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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 7.16.20

Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Breaking overnight — “Donald Trump demotes Brad Parscale, his campaign manager” via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Trump is shaking up his reelection team with less than four months until November’s vote, replacing his campaign manager, Parscale, in an acknowledgment of the president’s diminished standing in nearly all public and private polling since the spring. Parscale, who was named campaign manager in February 2018, will step out of the job and Bill Stepien, currently the deputy campaign manager and a veteran political operative, will take over. Parscale will stay on with the campaign, becoming a senior adviser for data and digital operations. The move comes as Trump’s advantages have eroded in the face of a pandemic that has killed over 137,000 Americans and battered the nation’s economy — once Trump’s most powerful argument for reelection.

Brad Parscale goes under the bus. Image via AP.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis is no stranger to criticizing local and national media coverage of his pandemic response. But Senate Democrats said reporters haven’t done enough to hold the Governor accountable during his press conferences.

When a Miami Herald reporter noted during Senate Democrats’ Wednesday news conference that the Governor has largely ignored previous requests by the minority party, Sen. Perry Thurston flipped the question on its head in defense of his caucus’ efforts.

Sen. Perry Thurston flipped the script on the media treatment of Ron DeSantis. Image via Phil Sears.

“I noticed that during the Governor’s press conferences, you all in the media ask questions of the Governor as well, and sometimes, I’m wondering are the questions going to be more direct from you all as well,” the Fort Lauderdale Senator said.

Thurston also noted a heckler who interrupted DeSantis by shouting, “Shame on you!” at the start of his conference in Miami Monday. That heckler “provided more interaction and incitement in challenging” the Governor, he said.

“When I hear the press conferences, I’m listening, and all I see is the same-old-same-old, him giving excuses, you all asking a question, and him deflecting as if there’s absolutely nothing wrong,” Thurston added.

Florida Democrats have made a growing list of requests to DeSantis about COVID-19, most of which have gone unanswered. Among other demands, Democrats have called for a Special Session on the virus, a mask mandate, data transparency, and a meeting regarding the virus’s resurgence.

Meanwhile, the Governor implemented a month-long safer-at-home order, partly meeting a Democratic request, before revealing reopening plans Democrats say moved too quickly. He has also repeatedly extended the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. However, he gave no credit to Democrats for neither of those orders.

Nevertheless, Democrats have sent repeated letters to administration officials and plan to make their own press conferences responding to the Governor’s briefings a regular occurrence.

“If we’re in Tallahassee, we’re holding our mics up, we’re standing up, we’re saying that this is ridiculous, and this is beyond the pale,” Thurston said. “We are past being upset about this.”

When the Facebook Live stream closed and Senators believed they had the Zoom room to themselves, they began sharing their private thoughts. But reporters who had connected through Zoom were still connected to the meeting.

Sens. Janet Cruz and Lori Berman agreed the press conference went well.

“We should show up and heckle. That’s how we should get our message across,” Braynon quipped. “We should all show up at his press conferences with press credentials and heckle him.”

During the conference, Cruz had taken an animated and personal approach by invoking her 87-year-old mother and deeming “herd immunity” as a strategy for “impala on the African plains.” But after the press conference, she started to take aim at the question by the Miami Herald reporter.

Samantha (Gross)’ question kind of pissed me off a little bit because she was basically saying, ‘Don’t waste your time,’ ” Cruz began before a Senate aide cut her off. The aide then began removing unwanted participants from the Zoom call.

“It’s ok, it doesn’t matter. It’s the way I feel. I don’t care. Write about it,” she joked.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@GovMikeDeWine: I am asking you, wherever you live, to wear a mask when in public. Some may question the wisdom of masks, but as we said when I was a prosecutor: “The jury is back. The verdict is in.” There is broad consensus in medical, health, & business communities that masks are critical.

@Scaramucci: According to my calculations @KanyeWest’s presidential aspirations lasted one full Scaramucci

—@Nix_Tie: In an interview with @marthamaccallum, @marcorubio says he’s attending the Jax convention. “I plan to attend. Obviously we’ll wait and see why circumstances look like at that point. They’re going to test everyone moving in and out of the hall every day.”

Tweet, tweet:

@MDixon55: .@GovRonDeSantis tossing Education Commissioner @richardcorcoran under the bus is an interesting move. Corcoran, a former House speaker, can do damage from inside. Has lots of experience using bureaucracy for political gain … and pain Things can happen quick

Tweet, tweet:

@JaredEMoskowitz: WTF is going on at @floridastate We now muzzle elected Jews from freedom of speech. Imagine if a chairman denied the senate president the ability to speak on a bill in committee. Where is the media? Where is the outrage? Also, please wear a MASK!!!

— DAYS UNTIL —

MLB starts — 7; WNBA starts — 9; PLL starts — 9; TED conference rescheduled — 10; Florida Bar exams begin in Tampa — 12; NBA season restart in Orlando — 15; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres (rescheduled) — 15; NHL resumes — 16; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 33; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 34; “Mulan” premieres (rescheduled) — 36; Indy 500 rescheduled — 38; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 39; NBA draft lottery — 40; Rev. Al Sharpton’s D.C. March — 43; U.S. Open begins — 46; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 50; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 51; Rescheduled date for French Open — 66; First presidential debate in Indiana — 75; “Wonder Woman” premieres — 78; Preakness Stakes rescheduled — 79; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 82; NBA season ends (last possible date) — 88; Second presidential debate scheduled at Miami — 91; NBA draft — 92; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 92; NBA free agency — 95; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 98; 2020 General Election — 110; “Black Widow” premieres — 115; NBA 2020-21 training camp — 119; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 127; “No Time to Die” premieres — 127; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 138; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 160; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 206; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 372; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 380; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 477; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 575; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 617; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 659; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 813.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida breaks 300K mark for coronavirus; another 112 die” via Terry Spencer and Bobby Caina Calvan of The Associated Press — Florida passed the 300,000 mark of confirmed coronavirus cases and reported more than 100 daily deaths for the third time in a week, prompting state Democratic leaders to accuse DeSantis of not acting aggressively enough to stem the virus. “There is failed leadership in the Governor’s office,” State Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson said during an online news conference shortly after health officials reported 10,181 new confirmed cases. The new report brings the total number of confirmed cases to 301,810 since the outbreak began in the state on March 1. The state recorded 112 deaths Wednesday, the third time in the past seven days it has reported more than 100, a mark that had only been topped once before last week. The state has now recorded 4,626 COVID-19 deaths.

Sen. Audrey Gibson blasts the failures in the Governor’s Office.

Workers behind infection spike at Florida nursing homes — Nursing home and assisted living facilities have been reporting more coronavirus infections over the past month despite DeSantis’ order barring visitors still being in effect. Rather than loved ones, its employees who are bringing the coronavirus into the building. As reported by Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew is pinning the blame on asymptomatic health workers who are spreading the virus to residents unknowingly. State data shows an average of 2,606 nursing home residents a day tested positive last week, up 74% from a month ago. Over the same stretch, the infection rate among workers has nearly doubled.

