from March 5-7 — found 52% of Floridians were confident in the federal government’s response. Another 31% said they were not confident

Those results were heavily skewed by party lines, with 77% of Republicans expressing confidence, while only 38% of Democrats and 39% of independents said the same.

Two Floridians have died after contracting the COVID-19 virus thus far.

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On ‘He Said, She Said’: Session winds downMichelle and I talk about the final week of the 2020 Legislative Session and its many accomplishments: Likely teacher pay increases, state employee pay increases, and (for the first time in years) a fully funded Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

But the big question remains unanswered: Will any of these Session wins matter if Florida finds itself in the middle of a coronavirus-fueled economic free fall?

On the heels of International Women’s Day, we discuss the elusive concept of “likability,” Elizabeth Warren‘s exit from the presidential race, as well as the release of the new Hulu documentary on Hillary Clinton. Michelle and I draw comparisons between Clinton’s 2016 run and Warren’s 2020 bid.

Sen. Anitere Flores also joins the podcast to discuss her final days in Tallahassee; the term-limited lawmaker served six years in the House and a decade in the Senate.

Speaking of coronavirus — Michelle, Ella Joyce and I have a Disney cruise booked for late April, and so far, we’re keeping our plans.

Back to politics, talk about the nomination battle between Sanders versus Biden, and try to understand why millennials (like our podcast producer) are attracted to Sanders when he appears to be so very unlikable.

To listen and subscribe, go to Apple Podcast, Google Play and Stitcher.

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The TallyMadness Final Four is set.

After a 24-hour flurry of votes, BillieAnne Gay, Justin Thames, Corinne Mixon and Nick Matthews are advancing to the semifinals in Florida Politics’ annual March Madness-inspired competition to determine the “best” lobbyist in the state.

Gay, who represents the Florida School Boards Association, defeated Rubin Turnbull’s Amy Bisceglia to earn a coveted spot in the Final Four. Her path got off to a rocky start — she narrowly defeated Sarah Suskey in the first round — but she’s dominated ever since, garnering two-thirds of the vote in her next two matchups.

It’s Final Four time in TallyMadness 2020.

Mixon’s had a similar run through four rounds. After a close match against Katie Flury, the Rutledge Ecenia lobbyist ran up the score in the second and third rounds.

Matthews and Thames, meanwhile, have put up big numbers throughout.

Thames, who represents the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants lobbyist, earned no less than 60% of the vote each round leading up to his faceoff with Metz Husband & Daughton’s Alli Liby-Schoonover.

Matthews, of Becker Poliakoff, has notched two-thirds support throughout the tournament before going up against Lewis Longman & Walker’s Natalie Kato in the fourth round.

Voting is open in the semifinals through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Session is now running on two separate tracks. Track one is business as usual — both chambers meeting all day long, and lawmakers are moving as many bills as possible in what is supposed to be the final week of Session.

Track two is going on behind the scenes, as a handful of lawmakers try to come up with a budget compromise and make cuts in their current spending plans, trying to beef up the state’s reserve fund in case Florida faces a coronavirus recession.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— A bill to compensate Clifford Williams for the 43 years he spent in prison for a murder he did not commit has cleared the legislature without a single vote against it, extraordinary for a claims bill. Now it’s up to the Governor.

— Another bill prevents local governments from banning chemical sunscreen products is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Opponents are hoping for a veto.

— Florida Politics correspondent Noah Pransky talks about dark money in U.S. elections, and a lot of it ends up in Florida.

Chelsea Murphy, the state director of a conservative group called Right on Crime, discusses sentencing reforms. It is a subject that was once unthinkable for conservatives.

— In the latest with Florida Man, busted on a charge of practicing dentistry inside his own home without a license. It wasn’t his first time.

To listen, click on the image below:

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@KevinCate: For many reasons, I wish the primary was still competitive, but it’s not. I don’t see any obstacles to @JoeBiden winning the nomination. I love Team @BernieSanders — & I expect y’all to take it to the convention loud & proud. But after that, we’re all on the same team.

@mcimaps: If Sanders drops out before Florida, making my in-the-works article and planned analysis completely useless, it will be his final “f***you” to me after he invaded my life 5 years ago.

@Beyerstein: Every outlet should take down their paywall for #covid19 coverage. Free fake news is crowding out real information.

@Conarck: You all have my word I will never remark about DOH’s timing on COVID-19 case announcements again. That 1 a.m. business learned me.

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@DeFede: The Grand Princess How long before there is a drag queen by that name making her debut in Key West?

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—@Book4Senate: The wait is over- #AlyssasLaw requiring panic alarms in public schools has passed in both Florida Senate and House … now heads to the Governor for signature into law. Thank you @lorialhadeff for pursuing this legislation in honor of your daughter Alyssa -her legacy lives on

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— DAYS UNTIL —

Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 2; 11th Democratic debate in Phoenix — 4; Florida’s presidential primary — 6; Super Tuesday III — 6; “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” premieres on HBO — 8; MLB Opening Day — 15; Quibi launches — 26; Easter — 32; First quarter campaign reports due — 35; Florida TaxWatch Spring Board Meeting begins — 35; TaxWatch Principal Leadership Awards — 36; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 40; NFL Draft — 43; Mother’s Day — 60; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 65; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 89; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 107; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 123; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 127; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 135; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 160; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 166; First presidential debate in Indiana — 202; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 210; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 218; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 225; 2020 General Election — 237; “No Time to Die” premieres (now) — 259.

— TOP STORY —

The emerging threat of the new coronavirus has dominated headlines and the back half of the 2020 Legislative Session, and Florida’s top political minds have opinions on several aspects of the public health emergency.

Asked how well the Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has handled the crisis, two in five Florida Influencers gave him a “B.” Another 19% gave the Governor top marks, while a similar amount cast the executive branch’s response as average.

That leaves just 17% who found DeSantis’ leadership lacking, including 13% who tagged him with a “D” and 4% who outright flunked him.

Insiders give Ron DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus crisis gets mostly positive reviews.

It’s possible that Influencer’s opinions were swayed by the virus’s impact on their own travel plans — a whopping 45% said they’ve had to scrub some post-Session vacation plans due to COVID-19’s growing foothold in the U.S.

And a not-insignificant number say they expect the global epidemic to bring the Legislature back to Tallahassee for a Special Legislative Session.

About a fifth of Florida Influencers say lawmakers will call a Special Session for the exclusive purpose of addressing COVID-19. Another 16% said they expected the Legislature to clock in later this year to ratify a new Seminole Compact, while 17% expect a special Session to handle both issues.

Combined, more than half of experts polled don’t think Sine Die will stick.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

The Ron DeSantis double-play: a star ballplayer and a future politician” via John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times — He was the kind of kid who might ride his bike to the ball field off Harvard Avenue in Dunedin to throw baseballs across the outfield to build up his arm strength. A kid who would sneak off with a teammate for a home run hitting contest on the eve of the World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. All these years later, the oddest thing about seeing their childhood friend on television riding on Air Force One with the President is that none of his old teammates find it remotely odd. “I always knew he was going into politics,’’ said Brady Williams, who is now the Rays Triple-A manager in Durham and was then one of DeSantis’ closest friends.

Tiffany Carr likely a no-show” via the News Service of Florida — The former head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is unlikely to testify before a House panel that is investigating her compensation package, according to Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker José Oliva. The Florida House for weeks has tried unsuccessfully to serve Carr with a subpoena. Since Feb. 18, the chamber has attempted to serve Carr through the mail and Twitter, as well as at her homes in North Carolina and Port St. Joe, Piccolo said. He said Carr is “very unlikely” to show up at the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, when the subpoena ordered her to appear before the panel.

Tiffany Carr is a now show. Image via Miami Herald.

