Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.20.20

Sunburn Orange Tally (1)
Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Orlando today, where he will make headlines one way or the other.

Pence plans to deliver personal protective equipment to a local nursing home (note to Pence’s staff: don’t forget the mask). He will talk to Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss tourism and Florida’s reopening.

Given the uncertainty in which we all live now, there are some things that we should mention for you to keep in mind in the land of 29 electoral votes.

Mike Pence is taking a tour of Orlando this week.

More than 2,000 people have died in Florida of COVID-19, including 56 on Tuesday alone. Since you are the head of the nation’s COVID response, would you mention to DeSantis that’s a bad, bad, bad idea to fudge the numbers to make yourself look good?

Rebekah Jones, who managed the public updates on the Florida Department of Health COVID dashboard, was recently removed from her job for doing her job.

Jones said this in a farewell email to the staff and public: “As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Jones told Florida Politics her removal was “per order of the executive office.”

Also, your boss doesn’t believe in climate science. For the sake of everyone, do your best to change his mind before a Category 5 hurricane this fall does it for you.

If Florida gets clobbered again by one of those monster storms, enough voters might remember Donald Trump’s mockery of climate change.

Think of it as a virus: It’s happening whether you believe it or not, and it could kill you.

So, we bid you welcome and hope you will stay safe until we see you again.

And whatever you do — don’t forget the mask.

Assignment editors — Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo, Congresswoman Val Demings, Sen. Victor Torres, and UFCW Local 1625 Union Rep. Julee Jerkovich will hold a virtual news conference ahead of Pence’s visit to Orlando, 3:15 p.m. To participate, RSVP here.

___

Three months ago, “heroes” wore capes, played in stadiums, or starred in blockbusters.

In the coronavirus era, they have been supplanted by the doctors, nurses, and first responders risking their lives every day to slow the spread.

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows nine in 10 Florida voters approved of the job police, firefighters and paramedics are doing. Nearly the same number sang the praises of health care workers who keep clocking in despite a near guarantee they will come within inches of the deadly virus daily.

Those donning a uniform or scrubs every morning aren’t the only essential workers earning widespread respect from voters.

The survey also found Floridians are grateful for some heretofore unsung professions.

The truckers who deliver the food and necessities that line store shelves and the farmers who, despite a devastating season, are still shipping produce, earned high marks in all corners of the state. But it’s the baggers, cashiers, and stockboys at the grocery store who are held in the highest esteem.

More than 92% of respondents said they approved of those employees.

In nearly every demographic tracked by St. Pete Polls — party, race, gender, age, and media market — grocery store employees enjoyed approval ratings rivaling, and even besting, those of first responders.

Likely because, in the age of coronavirus, they’re front-line workers, too.

___

Unemployment has rocketed to levels unseen since the Great Depression, the stock market has shed a decade’s worth of gains in a matter of weeks, and hurricane season is coming.

If ever there was a time for financial advice, it’s now.

Jimmy Patronis plans to deliver.

The state CFO has teamed up with a coalition of financial, insurance, and consumer groups to develop a financial education campaign, MoneyWise Florida, aimed at helping Florida residents protect and manage their financial lives.

Jimmy Patronis feels now is the perfect time to teach financial literacy. Image via CFO Office.

The details drop in a 10 a.m. Zoom call with Patronis and executives from Suncoast Credit Union, Florida Insurance Council, Florida Institute of CPAs, Florida Prosperity Partnership, Florida Alliance for Consumers and taxpayers, and the Florida Bankers Association.

In addition to the MoneyWise Florida unveiling, the coalition will announce the results of a statewide survey and website detailing resources and information for Floridians.

Attendees must sign up in advance to join the call. After registering, attendees will receive a confirmation email with instructions on how to join the meeting.

___

The South Florida shuffle continues.

First, Sen. Kevin Rader dropped his reelection bid in Senate District 29. That prompted Rep. Tina Polsky to swap from House District 81 into the SD 29 contest.

Now, Delray Beach attorney Michael Weinstein — the son of a former Senate Majority Leader — says he will run in HD 81 as a Democrat.

“There is too much at stake in this election for me to sit on the sidelines. I have the background, experience and commitment to provide effective leadership in the State House starting on day one,” Weinstein wrote in a statement confirming his run.

“As the parent of a nine-year-old girl in the Palm Beach County Public School System, I’m committed to ensuring more funding for education and smaller class sizes. As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the need for our state to increase its social services. I’ll also work to expand Medicaid and improve access to quality, affordable health care. This community is my home and I want to make sure it has the best representation possible in Tallahassee.”

Attorney Michael Weinstein is looking to succeed Kevin Rader in the Florida Senate.

Weinstein launched his law career with a job at the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, eventually becoming a prosecutor. He now runs his own criminal defense firm.

As for his political background, Weinstein served as an intern for former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

Politics runs in the family as well. Weinstein’s father Peter was a former Florida Senate Majority Leader and later, the Chief Judge of Broward County.

Silmo Moura, a Boca Raton Republican who works as a real estate agent with United Realty Group, is also running in HD 81.

The district leans heavily Democratic, however. The Democratic candidate in HD 81 has been unopposed in the general for three straight cycles.

HD 81 covers parts of Palm Beach County near Lake Okeechobee including Pahokee and Belle Glade.

— TOP STORIES —

Coronavirus may have caused hundreds of additional deaths in Florida” via Kathleen McGrory of the Tampa Bay Times — The Tampa Bay Times teamed up with a health researcher from the University of South Florida to analyze all deaths in the state, not just those certified as COVID-19. They found that during the 5-week period ending April 25, there had been hundreds of unexpected deaths from illness and disease across Florida, more than can be explained by the coronavirus death count. The analysis suggests the epidemic’s true toll may be between 17 percent and 58 percent higher than published death figures. Health experts say that likely includes some people who died of coronavirus but were never diagnosed as well as others who might have lived had the pandemic not kept them from getting care.

Florida has cases of child illness tied to COVID-19 via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Surgeon General Scott Rivkees encouraged physicians and hospitals to make sure they report any suspected cases of what is known as a “multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children” to health department officials. “We are beginning to see cases nationally and a few cases in Florida of this inflammatory disorder that is infecting children,” Rivikees said. “If you see cases like that, make us aware at the Department of Health.” Holtz Children’s Hospital, which is part of Miami’s Jackson Health System, has two confirmed cases. “Both patients are receiving appropriate treatment in the pediatric intensive care unit, and are showing signs of improvement,” a statement from the hospital said.

Scott Rivkees is warning of an increase in ‘multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.’ Image via AP.

Floridians lose patience with state’s unemployment claims system via Alex Leary of The Wall Street Journal — “There are more reports of problems out of Florida than anywhere,” said Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst at the nonprofit National Employment Law Project. “Their website is notorious and is designed to say no instead of yes at every turn.” As of Sunday, the state reported 1.58 million unique claims, of which nearly 897,000 have been paid to some degree. Evermore, however, said the state “is dead last in most regards” in processing claims. Lynne Reback, who lost her job as a bartender at Orlando International Airport, said she spent three days filling out an online application. “I would rather stick bamboo shoots up my fingernails than have to go through that again,” she said.