Ron DeSantis blames coronavirus testing errors on misunderstanding” via Richard Tribou and Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis said the errors in coronavirus results reported by private labs were the result of a misunderstanding of how those numbers should be reported. Labs usually report only the positive results on tests of other diseases but have been ordered by DeSantis’ administration to report all results for tests of COVID-19. DeSantis added that he doesn’t fault Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the head of the Department of Health since it’s the responsibility of private labs to submit the data to the state. In Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center starting this Friday, testing sites will include dedicated lanes for those showing symptoms, DeSantis said, with a goal of getting results within 72 hours.

Florida’s hidden data skews COVID-19 test results” via Mario Ariza and Angie Dimichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida might be minimizing the depth of its COVID-19 problem by underreporting its rate of positive tests, experts say. The method used to calculate the “positivity rate” puts more emphasis on negative tests, skewing the results in that direction. A person who tests positive is counted only once, but negative tests can be counted repeatedly if the same person got more than one test. In addition, just as the pandemic raced out of control this month, the state changed the formula. It now mixes two different types of tests, including one that produces more false-negative results. The upshot of both factors is that the rate of positive tests, as quoted by the state, could make the situation look significantly better than it is, experts say.

State and labs, including some in Northeast Florida, question accuracy of COVID-19 data” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Florida Department of Health officials said that some laboratories have not complied with procedures for reporting negative COVID-19 tests, while some labs pointed to state errors for potentially distorting a key metric in management of the coronavirus pandemic. The statistical issues, which include the omission of negative tests from several labs as well as apparent errors in classification, further complicate the task of assessing the scale, scope and relative risks associated with the pandemic. Flagler Hospital officials told the Times-Union Wednesday that its COVID-19 testing data as displayed by the health department does not look complete. Though Florida’s totals for positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths remain unaffected, the omission of negative tests potentially inflates the state’s positivity rate.

Officials claim otherwise, but Governor says Florida’s COVID-19 message is consistent” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Local officials this week have asked for consistent COVID-19 messaging from DeSantis‘ administration, but the Governor on Wednesday responded saying he has stayed consistent. During a roundtable, Miami-Dade County Mayors called for unity and leadership on the state’s pandemic messaging. And Wednesday morning, education leaders broke with DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran on the Department of Education’s emergency order telling schools to reopen next month. “The message with Miami-Dade is consistent,” the Governor said. “I’m supporting the County Mayor and what he’s doing. I’m supporting those municipal Mayors. I may not agree with them on everything politically, but this isn’t really about politics or it’s not about the typical tit for tat.”

Ron DeSantis argues that Florida’s response to COVID-19 has been consistent.

Senate Democrats want businesses rolled back to 25% capacity” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Senate Democrats announced a plan Wednesday asking the Governor to limit businesses across the state to 25% capacity. During Phase Two of Florida’s reopening process, DeSantis allowed restaurants, bars, retail and other businesses to open up to 50% capacity before state business regulators reversed the order for bars. Under Phase One, restaurants and retail were allowed to operate up to 25% capacity. But with the rising number of daily COVID-19 diagnoses, Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson and members of her caucus criticized the state for opening too early and forcing counties to take the lead on certain orders. That created what the Leader called a “disjointed way of getting us to safety.” “His hands-off approach is not working,” she said. “He’s losing the war against the pandemic, and that means the people of the state of Florida are losing the war against the pandemic.”

Is Florida reinstating food stamp work requirements? Advocates can’t get answer” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — For the hundreds of thousands of “able-bodied adults” relying on food stamps during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear whether Florida officials will once again require them to work or search for work despite soaring unemployment levels. The waiver of work requirements had been set to expire June 30 — the date still listed on the Florida Department of Children and Families website Wednesday afternoon. The agency, which administers the federally funded government benefit, has issued no news releases on the subject and has not answered inquiries from lawmakers and nonprofit leaders.

— BACK TO SCHOOL? —

Voters reject Donald Trump insistence that schools reopenvia Nicole Gaudiano of POLITICO — A majority of voters oppose the Trump administration’s demand that K-12 schools and day care centers be fully opened for in-person instruction during the coming academic year, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. In addition, a decisive 65% of voters rejected Trump’s threat to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen, agreeing instead that schools need resources for continued virtual learning or other types of instruction. Only 22% said schools should have their federal money reduced if they don’t fully reopen.

Donald Trump’s suggestion that schools open in the fall went over like a lead balloon. Image via AP.

DeSantis cameos at education board meeting; reopening order draws dissent” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis made a surprise appearance at a state Board of Education meeting Wednesday, taking the opportunity to assuage concerns about reopening schools. The Department of Education has taken heat for ordering classrooms open next month, including from within the Board. The emergency order is creating confusion about whether schools can choose to stay closed, but school districts may close if their plan is approved by local health departments. The Governor emphasized the need for classrooms to take in students for the benefit of their education and their parents’ livelihood. “We’re in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, but we’re also in a situation where we need to provide as many options to parents as possible in terms of the education of their kids,” DeSantis said.

Education commissioner defends order to reopen Florida schools” via The Florida Times-Union — More than a week after Education CommissionerCorcoran ordered schools to reopen in August, members of the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday said his order has sparked confusion, fear and angst. Corcoran deflected blame to the media and said his order was designed to offer parents and school districts “complete flexibility.” But the order said all school districts must reopen brick-and-mortar schools at least five days a week starting in August, unless local and state health officials direct otherwise. Board member Michael Olenick offered the sharpest criticism Wednesday, saying there appeared to be a “disconnect” between what Corcoran was saying and what the order stated and called on him to rescind the requirement brick-and-mortar schools to reopen next month.

Republican lawmaker says Aug. 10 school start date would be ‘potentially catastrophic’” via Danielle J. Brown of Florida Phoenix — A Republican state House member from Central Florida is urging school board members to back off sending kids to brick-and-mortar classrooms in August. “I strongly encourage you to postpone bringing the majority of our students back for face-to-face instruction in August,” State Rep. Rene Plasencia wrote in a letter earlier this week. “An Aug. 10 start date for students, with an expected teacher return of July 31st, is potentially catastrophic.” Plasencia, who also goes by “Coach P,” addressed the letter to “Dear School Board Members,” though it wasn’t entirely clear which school boards were being referenced. Plasencia represents part of Orange and Brevard counties in the state Legislature. The July 13 letter was posted on a Facebook page by a group called Parents Across America – Florida.

Rene ‘Coach P’ Plasencia strongly recommends to hold off on opening schools.

Alberto Carvalho on coronavirus in Miami-Dade: ‘We are not ready to reopen schools’” via Hatzel Vela and Andrea Torres of Local10.com — Carvalho said that as long coronavirus cases continue to increase at the current rate schools will not be safe to reopen. Carvalho met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez and epidemiologists who believe that the ideal environment to reopen schools would require that less than 10% of the people who get tested in Miami-Dade County are diagnosed with COVID-19. The daily positivity rate in Miami-Dade was about 20% on July 5th and about 16% on Tuesday. “It is actually counterintuitive and dangerous,” Carvalho said. The positivity rate for children in Miami-Dade County has been high. According to the Florida Department of Health, about 40% of minors who have been tested in Miami-Dade for the coronavirus have tested positive.

Hillsborough Superintendent to recommend delaying school start date” via Jason Lanning and Dania Dangerfield of Bay News 9 — The first in-person meeting of the Florida Board of Education since February happened Wednesday at Strawberry Crest High School. Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis and DeSantis were among those in attendance, along with protesters pushing for the school return to be delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Local teachers took part in protests, calling for the opening of schools to be delayed in August. They are asking for 14 consecutive days of no positive COVID-19 tests in Hillsborough County before brick and mortar schools reopen. Davis sent out a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying he would recommend to the school board that they delay the start of the 2020-2021 school year by two weeks, beginning August 24.