Frustration mounts for Tom Lee over education ‘micromanaging’ in Legislature” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — “As I talk to members, I don’t think there’s anyone quite where I am yet, but I’m fed up,” said the former Senate President. “With a Legislature that spends 80% of its time focusing on 20% of the students, we might as well name our education committee the committee on charter schools and vouchers. And if we get into this budget, I got plenty to say about our education budget as well.”  Lee complains there’s not a lot of flexible spending money for school districts, especially because of HB 5007, which the Legislature passed earlier this year. It changes how much state employees must contribute to the pension system. And it could end up costing school districts nearly $233 million statewide.

Polo maker Ralph Lauren exploited tax loophole that lawmakers refuse to close” via Jason Garcia and Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — “The multibillion-dollar clothing company that sells Ralph Lauren polo shirts and other luxury apparel sought a $1.3-million income tax refund from Florida by taking advantage of a loophole that the Republican-controlled Legislature has chosen to leave open. Accountants for Ralph Lauren Corp. argued Florida cannot tax income the New York-based company has shifted out of the state by paying itself for the right to use its own brand name and other trademarks, according to litigation records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. The company then struck a confidential settlement deal with the Florida Department of Revenue, an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Veteran reporter Lloyd Dunkelberger honored by the Senate” via Diane Rado of Florida Phoenix — Senate President Bill Galvano said Dunkelberger would be retiring this year after his 37th regular Legislative Session. Dunkelberger helped the public understand what’s going on in state government and how laws created by the Legislature impact ordinary citizens. “We certainly wish you and your family great things and great peace and enjoyment as you enter into your retirement,” Galvano said. “I know I personally will miss our interactions and sharing information and the stories that you write and contribute to, and I’m sure the rest of the capital press corps will also miss you as well.” Galvano said: “Thank you for your service to the state of Florida, my friend.”

— BUDGET NOTES —

Lawmakers look to boost Alzheimer’s efforts” via the News Service of Florida — With the number of Floridians suffering from Alzheimer’s disease expected to increase as Baby Boomers age, the state House on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that seeks to boost the state’s efforts to address the disease. The bill (HB 835), sponsored by Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, and Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, includes creating the position of dementia director within the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. Plakon, whose first wife died of Alzheimer’s disease, said creating the position will increase the visibility of the disease within state government.

Tampa’s IIOP gets expansion funding in state budget” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The International Institute for Orthotics and Prosthetics plans to double the size of its graduate training program thanks to an appropriation lawmakers included in the 2020-21 state budget. The $100,000 line item, included in the higher education budget, will allow the Tampa-based organization to handle 24 students, up from its current 12-student limit. RSA Consulting spearheaded the effort to land the funding, with lobbyist Kaitlyn Bailey taking point. The expansion comes as the nation faces an imminent shortage in certified orthotists and prosthetists. IIOP is one of only a dozen orthotics and prosthetics training programs in the U.S.

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— LEGISLATION —

VISIT FLORIDA could be extended to 2023” via the News Service of Florida — Days after budget negotiators agreed to maintain $50 million in funding for the state tourism-marketing agency next fiscal year, the House amended a Senate proposal (SB 362) and would authorize the agency until Oct. 1, 2023. The House expects to vote on the extension, which would send the bill back to the Senate, which has sought to extend VISIT FLORIDA until Oct. 1, 2028. Rep. Mel Ponder said the extension to 2023 was worked out with the Senate. The extension to 2023 represents a change for the House, where Republican leaders have sought to close the agency. Rep. Geraldine Thompson said the extension would provide “stability” to the agency.

House prepared to pass latest citizen initiative restriction” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — That bill (SB 1794) would raise the threshold for initiatives to trigger a judicial review and prevent petition signatures from rolling over to the next ballot. Republican Sen. Hutson, who spearheaded that effort through the Senate, contends his legislation will prevent the Florida Supreme Court from wasting its time on proposed amendments that never meet the threshold to head to the ballot. In the House, Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, who has led similar measures through the House (HB 7037), argued the same point. The trigger for judicial review would jump to 25% from 10% of the total signatures required to make the ballot. Those signatures must come from one-half, instead of one quarter, of the state’s congressional districts.

Lawmakers ready to cut some corners to get faster election recounts” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — In the interest of speeding the process of recounting votes in a close election, the Florida House passed legislation to allow county supervisors of elections to purchase specialized equipment to conduct both machine and manual recounts. But there’s only one vendor — ClearAudit digital imaging system from Clear Ballot Group of Boston — and the prospect that the state could be dependent on a single proprietary software tool has supporters worried that security could be undermined. “Technology is a tool, not a process. This recount concept is not ready for prime time,” said Liza McClenaghan, Common Cause Florida state board chair.

Tech bill heads to Gov. — A bill that would revamp state technology rules to facilitate more communication between state agencies is ready for the Governor’s signature, Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports. HB 1391 would shutter the Division of State Technology and set up the Florida Digital Service in its place. The bill tasks FDS with maintaining state data, setting up a “financial services sandbox” to demo software before it’s rolled out, and facilitating data sharing between government agencies. It cleared both chambers with unanimous votes. The measure was a DeSantis priority.

Key West banned sunscreen to protect reefs. Legislature voted to overrule that” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — When the Key West City Commission voted last year to ban the sale of sunscreens that could harm the coral reef, they celebrated. But the law won’t go into effect in January 2021, as scheduled, if the Governor signs the bill into law. Florida lawmakers approved legislation that prevents local governments from regulating any over-the-counter drugs or cosmetics. That, of course, includes sunscreen. The House voted 68-47 on the Senate version of a bill, sending it to the Governor’s desk for approval. Republican Reps. Sam Killebrew, Holly Raschein, and Ana Maria Rodriguez broke with their Party and voted against the bill.

Holly Raschein broke with her party to vote against a ban on sunscreen bans.

Senate set to vote on pharmacist ‘test and treat’ legislation” via Florida Politics — Drama ensued in the Senate when a majority of Senators briefly refused to consider the House version of a bill expanding pharmacist powers. However, the bill got brought back up with an expansive amendment that brought language closer to that House bill. The legislation, a priority of Speaker Oliva, is thought to be a bargaining chip in budget negotiations. Sen. Travis Hutson, the sponsor of SB 714, moved to introduce the House bill, a more expansive version of the “test and treat” legislation than his Senate version. Rep. Tyler Sirois’ bill (HB 389) kept strep tests and added lice, skin conditions like ringworm and minor, non-chronic conditions to the list of possible pharmacist treatments.

Organ transplant nondiscrimination bill prepped for Senate vote” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Rep. Jason Fischer‘s bill (HB 1179) would prevent health care facilities, insurers and other entities from denying organ transplant services to people with developmental or intellectual disabilities solely on that basis. Last month, the House passed the measure unanimously. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents the discrimination of people with disabilities, including organ transplants. But Sen. Aaron Bean, who led a similar bill in the Senate up to this point (SB 1556), told the chamber floor that many don’t know they have recourse if they’re denied a transplant. “You could say we’re codifying federal law,” the Jacksonville Republican said. “But what happens is people don’t know that they’re being discriminated against in Florida.”

Aaron Bean reminds the Senate that organ transplant patients have recourse against discrimination from the ADA.

House ready to raise smoking, vaping age to 21” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Rep. Jackie Toledo hopes to address another national “epidemic.” The House gave preliminary approval to a bill raising the smoking and vaping age to 21, acceding to the Senate’s proposed version and federal regulations. The Tampa Republican argued high schoolers and middle schoolers are increasingly using electronic cigarettes even as the youth smoking rate continues to decline. Sen. David Simmons‘ bill (SB 810) would prohibit the sale of most flavored nicotine liquids and distinguish vaping products from standard nicotine products. Licenses to sell standard tobacco products would still carry an annual $50 fee, while licenses to sell vape products would carry no cost.

