Northeast Florida, like the rest of the world, is about to have an Easter like none other.
Very few of us will be in churches. I’d say none, but there is the “coronavirus takes Easter off” school of thought.
The bounty so many enjoyed in what was a full-employment, if low-wage, economy has been replaced with hourslong waits to file unemployment or to score food from food banks.
Homebound, we wait for deliveries, knowing that going into a store at this point is a road to potential infection.
The fear and uncertainty are like nothing this city or this region has experienced, perhaps since the Great Fire wiped out downtown so many decades ago.
When does the rebuilding begin?
That’s the open question.
Right now, we’re still documenting the wreckage.
Sen. Audrey Gibson led the Senate Democrats this week to join the call for retroactive unemployment eligibility.
Essentially, the position: the date one loses their job is the date they are eligible.
On Monday, the Democratic caucus wrote Gov. Ron DeSantis, pushing for retroactive eligibility to the date that a given worker’s job was terminated.
“Recognizing that the application system … was not only out of service for much of the start of this pandemic, but continues to undergo repair, we ask for immediate action to help expedite Floridians’ access to the unemployment benefits they have earned,” read the caucus letter.
The ask is for retroactivity to March 1. And the Democrats would like that to apply to independent contractors, the class of workers that receives 1099s rather than W-2s.
All 17 members of the caucus signed off on the letter.
In an interview for our sister publication Influence, Sen. Rob Bradley expressed confidence that Florida will “snap back” from its current economic tailspin.
“Maybe I’m too much of an optimist,” he said, “but I believe that Florida is going to be OK. This virus is awful. It’s taking a terrible toll on those directly affected, and it’s having a shocking effect on our economy. But I still believe in the fundamentals of Florida. I think we can snap back quickly.”
Last week, when we interviewed legislators about the coronavirus crash in the economy and the need for a Special Session, Bradley was the last of those surveyed to respond (two others passed altogether).
He was similarly optimistic then, suggesting that those who worry about the budget blowing up because of coronavirus shutdowns need not fret.
“Certainly, the impact of coronavirus on our economy will affect tax revenues at all levels of government,” Bradley said. “Our state is well-positioned to handle this loss of revenue.”
“We exceeded revenue projections in pre-coronavirus 2020, we have robust reserves, the Governor will reduce future spending with vetoes, and the federal stimulus package will be helpful.
“We don’t anticipate adjustments to the 19/20 budget. With the influx of federal dollars pursuant to the CARES Act,” Bradley added, “the 20/21 budget should not be significantly altered.”
Read more of the INFLUENCE Magazine interview of Sen. Bradley here.
Meanwhile, Florida Politics’ columnist Joe Henderson is slightly more pessimistic, hoping Bradley’s right, but urging Florida to “prepare as if he is wrong.”
Bradley, the Senate budget chair, is not worried. However, his Clay County counterpart Rep. Travis Cummings, who runs the House approps side, urges caution when looking at Florida’s books post-coronavirus.
“We are cautiously optimistic that we can get through the current fiscal year,” Cummings said. “But when the revenue receipts come in March, April and May, we will evaluate all that. And maybe by a June or July time frame, we’ve got to figure out if we have to go back to Tallahassee and, quite frankly, pull some levers that will allow us to have an adequate budget to support the services we provide.”
“Let’s face it,” he said, “if we’re talking about billions versus $50 million of resources that could be identified, you’re going to have to look in the areas of cutting those types of expenditures. And what would that be? It would be health care, education, the environment.”
Cummings addressed this (and many other topics) in his INFLUENCE Magazine interview, reprinted on Florida Politics this week.
Though fundraising by incumbent legislators was largely shelved by the Legislative Session ending mid-March, followed by the coronavirus crisis ramping up, those not in the Legislature were free to raise money.
Exhibit A: Sam Garrison, the Orange Park lawyer who is an odds-on favorite to replace termed-out Rep. Cummings.
In March, Garrison raised $12,500, all of that money coming before March 11. Most of the money was local or regional. The Southern Group, Comcast, and the Beer Distributors were among the exceptions.
He now has $167,000 of hard money on hand and a clear road to Tallahassee.
Rep. Kim Daniels survived a primary challenge in 2018 against former Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright, and one theory among establishment Democrats opposed to Daniels is that no one closed the House District 14 primary.
Not this time.
On Monday, Nancy Kapetanovic filed as a write-in candidate.
Her name may not lend itself to a bumper sticker, but her main function in this race is restricting the primary to Democrats only.
Daniels, prohibited from fundraising in the Legislative Session, has yet to report March tallies, but she had roughly $17,000 banked before Session began.
She faces two candidates in the Democratic primary as of now.
Activist Connell Crooms likewise has yet to report for March but raised $150 in February, his only month of filings so far.
Community organizer Angela “Angie” Nixon, the other filed candidate, likewise has yet to report March fundraising.
Looking toward the future: Nixon, an establishment Democrat, may have to muscle Crooms out of the race to have a shot of defeating Daniels.
On tap Tuesday in the Jacksonville City Council: a referendum that could approve a new half-cent sales tax for school improvements in Duval County.
On Monday and Tuesday, three Jacksonville City Council committees approved the measure, and the final vote next week will be an anticlimax, a measure of the changing times and circumstances.
The referendum push polled well in 2019, but not inside Suite 400. They wanted a carve-out for charter schools at which the district balked.
However, the state tax package, which goes into effect July 1, offered a Solomonic solution: per-pupil allocations for charters and public schools.
This equity measure especially pleased Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson, who noted charters have been around for 22 years and deserved their cut.
Meet the new board, same as the old board?
Jacksonville residents will get to see the latest seven aspirants to the JEA Board Tuesday, at least in a virtual format, as they cleared the Rules committee and are ready for a full Council vote.