Many Leon County Schools teachers terrified to return to classrooms in August” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Afraid for their lives and their families, many Leon County Schools teachers are terrified to return to classrooms in August. School Board Attorney Opal McKinney-Williams estimated that less than 10 of the 137 comments submitted to the School Board for Tuesday night’s meeting were in favor of students returning in-person in August. A couple she said did not have firm opinions but raised concerns. The remainder, about 120 commenters, urged the board to delay the August start date or move completely to online instruction, she said.

Palm Beach County’s health director called for online schooling. But she wouldn’t put it in writing” via Andrew Marra of The Palm Beach Post — Palm Beach County’s health director was adamant. The worsening spike of new COVID-19 cases made it too dangerous for public schools to reopen, Dr. Alina Alonso insisted July 6 during a meeting of the school district’s health advisory committee. Guided by her advice, committee members reached an informal consensus that campuses should stay closed, attendees say. Two days later, the school board agreed. But when school district officials asked Alonso last week for a letter outlining her concerns, the veteran health director declined, three public officials familiar with the matter told The Palm Beach Post. The reason given: State health officials do not want to provide school leaders with official advice about reopening campuses, the officials said.

— CORONA LOCAL —

What exactly does Phase 2 mean? Experts say it is not coming soon in South Florida” via April Rubin of the Miami Herald — All counties in Florida except Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach went into Phase 2 on June 5. Since then, the state has become the COVID epicenter of the world. While most establishments have reopened to some extent in South Florida, Miami-Dade schools won’t reopen unless the county is in Phase 2. And some local experts say the county will not reach this designation anytime soon either. Palm Beach County School Board members have already said students will likely begin their school year online next month. Distance learning is also expected to continue in Broward.

CARES Act funding is used to get homeless off the street — but time running out for some” via Christina Saint Louis of the Miami Herald — Homeless people are seen as particularly vulnerable to the virus and so Fort Lauderdale sought to relocate some of them to a hotel using vouchers as payment. The city recalled the eviction notice later Sunday night after activists scheduled a news conference the next day to protest, but the vouchers will run out this week, promised assistance has not materialized. Both the city and Broward County are struggling to find permanent refuge for their homeless population. In Miami-Dade County, Ron Book, chairman of the board at Homeless Trust, began a similar program, placing homeless people in hotels to protect them from the coronavirus and storms. “Our goal is to end homelessness,” he said.

Advocate Ron Book seeks to end homelessness.

‘They don’t know what they’re doing.’ Miami’s public hospital misses out in CARES Act” via Daniel Chang and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — South Florida’s safety net hospital administrators have tried everything to make room for more beds and increase the availability of nurses and other staff as their medical facilities swell with COVID-19 patients. They have canceled profitable elective surgeries, transformed auditoriums and classrooms into patient wards, and pitched tents outside emergency rooms to triage patients. Jackson Health CEO Carlos Migoya noted that the Jackson hospital system has lost $78 million this year. He said Jackson Health has received $75 million in CARES Act money so far, helping to offset the loss. But that money has run out, and Jackson Health missed out on the most recent round of CARES Act funds intended to shore up safety-net hospitals because of what experts called an error in the way HHS calculated financial eligibility.

Top local doctor is seeing young people with symptoms” via John Pacenti of The Palm Beach Post — Florida once again is the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons as it burns up the record books on daily cases of the highly contagious coronavirus strain. DeSantis has waved away concerns, saying these new cases are mainly among young adults and they don’t even have symptoms. A top infectious disease specialist in Palm Beach County says the Republican is only half right. Yes, younger people are getting COVID-19, but they are not asymptomatic. They don’t need ventilators and often get over their illness in a few days, said Dr. Larry Bush of Wellington Regional Medical Center. “The young people who are getting tested are the ones with symptoms, the majority of whom are not getting very ill,” Bush said.

Mask foes shrug off national TV ‘bullies’ poking fun at ‘Crazytown’ Palm Beach County” via Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post — Cristina Gomez said she isn’t embarrassed about being mocked on national television by Jimmy Fallon, Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Colbert and other pundits for her acerbic, finger-waving, anti-mask rant last month at the Palm Beach County Commission meeting heard ’round the world. In a two-minute stream of consciousness, she threatens the county’s health director with a citizen’s arrest “for crimes against humanity,” tells commissioners they belong “in a psych ward” and rails about the devil, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, pedophiles, 5G cameras and “the deep state.” A Twitter parody mixed memorable soundbites with footage of exasperated reactions from characters in the hit NBC show “Parks and Rec.” Media outlets from as far away as England and Dubai carried stories about Florida residents linking a “devil’s mask law to the deep state.”

— MORE LOCAL —

Hillsborough commissioners look to take COVID-19 rulemaking away from county emergency group” via Brendan Ward of the Tampa Bay Times — During its weekly meeting, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to draft an order that would take the power to address COVID-19 away from the county’s Emergency Policy Group. The proposal, brought by County Commissioner Les Miller, will be discussed during the BOCC’s meeting on July 21 and voted on after an Aug. 5 public hearing. If approved, the order would remove the EPG’s power to pass orders related to COVID-19. The group would still keep the power to address weather emergencies, like hurricanes. If the order passes, all orders passed by the EPG, such as the countywide mask mandate and state of local emergency, would be ratified and go under the power of the BOCC immediately.

Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller wants to take power from the county emergency regarding COVID-19 rules.

Tampa to restaurants acting like bars: Knock it off or face fines and closure” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Businesses with alcohol licenses were put on notice Wednesday by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration: enforce orders for masks and social distancing or face fines and possible suspension of their licenses. City Attorney Gina Grimes sent a letter to about 100 businesses and various business groups, saying Tampa police and code enforcement officials would be conducting site inspections to ensure compliance with the mandatory mask and social distancing requirements laid out in state and local orders. If violations are found, business owners or operators would face second-degree misdemeanors, carrying a fine up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. The city will forward its findings to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for possible suspension of alcohol licenses.

Bradenton latest city to adopt COVID-19 mask ordinance” via Emily Wunderlich of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The city of Bradenton on Wednesday became one of the latest to enact a mask ordinance. It requires businesses to post signage encouraging masks, but does not require business owners to mandate or enforce them. The emergency ordinance, which passed unanimously at a special meeting, goes into effect on Friday, July 17, and lasts 60 days unless repealed or extended. Businesses that do not comply could be subject to a $75 fine after a warning. But the city’s communications coordinator, Jeannie Roberts, says that enforcement is not the intent of the ordinance. “This is not about fining people for not doing it,” Roberts said. “We’re requiring our businesses to help people stop and consider how important it is to wear a mask.” Under the ordinance, businesses are required to post visible signage that “advises persons entering that face coverings are required or requested to be worn within the business establishment.”

‘Extreme and draconian’: Harry’s in Carrabelle suing over Florida bar closure” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Carrabelle watering hole Harry’s Bar & Package is suing the state, claiming the statewide shutdown of bars is an unconstitutional mandate crippling a business that has been open going on 80 years. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Franklin County Circuit Court by Tallahassee attorney Ethan Way, contends DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears took, “extreme and draconian drastic action in shutting down small businesses and purveyors of joy and comradery – the local bar,” in the June 26 executive order issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It asks for a temporary injunction and notes that a host of restaurants that also serve food remain open while the waterfront bar, and others like it, suffer without business.