As Florida reopens, some business owners are taking it slow via Tamara Lush and Adriana Gomez Licon of The Associated Press — Despite reopenings throughout Florida, some cities and businesses are hesitant about welcoming the public, saying they want to take things slow due to lingering safety concerns. It’s a delicate balance, especially for small business owners who have been closed since mid-March. Some say too many unknowns still exist. Miami Beach and the city of Miami are delaying opening retail, hair salons and barbershops until later this week and restaurants until later this month. Still, elsewhere, many businesses are allowed to reopen. Some aren’t, however. “We feel it’s best for us at this time to remain completely contactless indefinitely,” said Sarah Weaver, co-owner of Bandit Coffee in St. Petersburg.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@FacesofCovid: 1,430 people died of COVID-19 today in the United States. 2,216 have died of the virus in the last 48 hours. Their lives had meaning. Their death from this virus was not inevitable. We will keep sharing their stories.

@Parscale: The press is going nuts over @realDonaldTrump taking hydroxychloroquine (prescribed by doctor). Of course, if he’s doing it, they must oppose it. But the Assoc. of American Physicians & Surgeons says otherwise.

@RyanEGorman: What was interesting about the presentation was the Governor saying multiple claims could trigger a fraud alert, but that’s what thousands of Floridians had to end up doing because of the broken system

@Fineout: OK, I didn’t send out a tweet regarding Governor’s news conference. But 2 things: Yes, the Governor went both to Harvard and Yale, but he went to Harvard Law School. Secondly, this was not said to gov, but to DeSantis’s staff about why the Governor could not answer one last? … The Governor gave a lengthy overview of the unemployment system but only answered a couple of questions before he left. But this time he did not suggest applicants were to blame for any ongoing problems. Instead, he explained what the state had done in the last few weeks … As this pandemic has unfolded — and a lot has been going on — it’s been difficult at times to get detailed answers from the administration about a lot of things that are going on, hence the push to get the Governor to respond.

@KevinCate: Average hold time to get details of unemployment claim in Florida: one hour & 39 minutes, per DMS Secretary. “We haven’t gotten to most …” “Most are hanging up.”

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

English Premier League soccer to restart — 12; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 19; PGA Tour resumes — 22; Father’s Day — 32; Apple to hold Developer Conference — 33; Federal taxes due — 56; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 58; “Mulan” premieres — 65; TED conference rescheduled — 67; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 89; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 93; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 96; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 107; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 108; Rescheduled date for French Open — 122; First presidential debate in Indiana — 133; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 143; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 148; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 149; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 155; 2020 General Election — 167; “Black Widow” premieres — 170; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 181; “No Time to Die” premieres — 188; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 217; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 429; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 438; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 534; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 632; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 674; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 717; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 870.

— CORONA NATION —

Trump allies lining up doctors to prescribe rapid reopening” via the Associated Press — Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hourlong call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.

The next COVID crisis could be a wave of suicides via Emma Court of Bloomberg — The isolation, grief and economic hardship related to Covid-19 are creating a mental health crisis in the U.S. that researchers warn could make the already-rising suicide rate worse. A study released Friday tried to quantify the toll. The paper, which was not peer-reviewed, found that over the next decade, as many as 75,000 additional people could die from “deaths of despair” as a result of the coronavirus crisis. This term refers to suicides and substance-abuse-related deaths. “I hope in 10 years people look back and say, ‘Wow, they way overestimated it,’” said John Westfall, director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, who co-wrote the report.

The next major wave of COVID-19 deaths could be from suicide. Image via Getty.

What’s driving the shutdown protests? It’s not economic pain. via Robert Griffin and Mayesha Quasem of The Washington Post — One narrative suggests that these protesters are motivated by economic worries. Protesters themselves have emphasized that they want to go back to work and said that they’re unhappy with the restriction because of money worries. Those hurt financially are just about as likely as those who weren’t to support encouraging people to stay in their homes and avoid socializing with others. There aren’t strong differences between these groups when asked whether they would be willing to re-engage with a “reopened” society.

49 of 50 governors have better coronavirus poll numbers than Donald Trump via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — New polling data show that fully 49 of 50 governors have significantly higher approval ratings for their coronavirus responses than Trump does in recent polls. The one Governor on Trump’s level is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whose efforts to reopen his state have proved controversial. Kemp’s approval rating was 43% — the same as Trump’s. Apart from Kemp, the Governor closest to Trump is Hawaii Gov. David Ige, at 54%. No other governor falls below half of their constituents supporting their response.

States accused of fudging or bungling COVID-19 testing data via Michelle R. Smith, Colleen Long and Jeff Amy of The Associated Press — Public health officials in some states are accused of bungling coronavirus infection statistics or even using a little sleight of hand to deliberately make things look better than they are. The risk is that politicians, business owners, and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about lockdowns, reopenings, and other day-to-day matters could be left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is. In Florida, the data scientist who developed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Rebekah Jones, said this week that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Calls to health officials for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.

As some states reopen, studying sewage could help stop the coronavirus pandemic via Dinah Voyles Pulver of USA Today — Private companies and university researchers have partnered with communities to collect sewage at treatment plants and test it for the presence of the novel coronavirus. The results are reported to municipal governments and state health officials to help them monitor the situation. Testing wastewater can reveal evidence of the coronavirus and show whether it’s increasing or decreasing in a community. Although they cannot determine the exact number of COVID-19 cases from the wastewater, researchers said they could estimate the potential case count based on the amount of genetic material detected.

We might have had a COVID-19 vaccine by now, but we didn’t invest in science via Marcelo Bonini for the Miami Herald — My laboratory staff and I work to find solutions for metastatic breast cancer and chronic inflammatory disease. But science is not linear; solutions designed to resolve one problem end up helping with others. That’s what happened with our research. As we investigated what causes the immune system to trigger chronic inflammatory diseases, we found a potentially promising new treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This is the condition that ultimately kills patients suffering from the gravest form of COVID-19. But that promising research is now in the deep freeze. Virtually all our ongoing experiments had to be terminated, and our laboratory infrastructure went into hibernation mode.

Masks are changing the way we look at each other, and ourselves via Maura Judkis of The Washington Post — The masking of America has changed the landscape of human expression at a time when people are looking to one another anxiously for signs of fellowship, hope and danger. Both high-end and mass-market brands are treating the mask as a new category of accessory, and rethinking the materials and shape of facial protection. First, they were clinical, then folksy and homemade. Now they’re slick, professional and geared toward every possible interest. Future mask design could incorporate technology to inform contact tracing, or to notify people with a gentle beep when someone gets too close. And facial recognition technology will adapt.

COVID-19 data sharing with law enforcement sparks concern via The Associated Press — More than 11 million people have been tested in the U.S. for COVID-19, all with the assurance that their private medical information would remain protected and undisclosed. Yet, public officials in at least two-thirds of states are sharing the addresses of people who tested positive with first responders — from police officers to firefighters to EMTs. An Associated Press review found that at least 10 of those states also share the patients’ names. First responders argue the information is vital to helping them take extra precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the coronavirus. But civil liberty and community activists have expressed concerns of potential profiling in African American and Hispanic communities that already have an uneasy relationship with law enforcement. Some envision the data being forwarded to immigration officials.

Public health officials are causing concern by sharing the name of COVID-19 patients with first responders; minority communities are worried about profiling. Image via AP

Revisiting one of many debunked efforts to minimize the scale of the coronavirus pandemic via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s efforts to downplay the scale of the pandemic have included ridiculous insinuations of a conspiracy theory to inflate the number of deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. There are differences between how the CDC tallies deaths and how hospitals tally deaths. The CDC’s numbers aren’t offered in real-time; instead, they are based on information from death certificates, which aren’t usually produced on the date of a person’s death. Hospitals use the information on deaths as they occur. This difference leads to discrepancies.