House backs eliminating time limit in sex abuse cases” via the News Service of Florida — The House late Monday voted to eliminate a time limit for child sex-abuse victims to file criminal complaints against their abusers. On a unanimous vote, the House approved the bill (HB 199), which would remove a statute of limitations for sexual battery cases when the victims are younger than 18 at the time the crimes occurred. The proposed law, however, would only apply to offenses committed on or after July 1. “Child rape is one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed. We need to allow child victims the time they need in able to come forward,” said Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who is sponsoring the bill.

Minimum age of arrest amendment to school safety bill dies” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Sen. Randolph Bracy withdrew an amendment that would have prohibited the arrest of children 6 years old or younger. He said Rules Committee Chair Lizabeth Benaquisto would have raised a point of order regarding his amendment because it had not gone through the committee process. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Legislators want to impose term limits on consumer advocate in utility rate cases” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Using a skillful parliamentary maneuver, the Senate kept alive a measure to impose term limits on the lawyer who represents the public on utility rate increases. The measure by Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, has long been a priority of the utility industry, whose lawyers have faced legal hurdles because the Office of Public Counsel has successfully challenged efforts to charge customers for out-of-state fracking operations or to raise customer rates in cases before the Public Service Commission. Under the measure, inserted by the Senate into HB 1095 and approved 37-1, the public counsel will be limited to 12 years, with three four-year terms.

— MORE LEGISLATION —

Lawmakers back compensation for ‘wronged’ man” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Williams spent nearly 43 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. On Tuesday, the 77-year-old man left The Capitol with apologies from legislative leaders and the promise of “clean” hands. The Florida House unanimously signed off on a measure to pay $2.15 million to Williams for the four-plus decades he spent in prison, including four years on Death Row, after being convicted of murder. “This injustice did not break his spirit. As I look into his eyes, I sense how truly grateful he is, being so humble to stand before the same state that wronged him, in a spirit of true thanksgiving,” House sponsor Kimberly Daniels said.

A claim bill for Clifford Williams, former Florida death row inmate, is on the way to the Governor.

House scraps proposal to survey college students and faculty about political beliefs” via the News Service of Florida — The House ditched a controversial proposal that would have required state colleges and universities to survey students and faculty members about their viewpoints. Rep. Ray Rodrigues pushed the surveys as part of a wide-ranging higher education bill (HB 613). But the Estero Republican said the so-called intellectual freedom survey was “negotiated out of the bill” with the Senate and will no longer be considered during this year’s Legislative Session. The move was a concession to the Senate, which opposed the idea last year and this year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley warned Senators last spring that the survey idea would likely keep coming back and urged the Senate to continue blocking it.

House, Senate split on athlete insurance issue” via the News Service of Florida — The House is poised to approve a measure that would open the field for college athletes in the state to make money off their names and images. But the Senate doesn’t agree with changes the House added. The changes would require schools to provide health insurance and disability coverage to student-athletes. Senate sponsor Debbie Mayfield said the Senate wouldn’t accept the bill (SB 646) with the House’s changes on health insurance and disability coverage. “I had a discussion with them last week and said I’m not taking these two issues,” Mayfield said. “We’re trying to keep this simple.”

Bill overhauling state hemp program ready for House vote, but differences with Senate remain” via Florida Politics — House members took up the Senate legislation (SB 1876). Sen. Bill Montford is sponsoring that bill, which the Senate approved in a unanimous vote. But an amendment from Rep. Brad Drake will ensure the bill gets sent back to the Senate. That amendment strikes a provision from the Senate bill stating that licensees “may only use hemp seeds and cultivars certified by a certifying agency or a university conducting an industrial hemp pilot project” under state law. The hemp program has hit several speed bumps since its establishment. Drake spoke about the need for the overhaul on the House floor.

House primed to pass electric vehicle charging station expansion study” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The measure would also allow the Department of Transportation (FDOT) to construct staging areas for emergency response, adds a “shot clock” for utility infrastructure permits and create cases for utilities to cross rural land while protecting the environment. Dylan Reed, director of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), sees the bill’s potential to increase the state’s accessibility for electric vehicle owners. “What this bill tries to start the conversation around is how do we make sure there’s enough charging infrastructure so that if someone wants to drive from Tampa to Tallahassee, there’s enough charging infrastructure there,” he said.

— TODAY IN CAPITOL —

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

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

The Senate Special Order Calendar Group meets to set the special-order calendar, 15 minutes after floor session, Room 401, Senate Office Building.

— GOVS CLUB BUFFET MENU —

Sauerkraut soup; mixed garden salad with dressings; sweet & sour coleslaw; southern potato salad; deli board, lettuce, tomatoes, cheeses and bread; roast turkey with natural pan gravy and cranberry sauce; blackened tilapia with Creole sauce and shrimp; roast pork loin with warm applesauce; buttermilk mashed potatoes; oven-roasted vegetables; haricot verts with bacon and onions; campfire s’mores for dessert.

— SUNSHINE STATE PRIMARY — 

Voters are voting — According to the Florida Division of Elections, as of Tuesday afternoon, Supervisors of Elections have 1,127,101 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 603,458 have returned, 424,444 are outstanding, and 3,030 are unsent. There have been 96,169 early in-person votes cast. As for Democrats, Supervisors have 1,310,903 vote-by-mail ballots; 498,830 have returned 646,561 are outstanding, and 4,846 are unsent. There have been 160,666 early in-person votes cast. Those classified as “other,” 248,056 vote-by-mail ballots, 15,058 have returned, 33,756 are outstanding, and 198,069 are unsent. There have been 1,173 early in-person votes cast.

Bernie Sanders is a little weird. So is Florida. But they might not be a good match.” via Carl Hiaasen of the Miami Herald — A zany voice inside his fluffy head decided it would be all right to talk favorably about Fidel Castro — not worshipfully, not gushingly, but just enough to aggravate many Hispanic Democrats, a crucial voting bloc. At the time, the Vermont senator already was way behind in the state polls, trailing former Vice President Biden and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The comments about Fidel did not vault Sanders to the top of the pack. Bernie can put on a lively rally, but Florida isn’t California. Many Democrats here wouldn’t describe themselves as leftist or liberal; very, very few line up as “democratic socialists.”

Bernie Sanders is weird, but is he Florida weird?

Rick Kriseman and a bunch of Florida Mayors are backing Joe Biden for President” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — One week before Florida’s primary — Kriseman joined other local leaders in backing former Vice President Biden. One of Kriseman’s top advisers, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, is also endorsing Biden, according to his campaign, as is former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman. Other mayors endorsing Biden included Jose Alvarez of Kissimmee, Jerry Demings of Orange County, Joel Flores of Greenacres, Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, Mark Marciano of Palm Beach Gardens, Hazelle Rogers of Lauderdale Lakes, Mike Ryan of Sunrise, Matt Sparks of Oakland, Ann Williams of Chattahoochee and Steve Wilson of Belle Glade.

Florida Democrats announce promotions, new staffers” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Florida Democratic Party announced Tuesday it is beefing up field operations with several promotions including Brittney Geathers as director of African American outreach and with a slew of new hires including Jes Cruz as training director. Other staffing moves include bumping Abigayil Yisrael, Keith Hardy, Sam Dorr, Harrison Angelis, Jami Hudson, Alex Berrios, Brooke Christy, Conner Jure and Jeffrey Pole to regional field director positions. FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo stated: “Our amazing staff of 100 campaign professionals have mobilized more than 12,000 volunteers to complete 40,000 volunteer shifts — and we aren’t stopping until we take back our state and make Donald Trump a one-term President.”

Miami-Dade Democratic Party postpones Blue Forum & Fair over coronavirus concerns” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The “Blue Forum and Fair” was scheduled for Sunday, March 15, at the Firefighters’ Memorial Building in Doral. But Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Steve Simeonidis said the event was on hold. “New cases are being reported every day in Florida,” Simeonidis said. “It is very likely that the reported cases are a severe undercount, and so out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to postpone the Blue Forum & Fair.” Simeonidis’ comment that cases are likely undercounted stems from reports that U.S. officials have not yet enabled widespread testing for the COVID-19 virus. Once that testing occurs, infection numbers are expected to go up.