21 staff members, 10 residents test positive at Lake County nursing home” via Rick Mayer of Health News Florida — Twenty-one staff members and 10 residents at a nursing home in Lady Lake have tested positive for the coronavirus. Two residents of that nursing home, the Lady Lake Specialty Care Center, have been transferred, according to a state report showing recent cases as of Friday. The facility is in Lake County, east of The Villages. Florida requires testing of all staff at long-term care facilities every two weeks. Similar outbreaks are showing up at other Central Florida long-term care centers.

Lady Lake Specialty Care is one of the latest COVID-19 hotspots.

Okaloosa, Bay and Santa Rosa counties now each reporting more than 1,500 cases, 255 under 18-years-old” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — The state of Florida reported Wednesday it had exceeded 300,000 COVID-19 cases. It became the third state to cross that grim milestone, behind New York and California, and did so only 10 days after surpassing the 200,000 mark on July 5. Locally, Okaloosa County, Santa Rosa County and Bay County all topped the 1,500 mark for number of cases reported. Panama City alone is now reporting 1,008 cases, while Milton has 628 and Fort Walton Beach has 539. As of July 10, the four-county region that includes Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Bay counties reported 255 COVID-19 cases in persons under the age of 18. Santa Rosa had 108, Okaloosa 61, Bay 49, and Walton 37.

Seminole to dole out $20 million in CARES Act money for coronavirus relief” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Seminole County has received $20 million in federal government funds for residents and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus economic slowdown, officials said on Wednesday. The county earmarked $10 million in grants for eligible businesses, $7 million for individuals and $3 million for nonprofits. The money is about 25% of the $82 million from the CARES Act relief package designated for the county by the state. The remaining money will be released in phases. Officials said that the county’s population falls just under 500,000 residents, so they received the money later than larger counties. Chairman Jay Zembower said the county will benefit from the timing because officials had a chance to seek advice from other governments throughout the state.

— CORONA NATION —

Total cases in the U.S. hit 3.5 million; Officials scramble to add restrictions” via The New York Times — As the outbreak hits record levels in the United States, increasing in 41 states over the past two weeks, Governors and mayors across the nation are scrambling to try to contain it, issuing new mask orders, limiting the size of gatherings and preparing for the worst. In Alabama, which broke the record Wednesday for the most deaths it has reported in a single day, 47, Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, issued an order requiring people to wear masks in public. In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said that he was also issuing a mask order. The private sector took steps as well: Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, said it would require all customers to wear masks, beginning Monday. The grocery chain Kroger also said its customers had to wear masks starting July 22.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is the latest to issue a mask mandate. Image via AP.

After attacks by Trump aides, Anthony Fauci says focus should be on the virus rather than ‘games people are playing.’” via The New York Times — As Trump administration officials have increasingly sought to undermine him in recent days, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and one of the most trusted federal officials working on the pandemic, made his most pointed remarks yet on Wednesday addressing tensions with the White House. “I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview. “I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them.” He spoke as Trump administration officials have sought to undermine his credibility, first anonymously and then out in the open.

A heatwave, the coronavirus: Double spikes of risk hit communities” via John Schwartz of The New York Times —  For much of the United States, the last several days have been brutal: record temperatures recorded around the country, and coronavirus case numbers are on the rise as well, complicating efforts to protect people at risk. The weekend set temperature records in the South and Southwest, which continued into this week. Greg Carbin, the chief of the forecast operations branch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center, said, “It’s July — you kind of expect this, to some extent. But the magnitude of it is a little severe.” This is the beginning of a summer that NOAA has warned is likely to have many more scorching days.

A dangerous new chapter of the outbreak: Every state for itself” via Dan Goldberg and Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO Florida — While countries like New Zealand and Germany have taken a unified national approach to fight the virus, the Trump administration’s federalist philosophy has helped create chaos across the South and West. Cash-strapped cities and states trying to create their own testing, tracing and public awareness campaigns from scratch are desperate for federal support. “Every Governor is out there on his or her own working to build the same programs that are being built next door,” said Reed Schuler, a senior advisor to Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.  This dangerous new chapter of the coronavirus outbreak is intensifying calls from politicians and public health experts across the country for a set of national strategies to combat the virus.

Trump team relaxed training rules for nursing home staff just as pandemic hit” via Maggie Severns of POLITICO — Shortly after the first coronavirus outbreak ravaged a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., the Trump administration moved to fulfill a longstanding industry goal, waiving the requirement that nurse’s aides receive 75 hours of training and allowing people who study only eight hours online to become caregivers during the pandemic. The industry had been fighting for years to reduce training requirements, saying they make it harder to recruit staff. Advocates for older adults and families of residents say they fear the change was premature and contributed to the spread of the disease. Nurse’s aides are often the main caretakers of residents, some of whom need round-the-clock monitoring; nurse’s aides are also on the front lines in implementing cleaning and disinfecting practices.

As pandemic rages in U.S., border stays closed – and Canadians approve” via Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News — The closure of the U.S.-Canadian border, which is about to be extended for another month, is a tale of two countries: one that has failed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that fears that visitors from south of the border could come in and spread the disease. The shutdown of the border to all nonessential traffic will be extended to at least Aug. 21, sources confirmed Tuesday. That move comes in the wake of a poll showing that 81% of Canadians want the closure to continue indefinitely. The rate of new coronavirus infections over the past week was 21.5 times higher in the United States than in Canada. 

Walmart, nation’s largest retailer, will require customers to wear masks” via Michael Corkery of The New York Times — In perhaps the strongest statement yet by a major American company about the importance of masks, Walmart said it would require that all of its customers wear face coverings starting next week. The new rule from the nation’s largest retailer, with more than 5,000 stores nationwide, comes as health officials and scientists point to wearing masks as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But Walmart’s new policy, which goes into effect on Monday, also means the company is wading into the kind of culturally and politically divisive issue that it has a history of avoiding. Shortly after the announcement, the National Retail Federation said it hoped Walmart’s move was a “tipping point in this public health debate” and urged all other retailers to enact the same requirement.

Walmart has become the largest retailer to require masks for entry. Image via KLEW.

COVID-19 vaccine front-runner is months ahead of her competition” via Stephanie Baker of Bloomberg Businessweek — Sarah Gilbert is focused on quickly determining how effective the vaccine will be and how it will be made. In April, Oxford struck a deal with British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca Plc to spearhead global manufacturing and distribution and help run more trials around the world. AstraZeneca has agreed to sell the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the crisis if it proves effective and has lined up deals with multiple manufacturers to produce more than 2 billion doses. She appears to regard public attention as a distraction. Her research was rarely discussed outside scientific circles. Now she’s leading one of the most high-profile and advanced vaccine candidates against COVID-19, with Phase III, or final-stage, trials underway involving thousands of people in Brazil, South Africa, the U.K., and, soon, the U.S. Money is no longer a struggle.