Where New Yorkers moved to escape coronavirus via Azi Paybarah, Matthew Bloch and Scott Reinhard of The New York Times — Addresses in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are the top destinations outside of the New York tri-state area for forwarded mail from New York City during the pandemic, according to an analysis of mail forwarding requests. By far, most New Yorkers who appear to be sitting out the epidemic outside close to home — elsewhere in the New York area. Huge numbers, for example, are escaping to the Hamptons. But of those who appear to have left the immediate New York City area, the largest number, more than 1,800, went to South Florida. That was slightly higher than the number headed to the Philadelphia area, parts of Connecticut usually seen as fringe New York suburbs, and the D.C. area.

— SHADOWLAND —

America owes its existence to conspiracy theories, at least in part, according to a new series of reports in The Atlantic. One of the earliest ones in the colonies was that King George III was plotting the enslavement of all Americans.

Without evidence, this theory helped bring momentum toward revolution.

Yet conspiracy thinking, both in the United States and around the globe, have laid waste to great institutions, destroyed knowledge, endangered democracy, and ended lives.

One of the more persistent conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic is its unproven connection to 5G towers.

Today, fed by the internet, partisan media, and Trump — the particular brand of paranoia has become more powerful (and more dangerous) than ever. It is a threat not only to individual facts but also the idea that empirical truths even exist.

Mainstream conspiracism arises not from bad information, bad politics or bad thinking, but from a curated system designed to fuel paranoia and profit from mistrust.

With the “Shadowland project, The Atlantic attempts to shed light on the forces that have created this unreality — and offer readers a blueprint as to how to feel their way out.

Among the articles:

—“The conspiracy theorists are winning via Jeffrey Goldberg

—“The prophecies of Q via Adrienne LaFrance

—“The paranoid style in American entertainment via Megan Garber

—“I was a teenage conspiracy theorist via Ellen Cushing

—“Birtherism of the nation via Adam Serwer


— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida coronavirus update: 55 new reported deaths bring toll to 2,052 via the staff of the Orlando Sentinel — Reported Florida coronavirus deaths climbed past 2,000 Tuesday. One research group projects the state’s death toll will pass 4,700 by August, but that’s down from over 5,400 expected a week ago. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation research center out of the University of Washington, which has been used by the federal government to help steer its coronavirus response, released new projections late Monday that predict 4,721 fatalities in Florida by Aug. 4, with uncertainty between 3,252 and 9,146. While Florida’s forecast decreased, the institute increased projected deaths for the United States and now expects 143,357 deaths, up from 137,184 last week.

Health Department officials told manager to delete coronavirus data before reassigning her, emails show via Langston Taylor of the Tampa Bay Times — One day before a top Florida Department of Health data manager was taken off her role maintaining the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, officials had directed her to remove data from public view that showed Floridians reported symptoms of the disease before cases were officially announced. The department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5. The data manager, Jones, complied with the order, but not before she told her supervisors it was the “wrong call.” The next morning, control over the data was given to other employees.

Rebekah Jones is the architect of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. Jones claims the state fired her after superiors asked her to delete data. Image via Rebekah Jones.

Florida’s COVID-19 website guru blasts bosses, hints at data suppression via Ben Wieder of the Miami Herald — The state official managing Florida’s public “dashboard” of COVID-19 data says that her office has been removed from the project — and questioned the Department of Health’s commitment to “accessibility and transparency.” Jones, the geographic information system manager for DOH’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, wrote in an email, “as a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months.” The state has consistently resisted revealing essential data points and public records to the news media and taxpayers, relenting only in the face of lawsuits.

Florida coronavirus: Lab blamed for thousands of inaccurate tests fires back via Masha Saeidi of WFLA — The lab company blamed for thousands of inaccurate COVID-19 test results is breaking its silence. “All of this nonsense about the tests being not reliable and not being stored correctly is complete utter lies,” said Rick Martin, the CEO of the molecular lab MicroGenDX. “They want a scapegoat.” Florida health care company AdventHealth said it’s possible that as many as 33,000 Florida patients who took COVID-19 tests may have been told incorrect results, or received no results at all. AdventHealth puts the blame directly on a third-party lab. Martin said MicroGenDX was the unnamed lab and fired back Tuesday, saying his company has worked with top institutions for more than a decade. “So, if it was positive, they can trust it’s positive,” said Martin.

Worth the click — “Database of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths via USA Today — Recently obtained Medical Examiners Commission’s data of COVID-19 deaths was released as part of a public records request. The Florida Department of Health blocked the commission from releasing the spreadsheet. When the state agreed to release, state officials attempted to redact the narratives with details about each death and the cause of death. The data provide grim insight into the early failures of state officials and the medical system to contain and respond to the virus. Florida Today’s analysis of the initial 600 deaths found patients denied testing until their second or third hospital visit, deaths from untraceable cases, meaning contact tracing either didn’t happen or fell apart immediately, and deadly clusters of infection at nursing homes and cruise ships.

CDC, Florida report vastly different coronavirus testing numbers via Naseem S. Miller of the Orlando Sentinel — The number of COVID-19 tests performed in Florida is far higher in data reported by the CDC than what’s reported by the state, according to a new analysis that calls the discrepancy “a cause for concern.” As of May 16, the state had performed close to 700,000 COVID-19 tests, according to the Florida Department of Health; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Florida had conducted more than 900,000 COVID-19 tests. With a 33% difference between the two agencies, Florida is one of 10 states to report such large discrepancies in testing numbers, with Florida being the most extreme case. While Florida’s case and death numbers matched closely with CDC’s, the testing data did not, raising questions about how reliable the data is.

Ron DeSantis defends performance of Florida’s unemployment system” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — Rolling out pages of data to reporters, DeSantis said the state has made payments totaling $2.6 billion to nearly 1 million Floridians who have applied for jobless benefits since March 15. The number of people receiving help has steadily increased in the last few weeks amid the administration’s massive push to retool the flawed and troubled system, DeSantis said. “This was a big challenge, it’s taken a lot of work,” DeSantis told reporters, adding later that Florida is “so far away” from where it was six weeks ago. He called it “unprecedented” and said the state had paid out more jobless benefits in the last 10 weeks than in the last five years combined.

DeSantis says 97.6% of applicants eligible for unemployment have been paid via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis defended the state’s beleaguered unemployment system Tuesday, saying 97.6% of valid individual claims have been paid, despite the almost half a million of them filed with some kind of mistake or by people who aren’t eligible. But emails and calls to the Orlando Sentinel and other media outlets across Florida show a continued frustration with the system, with many saying they did everything right but still have not been paid. As he has done many times before, DeSantis acknowledged the $77 million system was never meant to process more than 1,000 claims at one time. While total claims exceeded 2 million, DeSantis said many were duplicates created by people trying to access the mobile site when the main CONNECT site wasn’t working.

Ron DeSantis said nearly 98% of valid applicants eligible for unemployment have been paid. Image via AP.

86.4% of Florida adults qualified for $1,200 coronavirus relief checks via The Center Square — The share of Florida adults eligible to receive $1,200 or more from the coronavirus financial relief plan passed by Congress was 86.4%, representing 11,152,974 residents. Generally, states where a higher percentage of adults receive the full coronavirus stimulus amount have more lower-income households, an analysis states. Many states were dealing with poor economic conditions even before the COVID-19 health emergency began.

