Rep. Chris Latvala tested positive for COVID-19, he announced Sunday evening.
“Yesterday, 3,197 Floridians tested positive for COVID-19. I was one of them,” Latvala wrote.
He said he has been experiencing symptoms for a couple of days and has been self-isolating since Wednesday.
Latvala is currently hospitalized at Largo Medical Center, but expects to make a full recovery.
“Thank you to all the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic. I want to especially thank the heroes of Largo (Medical) Center. I am in awe not only how they treat me but all the other patients. My stay here should be a short one. I will be fine. Thank you for your prayers,” he wrote.
Latvala said his symptoms vary and cautioned constituents to continue taking precautions to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
“This pandemic is not over but we will get through it. Keep wearing masks, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently,” he wrote.
Florida Democrats are unveiling a revamped website — FloridaDems.org — which is expected to serve as an organizing tool for Party members in all 67 counties ahead of the 2020 elections.
The new site, which Florida Democratic Party leaders call “game-changing,” is designed to be more user-friendly to the average Floridian, offering improved voter education tools, a real-time map of grassroots organizing events statewide, the ability to register to vote and enroll in vote-by-mail.
Its main goal is to become a “one-stop-shop” for Democratic voters, organizers, and candidates.
“This project was a long time in the making and will be more critical to our efforts now as we campaign during the age of COVID-19,” said FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo. “With the launch of this new website, we are renewing our focus on a faster, more secure, and more reliable experience!”
It is the first launch of an entirely new FDP website since 2014.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg will be the keynote speaker at the virtual 2020 Summer Conference of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus.
The former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana was the first openly gay major presidential candidate, scoring a virtual tie with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the early Iowa Caucuses. After placing lower in later primaries, Buttigieg exited the race in early March and soon became a vocal supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Themed “It’s in Your Hands,” the conference will be online Saturday, Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET and is open to the press. A closed-door membership meeting will follow the conference at 3 p.m. ET.
“COVID-19 keeps us from meeting in person, but we have a tremendous amount of work to do to change the direction of our country by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus President Stephen Gaskill. “Our virtual conference features party leaders, issue experts, and campaign strategists who will inspire us, teach us, and guide us in our mission to defeat Donald Trump.”
Along with Buttigieg’s keynote, the conference will feature a session on voter protection efforts in Florida to counter Republican efforts to suppress the vote. Other agenda items are a discussion on the intersection of issues facing the LGBTQ community and communities of color in the 2021 Legislative Session. Moderating the panel is Senate candidate Shevrin Jones, who is likely to become the first openly gay member of the Florida Senate, and includes Rep.-elect Michele Rayner of House District 70, Palm Beach County Commissioner Omari Hardy and HD 14 candidate Angie Nixon, both of whom are expected to win their races in Nov.
It’s In Your Hands will be available online at lgbtqdems.org, the Caucus’ webpage, or the main site. While the conference is free, participants are encouraged to preregister. The Caucus’ Broward chapter, the Dolphin Democrats, is hosting the event.
Ballard Partners will announce today another big get for its new Financial Services Group.
Abby Vail, the former Chief of Staff at the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, is joining the firm. In her new role, she will advise Ballard Partners’ clients on all aspects of the financial services industry including insurance, banking, consumer finance, securities and fintech.
Vail has more than 15 years of government affairs experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Her most recent accomplishment was the successful push for the Financial Technology Regulatory Sandbox bill in the 2020 Legislative Session. She also served as the Office of Financial Regulation’s representative in the American Consumer Financial Innovation Network.
Her hire comes a week after Ballard Partners announced it was bringing on former Florida CFO Jeff Atwater to lead the division.
The firm has also tapped former World Bank executive Oscar Chemerinski, and former U.S. Senate Appropriations staffer Rebecca Benn to round out the Financial Services Group’s roster.
“With the addition of its newest group members, our firm’s Financial Services Group brings exceptional expertise and broad reach in assisting our firm’s clients in this global industry,” said Brian Ballard, the firm’s President and founder.
Atwater, a former Senate President, also praised the additions.
“Abby’s most recent experience overseeing the regulation of Florida’s financial industry will make her an invaluable asset to our firm’s clients,” he said. “We are also proud to be adding Oscar Chemerinski and Rebecca Benn to the firm’s Financial Services Group.
The Florida League of Cities is announcing a pair of promotions in its advocacy wing.
Scott Dudley, previously the League’s Director of Legislative Affairs, is getting bumped up to Director of Field Advocacy.