As coronavirus epidemic grows, will voters be discouraged from going to the polls?” via Isaac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — “I have not heard of any specific concerns of voters being worried about voting due to the coronavirus,” said Santa Rosa County elections supervisor Tappie Villane. In her county, a 71-year-old man recently died from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. “We have taken the same steps for our four early voting sites, which is currently underway,” said Villane. “We will be sending hand sanitizer, hand wipes and Lysol spray to each polling site on March 17.” Voters are encouraged to vote by mail if they are concerned about going to the polls on March 17, said Steven Vancore, a Broward County Supervisor of Elections representative.

— NEW ADS —

Biden — “Always”:

Sanders — “Decimated”:

Rick Scott:

— MORE 2020 —

Joe Biden adds Michigan to Minnesota, Mississippi, delivering blow to Bernie Sanders” via the Associated Press — Biden won Michigan’s Democratic primary, seizing a key battleground state that helped propel Sanders’ insurgent candidacy four years ago. The former vice president’s victory in Michigan, as well as Missouri and Mississippi, dealt a serious blow to Sanders, who is urgently seeking to jump-start his flagging campaign. Sanders could still get a boost later in the night in Idaho, North Dakota or Washington state. But fewer delegates were at stake than in Mississippi, Missouri and Michigan, where Biden’s decisive performance again showed his strength with working-class voters and African Americans, who are vital to winning the Democratic nomination. It’s a dramatic reversal of fortune for Biden, whose campaign appeared on the brink of collapse just two weeks ago.

Joe Biden is running up the delegate score. Image via AP.

‘Remember us’: could Donald Trump lose Florida because of hurricane refugees?” via Cristian Salazar of The Guardian — Marta Rivera was an avid voter in Puerto Rico — one who enjoyed researching political candidates each election cycle in the US territory. Then, in 2017, Hurricane Maria swept through the island, destroying homes, killing thousands of people, and leaving millions of others stranded. Rivera became one of the tens of thousands of storm refugees who moved to Florida in the following months to try to build a new life. Now Rivera and the other hurricane refugees have become a vital voting bloc coveted by both the Democratic and Republican parties in the swing state, where elections are often won by just tens of thousands of votes.

The new Biden: Shorter speeches (and less time for gaffes)” via Cleve Wootson of The Washington Post — Biden’s event in St. Louis, framed by the Gateway Arch, clocked in at around seven minutes Saturday. A short time later, people were streaming for their cars after Biden wrapped up in 12 minutes. His longest speech of the weekend didn’t quite make 15 minutes. In his shortened speeches, Biden still touches on his platform points, takes subtle jabs at Sanders and makes more than a few passing references to former President Barack Obama — he just does it all much faster. The less Biden strays from his streamlined and teleprompter-ed remarks, the less likely he is to make a gaffe that could damagingly ricochet around the internet.

Rick Scott slams Bernie Sanders in Spanish-language ad” via Gary Fineout and Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — As Florida prepares for its presidential primary, Scott will launch a Spanish-language ad that slams Sanders for his past praise of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. The ad includes footage of Sanders from the 1980s saying that Castro had “totally transformed the society.” If Democratic front-runner Biden needed a nudge going into the primary, the Scott ad could provide it. The ad is running in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers. The Scott campaign said the ad buy would be in the mid-five figures.

Polls: Biden leads Sanders with Florida Hispanics” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO — “In Florida, Biden is ahead of Sanders among Hispanic Democrats, 48 percent to 37 percent — a lead outside the 4-percentage point margin of error in the survey conducted for Telemundo Station Group by Mason-Dixon. … only 18 percent of Hispanic voters in the poll said they would vote for a self-described socialist; 70 percent said they would not. Among Hispanic Democrats, 25 percent said they would vote for a socialist and 59 percent said they wouldn’t.”

Coronavirus threatens to pose an unprecedented challenge to the 2020 elections” via Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elise Viebeck of The Washington Post — When asked what kept him up at night, Ben Wikler, who is responsible for delivering a must-win state in November as chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, used to answer, “unknown unknowns.” He no longer has to wonder what such a risk might look like. Presidential campaigns, parties and state election officials are scrambling to heed health warnings while safeguarding the democratic process against a growing coronavirus epidemic whose scope is difficult to predict.

— NEWS BY NUMBERS —

— CORONAVIRUS —

Feds say Florida has ‘community spread’ of coronavirus. Florida disagrees” via Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times and Samantha J. Gross and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert on the federal Coronavirus Task Force, plainly stated on Tuesday that Florida is one of four states with ‘community spread’ of the disease and therefore elevated risk….But here in Florida, state officials in Gov. Desantis’ office directly contradicted Fauci. When asked about the doctor’s assertion of community spread, governor’s spokeswoman Helen Ferré provided this statement to the Times/Herald: ‘As Governor DeSantis stated [Monday], there is no community spread of COVID-19 in Florida at this time.”

How ready is Florida’s health department for the coronavirus?” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — While DeSantis and lawmakers appear poised to boost the state’s response to the virus outbreak with $25 million in state funding, experts say that won’t make up for years of underfunding that have eroded the DOH’s readiness. “You’re not going to see a miraculous development of capacity and capabilities overnight,” said David Krause, a former toxicologist for the department. “You go to war with the army you have.” Krause and others say that, in the past two decades, capabilities in the department “have been eaten away” as budgets have been reduced, and staff with institutional knowledge have moved on. The department’s staff positions are down more than 25% from a decade ago.

3 infected with coronavirus at company that greets Florida cruise passengers” via Freida Frisaro of The Associated Press — Three employees of a company that greets cruise ship passengers in Florida have tested positive for the new coronavirus, state health officials said, urging anyone who recently traveled through Port Everglades to isolate themselves for 14 days if they start experiencing symptoms. The Florida Department of Health confirmed the company connection in a release that also said a 69-year-old woman who tested positive for COVID-19 is the fourth Broward County resident, and the third employee of Metro Cruise Services, to have the virus.

Employees of a company that greets cruise passengers have tested positive for coronavirus. Image via AP.

Another cruise cleared to dock in Florida after virus tests” via The Associated Press — Another Princess cruise ship has been given federal permission to dock in Florida after testing of two crew members cleared them of the new coronavirus and U.S. health officials lifted a “no sail” order. A Princess Cruises spokeswoman, Negin Kamali, said in an email that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave permission for the Caribbean Princess to return to port after the tests came back negative. The California-based cruise line said it kept passengers and crew from disembarking as planned at a Grand Cayman stop, and instead picked up test kits after notifying the CDC that two crewmembers had transferred from a Princess ship in California, where a guest had tested positive for the virus.

Ashley Moody activates price gouging hotline amid coronavirus scare” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Attorney General Moody activated a price-gouging hotline amid consumer concerns about sanitary products. Consumers may call (866) 9NO-SCAM if they suspect prices on good have been artificially escalated to exploit the scare. Scams can also be reported at MyFloridaLegal.com. She said the fact that DeSantis declared a state of emergency regarding the spread of the coronavirus allows her to open the hotline for essential commodities. “We are monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Florida very closely, and following the Governor’s state of emergency declaration, our price gouging laws are now in effect,” Moody said.

Florida spring break tourism in question amid spread of coronavirus” via CBS This Morning — For now, tourists are still flocking to the Sunshine State. “The weather’s great. It’s cold back home,” one visitor said. The city of Miami Beach has installed hand-washing stations directly on the sand to help fight coronavirus fears. Some visitors plan to carry their own hand sanitizer on vacation. “I always have it on me because it’s like, you walk up, you touch railings, you go to class, you don’t want to touch your face,” one woman said. A CDC warning isn’t stopping people from boarding cruise ships either. A day after the agency cautioned against ship travel, seven cruise ships left the port of Miami with excited passengers waving as they departed.