In shadow of pandemic, U.S. drug overdose deaths resurge to record” via Josh Katz, Abby Goodnough and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times — Drug deaths in America, which fell for the first time in 25 years in 2018, rose to record numbers in 2019 and are continuing to climb, a resurgence that is being complicated and perhaps worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year — an increase of 5% from 2018. Deaths from drug overdoses remain higher than the peak yearly death totals ever recorded for car accidents, guns or AIDS, and their acceleration in recent years has pushed down life expectancy in the U.S. It looks as if 2020 will be even worse. Drug deaths are up 13% so far this year, according to state and local mortality data collected by The New York Times.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

White House tells 18 million unemployed workers to ‘Find Something New’ in ad campaign” via Hamza Shaban of The Washington Post — Ivanka Trump urged out-of-work Americans to “find something new” Tuesday as part of a new jobs initiative designed to tout the benefits of skills training and career paths that don’t require a college degree. But the effort was swiftly derided on social media as “clueless” and “tone-deaf” given the pandemic, recession and Trump’s own familial employment history. Many saw the campaign as insensitive given the suffering of Americans whose livelihoods disappeared as the pandemic forced companies to shutter or sharply curtail operations.

In a new ad campaign, Ivanka Trump tells 18 million unemployed Americans to ‘find something new’ to do. Image via AP.

Economists predict spike in cash assistance program” via the News Service of Florida — The coronavirus pandemic is resulting in a surge in the number of Floridians seeking help from a state program that provides cash assistance to needy families, driving up projected costs of the program by $35 million, a panel of economists said. Economists project 87,000 people will receive cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program this fiscal year, a jump of 26,172 people from a previous forecast. The increase in people will push the cost of the so-called TANF program up by $35 million from the previous estimate to about  $159 million during the budget year that ends June 30, 2021. The spike is another sign of the economic toll that the coronavirus pandemic is having on many residents.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala and Sen. José Javier Rodriguez will hold a virtual news conference to discuss the need for the extension of unemployment insurance benefits. They will be joined on the call by impacted workers in South Florida who will share their stories, 9 a.m., to get the link, RSVP to oliver.jones@berlinrosen.com.

— MORE CORONA — 

Moms are working dramatically fewer hours than dads during coronavirus. It’s a ‘red flag’ for what’s ahead.” via Caroline Kitchener of The Lily — “I’m an economist, so I usually try not to say things without data,” Martha Gimbel, a manager of economic research at Schmidt Futures, said. “But I feel very comfortable going out on a limb and saying that this burden is going to fall on women. We just know it’s going to be women.” Moms have reduced their working hours four to five times more than fathers during the pandemic, according to a new study, which widens the gender gap in work hours by as much as 50%. It could also trigger mass layoffs for women, as companies have to make hard choices about which employees to keep in the middle of a recession.

Coronavirus kept them apart for 114 days. So a Jacksonville woman took a dishwashing job to see her husband” via Matt Soergel of The Florida Times-Union — Twice a week Mary Daniel ties an apron around her waist and starts rinsing dinner dishes at a memory-care center. She then stacks them in a commercial dishwasher, between mopping floors and taking out the garbage. At $9 an hour, it’s her dream job — a job that gives her the only opportunity to be with her husband Steve, a job that gives her the only chance to hold his hand, to watch TV with him, to get him ready for bed, just as she used to do. Steve Daniel has been a patient at Rosecastle at Deerwood since last July. In March the facility went into lockdown because of the coronavirus, and the Daniels went 114 days without being able to be together.

Mary Daniel took a job as a dishwasher at the memory care center so she could visit her quarantined husband who she has not seen in 114 days. Image via CBS News.

— SMOLDERING —

CNN anchor rips GOP lawmaker suing over mask mandates: ‘You’re not a doctor’” via Justin Baragona of Yahoo! — CNN anchor Brianna Keilar clashed with a Republican state lawmaker who is suing over mask mandates, eventually pointing out that he is not a “public health expert” while noting he’s already had one case tossed out. With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiking in Florida as the nation deals with a prolonged surge, Florida State Rep. Anthony Sabatini has attempted to challenge county ordinances in the state requiring face masks in businesses, claiming the mandates are constitutional violations. Sabatini immediately justified his lawsuits, claiming the ordinances are “unconstitutional” and that mask mandates violate the privacy of citizens. Keilar, meanwhile, wondered aloud if the GOP lawmaker believed that seat belts are therefore also unconstitutional.

‘You are not a doctor’: CNN anchor Brianna Keilar tears into Anthony Sabatini for his anti-masks stance.

Tallahassee Police sergeant on leave for ‘questionable’ social media post about mural, protests” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — A sergeant is on administrative leave after a posting targeting local Black Lives Matter protesters as a “mob of thugs” and criminals and taking aim at a mural painted on Gaines Street. TPD Chief Lawrence Revell provided a statement that the officer, confirmed as Sgt. Gavin Larremore, was put on administrative leave this week after the posting last week. TPD officials declined to name the officer, citing Florida law. But Larremore himself confirmed he was suspended from the same Facebook account under scrutiny by top officials.

Pensacola City Council votes to remove Confederate monument, change name of Lee Square” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola’s 129-year-old Confederate monument will be coming down. The Pensacola City Council voted 6-1 to remove the monument and 7-0 to change the name of Lee Square back to its original name of Florida Square during a special meeting Tuesday night. The city will look for a contractor to remove and relocate the monument. Lee Square has been closed since the monument was vandalized earlier this month, and it will remain closed until the monument is removed. The mayor’s office will investigate where the monument will now go. Councilman Andy Terhaar was the lone no vote against the measure to remove the monument and said he believed the monument should be altered to be more inclusive and honor both sides of the war.

No charges to be filed in protest incident at Walton County Courthouse” via Jim Thompson of NWF Daily News — Cellphone video from a Sunday incident at the Walton County Courthouse, where advocates of removing a Confederate memorial held a rally as a group of counter-demonstrators stood around the memorial, shows apparently accidental contact between an opponent and supporter of the memorial, not a deliberate attack. No charges will be filed in the incident, according to Corey Dobridnia, public information officer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. “It was an accident. That is our take on it,” Dobridnia said Tuesday. Referencing a TV news report that called the incident “an altercation between the groups” and other public comments on the incident, Dobridnia added, “It’s so dangerous to make assumptions when things happen that quickly.”

At an incident at the Walton County Courthouse, advocates of removing a Confederate memorial held a rally as a group of counter-demonstrators stood around the memorial — accidental contact between an opponent and supporter of the memorial was not a deliberate attack. Image via Crestview News Bulletin.

In historic move, Asheville approves reparations for Black residents” via Joel Burgess of the Asheville Citizen-Times — In an extraordinary move, the City Council has apologized for the city’s historic role in slavery, discrimination and denial of basic liberties to Black residents and voted to provide reparations to them and their descendants. The 7-0 vote came the night of July 14. The unanimously passed resolution does not mandate direct payments. Instead, it will make investments in areas where Black residents face disparities. The resolution calls on the city to create the Community Reparations Commission, inviting community groups and other local governments to join. It will be the commission’s job to make concrete recommendations for programs and resources to be used.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Trump looks to curb landmark environmental act for projects” via Aamer Madhani and Kevin Freking of The Associated Press — Trump is ready to roll back a foundational Nixon-era environmental law that he says stifles infrastructure projects, but that is credited with ensuring decades of scrutiny of major projects and giving local communities a say. Trump was in Atlanta to announce changes Wednesday to the National Environmental Policy Act’s regulations for how and when authorities must conduct environmental reviews, making it easier to build highways, pipelines, chemical plants and other projects. The 1970 law changed environmental oversight in the U.S. by requiring federal agencies to consider whether a project would harm the air, land, water or wildlife, and giving the public the right of review and input. The White House said the final rule will promote the rebuilding of America.