FLC described Dudley as “a fearless Home Rule advocate and a unique political talent,” and said his background in grassroots advocacy, the strong member relationships he’s forged and his detailed knowledge of the League’s legislative priorities make him a perfect fit for the job.
In his new role, Dudley will develop and lead FLC’s grassroots network to increase member engagement and build citizen support for local decision-making.
The Florida League of Cities didn’t need to look far to find Dudley’s replacement.
Casey Cook, a lobbyist for the League, will take over as Director of Legislative Affairs on Sept. 1, the same day Dudley officially vacates the position.
FLC said Cook has stood out as a top lobbyist during the decade-plus he’s worked there. The group added, “his political experience, relationships and strategic leadership skills” will make for a smooth handoff.
“It’s important, now more than ever, to have a significant grassroots advocacy effort combined with the League’s robust legislative initiatives to help strengthen Home Rule throughout the state,” FLC Executive Director-Designate Jeannie Garner said.
“Both Scott and Casey have been tremendous defenders of Home Rule for more than a decade, and I look forward to seeing the success they’ll have working together as we enhance our overall advocacy strategy in support of Florida’s 411 cities, towns and villages.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
Most liked Tweet ever.
— Twitter (@Twitter) August 29, 2020
—@KaraSwisher: I’m not sure how many times me and people like @rashadrobinson & @tristanharris & @nicolewong can keep repeating: This is not a bug, it is a FEATURE. FB was built to do precisely what it is doing, which is to turn far too much engagement into enragement.
—@WaltShaub: Tonight a white guy, likely sipping a Frappacino, told me rioting is better than protesting. When I asked him what he meant, he said “burn it all down” and magically replace all the bad things with society. I told him when he burns down his own house I’ll post a pic of it online.
—@Alexnazaryan: Didn’t think the presidential election would hinge on which candidate could better stock pharmacy shelves with Clorox sanitizing wipes, but here we basically are.
—@AndreaGainey: When you see Americans advocate for and themselves practice personal responsibility then, and only then, will you see a national transformation. We live in a climate that places little to no value on reaching middle ground, but is wholly committed to incentivizing victimhood.
—@KimberlyEAtkins: There used to be a time where we could all have a nice Saturday without a national security crisis or some other emergency.
— DAYS UNTIL —
Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” rescheduled premiere in U.S. — 3; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 5; Rescheduled date for French Open — 21; First presidential debate in Indiana — 29; “Wonder Woman 1984” premieres — 32; Preakness Stakes rescheduled — 33; Ashley Moody’s 2020 Human Trafficking Summit — 36; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 37; NBA season ends (last possible date) — 42; Second presidential debate scheduled in Miami — 45; NBA draft — 46; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 46; NBA free agency — 49; Florida Chamber’s Future of Florida Forum — 50; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 52; 2020 General Election — 64; “Black Widow” premieres — 68; NBA 2020-21 training camp — 70; College basketball season slated to begin — 71; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 81; “No Time to Die” premieres — 81; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 94; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 160; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 172; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 305; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 326; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 333; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 431; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 529; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 571; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 763.
— SMOLDERING —
“Donald Trump to travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday” via Jeremy Diamond and Kate Sullivan of CNN — Trump will travel to Kenosha to meet with law enforcement and to survey some of the damage from the recent protests. When asked if the President would meet with the family of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot by police, White House spokesman Judd Deere said that the schedule hasn’t been fully ironed out yet. Blake’s family led a march of hundreds of people in Kenosha, demanding an end to police violence and systemic racism. Blake, who was shot by a White police officer, has undergone multiple surgeries.
“One person shot dead in Portland following clashes between pro-Trump supporters, counterprotesters” via Faiz Siddiqui and Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — One person was shot dead on a Portland street Saturday night during a series of confrontations as supporters of Trump moved in a caravan through downtown. The pro-Trump rally drew counterprotesters who clashed with far-right factions in a replay of scenes unfolding in this riverside city and other American communities during a summer of sickness and anguish. Police were investigating the shooting, which happened at about 8:45 p.m., as a homicide, the Portland Police Bureau confirmed in a statement early Sunday. Police did not release information about a potential suspect. “This violence is completely unacceptable, and we are working diligently to find and apprehend the individual or individuals responsible,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said. A man was seen with a gunshot wound lying motionless on the ground in the downtown area where the opposing groups had clashed, and where mace had been deployed.