This pot of money is there to help the jobless. Florida can’t figure out how to tap it via Kevin G. Hall of the Miami Herald — Fifty-three days after Congress passed the CARES Act, Floridian Tim Young still waits on jobless benefits. He fits in a particularly uncomfortable niche: people who had exhausted their annual state benefits before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the nation. Federal emergency funds were set aside to fill this gap, but Florida has yet to put in place a mechanism for Young and others to receive it. The Tampa resident tried desperately to find work even as the nation was caught in the throes of COVID-19 economic chaos. His unemployment benefits ran out in early March. On March 27, Congress passed the CARES Act, which included the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program for those who had already exhausted benefits.

Florida didn’t start sending most $600 fed unemployment checks until stay-at-home order was lifted via Kylie McGivern of WFTS — The I-Team found Florida received millions in federal money as the state was slow to pay the unemployed. Weeks after the state shut down, as hundreds of thousands of Floridians sought unemployment, as of April 27, the state had only withdrawn $80 million from a federal fund set up to pay the unemployed. Florida’s unemployment fund, separate from the federal fund where Florida is withdrawing the $600 checks, earned nearly $25 million in interest in the first three months of the year, according to an accounting record obtained by the I-Team. In March, Florida was the only state that was taking in more money to its state unemployment fund than it was paying out in benefit checks.

How some Florida workers are making more with unemployment via Libby Hendren of WTSB — A new study shows 68% of those who are out of work can collect more in unemployment benefits right now than they did when they were working. In Florida, the max unemployment payout is $275 a week. Under the CARES Act, workers could get $600 per week in federal benefits. So if that worker was eligible, that’s $831 per week, which is more than many unskilled workers made per week before the pandemic.

As unemployment debacle continues, call hold times are the newest plague via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The state’s unemployment system is quickly processing claims, but the holdup for some people lies in getting on the phone with a customer service representative, which can take hours in some cases. To get detailed information on an account, an applicant may need to wait 139 minutes or more than two hours, to get through to a customer service representative. That’s despite the state adding five customer service centers with 6,000 representatives and slashing training from four weeks to two weeks.

—“North Port business says state failed to notify them to take action on unemployment claims via Victoria Price of WFLA

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried: DeSantis froze me out of coronavirus plans via Steven Lemongello of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — For the past two months amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fried can’t get the Governor’s office to talk to her about the coronavirus crisis gripping the state. Fried said it was disingenuous to keep her out of the conversation in Tallahassee when she oversees one of Florida’s largest industries, agriculture. Conservative groups have criticized her for suspending online applications for concealed-weapons licenses because of the pandemic and for doing a news media interview in Atlanta in April during a statewide lockdown. She said the communication wasn’t always so bad between her office and the Governor’s office during their first year working together in 2019.

Rent overdue? What to do when eviction ban is lifted June 2 via Emerald Morrow of WTSP — When DeSantis’ statewide ban on evictions is lifted June 2, attorneys in the Tampa Bay area say they expect to see an even larger increase in court filings than when the ban was originally supposed to be lifted May 17. Attorney Charles Gallagher of Gallagher and Associates Law Firm. Gallagher said if you have not been able to pay rent due to a coronavirus-related job loss, it’s best to start communicating a written plan with your landlord now. If that does not work and your landlord files eviction proceedings in court, Gallagher said it is essential to respond to the court. Otherwise, the eviction process could move faster because the court might assume you have no defense. Responding might also allow for extra time.

University of Florida survey finds coronavirus has decimated some Florida farms via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — The coronavirus has turned much of Florida’s winter vegetable crop into waste. Large food buyers like schools, resorts and restaurants became missing links in the food supply chain, leaving farmers with no market to sell their goods. Sales of field crops like green beans, corn and cabbage decreased by 46% overall and livestock down by 39% compared to last year. Some growers report losing as much as 90% of their business, and nearly half said their cash flow had disrupted for the “long term.” The survey found that 84% of the growers said they lost a substantial amount of business. Most of the respondents are considered small businesses, with annual revenue of less than $250,000.

When cruises from Florida reopen, many popular destination ports wonder when and whether to welcome back tourists via Ken Storey of Orlando Weekly — Nearly all — 96% — of travel destinations around the world have imposed some form of restrictions, with some of the most extreme directed at the cruise industry. While many cities and countries have yet to commit to a reopening date, some of those who have are presenting a major hurdle. Seychelles rocked the travel industry last week when they announced the country would be banning cruise ships at its Port Victoria until 2022. The nation has been a popular spot in the burgeoning Asian cruise market. By far the most extreme closure yet, Seychelles may soon be joined by other countries with Australian politicians now debating banning international travel until at least mid-2021.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Miami-Dade launches $5 million forgivable loan program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade is offering $5 million worth of forgivable loans for small businesses employing low-wage workers and suffering during the coronavirus pandemic, with federal dollars covering the grants. County commissioners approved the program Tuesday, following efforts by Miami, Hialeah and other cities to convert federal aid into direct cash for businesses and individuals. The county plans to offer zero-interest loans up to $25,000 through the program using money from federal block grants. Miami-Dade would cancel the debt if borrowers met job-retention requirements of the loans, which would be approved by two local nonprofits hired by the county. Those nonprofits, Tools for Change and Partners for Self-Employment, will administer the loan program and negotiate some of the terms.

Coronavirus cases skyrocket at ICE detention center in Broward after transfer from Miami via Monique of Madan of the Miami Herald — Coronavirus cases at an immigration detention center in Broward skyrocketed over the weekend after dozens of detainees were transferred there from the Krome center in Miami-Dade County. According to the latest available federal figures from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach went from having three cases on Friday to 19 cases on Monday night. The agency does not update its data over the weekend. Broward’s case tally now exceeds the count for positive cases at the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade, which has slowly climbed to 13 over the last two months.

Coronavirus cases have skyrocketed the Krome Service Processing Center. Image via USA Today.

South Florida’s Catholic churches to resume in-person Mass with restrictions via Karina Elwood of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In-person daily Mass in Broward and Miami-Dade counties will resume May 26, the Archdiocese of Miami announced this week. In a letter to churchgoers, Archbishop Thomas Wenski outlined the restrictions and changes churches will implement upon their reopening, such as social distancing, restricted interactions and required faces masks. The first Sunday Mass will be open to the public on May 31, Pentecost Sunday, a Christian holiday. The Diocese of Palm Beach announced last week in a similar letter that it will resume Sunday Mass on the same day. Daily Masses in the Palm Beach diocese will start May 25. In his letter, Wenski wrote that since there will be restrictions for churchgoers, livestreamed Masses will continue for the foreseeable future.

FGCU announces ‘Restart SWFL’ initiative to assist local businesses with pandemic recovery via Andrew Wigdor of the Fort Myers News-Press — Florida Gulf Coast University announced its “Restart SWFL” initiative Tuesday, which is aimed at helping businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Companies in Southwest Florida and beyond have suffered dramatic consequences due to the epidemic, with many being forced to close and laying off hundreds. Southwest Florida businesses that decide to join the initiative will pledge to a set of standards involving health, business and ethical practices, including meeting or exceeding CDC guidelines for best public health practices. The initiative will also include a series of free, web-based discussions led by experts at Lutgert and Marieb, as well as community leaders. The discussions will inform businesses on the best practices to use and safety measures they should be taking during the pandemic.