As coronavirus cancellations continue, memo shows extent of impact on Central Florida hotels” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — Coronavirus continued to wreak havoc on Central Florida’s business travel and convention industry with a sixth large conference canceling at the Orange County Convention Center as an internal Orange County Emergency Operations memo provided a more detailed glimpse at just how many cancellations are hitting local hotels. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons canceled its conference at the convention center scheduled to begin March 24 and cited concerns over COVID-19 or the virus that is grounding corporate travel across the globe. The meeting would have drawn an estimated 30,000 people. A memo dated March 5 to Orange County officials details 11 more cancellations at Central Florida hotels.

PBSO buys 4,000 biological suits” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — First responders are taking different measures to prepare for the potential spread of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County. For Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, it includes buying 4,000 biological suits for his deputies and civilian employees to use. Bradshaw and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue officials described to commissioners how their departments were attempting to protect both their employees and the public. As of Tuesday, no positive cases of the novel coronavirus had been identified in Palm Beach County. For the first time, those responding to emergency calls will now know whether a person living there is being monitored for COVID-19, Bradshaw said.

PBC schools make plans to close campuses if necessary” via Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post — Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said that if closures become necessary, administrators would try to limit them only to schools directly affected rather than shut down campuses countywide. The initial aim of any closing would be “to contain it to one school, and as we get real-time information, we would expand it,” Fennoy told county commissioners during a briefing. Educators nationwide have worried about the impact of widespread closings on students, particularly on poor children dependent on schools for nutritious breakfasts and lunches. “There are a lot of consequences of shutting down the entire system,” Fennoy said.

Matt Gaetz tests negative for coronavirus but will continue with 14-day self-quarantine” via Jim Thompson of Northwest Florida Daily News — U.S. Rep. Gaetz has tested negative for coronavirus. The Republican congressman who represents northwest Florida, reported the test results Tuesday afternoon, one day after he learned he had been exposed to someone later identified as a carrier of the disease. Gaetz got news of his exposure Monday as Air Force One was on its takeoff roll at Orlando Sanford International Airport for a flight back to Washington, D.C. Also onboard the plane, in addition to Trump, were National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.

Matt Gaetz tests negative for coronavirus, will still self-quarantine. Image via AP.

Florida A&M preparing to move classes online, cancels events” via WCTV — President Larry Robinson says all plans need to be made and finalized by Sunday, March 22. Robinson made clear that no official decision has been made if the university will be transitioned to online instruction or not. Robinson tells WCTV, ” … these preparations will help ensure the University’s readiness in response to rapidly changing developments surrounding the coronavirus.” The university is also announcing travel restrictions for all university-related international travel. This restriction is effective immediately and has no end date. They are also announcing that all university-related travel inside the United States is prohibited unless approved.

After festival is canceled due to coronavirus fears, Ultra is not offering refunds” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — In the literal eleventh hour, ticket holders received an email that made no mention of refunds. Instead, people who purchased tickets to this year’s Ultra will have access to either the 2021 or 2022 event in Miami — events that are, at this point, not even guaranteed under Ultra’s contract to use city-owned Bayfront Park. Under the title “Ultra Miami Rescheduled,” organizers explained that ticket holders could use them to enter one of two future festivals. After city officials announced that the three-day concert event would be postponed, festival organizers said the postponement would last a year — effectively canceling the 2020 event, which was supposed to mark the festival’s return to Bayfront Park.

Central Florida schools cancel field trips that require air travel” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — The Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia county school districts all announced the immediate suspension of the trips that needed air travel. It was not immediately clear how many student trips would be canceled. But in Lake County, East Ridge High School students scheduled to attend the DECA International Career Development Conference in Nashville in late April will not be able to fly but could make other plans to get to Tennessee, said Sherri Owens, a spokeswoman for the Lake school district. That conference is expected to draw about 20,000 high school students, according to that group’s website.

Wary of coronavirus, some Central Florida churches adopt hands-off policies” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — “Normally there is a time during the service when we welcome each other by shaking hands,” said senior pastor Scott George of Pine Castle United Methodist Church, south of Orlando. “But we’ve changed that during the last couple of weeks. We’re trying to be wise about it without scaring people.” That’s the mission for many faith leaders, who are hoping to provide comfort while complying with guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to practice so-called “social distancing.” At Maitland Presbyterian Church, co-pastors Megan and David Collins have sent an email to congregants to say the “meet and greet” portion of services is being put on hold.

Revelers at Daytona Bike Week shrug off coronavirus fears” via Patricio Balona of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Bikers don’t seem to be frightened by the coronavirus. At least that’s the impression most reveling on Main Street gave, even with Volusia County marking its first reported case this weekend. Health officials said a 66-year-old Volusia County woman who traveled overseas recently tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently under quarantine. “It’s a bunch of boo-ha-ha,” said “Doc,” 63, from Titusville, who would not give his real name and jokingly referred to himself as Julio Iglesias. Swilling a beer and wearing a black hat studded with gator teeth, a thick silver necklace, and a sleeveless leather jacket, Doc said the media is downplaying who the virus is killing, meaning people in their 60s or older.

’Full steam ahead’: Springtime Tallahassee, festival organizers make coronavirus plans” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — The 52nd Annual Springtime Tallahassee is scheduled for March 27 and 28 and has been canceled only once in its history. Next month, Word of South and LeMoyne’s Chain of Parks Art Festival are planned. Yet the spread of the potentially deadly virus is putting a cloud over events attracting large crowds, including conventions and festivals nationwide. Springtime Tallahassee executive director Jennifer Shafer said the organization’s executive team met and crafted a tentative “action plan.” The plan calls for distributing guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to all vendors, volunteers, parade entries and members and requesting all vendors to provide sanitizer at their booths, along with sanitizer stations throughout the event.

Revelers at Daytona Bike Week shrug off coronavirus fears” via Patricio Balona of the Daytona Beach News-Journal — Bikers don’t seem to be frightened by the coronavirus. At least that’s the impression most reveling on Main Street gave, even with Volusia County marking its first reported case this weekend. Health officials said a 66-year-old Volusia County woman who traveled overseas recently tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently under quarantine. “It’s a bunch of boo-ha-ha,” said “Doc,” 63, from Titusville, who would not give his real name and jokingly referred to himself as Julio Iglesias. Swilling a beer and wearing a black hat studded with gator teeth, a thick silver necklace, and a sleeveless leather jacket, Doc said the media is downplaying who the virus is killing, meaning people in their 60s or older.

— MORE CORONA —

Dems press ahead on coronavirus package as Senate waits for Donald Trump” via Heather Caygle, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan of POLITICO — The White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi began preliminary talks over a legislative package to juice the U.S. economy amid the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. But House Democrats are simultaneously pressing forward with their own plan that could get a vote as early as this week — showing that even the response to a massive public-health emergency is breaking down along partisan lines. Trump presented Republican Senators with several potential actions Congress could take as lawmakers look to avert disastrous economic impacts from the virus — but he did not offer a specific economic stimulus package during their hourlong lunch meeting on Tuesday, according to several attendees.

Donald Trump, with Steven Mnuchin, meets with Republican Senators on Capitol Hill. Image via AP.

Coronavirus is mysteriously sparing kids and killing the elderly. Understanding why may help defeat the virus.” via William Wan and Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — One of the few mercies of the spreading coronavirus is that it leaves young children virtually untouched — a mystery virologists say may hold vital clues as to how the virus works. In China, only 2.4 percent of reported cases were children and only 0.2 percent of reported cases were children who got critically ill, according to the World Health Organization. China has reported no case of a young child dying of the disease COVID-19. Meanwhile, the new coronavirus has proved especially deadly on the other end of the age spectrum. The fatality rate in China for those over 80 is an estimated 21.9 percent, per the WHO.