“Joe Biden condemns violence on all sides after deadly Portland shooting” via Rashaan Ayesh of Axios — Biden issued a statement unequivocally condemning violence on all sides after a man was fatally shot Saturday night during a clash between supporters of Trump and anti-racism protesters. As Biden prepares to address civil unrest this week, he is looking to set a marker for Trump and put the burden on him to speak to all sides on an issue that is roiling America and the presidential campaign. The Trump campaign has sought to paint Biden as unwilling to condemn the violent protests that have unfolded in places like Portland and Kenosha, despite the former vice president having done so several times. In the wake of a flood of tweets and retweets by Trump that defended aggressive actions by his supporters in Portland, Biden demanded that the president help “lower the temperature.”
— “Portland shooting amplifies tensions in presidential race” via Mike Baker, Tom Kaplan and Shane Goldmacher of POLITICO
“TPD: No charges in altercation outside Capitol, where gun was pulled on protesters” via Ryan Dailey of WFSU — The Tallahassee Police Department says no one will face charges following the altercation that took place during a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Florida Capitol on Saturday, which saw a counterprotester pull a handgun on protesters. In videos circulating on social media that show the altercation at multiple angles, a counterprotester is seen walking through the protest, occupying the middle of the intersection, and is followed by a group of protesters. The counterprotester appears to turn around and advance on a protester, punches are thrown — and seconds later the counterprotester is seen holding a pistol, aimed at a protester. A Tallahassee Police officer is seen approaching the counterprotester with his gun drawn. The counterprotester hands the officer his gun, and is consequently handcuffed.
To watch a video of the encounter, click on the image below:
“For many of color, a very different life in Tampa Bay” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — They are paid less than whites, less likely to own a home and more likely to live in poverty. Their children struggle in underperforming schools, and are less likely to be engaged in their communities. The prospects were already tough for the next generation even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. For many people of color throughout Tampa Bay, these inequities pose a crushing hurdle to a better life and a stabler, more productive region. A new report released by the Tampa Bay Partnership exposes a glaring racial divide across the region. The inequities in income, housing, education and other areas show the challenge of expanding opportunities across the metropolitan area. While Tampa Bay is not an outlier in many aspects compared to peer cities across the country, the numbers provide a snapshot of the region’s distinct weaknesses.
— PRESIDENTIAL —
“Trump’s still in trouble in first post-convention polling” via Harry Enten of CNN — Trump may have gotten a small bump out of his convention, but he still clearly trails former Biden. If later polling data confirms this early evidence, a Trump victory hinges on him becoming the first incumbent in over 70 years to come from behind after trailing following the major party conventions. The new ABC News/Ipsos poll is especially harsh for Trump. Although it did not poll the horse race, it did poll the candidates’ favorability ratings. Trump’s favorable rating stood at 32% in an Ipsos’ poll last week. Today, after the Republican National Convention, it stands at 31%. Biden’s favorable rating, meanwhile, was at 45% last week. It’s now at 46%.
“Trump’s favorability and perceptions of COVID-19 response stagnate post-convention” via Kendall Karson of ABC News — Trump‘s efforts to build his appeal and define his opponent at the Republican National Convention, using pageantry and the White House as the backdrop, had little apparent impact on the electorate’s impressions of both him and Biden, a new poll finds. Trump’s week of celebration did not improve his favorability, even among his own base, and the country still remains widely critical of his handling of the major crisis of his presidency: COVID-19. Less than one-third (31%) of the country has a favorable view of the president in the days after he accepted the Republican nomination for the second time — a stagnant reality for Trump. His favorability rating stood at 32% in the last poll, taken a week earlier, right after the Democratic National Convention.
“Trump pulls closer to Biden after RNC” via Eli Yokley of Morning Consult — Trump needed a convention bounce and he got one, emerging from the Republican National Convention with an improved standing against Democratic presidential nominee Biden, fueled by gains among white voters and those in the suburbs, though he still trails the former vice president nationwide. A new Morning Consult poll conducted Friday that asked 4,035 likely voters which candidate they would pick found Biden leading Trump by 6 percentage points, 50 percent to 44 percent. It marked a 4-point improvement from his standing heading into the convention on Aug. 23, when Biden led 52 percent to 42 percent. Friday’s poll had a 2-point margin of error, compared with a 1-point margin of error for responses gathered among 4,810 likely voters on Aug. 23.