Small businesses can get $10,000, households can get $1,000 from Orange County as part of federal coronavirus relief via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County will soon begin offering $10,000 grants to small businesses and $1,000 to people who have faced furloughs or job losses as part of its plan to spend $243.2 million in coronavirus relief dollars from the federal CARES Act. The county has set aside 30% of its federal money — $72.9 million — expecting to aid 6,500 small businesses, said Kurt Petersen, director of budget and management. “Brick-and-mortar” businesses with no more than 25 employees can apply for a one-time $10,000 grant to cover normal business expenses such as employee wages, rent and bills from vendors. The county will also spend $72.9 million on social-service and community needs, including about half that amount on direct payments to struggling households.

Florida National Guard starts free COVID-19 testing in Naples via Liz Freeman of Naples Daily News — Debbie Delahanty had good reason to stand in line Tuesday with hundreds of others at North Collier Regional Park in North Naples for free testing for COVID-19. A bicycle crash two weeks ago when she was hit by a car meant a trip to the emergency room for her injuries. Still, Delahanty had no qualms waiting an hour or so for the test at the regional park, a sentiment shared by many who turned out for the first day of free COVID-19 testing by the Florida National Guard. Testing started at 9 a.m., but people started lining up shortly before 7 a.m., said Kristine Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County.

Planning a trip to Disney Springs? Everything’s not open yet. Here’s what to expect via Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Disney Springs will be reopening to the public May 20, marking Walt Disney World’s first step toward reopening its entire resort. Only about 44 shops and restaurants out of the 168 at Disney Springs will be reopening. This is due to Disney only allowing third-party owners to open, meaning the famous World of Disney store will remain closed along with other Disney stores. A full list can be found here. Disney Springs won’t be back to business as usual when it reopens. Guests will be temperature screened before entering, there will be limited parking and reduced entrances, face coverings are required for anyone ages three and up. There will be physical barriers and queues for social distancing.

COVID-19 testing at Adventure Island suspended after lab issues via Caitlin Johnston of the Tampa Bay Times — AdventHealth suspended its drive-thru COVID-19 testing at Adventure Island after an issue with a laboratory caused a backlog in results, a spokesperson said. The drive-thru site, one of the only ones in the area to use a saliva test instead of an uncomfortable nasal swab, opened April 22 to test 2,000 people a day for a month. Officials told patients they’d get results in two to three days. But a written announcement Saturday from the AdventHealth West Florida Division said the health care provider terminated its contract with the lab in charge of processing results because it was “unable to fulfill its obligation.” The lab issues affected more than 8,000 people throughout the West Florida division.

COVID-19 testing at Adventure Island suspended after an issue with the lab causing a backup of results. Image via AP.

Spotted: People wearing masks and riding SeaWorld’s Mako coaster via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — There has been a sighting of a roller coaster in motion in Orlando. Mako, a hypercoaster at SeaWorld Orlando theme park, made rounds, and it included riders wearing different kinds of face coverings, an eyewitness says. Health and safety will be a prime issue for attractions as they reopen to the public. Going forward, parks have been emphasizing cleaning procedures, capacity limits, social distancing, and other measures. Although the CDC recommends face coverings, and executives have said the masks would likely be required of parkgoers, no Florida theme-park operator has made it official yet.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Trump’s senior advisers now predict swift economic recovery, despite warnings that major problems could persist via Jeff Stein and Heather Long of The Washington Post — White House officials are increasingly predicting a swift economic recovery as they break off talks with Congress on additional federal stimulus, expressing optimism that the “reopening” of states will reverse the economic damage caused by the novel coronavirus. Trump and his senior advisers, encouraged by the relative strength of the stock market and some indicators like credit card receipts, have in recent days expressed confidence that the U.S. economy will roar back to life in the second half of this year. The White House’s rosy view of the U.S. economy’s trajectory clashes with the dire predictions of many mainstream economists, as well as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell.

Donald Trump and the White House are promoting a faster economic recovery.

Coronavirus bails out the oil patch via Carl Pope of Bloomberg Opinion — The substantial financial aid package enacted by Congress this spring entailed a sprawling array of programs to direct funding, guarantee loans, relieve debt and more to support businesses laid low by a global pandemic. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to end up in the pockets of oil and coal investors and executives in what may be the most significant campaign donor payoff in U.S. history. Failing oil and coal companies quickly moved to exploit the bailout as a financial lifeline. Funneling taxpayer funds to failing companies in a declining industry that wreaks trillions of dollars in damage to the environment is not an easily justified investment. Yet the Federal Reserve, which sets loan guidelines for some of the rescue package, changed the rules of its “Main Street” lending program to allow companies to use taxpayer loans to pay off existing debt instead of retaining workers.

Why did the CARES Act give more money to hair schools than to a community college? via Lisa Riordan Seville and Andrew W. Lehren of NBC News — After $14 billion was set aside for higher education in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Houston Community College and the Paul Mitchell Schools both got financial relief. The Houston college received $28.3 million. The for-profit hair and cosmetology schools received $30.5 million. For-profit schools got proportionally more money from the aid package than the nation’s community colleges, which serve the majority of the country’s low-income students, often at a much lower cost. To funnel aid to students most in need, it put great weight on counting full-time students with Pell grants, the federal loans aimed at low-income students. This meant for-profits did well.

Following Twitter, Square to also let employees work from home going forward via Dylan Byers of NBC News — One week after announcing that Twitter employees can work from home forever, Jack Dorsey is extending the privilege to his other company: Square, the mobile payments service. Twitter and Square do not currently have expected timelines for when they will reopen their offices to employees who want to return. Twitter and Square’s progressive approaches to remote work could be a harbinger of what’s to come for other tech companies that don’t necessarily need to have their teams working together in person. Google has told employees that the vast majority of them will work from home until 2021. Facebook will similarly start to reopen offices after the July 4 weekend but will let employees who can work from home do so until next year.

U.S. airlines show signs of life after April travel collapse via Mary Schlangenstein of Bloomberg — U.S. airlines reported signs that travel demand is perking up, suggesting the beginnings of a rebound from an unprecedented collapse because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bookings are again outpacing cancellations, and June reservations are showing “modest improvement,” Southwest Airlines said Tuesday. United Airlines is seeing reduced cancellation rates and “moderate” strengthening on the U.S. and some international routes. Delta Air Lines has noticed a slight bounce in leisure bookings, and American Airlines Group said it’s filling a more significant portion of seats on its planes. The nascent signs of recovery bolstered the outlook for at least a tentative comeback after consumers all but stopped flying in April because of the virus outbreak and government travel restrictions.

Bank of America CEO says sees recovery at end of 2021 via Lananh Nguyen and David Westin of Bloomberg — Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian Moynihan said consumer spending is picking up in some areas of the U.S. as government relief programs cushion the credit impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer spending is down 2% to 4% this month from a year earlier and is picking up faster in areas of the country that are reopening. In China, it surged when stay-at-home orders were lifted, but then declined. The lender has granted about 1.5 million payment deferrals. About 35% to 40% of people who asked to delay their credit-card bills ended up paying them anyway.

Coronavirus pandemic axes Suncoast Credit Union’s Apollo Bank acquisition via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — What would have been the largest acquisition by a credit union in nearly 10 years has been called off. Suncoast Credit Union announced plans to acquire Miami-based Apollo Bank December for an undisclosed amount, but the deal fell through when the pandemic hit. Apollo’s value, spokeswoman Lisa Brock said, had dropped because of the pandemic, tanking the transaction. “The two CEOs came to a mutual agreement that the timing wasn’t right,” she said. “The deal now is not the deal that either one of them really signed up for, so it’s very amicable.” There is currently no guarantee to pursue another deal in the future, but Brock said: “no doors are closed.” The sale would have closed this year.