Airlines slash routes, outlook and executive pay on coronavirus fallout” via Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post — The crisis has thrown much of the tourism industry into free fall. In a matter of weeks, hotels, airlines, and convention centers have seen their bookings plummet as leisure travelers stay home and businesses discourage or cancel employee travel. But the latest updates from Delta, American, United and Southwest Airlines signaled just how bleak their outlook is for the months to come. And as travelers cancel vacations, businesses discourage employees from leaving town, and conventions are canceled en mass, industry executives are comparing the outbreak’s fear factor to the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

New sick leave policy from Darden restaurants could set industry standard amid coronavirus concerns” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — The new policy for Orlando-based Darden Restaurants applies to all of its more than 180,000 hourly employees. About 75% of those workers did not have paid sick leave, spokesman Rich Jeffers said. “With the stroke of a pen, they have just worked their way around everything, and they have scooped the entire industry,” said restaurant analyst John Gordon. Hourly employees at Darden Restaurants will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, Jeffers said. Current employees will have a starting balance of sick time based on their most recent 26 weeks of work and can use it immediately. New hires will begin accruing sick time upon starting and can use it after 90 days of employment.

If you can work from home, you should. Now.” via William Hanage for The Washington Post — What we need to do now, before things get really bad, is think about how to protect the health care systems we rely on and keep them from being overwhelmed by a surge of cases, as is already happening in Washington state. And here’s the thing: You can help just by working from home, if your job allows it. Viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 need to transmit. Viruses spread on networks. They rely upon the ways in which we get together and allow infected folks to transmit unknowingly to everyone else. If we can stop that, we stop the epidemic. We just need to cut the links and suffocate the virus.

Companies are putting out hand sanitizer. But for years, many have campaigned against sick pay.” via Abha Bhattarai and Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post — As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, major U.S. companies and business groups have put out hand sanitizer and discussed precautions they are taking to keep sick workers away from customers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised employers to “ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance.” Although most Americans say businesses should offer sick pay, at least a dozen states, including Florida and much of the Southeast, have passed legislation since 2011 to block efforts to require medical leave. Even in liberal-leaning states that have passed sick pay requirements, some companies sidestep the requirement by counting their workers not as employees, but as contractors.

Social distancing could buy U.S. valuable time against coronavirus” via Carolyn Y. Johnson, Lena H. Sun and Andrew Freedman of The Washington Post — The best way to prevent a catastrophic explosion of cases in the next few weeks is to break potential chains of transmission by preventing infected people from coming in close contact with healthy ones, whether it means canceling conferences or relying on individual decisions to avoid crowded public transportation or postpone weddings. The goal isn’t to stop the virus; not anymore. It is to slow it down. The best way to prevent a catastrophic explosion of cases in the next few weeks, many experts think, is to break potential chains of transmission by preventing infected people from coming in close contact with healthy ones. The goal isn’t to stop the virus; not anymore. It is to slow it down.

Social Distancing could buy the U.S. a bit of time.

Florida family stuck on Nile cruise by the coronavirus” via Isabel Debre of The Associated Press — When Javier Parodi returned from a tour of Egypt’s famed ancient tombs, he was unnerved to see that the cruise ship that brought him there wasn’t where he left it. The MS Asara, carrying some 150 American, French and Indian passengers, was the lone ship on the opposite bank of the Nile, isolated from the line of tourist-packed vessels over concern its passengers had been exposed to the new coronavirus. Parodi, 35, then found himself confined for days onboard the Asara, where 12 Egyptian crew members had just contracted the virus. The Nile cruiser has become the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Egypt. When passengers learned about the cases reported from their ship, Parodi said confusion quickly struck.

Keep an eye on your local gas station. Coronavirus may cause prices to drop under $2” via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Coronavirus has led to a lower global demand for jet fuel and gasoline, the AAA said. Crude and gasoline futures prices plummeted, hitting lows not seen since 2016. Two weeks ago, the cost of crude traded for more than $53 per barrel. Sunday night, it was around $33 per barrel. “At the rate fuel prices are falling on the stock market, Florida drivers could easily begin seeing sub-$2 gasoline this week,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said. AAA doesn’t know how long the price drop will hold or how low it will go as it depends on where stock market prices go From here. As of Tuesday, Florida’s gas price average was $2.26 per gallon.

Newsmax is telling its older-leaning audience to avoid a future coronavirus vaccine and instead give it money for something ‘far more effective’” via Eric Hananoki of Media Matters — The Donald Trump-aligned media company Newsmax has been trying to gin up paid subscriptions for its newsletter business by telling its older-leaning audience that “the worst thing” they could do regarding the coronavirus outbreak is to “get a vaccine when it becomes available” because vaccines are supposedly “a scam.” Newsmax is a right-wing media company that operates a website, cable news channel (Newsmax TV), and subscription publications. It’s led by CEO Christopher Ruddy, a friend and adviser to Trump. Newsmax TV recently debuted an evening program featuring notorious liar and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former Republican National Committee deputy communications director Lyndsay Keith.

— D.C. MATTERS —

White House likely to pursue federal aid for shale companies hit by oil shock, coronavirus downturn” via Jeff Stein, Will Englund, Steven Mufson and Robert Costa of The Washington Post — Trump has touted the growth of oil and natural gas production under his administration, celebrating their rise in politically crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania. But many oil and gas firms were hammered by the price war that broke out between Saudi Arabia and Russia, driving oil prices down in their steepest one-day drop in almost 30 years. White House officials are alarmed at the prospect that numerous shale companies could be driven out of business if the downturn in oil prices turns into a prolonged crisis for the industry. The federal assistance is likely to take the form of low-interest government loans to the shale companies, whose lines of credit to major financial institutions have been choked off.

Donald Trump seeks ‘big’ stimulus steps but aides are skeptical” via Nancy Cook of POLITICO — Trump wants to ‘go big’ on a fiscal stimulus package to combat economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, but his own White House aides remain cool to one of the centerpieces of the package — a temporary payroll tax cut. At a meeting of top economic officials on Monday night, the president and aides like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought all broadly agreed on ideas such as paid sick leave for hourly workers and loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus, according to two administration officials briefed on the meeting.

Donald Trump is floating the idea of a coronavirus economic stimulus.

Rick Scott’s moment” via Neal B. Freeman of National Review — If you follow national politics, you know Florida’s senior Senator, Marco Rubio, as a man of innate mediagenic qualities and polished rhetorical skills. You may not know his junior colleague, Rick Scott, who was born without those qualities and never bothered to develop those skills. Scott’s no show horse.

Happening ThursdayRubio, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will convene “The Coronavirus and America’s Small Business Supply Chain,” 10 a.m., Small Business Committee Hearing Room, 428A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. The hearing will be livestreamed on the committee’s website here.

Congress in grip of confusion, fear over coronavirus unsure whether to stay or go” via Paul Kane of The Washington Post — The combination of the lack of medical expertise and a political environment that is quite poisonous, metaphorically speaking, has left Congress in a state of suspended animation. Congressional leaders rejected calls for the House and Senate to leave town and adopt the “social distancing” that some experts suggest could stem the spread of the coronavirus. “We are the captains of the ship. We are the last to leave,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus during a closed-door meeting. Democratic aides acknowledged the week’s schedule was fluid, especially after up to six members of the House and Senate announced they were quarantining themselves after contact with someone at a conference who was later got diagnosed with the virus.

Donna Shalala introduces plan to make insurers pay for COVID-19 tests” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Miami Democratic Rep. Shalala introduced legislation Tuesday that would require health insurers to cover the full costs of coronavirus tests for any American who has health insurance through their employer, or who has purchased an Obamacare plan. Shalala’s bill, the Covering Coronavirus Test Act of 2020, adds the coronavirus test to the Affordable Care Act’s list of preventive health services that insurers are required to cover at no cost to patients. The legislation would prevent insurance companies from passing off any portion of the testing cost to consumers. “Our government has a responsibility to do everything it can to manage this crisis,” said Shalala, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary from 1993 to 2001.