“Rival themes emerge as race enters final weeks: COVID-19 vs. law and order” via Katie Glueck, Annie Karni and Alexander Burns of The New York Times — As a weeklong Republican offensive against Biden ends, the Democratic nominee plans to resume campaigning in swing states and has released a multimillion-dollar barrage of ads attacking Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. The moves come as the presidential campaign barrels into the critical last 10 weeks. They represent a bet by Biden that a focus on COVID-19 will prevail over Trump’s “law and order” emphasis and his attempt to portray Biden as a tool of the “radical left.” Biden’s ads also celebrate the history of peaceful protests. Biden’s team on Friday made clear that they were determined to prevent Trump from framing the debate over the violent unrest in some cities and would aggressively move to prevent the president’s narrative from taking hold. “We’re certainly not going to let it go unaddressed,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who is a chairman of Biden’s campaign. “I think Americans know it’s false, and we’re going to just have to make sure that they know what our position is.”
“Trump’s strategy: Make ‘wobbly Republicans’ think their party is great again” via Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times — Trump and his party are entering the nine-week stretch until Election Day with their success riding on the hope that enough voters come to the following conclusion: You’re not as bad as we thought. As part of this strategy, Republicans and the Trump campaign are attempting to focus voters’ minds away from the pandemic and economic crisis and on a narrower set of cultural issues. For example, the nation is in dire straits, they say, not because of COVID-19 deaths or double-digit unemployment or racial discord, but because of liberals who want to “cancel” conservatives, criminals who are rampaging from the cities into white suburbs and a Democratic presidential ticket that is a “Trojan horse” for Fidel Castro-style authoritarianism. These topics often consume conservative media, are already appearing in ads from the Trump campaign and his allies and were mentioned repeatedly over the four nights of the Republican National Convention.
“Why Democrats are worried about Kenosha” via Harry Enten of CNN Politics — Biden and Trump both recognize the potential political fallouts if protests in the wake of the Blake shooting are seen as peaceful or as violent. Biden benefits if they are seen as the former, while Trump is helped if they are seen as the latter. Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in late May, support for Biden against Trump spiked nationwide. His lead went from 6 points in May to double-digits in June. This occurred as peaceful protests dominated the news, race relations jumped in importance in the voters’ minds and support for the Black Lives Matter movement rose to a majority. Although Biden will certainly take an 8-point lead nationally, the fact that Biden’s edge has dropped should be at least somewhat concerning to him. It’s occurred even as the coronavirus pandemic, the most important issue of this campaign, has raged out of control for much of the summer. Biden clearly remains more trusted on the issue than Trump, whose approval rating on coronavirus is in the 30s.
“Amid fears that Trump might not leave office, two lawmakers press for Pentagon assurances on the election” via Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan of The Washington Post — In a sign of the growing concern that Trump might not leave office voluntarily or might attempt to use the military to hold onto power, two moderate Democratic lawmakers posed a series of written questions to the secretary of defense and the military’s top general about their obligations to the Constitution and the country. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Mikie Sherrill addressed their questions in writing to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, setting a deadline of Thursday evening. Milley responded to the queries, but Esper has not yet provided answers. “I recognize that there is only one legitimate president of the United States at a time,” Milley replied late Thursday.
“Team Biden eyes a trillion-dollar January stimulus” via Hans Nichols and Felix Salmon of Axios — If Biden wins the presidency, he might need a trillion-dollar stimulus bill in January, just to buy enough time to push through his nearly $3 trillion “Build Back Better” plan later in spring 2021. That’s according to Biden advisers who are growing increasingly worried that the economy is deteriorating by the day. Congress and the White House are locked in a stalemate on additional spending to soften the blow of the pandemic. Biden’s signature economic stimulus plan is an ambitious attempt to recover from the pandemic while tackling income inequality, climate change and structural racism. The plan would pump $2.7 trillion into American manufacturing, clean energy technology and infrastructure over just four years.
“Pam Bondi says New York AG should be DQ’d from investigating Trump” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Former Attorney General Pam Bondi said that New York’s AG should be “disqualified” from looking into potentially false statements the President and the Trump Organization made about property tax values. “She can’t get away with this,” Bondi told host Jeanine Pirro on Fox News Saturday evening. Bondi, a staunch defender of Trump, went on the attack against NY AG Letitia James, expanding on themes she expressed in a tweet earlier this week. “She’s doing all this currently while her city, while her state is in shambles,” Bondi said about James, “while her Governor is begging people to move back to New York.” From there, Bondi attempted to delegitimize the inquiry.