— MORE CORONA —

No universal playbook for virus testing in pro sports via Mark Long of The Associated Press — Protocols and procedures, guidelines and handbooks — they could be as different as rule books. There’s plenty of common ground, though, which explains why executives and doctors from various leagues have consulted with each other while moving closer to at least a partial return to competition amid a pandemic. League officials essentially are choosing the best option from a list of bad choices, and it comes down to how much risk they are willing to take. “When you look at the people that run these other sports, these are all really smart guys,” UFC President Dana White said. “And nobody knows their business better than they do.

NFL teams can reopen training facilities with government OK via The Associated Press — Several NFL teams are reopening their training facilities Tuesday. At the same time, many are prohibited by government restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Roger Goodell gave the 32 clubs the go-ahead for limited reopenings as long as state and local municipalities allow them. Coaching staff and all players except those undergoing injury rehabilitation are barred from the facilities in the first phase of the league’s plan. The Bucs, Ravens, Vikings, Titans, Browns, Panthers, Eagles and Packers chose not to reopen Tuesday. However, new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady worked out with teammates at a local high school Tuesday morning. The Jaguars have set May 26 for their reopening.

Arizona Cardinals’ head coach Kliff Kingsbury looks back at Kyler Murray during the teams’ NFL football training camp in July in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals are among several NFL teams that reopened their training facilities. Image via AP.

Reopening major league baseball will take a lot more than dollars and tests via Michael Baumann of The Ringer — Jump-starting the MLB season was always going to be a tricky proposition. The 67-page illustrated MLB manual reportedly focuses on the health and safety measures necessary for a return to play. According to the proposal, those include players, coaches, and other on-field personnel undergoing coronavirus tests multiple times a week, and front office personnel subjected to monthly blood screenings for antibodies. Any ball that’s touched by numerous players during play would be discarded. Postgame buffets and dugout water coolers would be replaced with individually packaged meals and water bottles. The most obvious question is how strictly rules will be enforced.

Tiger Woods returns to golf at his home course Medalist. How will he look in his rematch with Phil Mickelson? via Craig Dolch of the TC Palm — For golf fans, the world will inch toward normalcy Sunday when they finally see Tiger Woods hit a golf ball. It will have been 98 days since we’ve seen his swing. Not that it matters how well Woods plays in The Match: Champions for Charity at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound. This event, which features Woods and Peyton Manning taking on Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a best-ball match, will raise more than $10 million for COVID-19 relief efforts. But with Woods, it always matters what he does. Or, in this case, what he hasn’t done the past three months: play competitive golf.

The border between the U.S. and Canada will stay closed for another month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says. via The New York Times — Trudeau said the border between his country and the United States would remain closed for at least another month after the two countries reached an agreement to extend its closing. The closing was introduced in March and set to expire Thursday. The closing does not apply to the cross-border transportation of goods by trucks, ships and planes. Several Canadian provincial leaders have said that they oppose a rapid reopening of the border.

Socially distant concerts signal a reopening for live music via Kristin M. Hall of The Associated Press — As states start to let businesses reopen under limitations, music industry organizers are testing out new models of smaller, socially distant concerts. But the path ahead for live shows hasn’t been easy. A venue in Arkansas initially had to postpone an indoor concert that would have defied the state’s ban on large gatherings after health officials ordered the show shut down. Drive-in concerts aren’t new, but in the wake of the pandemic, the idea hit in Europe and now the United States. For concerts, recommendations include moving events outdoors, limiting attendance, spacing people out, taking temperatures of participants and staff, hand sanitizing stations, and extra cleaning.

The need to go is a big barrier to going out. Why public bathrooms are a stumbling block for reopening. via Marc Fisher of The Washington Post — The idea of a return to life in public is unnerving enough for many people. But it turns out that one of the biggest obstacles to dining in a restaurant, renewing a doctor’s appointment, or going back to the office is the prospect of having to use a public restroom, a tight, intimate, and potentially germ-infested space. Across the country, businesses are replacing blow dryers with paper towels, decommissioning urinals that now seem too close together, and removing restroom doors to create airport-style, no-touch entrances.

We’re out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer — and golf pushcarts? via Andrew Beaton of The Wall Street Journal — Pushcarts are one of the unlikeliest products hoarded during the pandemic. Warehouses are empty of them, retailers are too, and there is even pushcart price gouging. Golf has been a popular escape since much of the U.S. went into lockdown. It’s outdoors, and it involves inherent social distancing. Although some golf courses have closed, others have stayed open or recently reopened. The open ones are taking extra precautions. They have shut clubhouses and raised cups out of the ground, so golfers don’t touch them, in addition to reducing or eliminating the use of carts and caddies. Suddenly, people eager to trade the misery of sheltering in place for the frustration of chasing around a tiny ball realize they need a pushcart.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Steven Mnuchin warns Congress of a risk of ‘permanent damage’ to the economy if states extend restrictions for months. via The New York Times — Mnuchin and Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, made a joint appearance before the Senate Banking Committee. In that appearance, Mnuchin suggested that without an expeditious reopening, the economy might never fully recover. At the same time, Powell suggested that more financial support to states and businesses might be needed to avoid permanent job losses. Powell also indicated that the central bank might expand its program to buy municipal debt and agreed that state and local governments could slow the economic recovery if they laid off workers amid budget crunches.

Steven Mnuchin is warning that there could be long-term economic damage if restrictions are not lifted soon.

Brian Mast says VA should reduce restrictions at veterans’ cemeteries for Memorial Day weekend via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Rep. Mast is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reverse a decision banning several group events at veterans’ cemeteries this Memorial Day Weekend. Those national cemeteries will remain open to the public. However, events that court crowds — such as larger groups placing flags at gravesites — are not allowed due to restrictions installed to combat COVID-19. Smaller families and individuals will still be able to place flags or lay wreaths at those sites. “The traditions associated with this reverent day are deeply important to those who have lost loved ones and to all communities who wish to pay their respects,” Mast wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

— STATEWIDE —

Ashley Moody secures $7.7 million from Santander for ‘taking advantage’ of borrowers via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Moody, with 34 other attorneys general, locked in an agreement with the nation’s largest subprime auto loan company to provide relief for those burdened by the company’s lending tactics. The agreement will provide eligible Floridians with $7.7 million in consumer restitution and more than $35 million in waivers for balances owed on particular auto loans the company holds. The agreement follows a multistate investigation, which Florida joined in 2015, into Santander’s lending practices. Santander will be required to modify their practices before extending future auto financing.

Ashley Moody was able to secure $7.7 million from Santander, the nation’s largest subprime loan company, in penalties for its shady lending tactics. Image via Orlando Weekly.

Students having problems with online AP exams at home may be able to do retakes in June via the nation’s largest subprime Issac Morgan of Florida Phoenix — The New York-based College Board will allow some students to retake Advanced Placement exams in June, following issues with kids who had trouble submitting online answers for their at-home AP exams. The unusual move to allow students to take the rigorous AP exams at home came as the coronavirus pandemic closed public schools in Florida and elsewhere. The organization said that “after the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1 percent unable to submit their responses.”

Julie Marcus appointed Pinellas Supervisor of Elections via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — DeSantis appointed Marcus Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. Marcus is replacing Deborah Clark, who announced she was retiring earlier this year. The appointment is temporary, with an election scheduled this year for the vacant seat. Marcus hasn’t filed to run yet but expects to do so. If she runs, she’ll face Audra Bonneau in the Republican primary. She’s likely to garner support from her predecessor. Clark recommended her appointment to DeSantis. Marcus has served as the chief deputy to Clark since 2012 and has been with the office for 17 years. Throughout her service, Marcus has administered more than 320 municipal elections and dozens of recounts and annual audits.