In February, Mayor Lenny Curry rolled out a list of familiar names to replace the last JEA Board he picked.
The appointees include Dr. Leon L. Haley, Jr., CEO, UF Health Jacksonville; Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., president & CEO, Edward Waters College; John D. Baker, II, executive chairman & CEO, FRP Holdings; Marty Lanahan, executive vice president & regional president, Iberia Bank; Joseph P. DiSalvo, lieutenant general, U.S. Army (ret.); Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, president, The Regency Group; and Tom VanOsdol, senior vice president, Ascension Healthcare & ministry market executive, Ascension Florida.
They will replace the last seven members of the JEA Board, who resigned after the privatization push and the Aaron Zahn hire as CEO went sideways.
Though there were tough talk and even a few no votes along the way, with Haley and Faison getting the worst of it, Rules fell in line when top-level donor John Baker’s name was advanced.
Media people in the Jacksonville market continue to be queued up for unscheduled and unwanted vacations.
The latest hit came Monday for employees of Tegna, the parent company of the First Coast News operation familiar to viewers of the Northeast Florida NBC and ABC affiliates.
As first reported by Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union, the furloughs will space out between April 20 and June 26.
On-air talent gets an unpaid week off. News directors take an 8% haircut for the period, news directors and station heads of technology would receive an 8% temporary pay reduction, with GMs and SVPs taking a 20% pay cut. The C-suite will see its pay cut by 25%.
A spox for Tegna told Bloch furloughs were “a temporary, cost-saving measure during … April, May and June.”
Bloch, subject to her weeklong furlough later in the spring as a Gannett employee, noted in a tweet the cumulative impact of these moves affecting her and her colleagues.
“Jacksonville is quickly becoming a news desert at this rate,” Bloch noted, citing cuts from the corporate media titans, as well as continued attrition at the local alternative weekly (which, for now at least, is monthly).
With worries mounting that coronavirus may be present in low-income communities, testing will come to them.
As WOKV reported, “Initial efforts will involve a team of 40 to 50 volunteer UF Health medical professionals, including UF Health physicians and nurses and UF medical student volunteers, who will evaluate up to about 2,000 people over the next few weeks.”
Upcoming test times include “1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Emmett Reed Community Center in Jacksonville,” and “Wednesday through Friday the week of April 13, rotating through the following communities: Brentwood, 761 Village Center Dr.; Hogan Creek, 1320 N. Broad St.; Twin Towers, 617-621 W. 44th St.; and Centennial Towers, 230 E. First St.”
Concerns have included block parties, which have ramped up amid governmental restrictions on commerce and movement in response to coronavirus. Churches, another flashpoint of community spread, also have elicited concern.
Of course, it’s not just block parties driving concern; it’s also airports.
As WJXT reported, a Jacksonville TSA employee who was interacting with passengers March 27 and dates before tested positive.
While the employee has not been at the airport since March 27, the incubation period of this disease includes pre-symptomatic contagion.
“As of Monday, 52 screening officers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. In addition, 13 non-screening employees who have relatively limited interaction with the traveling public, have tested positive for the virus over the same period, according to TSA,” WJXT reported.
Three of those infected agents have been in Florida.
In these times of uncertainty over coronavirus, the First Coast YMCA is assuring families that they are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“It is our social responsibility to be there for all and to do our part to inspire a better tomorrow,” the organization says in a flyer announcing the new “School’s Out Camp.”
The camps are for ages 5-12, held in seven regional locations: Barco-Newton Family YMCA (Fleming Island); Camp Immokalee: Dye Clay Family YMCA (Orange Park): duPont YMCA Youth Development Campus (Baymeadows): Flagler Center YMCA (Bartram Park); Flagler Health+ Village YMCA (NW St Johns) and Ponte Vedra YMCA.
Parents are asked to fill out a health assessment for each child, ensuring that they are healthy before arriving at camp.
Among the additional precautions: no sick children allowed; maximum of 60 campers in each location, with a 1:10 ratio of counselors to campers; frequent sanitation and deep cleaning twice daily and curbside drop off and pick up to minimize contact.
In addition to childcare for the region’s health care workers, The Y will also be offering free Wi-Fi and help with online learning.
For details or to register online, visit FCYMCA.org.
Jaguars fight coronavirus
One of the most exciting advances emergency from the current struggle against the coronavirus is the developing testing methods that include antibodies from those who have recovered from the disease. The Jaguars’ family has a prominent member who fought and won his battle with the COVID-19 virus, who is using his experience to help prevent others from suffering the same fate.
Jacksonville Jaguars legend Tony Boselli contracted the disease and less than two weeks ago returned home from the Mayo Clinic after gaining the upper hand. To help the effort to protect the public, the Jaguars purchased 45,000 protective masks to be distributed to those engaging with the public.
Boselli is a significant part of the outreach effort. He has recorded a promotional video urging those watching to practice social distancing, but most importantly to “wear a mask” when venturing outside.
“When you go out in public, here in Jacksonville or anywhere, put a mask on!” he commands. “It’ll protect you. It’ll protect your family and all those you come in contact with.”
The masks, which contain the Jaguars’ logo, will be distributed to not-for-profit groups whose mission is currently focused on local COVID-19 efforts. Distribution is set to begin next week.
In March, the team announced that Jaguars owner Shad Khan made a personal gift of $1 million in support of northeast Florida’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The funding is designed to provide essential support to local organizations focused on the immediate health and well-being of First Coast residents.
The team is part of the local #Masks4Jax campaign that is committed to providing masks throughout the region. Khan’s original company, Flex-N-Gate, is also involved by producing parts in Michigan toward the effort to build thousands of ventilators desperately needed for coronavirus treatment.