“Trump is winning Pasco County, but not by the margin he should” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — It’s likely little surprise Trump is more popular than Biden in right-leaning Pasco County. But a newly released St. Pete Polls survey shows things look tighter there than the Presidential race finished in 2016. If the election were held today, about 57% of Pasco County voters would vote to reelect Trump and just over 39% would pick Biden. Some 1% go third-party and fewer than 3% remain undecided. So how’s that compare to the 2016 results? That year, Trump won almost 59% of the Pasco vote while Democrat Hillary Clinton won just over 37%. Nearly 4% of voters picked a third-party option such as Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The bottom line, Trump won the conservative county by 22% in 2016 but leads by just 18% now. That 4-percentage-point difference could mean dividends in Florida, a state Trump won by just 1.2% in his last election and one whose electoral votes he likely needs in order to secure a second term.
“Biden, speaking to National Guard group, takes aim at Republican criticism on crime” via Katie Glueck and Sydney Ember of The New York Times — After a Republican National Convention week in which Trump and his allies sought to brand Biden as radically anti-law enforcement, the Democratic nominee took implicit aim at that characterization in his own remarks on Saturday as he swiped at Trump’s calls for “law and order” and ripped the President’s record as commander in chief. Biden’s comments came at a virtual gathering of the National Guard Association of the United States, a group he addressed while speaking against a backdrop of American flags, with a flag pin affixed to his suit lapel. Civil and military relations have been “tested lately,” Biden argued, alluding to Trump’s efforts earlier this summer to use federal law enforcement to “dominate” demonstrators protesting police brutality amid a national outcry over racial injustice. Republicans in recent days have seized on renewed unrest in American cities to argue falsely that Biden wants to defund the police, an approach he opposes.
“Matt Gaetz says ‘Biden’s America’ means mob violence in the streets” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Gaetz dished out the red meat on Saturday night’s iteration of the Judge Jeanine show on Fox News, depicting “unhinged mobs” as a sign of “Joe Biden‘s America.” While street theater has been a hallmark of the season, it hit too close to home Thursday night when VIPs were accosted by purportedly peaceful protesters en route from the White House to their parking spaces. The leftists may have had their say Thursday, but at least in terms of the Saturday night audience on the Fox News Channel, it was Gaetz who got in the last word. Gaetz said, regarding the left: “Tweet the wrong thing they’ll cancel you on the line. Back the wrong candidate, they’ll attack you in the streets. But this is sign of Joe Biden’s America.”
“The latest battlefield in a heated presidential campaign: Front yards bearing Biden signs” via Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post — Across Pennsylvania tens of thousands of yard signs supporting Biden have popped up as his fans try to replicate how Trump showed his growing support in the state when he was campaigning in 2016. And, just as quickly, some of those signs have been vanishing. It usually happens in the dark of night, local Democrats say, but sometimes in daylight. Sometimes entire streets or neighborhoods are cleared. Pro-Biden Facebook groups have devoted long threads to strategies for deterring sign snatchers. While sign thefts are a problem every election year for candidates of both parties some Democrats in Pennsylvania and several other states insist it’s worse for them this year and illustrates the emotional intensity of the coming election. While there are examples of Trump signs also disappearing, there hasn’t been the same level of public outcry.
“Kamala Harris to launch Hispanic outreach program in Miami-Dade, focused on small business” via Bianca Padró Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Harris is hosting the launch of a national voter outreach program for the Biden campaign with Hispanic small business owners on Saturday, her first virtual Florida event since becoming the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. The new program, called “Nuestros Negocios, Nuestros Futuros,” will partner with Latino business owners to spread the word about Biden’s plan to encourage entrepreneurship among Hispanic communities, while involving them in the campaign’s Hispanic voter outreach efforts. Saturday’s virtual launch with Miami’s Hispanic business owners is slated to be the first of several around the country, according to the Biden campaign. “Small businesses … are where we shop, where we work, and many times, where we congregate with our community,” Laura Jimenez, National Latino Engagement Director for Biden for President, said in a statement.
“Mail ballots from nursing home residents, entire family didn’t count in Florida primary” via David Smiley and Erin Doherty of The Miami Herald — In Florida, where anyone can request a mail ballot without providing a reason, there are two main make-or-break rules: a 7 p.m. election night deadline and a signature-match requirement. While ballots cast in person are rarely invalidated, studies have found that about 1% of all mail ballots were rejected statewide in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, a statistic that can prove consequential in tight elections. And in a state known for the tightest of November votes, election supervisors are braced for a historic surge in mail ballots this year even as the budget-constrained USPS warns that Florida’s deadlines for requesting and sending in mail ballots make it more likely that votes will arrive too late to count. “My message to the voters is: Don’t wait,” said Christina White, the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. “When you get your ballot within a couple of days vote it and mail it. Don’t forget to sign it, of course.”