Robert Stuart to retire amid Orlando nonprofits’ changing of the guard via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — Longtime Orlando City Commissioner Stuart is about to retire from his other day job — as executive director of the Christian Service Center for Central Florida — amid a major leadership shake-up for Orlando’s nonprofit safety net that also includes the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and United Against Poverty. After 25 years at the helm, Stuart will officially step down May 26. Taking over will be Eric Gray, 44, the former executive director of United Against Poverty Orlando. Gray’s last day there was Friday. Both Stuart and John Hearn announced in October 2019 that they planned to retire. But the coronavirus pandemic threatened to rewrite the timetable.

Suspended JEA executive, now under investigation, refuses to resign via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — JEA’s chief administrator Herschel Vinyard, who was hired by the utility’s now-fired leader Aaron Zahn and is now on paid leave, has refused a demand for his resignation and is being investigated by the Office of General Counsel, according to the letter his attorney sent Monday to city attorneys. Vinyard’s lawyer, Hank Coxe, instead accused a city attorney of threatening his client with a “prearranged investigation” to extort his resignation and provided a detailed retort to the Office of General Counsel’s claims that JEA created a controversial long-term bonus plan, which has since been abandoned but remains an interest to federal investigators before city attorneys could determine whether it was legal.

“‘SATAN’ painted on Duval County Courthouse via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — Someone spray-painted the word Satan on the front columns of the Duval County Courthouse at 501 W. Adams St. late Monday night, according to courthouse officials. And another of the columns was also smeared with the numbers “666,” done in red spray paint like the letters. Crews worked early Tuesday to remove the red letters and numbers from the columns in front of the courthouse’s main entrance. The vandalism was reported to police just after 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office records. The Duval County Clerk of Courts said maintenance crews would repaint the damaged columns as the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigates the graffiti, and had no idea why it was painted.

The Duval County Courthouse was vandalized with the word ‘SATAN.’ Image via Twitter/@bridgetteANjax.

SpaceX Crew Dragon arrives at Kennedy Space Center launch complex via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — The plan to fly astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle era is one step closer as the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule arrived at Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center over the weekend. NASA tweeted out images of the spacecraft’s arrival. It will be mated with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket ahead of the planned launch on May 27. The flight will be the first to launch U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil since Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011. It would mean NASA could stop relying on Russian-made Soyuz launches to get its personnel to and from the station.

Spectators urged to stay home during historic space launch via Miriam Kramer of Axios — NASA is trying to keep its people and the public on the ground safe during the historic launch May 27 to the International Space Station amid the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of people have shown up on Florida’s beaches up and down the Space Coast to watch crewed launches in the past. For this historic launch, which will mark the first time astronauts take flight from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA would typically expect more. Many counties in Florida have lifted their stay-at-home orders, but there are cautions about gatherings of people, meaning NASA has to worry about both the safety of astronauts and the observers.

— 2020 —

GOP bets on Trump’s handling of crisis in battle to keep Senate majority via Manu Raju of CNN Politics — Senate Republicans in difficult reelection races are aligning themselves with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calculating that his stewardship of the country through the deadly crisis will help their reelection hopes even as he’s been criticized for moving too slowly and as the American public remains sharply split over his response so far. This is a sign of his tight hold over the GOP and the belief within the party that their chances rise and fall largely on his performance at the polls. Most Republicans loathe criticizing the President despite concerns over lack of widespread testing, his consistent downplaying of the severity of the virus, or his penchant for dispensing medical advice that contradicts the views of his own public health advisers.

Biden campaign asks vice presidential contenders for references via Tyler Pager of Bloomberg — Biden’s campaign is asking some potential vice-presidential candidates to submit references, as the presumptive Democratic nominee’s team begins the formal vetting process, according to two people with knowledge of the process. Some of the contenders, most of them Senators or Governors, have been asking other politicians, former bosses, and mentors to vouch for them during the vetting process, which is just formally beginning. At least one of the candidates who has been asked for references is New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, according to an individual with knowledge of the request. The reference requests are the first tangible sign that Biden’s vice-presidential selection committee, which was announced at the end of April, is beginning its work in earnest.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is among the women being vetted for Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick.

Biden campaign pressed on Latina VP prospects via David Siders and Laura Barrón-López of POLITICO — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told allies in recent days that Biden’s campaign has begun vetting her for vice president. Harry Reid has encouraged Biden to consider Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. As Latino lawmakers and donors step up their lobbying on behalf of both women, the two most prominent Latina prospects for vice president have been overshadowed by other contenders. Biden’s campaign has been slow to diversify its staff, and after critics say it paid little attention to Latino voters in the primary, the campaign has work to do to make up ground in reaching the group.

Val Demings, possible Biden running mate, rips VP Mike Pence ahead of Orlando visit via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — U.S. Rep. Demings, one of about a dozen women on a shortlist of possible running mates to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Biden, took aim at Pence Tuesday ahead of a planned visit to the state. With Pence scheduled to stop in Orlando Wednesday to meet with hospitality and tourism boosters, the Central Florida Congresswoman unloaded on the vice president. “Here we are again. Another smoke-and-mirrors moment,” Demings said during a video conference hosted by the Florida Democratic Party. “The President and Vice President want you to take your eyes off the real condition on the ground. Pay no attention to the people who have died. Pay no attention to the people who are sick.”

Elections office plans on enormous 65% of Broward voters using mail ballots in presidential election via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci said he’s preparing for a record voter turnout in November’s presidential election and a staggering increase in the number of county voters who use mail balloting in November. As many as 65% of the people who cast ballots in the November presidential election in Broward could choose to vote by mail, Antonacci said. Voting by mail has been growing in popularity in Florida, but never on the scale of what may happen this year in a world upended by the coronavirus pandemic. If Antonacci’s maximum projected turnout takes place and mail balloting hits 65%, that would work out to almost 784,000 mail ballots.

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —

Spanish-language ballot fight flares again via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A long-running lawsuit about providing Spanish-language ballots and election materials in 32 Florida counties is reemerging, with plaintiffs saying new rules don’t go far enough — and Secretary of State Laurel Lee saying she shouldn’t be part of the case. The case centers on allegations that elections officials have not complied with part of the federal Voting Rights Act related to Spanish speakers who were educated in Puerto Rico. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, in May 2019, issued a preliminary injunction that required 32 counties to take a series of steps in time for the March 2020 presidential primary. At the same time, Lee, a defendant in the case, was working on new administrative rules to address the Spanish-language issue.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee is again in the middle of a long-running battle over Spanish-language ballots.

Broward elections office prepares for record 65% of voters using mail ballots in presidential election via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci said Tuesday he’s preparing for a record voter turnout in November’s presidential election and a staggering increase in the number of county voters who use mail balloting in November. Antonacci gave his 65% vote-by-mail projection during a lengthy discussion Tuesday with the Broward County Commission as he asked for, and received, millions of dollars to help pay for processing the expected large increase in mail voting. In the 2016 presidential election, 203,134 Broward voters cast mail ballots, which works out to 24% of the people who voted. In 2008, 137,401 voters cast mail ballots, which is 18.6% of the 739,861 who voted.