Michael Waltz, Lois Frankel look to increase women’s involvement in global security work” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The newly-formed Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Caucus will be behind that push. Frankel and Waltz want to include more women in peace negotiations between nations. The pair also wants to up the number of women serving in peacekeeping and security forces. “In societies where women thrive, governments, economies and communities are stronger,” Waltz said in a statement announcing the effort. “As a Green Beret, I’ve seen the importance of women in peace processes all-around the world. Peace agreements last longer when women are included in negotiations — and our world is ultimately a safer place because of gender equality.”

Tweet, tweet:

— MOTHER NATURE —

Bears are coming out of hibernation more than a month early after one of the hottest winters in human history” via Michael Thomsen for the Daily Mail — Moscow Zoo CEO Svetlana Akulova announced the zoo was making preparations for two Himalayan bears held in captivity at the zoo to come out of hibernation more than a month earlier than the April window they had been expecting. The zoo staff had begun around the clock monitoring of the bears in February and noticed they were much more actively astir than normal, indicating they were ready to come out of full hibernation. Similar reports of bears coming out of hibernation early have come from other regions in Russia, and from all over the world. Typically, bears won’t begin hibernating until the temperature drops below at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

— THE TRAIL —

Ron DeSantis committee adds $675K in February” via Florida Politics — While there were 37 total contributions to the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee last month, it was the first time in five months the organization racked up less than $700,000 in contributions. Still, the organization has amassed nearly $6.7 million in contributions in total as of Feb. 29, according to the most recent Florida Division of Elections figures. The DeSantis committee continued to receive sizable individual contributions from political players. The committee chalked up two donations of $100,000 each but from the same person. Both of those top contributions were from Craig Mateer, founder and CEO of Bags Inc., a luggage company.

Jason Brodeur, Patricia Sigman stockpile cash in SD 9 race” via Florida Politics — Former Rep. Brodeur is the only Republican running for the seat so far. But it’s Brodeur who is distancing himself from all other candidates as he has raised about $644,000 in campaign contributions through February. Brodeur has spent about $388,000, leaving him with about $256,000 on hand. February also saw $42,000 head to his political committee, Friends of Jason Brodeur. All told, he has more than $800,000 in the bank between the two accounts. Sigman has also bulked up her campaign account for the Central Florida seat. The Democrat had a robust February when she was able to raise about $80,000 in campaign contributions. That action bolstered her campaign coffers to about $195,780.

Patricia Sigman has brought in some serious cash. 

Democrat files to challenge Ardian Zika in HD 37” via Florida Politics — Jason Roberts, a Democrat who is also from Land O’ Lakes, formally filed for the race March 9. Roberts will face an uphill battle to unseat Zika, who won the seat handily in 2018. Zika scored 61% of the vote, or 48,879 votes two years ago. That dominated Democratic challenger Tammy Garcia, who could only muster 31,955 votes, or 39.5% of the ballots cast. While Roberts officially opened a campaign account with the state, he had no financial contributions listed in his coffers. His first finance report, covering March, is due next month. Zika has already raised $117,000 in campaign contributions. He won’t be able to continue adding to the pile until the 2020 Legislative Session ends.

Lauren Melo shows $58K raised in first HD 80 finance report” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Naples Republican filed for the seat on Feb. 4. By the end of the month, she had collected nearly 100 checks, including 47 for $1,000 — the maximum allowable contribution for a state legislative campaign. Most of the campaign funds came from within the district, with Naples businesses and residents comprising two-thirds of the sheet. Max donors included Davis Oil Co., KFE Consulting and the Women’s Council of Realtors — an apt backer, considering Melo is the current president of the Naples Area Board of Realtors Spending was light, with only $875 leaving the account. The final tally: $58,164 raised and $57,289 banked.

Rick Kozell nears $300K raised in HD 82” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Kozell brought in another $43,000 last month, propelling him further in front of the competition in the race for House District 82. Kozell, a Republican, reeled in $19,325 through his campaign account and another $24,000 through his political committee, Rick Kozell for Florida. The performance makes for $147,665 in total campaign fundraising and $148,305 in committee cash. Through four months, he has raised a combined $295,970 and has about $280,000 in the bank between the two accounts. Kozell is one of three candidates seeking to succeed term-limited GOP Rep. MaryLynn Magar. He’s a former congressional candidate, having run for Florida’s 18th Congressional District in 2016.

Eric Gerard, husband of Pat Gerard, raises 15 times more than incumbent Largo opponent” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Largo City Commission candidate Gerard is leading the fundraising race in the municipal election for Seat 3. Gerard raised nearly $22,000 in just 27 days since entering the race last month, according to February financials released Tuesday. Gerard, a small-business owner and former journalist, is challenging incumbent Commissioner Curtis Holmes. Gerard is also the husband of Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, who is serving as his campaign treasurer. His wife’s political connections might be giving his candidacy a boost. Gerard took in $250 contributions from Rep. Ben Diamond, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, lobbyist Ana Cruz, former St. Pete City Council member Karl Nurse and from St. Pete Mayor Kriseman’s Sunrise PAC.

— LOCAL —

Retired JEA executive: Aaron Zahn used ‘false narrative’ to justify selling utility” vis Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union — The portrayal of JEA as financially troubled that its now-fired CEO Zahn used as justification for trying to sell the city-owned utility was a “false narrative,” a retired JEA executive told a special Jacksonville City Council investigative committee. “The fact that there was no accountability to back their statements is troubling. They just threw a bunch of stuff out there without justification or backing it,” said Michael Brost, a former JEA vice president who oversaw the utility’s electric business before retiring in January 2019. “It just doesn’t fit with what I know about the industry.”

Fort Lauderdale’s latest sewage spill adds 20.5M gallons to record total” via Susanna Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The back-to-back sewage spills that have plagued Fort Lauderdale are the worst on record in Florida history, spewing 211.6 million gallons of raw sewage into waterways and streets. A three-day spill at George English Park added another 20.52 million gallons to the total, according to a report the city filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection. “That was another major break,” Mayor Dean Trantalis said. “And while it was significant, we were able to mitigate the potential outflow because we had equipment on the ground ready to respond to the situation more readily than normally.”

’Sieg Heil’ leads CareerSource board member to resign” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — Kenneth Kirby, a 14-year board member, said in his resignation letter that he said “Sieg Heil” not because he believed in fascist ideology, but because he felt the “behavior I responded to … (was) extraordinarily untoward surveillance and intimidation.” “Identifying behavior as fascist does not make the identifier fascist,” Kirby wrote in his letter. His resignation and the heightened state of scrutiny came just a month after the CareerSource chief executive, Robert “Steve” Craig, retired following harassment allegations and investigations. The meeting began when members were told their sessions would be recorded, which is required for governmental bodies but not for nonprofits. CareerSource is a hybrid, a nonprofit affiliated with the state government.

A poorly considered comment is causing Ken Kirby to resign.

— MORE LOCAL —

TCC is closing its Starbucks at Kleman Plaza but will reopen one on-campus” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — A sign posted on the door thanks patrons for their support and encourages them to come in this week for specials. But Al Moran, TCC’s vice president for communications and marketing, said the Starbucks would be moving to TCC’s main campus on Appleyard Drive in the fall. Moran did not indicate what TCC’s plans are for the downtown Starbucks location, in the former Mary Brogan Museum of Arts and Sciences. But Elizabeth Emmanuel, CEO of the Downtown Improvement Authority, said it could open up some opportunities. “We’ve heard some great ideas about what could come into that space,” she said. “Quick grab-and-go food would be key, along with offerings for amenities not otherwise available within walking distance.”