Exclusive — “Poll: Charlie Crist begins General Election campaign vs. Anna Paulina Luna with 16-point lead” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — This is according to the latest St. Pete Polls survey of Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Sixteen points is about the same margin of victory Crist had over Republican George Buck in 2018. Luna is the Trump acolyte who surged in August to win the Republican Primary. Democrats comprise 38% of all registered voters in the district, compared to just 33% Republicans. Of those, 40% of registered Democrats are considered active while 36% of registered Republicans were. Crist leads overwhelmingly among Democrats with 82% support. He only has support among 22% of registered Republicans, though his share of cross-party support is higher than Luna’s 12% support among Democrats. Crist also leads among independent voters, 57% to 35%.
“Lauren Book says Brian Mast’s controversial Facebook posts show ‘complete lack of respect for women’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Sen. Book is releasing a statement condemning Republican U.S. Rep. Mast after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel uncovered years-old Facebook posts where Mast joked about sleeping with 15-year-olds and rape. “Brian Mast has demonstrated a complete lack of respect for women and questionable moral character unbecoming of a Congressman with disgusting ‘jokes’ about pedophilia, rape, and murder made on social media,” Book said in a Friday statement. Mast posted the comments in 2009 and 2011 in response to posts by Rocco LeDonni, a longtime Mast friend
—“Mast only now regrets his criminally perverted Facebook comments?” via Nancy Smith for The Capitolist
—“A Black, female veteran could topple the Republican incumbent in her red Florida district” via Lateshia Beachum of The Washington Post
— BIG TURNOUT BOOST —
America’s largest grassroots funded field organization, Progressive Turnout Project (PTP), is launching a one-on-one voter contact program with the goal of making 55 million calls and sending 500,000 handwritten notes to voters in Florida and other states ahead of the November elections.
The group says this will be the largest phone program of any progressive organization this cycle, with an investment of $52.5 million to boost turnout. PTP will reach out to voters in Florida and 17 other presidential and Senate battleground states, urging them to make plans to vote-by-mail.
PTP will also help voters by walking them through the step-by-step process of applying for and casting a mail-in ballot.
PTP projects it could get as many as 200,000 commitments to vote in Florida, approximately 35,000 commitments to vote in Wisconsin, 85,000 commitments to vote in Michigan and 130,000 commitments to vote in Pennsylvania — each greater than the vote margin in those states in 2016.
Among the voters targeted by the campaign are registered, but inconsistent, likely Democratic voters and new voters. About one-third of the voters are under age 35, 40% are voters of color and about one-third stayed home in 2016.
Volunteers seeking to help out in the voter contact program can sign up for the phone-banking effort, or to send handwritten postcards through Postcards to Swing States; 25,700 volunteers have signed up so far to make phone calls, and 47,000 volunteers and volunteer groups have ordered postcards.
— TRAIL MIX —
“Wilton Simpson gets boost from medical marijuana firms” via The News Service Of Florida — A political committee led by incoming Senate President Simpson collected $150,000 during a recent one-week period, with much of the money coming from medical-marijuana operators, according to a newly filed finance report. Simpson’s Jobs for Florida committee received the money from Aug. 15 to Aug. 21. The contributions included $75,000 from Trulieve, Inc., and $25,000 from Surterra Florida, LLC. The other $50,000 came from American Flood Action PC, a political committee funded by North Carolina executive Jay Faison, records show. In early August, Simpson’s committee also received $15,000 from the medical-marijuana firm Curaleaf Florida, LLC.
“1,500+ Volusia mail ballots arrived late; Lisa Lewis: ‘Upsetting’” via Mark Harper of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — More than 1,500 mail-in ballots arrived at Volusia County Supervisor of Elections office after the deadline for the Aug. 18 primary election, and she’s not happy about it. Some ballots arrived in envelopes postmarked Aug. 17 in Orlando. Lewis said she called the U.S. Postal Service office in Orlando, the regional hub for Volusia County, on four occasions on Election Day and was told each time that no ballots were there. “The ones dated the 17th arriving in Orlando, we should have had on the 18th, especially when I called down there all day,” Lewis said Thursday. The Orlando postal hub had assured her that ballots would be couriered to the elections office in DeLand. If no one was available, Lewis said she was ready to send someone to Orlando to pick them up on Aug. 18, in time for the deadline.