First on #FlaPol —Janet Cruz, Michael Gottlieb endorse Tina Polsky in SD 29 via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Polsky wrapped up another batch of endorsements just hours after she announced Tuesday she would pursue the Senate District 29 seat. Polsky made a move after Sen. Rader announced he would not run for reelection. Former Rep. Irv Slosberg also says he’ll compete for the seat. Now, Sen. Cruz and Rep. Gottlieb say they’ll back Polsky. Several local leaders also endorsed Polsky late Tuesday, including Palm Beach County School Board Members Marcia Andrews and Frank Barbieri, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, South Bay Mayor Joe Kyles, Palm Beach County Commissioner Bob Weinroth and Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.

—”Joe Abruzzo declines run for SD 29 after Kevin Rader announcement” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

Sheriff Gregory Tony was rejected for cop job after admitting he had used LSD. The next year, he left it off another application and was hired” via Lisa Huriash of the Sun Sentinel — Tony was rejected for a police job in 2004 after admitting he used LSD one time, but he concealed the drug use after that. After Tallahassee police rejected him for the job, he didn’t disclose his LSD use when he applied to Coral Springs police the next year. His application forms asked him to reveal whether he’d used hallucinogens or ever handled that type of drug in some way. He replied, “no.” Coral Springs hired him, giving him his first job as a cop.

— TOP OPINION —

Truth is … Wait, do COVID deniers even know what the truth is? via Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald — Are these people lying to us or are they lying to themselves? For years, that’s been the great imponderable of American politics, the question the rest of us asked as we watched nominal “conservatives” sink ever deeper into a morass of conspiracy, lies and alternative facts. Were they yanking our collective chain, working some deep strategy, invisible to our eyes? Or did they actually believe Barack Obama was a Muslim, born in Kenya? It would be perversely reassuring to think they were lying only to us about all that … If, however, they were lying to themselves, it suggested a people enmeshed in delusion and self-deception so profound they ought not to be allowed to carry sharp objects.

— OPINIONS —

Florida’s budget crisis: Make corporations — not teachers — pay up via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — With the coronavirus crisis pummeling Florida’s budget, debates have already started about how lawmakers should patch the financial holes. Two months ago, Gov. DeSantis agreed to give corporations another $543 million in tax refunds approved by the Legislature. That was more than enough to fund the entire $500 million plan for teacher raises. Now we’re reading stories about how teachers might need to make sacrifices. These are the policy issues that help explain everything from why your child’s school can’t find enough teachers to why you face more miles of toll roads than drivers in any other state in America.

Housing is health care, and housing equals jobs via Jamie Ross for the Tampa Bay Times — Families are in desperate need of rent and mortgage assistance throughout the state. For example, when Osceola County SHIP opened its application process for COVID-19 related eviction and foreclosure prevention funding at 8 a.m. on April 6, they received more than 500 applications by 9:45 a.m. What will happen when the moratorium on evictions is lifted and the people living in rental housing are not able to go back to work? Families will lose their housing. As we enter the recovery phase, the Sadowski State and Local Housing Trust Funds will create jobs and boost Florida’s economy. It will be essential for Florida and Floridians to get back on their feet after the pandemic.

If life is a movie, it’s called ‘closed until further notice’” via Dan Barry of The New York Times — We do not know when this will end. No one is saying that our new normal will return to the old normal by Memorial Day or Labor Day or the harvest moon, creating a distressing open-ended dynamic that thwarts a central means of coping. Mental health experts say this sense of being unmoored, which some will tolerate better than others, is exacerbated by the misinformation and mixed messages the public is receiving from its leaders in the federal government. The virus had eliminated many of the ways we would naturally find solace in times of great stress: spending time with friends, going to a movie, receiving a hug, which exacerbates the stress of the uncertainty. Instead, even a much-needed smile may be hidden behind a mask.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Gov. DeSantis is defending the state’s unemployment compensation, saying that the state paid more than 97% of valid claims — and there are good reasons why almost 30% of the applications have been rejected.

 Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The woman who designed Florida’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard — and was praised for its transparency and accessibility — has been removed from the project. The Governor says it’s only a vacation, her goodbye email was completely misunderstood. They fired her anyway. 

— Florida might be reopening, but Sen. Marco Rubio says do not expect things to turn around any time soon. He believes fear of the virus will keep people from vacationing here, at least in the short term.

— Vacation rentals in the Panhandle get the go-ahead from the state to reopen. Airbnb and other short-term rentals are now allowed in seven counties. However, residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana need not apply.   

— The pandemic is also a threat to your financial health. Kevin Johnson of the Suncoast Credit Union talks about a new campaign for financial literacy in the age of COVID-19.

— A quick check-in with Florida Men, including a doctor who lost his job for threatening the wrong cops.

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by St. Petersburg Chamber (@stpetechamber) on

— ALOE —

Apple buys older shows for TV+, stepping up Netflix challenge via Mark Gurman of Bloomberg — Apple is acquiring older movies and shows for its TV+ streaming service, aiming to build a back catalog of content that can better stack up against the huge libraries available on Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. The company’s video-programming executives have taken pitches from Hollywood studios about licensing older content for TV+ and have bought some shows and movies, according to people familiar with the matter. The move represents a subtle strategy shift for Apple TV+, which launched in November with a lineup of original programs. The company plans to keep TV+ focused on original shows, and hasn’t yet acquired any huge franchises or blockbusters for its back catalog, according to the people, who asked not to be identified.

Florida breweries allowed to reopen taprooms if food trucks are on-site via Annabelle Tometich of the Fort Myers News-Press — The Florida Brewers Guild alerted its members that they could operate at 25% capacity with the proper social-distancing measures in place, as long as the brewery has a licensed on-site food service provider. On Monday, breweries and restaurants will be able to operate at 50% capacity. Most of the state’s bars and breweries remain closed, but this new caveat treats those with food trucks more like their restaurant counterparts. The Brewers Guild has been working with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to bring about the change, according to Jen Gratz-Whyte, owner of Fort Myers Brewing Co. in Gateway, which reopened for sit-down customers Saturday.

Florida breweries can now reopen if they have a food truck located on the premises.

Derby Lane to welcome back fans, poker players Wednesday via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times — Dogs resumed racing on May 8, and now historic Derby Lane is set to welcome back the fans who bet on them, as well as poker players. With other businesses, including casinos, opening around the state, Derby Lane CEO Richard Winning said they felt they had the proper protocols in place to get back to their usual business for the first time since the mid-March shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Winning said they feel comfortable with the safety protocols in place, starting with having all patrons, vendors, and employees subject to temperature checks upon entering the facility. Plexiglass barriers and social distancing markings on the floor have been added, along with cleaning and disinfecting protocols, he said.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Belated best wishes to our friend, lobbyist Mike Fischer. Celebrating today are state Sen. Jason Pizzo, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, William Arnold, lobbyist Matt Brockelman, fierce activist Tim Heberlein, Data Targeting’s Matt Mitchell, Jim Rosica’s better half, Erin, and Steve Uhlfelder,

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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 Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also 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.


One comment

  • Ron Ogden

    May 20, 2020 at 8:53 am

    “Coronavirus may have caused hundreds of additional deaths in Florida”–“may have.” And the coronavirus “may have” been cooked up by witches dancing around a pot in Scotland.

    When is this modern excuse for journalism going to learn that if you want to bring back any semblance of the trust people once had in the media, you have to stop using these conditional CYA headlines and get back to reporting facts: either it did or it didn’t, no “may haves” “could bes” or “informed sources claim”.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

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, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704