— STATEWIDE —

‘What are you thinking?’: Jimmy Patronis invites Elon Musk to Florida on Tax Day” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Patronis sent a letter to Musk on Tuesday explaining why Florida is the best state to host his multi-billion-dollar electric car company. Musk in recent months has grown increasingly frustrated with the high taxes and stiff shutdown orders impacting his factory in Alameda County, California. So much so, he has threatened to relocate his factory. In the two-page letter, Patronis made his case as to why Florida is the right prescription for all his woes. Patronis used more than flattery to lure the SpaceX CEO. He also made a fiscal case as to why Florida is the best landing pad for the business in the country.

Jimmy Patronis sends a letter to Elon Musk to invite him to see how Florida is the best state to relocate his Tesla factory from California.

Florida board of education adjusts rules for hope scholarship for bullied students” via Lisa Buie of redefinED — Beginning this school year, Florida public school districts will be required to report to the Florida Department of Education how many families they have informed of the availability of a scholarship for victims of bullying. The Florida Board of Education approved the changes earlier today as part of its consent agenda, typically reserved for non-controversial items. The measure is included in rule changes that govern the Hope Scholarship. Prior to the rule change, school districts were required to inform parents about the Hope Scholarship within 15 days after a bullying incident was reported and provide the parent with a completed Hope notification form verifying that the incident was reported. The form was needed to start the scholarship application process.

Ban Assault Weapons NOW repurposing to support gun-law reform candidates” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Having been shot down by the Florida Supreme Court in effort to get an assault weapon ban question on the state ballot, Ban Assault Weapons NOW announced Wednesday it is changing strategy and now will seek to help elect state Legislature candidates who support gun law reforms. The political committee had spent more than $2 million trying to get a proposed assault weapons ban amendment on the statewide ballot. But in June n a 4-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled BAWN’s proposed ballot summary did not pass muster because it “affirmatively misleads voters” and so the proposal could not be put on the ballot. The BAWN political committee had raised more than $2.4 million for the effort and still has about $430,000 left, according to its most recent filings with the Florida Division of Elections.

Estate, voting rights groups battle at high court” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — A battle over voting rights in Florida is playing out at the U.S. Supreme Court, with the ability of hundreds of thousands of felons to cast ballots. Attorneys for the state and voting-rights groups filed briefs this week at the Supreme Court as they continue wrangling over a challenge to a 2019 state law requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” to be eligible to vote. Voting-rights groups argue that linking voting rights and finances amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax.” The voting-rights groups went to the Supreme Court last week after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the state cannot deny voting rights to felons who cannot afford to pay court-ordered financial obligations associated with their convictions.

Jury selection via Zoom: First Miami-Dade case is a glimpse of court in the coronavirus era” via Haley Lerner of the Miami Herald — Court was back in session in Miami-Dade County this week, but it was not business as usual. In a first run of what could be a model for the rest of the state, a civil suit this week over a home insurance dispute gave a glimpse of how the justice system hoped to adapt to the new socially distant normal as COVID-19 cases surge in Florida. Jurors were selected via Zoom, attorneys made opening statements wearing protective masks and the trial was streamed on YouTube. It worked pretty well aside from some technical glitches and an awkward moment or two. During a Zoom call to pick a jury, some prospects forgot to unmute while answering questions and one even forgot to do the opposite during a bathroom break, producing a sound effect that drew a few odd looks among those on the call.

Lenny Curry offers $1.34B Jacksonville budget; no tax rate change” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Curry offered a $1.34 billion budget Wednesday that leaves tax rates unchanged and represents nearly status quo spending after a year of extraordinary challenges from the coronavirus pandemic. “We need to recognize what a difference a year can make,” Curry said, describing this spending plan as the result of “my steadfast commitment to being a responsible steward” of public money. Curry proposed $240 million in big-ticket capital projects like drainage and roadwork, including about $100 million for projects in four Northside and Westside Council districts – 7, 8, 9 and 10 – with a history of unmet needs. “This is a well-stated budget, on the surface,” Council President Tommy Hazouri told members during a Zoom meeting where questions were asked on line items ranging from fire stations to sex-trafficking.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget offers no tax rate change.

Tampa General partners with All Children’s to expand access to pediatric care” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Tampa General Hospital announced a partnership this week with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to expand pediatric surgery services across Tampa Bay. The partnership will see pediatric general surgeons from St. Petersburg-based Johns Hopkins All Children’s provide services at Tampa General, including pediatric general surgery consultations and procedures, pediatric trauma surgery, and prenatal counseling and intervention. “By partnering, we are bringing pediatric general surgery experts from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital together with the TGH Children’s Medical Center team and the pediatric specialists from USF Health and our private practice physicians to create a collaborative environment in which innovative ideas and best practices are shared, our students learn, and our youngest, most vulnerable community members benefit,” TGH President John Couris said.

— LOBBY REGS —

Slater Bayliss, The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners: FocusPoint International

Jonathan Kilman, Converge Government Affairs of Florida: ForgeGreen Bio

— 2020 —

Struggling with Latinos, Trump hypes Goya food fight” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida — For the past week, Latinos have warred on social media after the CEO of Goya Foods effusively praised  Trump at a White House event. Trump fueled the controversy, posting an Instagram image of his trademarked thumbs-up sign of approval as he sat in the Oval Office with an array of Goya products in front of him, appearing to provide an endorsement to a private company from the historic Resolute Desk. For the president, it’s the latest cultural wedge issue to seize on in an effort to persuade Hispanic voters that the left is too radical, from redefining Spanish to remove gendered nouns so that Latinos are instead called “Latinx” to attack a popular brand that’s synonymous with Latin American cooking.

Donald Trump makes his pitch to Latinx voters. Image via AP.

Scattered problems with mail-in ballots this year signal potential November challenges for Postal Service” via Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post — Problems caused by a spike in absentee voting during this year’s primaries are serving as potential warning signs for the U.S. Postal Service, which is bracing for an expected onslaught of mail-in ballots this fall as states and cities push alternatives to in-person voting because of the pandemic. The concern extends to local elections offices that may be unaccustomed to aspects of the mail, such as the time it takes for parcels to reach their destinations and how to design their ballots to meet postal standards. Local elections offices are hiring temporary workers to process absentee ballots, and some local elections boards are adding options for voters to do curbside drop-offs of their mail ballots on Election Day.

Florida GOP doctors Trump tweet to solve mail-in voting problem” via Marc Caputo of Politico — Trump’s harsh rhetoric against mail-in voting is causing a big problem for Florida Republicans, who once dominated the practice here. So the state GOP came up with a solution: They doctored one of Trump’s tweets on the issue to remove the stigma. “Absentee Ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them,” Trump said in the tweet. The rest of the quote was blurred out: “Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins.