“South Florida elections officials face an unprecedented demand for mail ballots in presidential voting. Are they close to being ready for the onslaught?” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The presidential election is still two months away, but one result is already guaranteed: a tsunami of voting by mail. The 1.2 million people in South Florida who have already signed up for vote-by-mail ballots is almost double the number who voted by mail in 2016. The travails of the U.S. Postal Service have received enormous attention in recent weeks. But the volume is likely to stress every part of the system, and the people who run voting in South Florida are trying to anticipate every potential bottleneck — even hiring more people solely for the task for removing ballots from envelopes. Complicating vote-by-mail efforts is what Broward Supervisor of Elections Peter Antonacci laments is the human tendency toward procrastination. If people wait too long to return their mail ballots, there’s an increased chance that some votes won’t make it back by the deadline.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Florida reports lowest death toll since June” via The Associated Press — Florida’s health officials reported on Sunday the lowest number of new deaths in more than two months. The state’s health department tallied 14 new COVID-19 deaths as the number of known cases of the virus reported each day also continued to drop. It was the lowest daily death toll since June 22, when officials reported 12 new deaths. The new deaths raise the total number of deaths to 11,263 and lower the average daily toll reported over the past week to 114. Authorities said the number of confirmed cases had risen by 2,583 to a total of 621,586 cases in the state.
“Ron DeSantis suggests he will extend eviction moratorium for fifth consecutive time” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis on Friday suggested he will likely extend Florida’s stay-on-evictions while speaking to reporters in Fort Lauderdale. “I will work on the moratorium,” he said. “I think we probably will continue that as well.” The current moratorium is scheduled to expire on Sep. 1 at 12:01 a.m. If signed, it will be the fifth consecutive extension. The Governor’s remarks bring some relief to the thousands of Floridians who remain financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state received 100,000 additional unemployment claims last week. In total, 1.9 million claims have been paid in Florida for a sum of $14.22 billion since the onset of the pandemic. The moratorium is intended to suspend evictions or foreclosure for those economically-impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“487 APD clients have COVID-19, another 47 dead” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — According to data released by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, 487 individuals have tested positive for the coronavirus, which can be especially lethal to elderly and disabled people, and 113 of them have been transferred to the hospital for treatment as of Aug. 27. APD data also show that 390 employees who work for community group homes and providers who care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have tested positive for the virus. Six additional employees have died of complications related to COVID-19. Another 109 employees who work for APD also have tested positive for the virus and one APD employee has died.
“DeSantis pushes Florida into uncertain stage with the coronavirus” via John Kennedy of the Tallahassee Democrat — With coronavirus cases down from a blistering midsummer high, DeSantis is pushing Florida into an uncertain new September stage, marked by a return of children to classrooms, campuses crammed with university students, and football stadiums partially filled. But with critically needed testing also slumping, public health experts say the active autumn is likely to produce at least one thing — a surge in the virus. Again. “With all these openings of universities and schools, we’re going to get a spike. Soon,” said Dr. Ira Longini, a biostatistician and epidemiologist at the University of Florida. “But how big, it’s hard to say.”
One side of the story — “DeSantis sidelined his health department. Florida paid the price.” via Alexander Nazaryan of Yahoo! News — Things were looking pretty good in Florida on April 13, when DeSantis and state officials held a press briefing in Tallahassee. A reluctant DeSantis had issued a lockdown two weeks before, but coronavirus infections were low, and he was eager to open the state back up again. In his presentation, the governor went through a number of slides, making over and over again the argument that Florida was doing well. As he usually did, DeSantis made sure to point out that his state was definitely doing better than New York, which had been dealt a crushing blow by the pandemic. Thousands had died there. Only hundreds had died in Florida.
“Many COVID-19 workers’ comp claims rejected” via Christine Sexton of The News Service of Florida — Data collected by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ office show nearly 12,000 workers’ compensation claims had been filed as of July 31, but more than 43% of “indemnity” claims were denied by insurers. The numbers show that most of the denials, or about 62%, were made by private insurers that provide coverage to Florida’s employers. Not surprisingly, first responders and health care workers have filed the most workers’ compensation indemnity claims related to COVID-19. Combined, the professions accounted for more than 65% of the claims as of July 31. That included 4,345 protective service workers filing claims, along with 3,432 health care workers. Another 2,897 claims were filed by people classified as service workers.