— TIDE OF ANGER —

As Miami Beach prepares for new infrastructure projects to shore up the low-lying island against sea-level rise, residents are becoming more frustrated.

“Climate experts praise Miami Beach — a diverse, international city with wealthy sections — for devoting $1 billion to tackle the problem, and other coastal communities look to it as a model,” writes Arian Campo-Flores in The Wall Street Journal. “But some residents say plans to raise roads as much as about 5 feet above sea level and add stormwater pumps with generators the size of vans are an unsightly intrusion and a potential drag on property values.”

This presents a problem for city leaders: How to balance the concerns of residents with the city’s long-term viability.

“We will have to have the political will to make unpopular decisions,” City Commissioner Ricky Arriola told The Wall Street Journal. “Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and engineering solutions proposed, there is going to be a group of our citizens who want us to do nothing.”

Coastal cities throughout the United States are facing a similar dilemma. Since Miami Beach is much further along in the effects of sea-level rise, many of the other areas are looking toward it for hard lessons.

Miami Beach averages about 4 feet above sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect sea levels to increase by 21 inches in 2040 and 54 inches by 2070.

“Until we’ve figured out how to keep private properties dry, we should not be spending a fortune on raising streets in the entire city,” said one resident during a public comment period.

— TOP OPINION —

Lawmakers go all-in on LGBTQ discrimination at voucher schools” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Lawmakers sometimes are savvy enough to stop juuuust short of telling an outright lie. Not Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who during a House debate on expanding a private-school voucher program, told this whopper about an Orlando Sentinel investigation into voucher schools with anti-LGBTQ policies: “They decided to go school by school and fabricate this picture that there are hundreds of students who are being discriminated (against) … no newspaper should co-opt this program and try to single-handedly dismantle it.” If Sullivan had read the story, which we doubt, she would know the Sentinel fabricated nothing. Two reporters did, in fact, painstakingly go through hundreds of policies of private schools in Florida that accept voucher students. It took months.

— OPINIONS —

Trump lies all the time. This time, his coronavirus lies could kill us all” via Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald — Meantime, King Liar himself, Trump, keeps doing what comes naturally. He said a vaccine will be ready in just a few months. It won’t. He said the number of Americans afflicted is going down. It isn’t. He said anyone who needs a test can get one. They can’t. One wonders if it will be the breaking point; if, faced with direct risk to their own lives, conservatives will finally quit suckling at the teat of mass delusion. Let’s hope so, for all our sake. A virus, after all, respects no ideological borders, so the right wing’s refusal to respect reality puts everyone at risk. With apologies to The O’Jays, those lies done caught up with us all.

Coronavirus sick time: Congress should do the job if Florida won’t” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Our last hope rests with Congress, where members of the House and Senate have introduced a bill intended to force employers to offer ailing employees paid time off during public health emergencies. The issue has rarely been more relevant than it is today. Hundreds of people have been infected with the coronavirus in the United States, and many more are expected to fall ill before this epidemic runs its course. An essential component for limiting the spread is for people experiencing respiratory symptoms and fever to stay home from work. Under this bill, everyone is better off — sick employees who stay home and healthy customers and co-workers who don’t get exposed.

If coronavirus health depends upon Florida politicians, we’re doomed” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Please don’t listen to politicians. Not on this. Doctors? Yes. Health experts? You bet. Reputable news sources that cite doctors and health experts? By all means. But not the people who pander and politick for a living. If our public health truly depends upon them, we’re doomed. Ideally, elected leaders would offer a calm, sober and apolitical perspective during times of crisis. When I first learned the coronavirus threat was real, I didn’t call a politician. I called a doctor — someone who actually knows something about viruses, how they spread, and how worried we should be. So, I’m sticking with the CDC for solid info. And the health experts. Not political tweets.

A call to action: Service to nation can help bridge the rift that divides Americans” via Chrissy Houlahan and Michael Waltz for USA TODAY — Many Americans are seldom placed in situations where they must meet face to face with people who look, think or believe differently than they do. This is why the two of us — a Democrat and a Republican from different parts of the country — are working together to incentivize America to rise above the bitter divide and to get back into our communities and serve. We are working with the bipartisan For Country Caucus to pass the National Service GI Bill. As military veterans, we understand what it means to accomplish the mission, regardless of race, ideology, religious background or party affiliation. In serving your country, you learn how to lead and follow, teamwork and discipline — values America could use more of today.

Ron Matus: Burying good news about Florida public schools” via Florida Politics — Last year, a sham “analysis” from the Florida Education Association suggested Florida’s newest private school choice scholarship, the Family Empowerment Scholarship, would harm public schools. The response from Florida media? No less than 10 stories under a stack of scary headlines, and, in every case but one, no attempt to even run the “analysis” past any other source. This year, by contrast, a rigorous new study from nationally respected researchers finds that instead of hurting public schools, Florida private school scholarships are boosting public school outcomes. The response from Florida media? Crickets. Acknowledging their progress would mean conceding the expansion of education choice has not hurt Florida’s education system — and probably helped.

Brewster Bevis: Florida leaders best serve our state by placing a high value on superior technology for first responders” via Florida Politics — It was decided years ago that Florida’s public safety communications system, known as the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), needed to be upgraded to the latest standards-based technology, designed for interoperable communications across public safety agencies. Unfortunately, the multi-bid, multiyear process, coupled with the complexity of the project, stymied the ultimate execution of the contract. We find ourselves back at the beginning, likely starting the procurement process all over again. However, it’s not always a bad thing to start over. On behalf of the Associated Industries of Florida’s Technology Council, we thank the state for its efforts to deliver superior technology and advanced connectivity. Florida will be better served as a result.

— MOVEMENTS —

1st District Court of Appeal seeking judicial applications” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida’s second-highest court, the 1st District Court of Appeal, is seeking applications to fill the seat opening on the bench soon with the resignation of Judge James Wolf. The court will be accepting applications through Judicial Nominating Commission chair, Richard Doran until 6 p.m. on April 1. The application can be downloaded from The Florida Bar website or through DeSantis‘ judicial appointments website. The 1st District Court of Appeal, in Tallahassee, is the intermediate appellate court one step below the Florida Supreme Court. It hears most of the high-profile cases involving the Legislature, Cabinet and Governor. Wolf announced last week he intends to retire on June 30.

Visit Pensacola switches direction for next president, taps Darien Schaefer after first choice drops out” via Madison Arnold of the Pensacola News Journal — A search committee interviewed two finalists for the CEO and president position at the end of February and recommended hiring Pamela Johnson, deputy director of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau in Fort Myers, as the next leader of Visit Pensacola. She ultimately turned down the job due to “personal and family reasons,” said DC Reeves, chair of the search committee, at the quarterly meeting of the Escambia County Tourist Development Council. Now, the board of directors is moving forward with the other finalist, Darien Schaefer, CEO of Visit Big Bear in Big Bear Lake, California. Schaefer and Visit Pensacola reached an agreement and the board of directors held a special meeting to vote on contract negotiations. Although Johnson was the first choice, the search committee had recommended that if Visit Pensacola couldn’t come to an agreement with Johnson, the board should try to hire Schaefer.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

 

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— ALOE —

Uber adds emergency capacity to text 911” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Uber riders in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties can now text 911 from the ride-share company’s mobile app if they’re in an emergency situation and calling is not an option. The feature allows riders to tap the 911 assistance button within the app, which had already been available, and now includes the option to text a message to 911 operators. The feature is included in some of the state’s biggest markets including Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Naples and West Palm Beach. Uber notes that calling is still the preferred method of communication, but the text option could assist riders in situations where that’s not an option.

Uber rolls out an emergency 911 button.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are Emily Jeanne Barber, Floridian Partners’s Nichole Geary, and Janet Scherberger, who recently retired from Tampa International Airport.

___

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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