Kanye West drops presidential bid: report” via Melissa Roberto of Fox News — West’s campaign has reportedly been suspended less than two weeks after he shocked the nation with a tweet that confirmed his decision to run for president of the United States in November. According to a new report from Intelligencer, a “get-out-the-vote specialist” named Steve Kramer claims West is already “out” after the Yeezy founder hired both “paid and volunteer” staff to help him secure signatures in Florida and South Carolina to get him on the ballot. Kramer claimed West’s team was “working over the weekend there, formalizing the FEC and other things that they’ve got to do when you have a lot of corporate lawyers involved.” A separate source, who remained anonymous, claimed to the outlet that they were hired for $5,000 to help West gather signatures in Florida to meet the state’s July 15 ballot deadline. The outlet claimed he needed “132,781 valid signatures from Florida voters in less than a week.”

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL — 

CD 3 Republican Kat Cammack raised another $250K in Q2” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Cammack raised another $254,000 for her bid to succeed exiting U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, her campaign announced Wednesday. The April-through-June report was Cammack’s best yet, more than doubling the $103,000 she raised in the first three months of 2020. The second-quarter performance brings her to-date total to $461,000 raised. Cammack had more than $330,000 on hand on June 30, nearly double the $166,000 she had in the bank at the end of the first quarter. Cammack is one of 10 Republicans vying to replace Yoho, who made good on his promise to term limit himself out of office.

Kat Cammack hits CD 3 fundraising with both barrels.

Leo Valentin tops Republican field in CD 7 fundraising” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Valentin added more than $120,000 to his campaign account during the second quarter, building his lead in the Republican primary for Florida’s 7th Congressional District. In a news release, the campaign said it had cleared $460,000 in total fundraising as of June 30. Valentin’s campaign didn’t state whether the new funds were all from donors or included candidate loans, though it did take some jabs at incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. “I’m honored by the support our campaign has received, and we’ll continue working to ensure we win the Republican primary to take on Stephanie Murphy in the general election,” Valentin said. Through the first quarter, Valentin had raised about $211,000 and lent his campaign another $131,000. The account had $276,000 on hand on March 31.

Carlos Giménez falls further behind Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in CD 26 fundraising contest” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Giménez is trailing Mucarsel-Powell for the second straight quarter, according to the most recent financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Giménez raised just over $617,000 during the most recent quarter, which covers financial activity from April 1-June 30. Giménez has now topped $1 million raised in just two quarters since he entered the race in January. Mucarsel-Powell, however, added close to $837,000 during the quarter, topping Giménez by nearly $220,000. Overall, she’s raised nearly $3.8 million this cycle. Giménez, however, must compete in the Republican primary against Omar Blanco, the former head of Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403. That could further cause Giménez to burn through his war chest more quickly in the next two months than Mucarsel-Powell.

Heather Fitzenhagen says Republican leadership is lying about her immigration record” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Fitzenhagen, in a fundraising appeal, accused the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee of lying about her record. The political committee, headed by Senate President-Designate Wilton Simpson, supports Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues. “FRSCC caught in a LIE about my record,” an email blast subject line reads. In question is a negative ad from the committee slamming Fitzhagen’s record in the House on issues including immigration. “Fitzenhagen turned her back on President Trump, refusing to ban sanctuary cities,” the ad states. The ad also hits on subjects like providing certain benefits to undocumented immigrants. But Fitzenhagen took issue immediately with the reference to a sanctuary cities bill.

State House candidates argue over Mid-Bay Bridge tolls” via Tom McLaughlin of Northwest Florida Daily News — Removing the tolls on the Mid-Bay Bridge has been a primary issue in this year’s race for the District 4 State House seat. While Jonathan Tallman and Jeff Hinkle are telling voters that if elected they’ll see the toll removed or reduced, fellow legislative hopeful Patt Maney has questioned whether that can realistically be done. Tallman and Maney, who sits on the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority’s governing board, debated the issue in a Tuesday forum hosted by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. “If (outgoing Rep.) Mel Ponder couldn’t get that done and Don Gaetz, as president of the Senate … couldn’t get it done … we need to be careful when people tell us they can just do it,” Maney said.

Video seeks to punish Chip LaMarca and other South Florida lawmakers for supporting DeSantis coronavirus response” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The video, released Wednesday by the liberal American Bridge 21st Century super PAC, begins with a snippet of video that Democrats and their allies have become fond of using: DeSantis in Orlando on May 20 when he mocked people who had criticized Florida’s response to the coronavirus and touted what then looked like the state’s success in dealing with the virus. American Bridge threw that back at DeSantis, now that the state is a world leader in coronavirus cases. The Florida Department of Health reported 10,181 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 301,810 since the start of the pandemic. The video includes audio from four lawmakers, state Rep. LaMarca from Broward, and state Reps. Vance Aloupis, Juan Fernandez-Barquin, and Ana Maria Rodriquez from Miami-Dade County.

To watch, click on the image below:

—“Meet Donna Barcomb, a Republican running for House District 72” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics 

—“Jeff Kottkamp endorses Mike Giallombardo for old House seat” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

—“Equality Florida Action PAC endorses Javier Estevez in HD 105” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

—“Fire Sprinkler Association announces first wave of legislative endorsements” via Florida Politics staff reports

— DOWN BALLOT —

Ex-Broward sheriff and current candidate Scott Israel hospitalized with COVID-19” via Skylar Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Israel, the former Broward County sheriff who is running to reclaim the office, has been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19. Israel learned he had the virus Tuesday night and went to a local hospital for further evaluation, according to a statement released by his campaign Wednesday. “Like most of you, I took precautions, followed the advice of health experts, wore a mask in public, washed my hands regularly, and observed social distancing,” Israel said in the statement. “Yet, despite this vigilance, I have contracted the virus,” Israel said he was tested at the urging of family and friends after experiencing symptoms for several days. Israel was receiving fluids for dehydration and undergoing further tests at the hospital on Wednesday, said Lori Parrish, a friend of Israel’s and former Broward County property appraiser.

Scott Israel tests positive for COVID-19.

George Soros’ interest in Orlando’s State Attorney race opens crossfire” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Billionaire New York Democratic campaign financier Soros, who helped fuel Aramis Ayala‘s 2016 victory for Orlando’s State Attorney Office, is showing interest again this year, providing indirect support for Monique Worrell for that office and opening crossfire between her campaign and that of opponent Ryan Williams. Soros’ appearance in the election has been limited thus far to some polling and research provided to an independent committee supporting Worrell. Williams’ campaign raised concerns about Soros’ potential involvement as possibly the first indication he might try to overwhelm the contest with outside money, as he did in 2016. Worrell’s campaign responded by accusing Williams’ campaign of using “the same anti-Semitic Soros trope that the President of the United States also uses.”

Sheriff John Mina reacts to union pulling endorsement: ‘I have made difficult decisions’” via Jeff Weiner of the Orlando Sentinel — The day after the union that represents Orange County deputies voted to rescind its endorsement of Sheriff Mina, he reacted by pledging to stay the course despite signs of mounting dissatisfaction within the agency. “The changes I have instituted at the Sheriff’s Office might have been the impetus of this decision,” Mina said in a statement. “If that’s the case, I accept that. I have made difficult decisions and have levied harsh discipline for policy violations, including terminating deputies for excessive force.” He added he is committed to having “conversations with our deputies to improve and strengthen” OCSO, and also to ”implement and enforce policies that keep our community safe and hold our deputies accountable.”

Recruiting bogus candidates is shady politics for scared politician” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey is obviously nervous about getting re-elected — and for good reason. She has cast a number of rotten votes, including one to give Universal Orlando up to $125 million to help build a road for their new theme park (even as the county prepared to ask residents to raise their own taxes to pay for new roads elsewhere). And another vote supporting a toll road that would plow through an environmental preserve. (Because nothing screams “environmental protection” like four lanes of concrete.) So, with VanderLey running scared, her campaign team recruited — and funded — a bogus write-in candidate to run against her. That may sound strange … until you realize how Florida’s whacked-out elections work.

— TOP OPINION —

The pandemic could get much, much worse. We must act now.” via John M. Barry for The New York Times — With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely we have to return to science. The White House says the country has to learn to live with the virus. That’s one thing if new cases occurred at the rates in Italy or Germany, not to mention South Korea or Australia or Vietnam. It’s another thing when the United States has the highest growth rate of new cases in the world, ahead even of Brazil. In the United States, public health experts were virtually unanimous that replicating European success required, first, maintaining the shutdown until we achieved a steep downward slope in cases; second, getting widespread compliance with public health advice; and third, creating a workforce of at least 100,000 to test, trace and isolate cases. Nationally we came nowhere near any of those goals.

— OPINIONS —

The nation is in a downward spiral. Worse is still to come.” via George F. Will of The Washington Post — Never has a U.S. election come at such a moment of national mortification. The nation’s floundering government is now administered by a gangster regime. It is helpful to have this made obvious as voters contemplate renewing the regime’s lease on the executive branch. This year, the pandemic will be an accelerant of preexisting trends: There will be a surge of early and mail voting. So, an unambiguous decision by midnight Nov. 3 will require a popular-vote tsunami so large against the President that there will be a continentwide guffaw when he makes charges, as surely he will, akin to those he made in 2016. Then, he said he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million because “millions” of undocumented immigrants voted against him.

DeSantis, Trump missed their chance to fully reopen schools” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Maybe DeSantis realized how callous he sounded in comparing the reopening of public schools to the reopening of a Home Depot or Walmart. Whatever the reason, the Governor pivoted Monday from his insistence that all students be back on campus next month. Parents, DeSantis said, should choose. Trump threatened last week to withhold money from districts that fail to reopen fully. In Florida, Education Commissioner Corcoran last week issued an order that “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.” A competent Trump administration would have started planning how to reopen schools as soon as they closed four months ago. A competent DeSantis administration would have done the same thing.

Bullying the Miami-Dade school district to reopen in August is just reckless” via the Miami Herald editorial board — The monumental decision on whether to reopen Miami-Dade schools in August is not on Wednesday’s School Board agenda, but it’s likely to pop up. After all, how to deal with this pandemic is the district’s most crucial decision in ages. The burden of deciding whether we continue with online schooling whether we physically return to class return to class physically, falls largely on Superintendent Carvalho and the elected members of the School Board, who rely on his counsel. Carvalho has maintained that he will follow the advice of health experts and the coronavirus dashboard on what is best for the district’s 350,000 students, parents, teachers and staff and the community. His is the most pragmatic, and empathetic, approach to this scary eventuality.

Is close enough good enough for the high court?” via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis likes to recruit his new judges from the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative legal scholars dedicated to a “textualist” and “originalist” reading of the Constitution. So it’s significant that attorneys for state Rep. Geraldine Thompson used some originalist text in their challenge to the seating of Florida Supreme Court Justice Renatha Francis. In fact, they went to the high court’s own advisory opinion in another recent case to make their point. Here’s what happened: Two justices resigned to take seats on the federal bench and DeSantis appointed Francis and Justice John Couriel to replace them. No problem with Couriel, but Francis is a bit short of being a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years, a requirement for appellate judges.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida has now logged more than 300,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 10,000 new cases reported Wednesday — along with 112 fatalities. The state’s coronavirus death toll to 4,626.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

DeSantis tells the state board of education that schools will be safe when they reopen next month, but he says if you’re not comfortable sending your kids back, there will be alternatives.

The state Board of Education has some questions about the emergency order to reopen schools next month, right in the middle of a pandemic. 

Remember DeSantis’ slogan for reopening the state? “Safe. Simple. And step by step.” However, Senate Democrats have an alternative: “Step back to safety.”

 — Sunrise takes a deep dive into these disgruntled Democrats.

— And the latest on a Florida man who refused to wear a mask at Walmart, standing his ground by pulling a gun on another shopper.

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Disney: Epcot quietly reopens with changes” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Epcot emerged from its coronavirus shutdown Wednesday, representing another step in the phased reopening of Walt Disney World and its theme parks. The resort started reviving its theme parks with the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom last week; Disney’s Hollywood Studios also reopened Wednesday. By now, many theme park goers know the drill: Face masks are required, as are temperature screenings, physical distancing and a reduced capacity. On a very hot weekday at Epcot, that made for an attraction with more elbow room than usual and without the traditional snaking queues.

Visitors arrive for the official re-opening day of Epcot at Walt Disney World. Image via AP.

Disney Parks are nearly empty and that seems to be the plan” via Christopher Palmeri of Bloomberg — Walt Disney Co.’s just-opened theme parks in Florida are so deserted that visitors are waiting five minutes or less to get on many rides, an eerie experience for people accustomed to long lines. Jay Scutt, who runs the Park Hoppin’ YouTube channel, visited the Animal Kingdom park on Sunday, the day after it opened to the public and found it lightly attended. “I walked on everything,” said Scutt, a frequent park-goer. “I’ve never seen the park like this.” No doubt, many would-be visitors are wary of going to Disney’s parks during a pandemic. But the thin crowds may largely be the result of limits imposed by a new reservation system, part of the company’s cautious approach to reopening attractions. Reservations were quickly snapped up for last weekend, but the park still looked empty to many attendees. It’s been a learning process for Disney.

Sony boosting output of PlayStation 5 to meet surge in demand” via Takashi Mochizuki of Bloomberg — Sony Corp. is roughly doubling its PlayStation 5 production to 10 million units this year as it sees the prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic boosting demand for gaming, according to people familiar with its plans. The electronics giant has informed assembly partners and suppliers it’s radically increasing orders for its next-generation console, though logistics may yet pose a challenge to delivering all those machines on time for the holiday shopping season, the people said, asking to remain anonymous. Sony had previously aimed to produce 5 million to 6 million PS5 units by the end of March 2021. A Sony spokesman declined to comment. Japanese business daily Nikkei earlier reported Sony’s planned production boost of the game machine, which is scheduled to release this fall.  

‘Fletch’ reboot with Jon Hamm in the works” via Dave McNary of Variety — A modern-day reboot of “Fletch” is in the works, with Hamm set to star as the quick-witted investigative reporter character originally played by Chevy Chase in 1985’s “Fletch” and its sequel “Fletch Lives.” The project, unveiled Wednesday by Miramax, is based on the second book in Gregory McDonald’s series, “Confess Fletch.” Hamm will also produce alongside manager/producer Connie Tavel. Greg Mottola, whose credits include “Superbad,” “Adventureland” and “Arrested Development,” will direct from a script by Zev Borrow. David List will executive produce the film.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, Bob GabordiAlexis Lambert, former Hillsborough Commission candidate Todd MarksAlix Miller of the Florida Trucking Association, the still handsome Ben Stuart, and Victoria Zepp.

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

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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