— BACK TO SCHOOL? —
“School reopening order back on hold” via Dara Kam of News Service of Florida — In a partial win for DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a Tallahassee-based appeals court on Friday put on hold a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that said a state mandate for schools to reopen this month amid the coronavirus is unconstitutional. DeSantis and Corcoran have been locked in a legal slugfest with teachers unions over the education commissioner’s July 6 emergency order requiring schools to reopen five days a week in August or risk losing state funding. The 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday agreed to a state request to reinstate a stay on Judge Charles Dodson’s ruling, but it refused to approve another request to fast-track the case to the Florida Supreme Court. The appellate-court fight comes after Dodson twice this week sided with the Florida Education Association and the Orange County teachers union in lawsuits challenging Corcoran’s order requiring schools to reopen for in-person learning.
“State seeks to fast track school reopening case” via Dara Kam of News Service of Florida — Locked in a legal slugfest with teachers unions over a state mandate that schools reopen this month amid the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis and Corcoran are seeking to speed up the case by skipping over an appellate court and going directly to the Florida Supreme Court. The state is appealing decisions by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who twice this week sided with the Florida Education Association and the Orange County teachers union in lawsuits challenging Corcoran’s July 6 emergency order requiring schools to reopen brick-and-mortar classrooms in August or risk losing state funding. In a temporary injunction issued Monday, Dodson ruled that decisions about whether schools should resume in-person classes amid the coronavirus pandemic should be left to local education officials, who should be allowed to open schools when they deem it is safe without being financially penalized.
Assignment editors — DeSantis will host an education roundtable discussion, 8:30 a.m., Cabinet Meeting Room, Florida Capitol, 400 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee. Media must RSVP at [email protected].
“At-risk teachers fear losing jobs” via Andrew Marra of The Palm Beach Post — As families prepare for the first day of online classes, Palm Beach County public schools are being rocked by rising tensions between teachers and school administrators over the eventual reopening of campuses. School district leaders spent the summer suggesting teachers with elevated health risks would be able to request permission to work from home when in-person classes resume. But with the reopening of classrooms potentially weeks away, the teachers union says administrators have quietly begun informing teachers their only choices are to return in person or quit. Angered by what it calls a reversal, the county teachers union blasted Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy, accusing his administration of reneging on earlier assurances.
“State report shows hundreds test positive for COVID-19 at Florida schools in August” via Michelle Marchante and Jimena Tavel of The Miami Herald — The Florida Department of Health accidentally released a report on COVID-19 outbreaks at schools across the state and found that nearly 900 students and staffers had tested positive during a two-week period in August as schools had just begun or readied to reopen. State officials published the six-page draft online on Monday, but then quickly wiped it away a day later. Florida International University infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Mary Jo Trepka said the detailed data was one of the most valuable reports the DOH has produced because it assesses how the virus is affecting the state’s children as they return to the classroom. “It’s very good that they are starting to report this now and then going forward as schools start to reopen … to see what happens as they reopen in terms of the numbers going up or not going up, hopefully,” said Trepka.
“Sarasota school enrollment shrinking, hiring freezes in place” via Ryan McKinnon of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — No one ever knows for sure exactly how many students will show up for the first day of school, but COVID-19 has turned the annual guessing game into a full-blown mystery. Sarasota County School District officials are bracing for a potential steep decline in enrollment when schools open Monday, which could bring with it a reduction in state funding. As of Thursday, 35,497 students were registered for classes in traditional public schools, which is 2,716 students below the projected enrollment in the district’s 2020-21 preliminary budget. That figure does not include students attending charter schools. “I think parents are taking a wait-and-see kind of attitude,” said Sarasota Schools Chief Financial Officer Mitsi Corcoran.
“Virus cases touch 12 Polk schools in first week” via Gary White of The Lakeland Ledger — Polk County Public Schools reported three new cases of COVID-19 Friday, increasing the tally to 12 schools affected in the first week of fall classes. The newly reported infections impacted Caldwell Elementary in Auburndale, Palmetto Elementary in Poinciana and Bartow Middle School, the district said. PCPS reported six confirmed infections affecting nine schools from Monday through Thursday. The other schools affected are Citrus Ridge in Davenport, Boone Middle in Haines City, Purcell Elementary in Mulberry, Summerlin Academy, Bartow High and Bartow International Baccalaureate, which share a campus, and Denison Middle, Chain of Lakes Elementary and Jewett School of the Arts, all in Winter Haven. One of the cases, at Summerlin, affected Bartow High and Bartow IB because the schools are interconnected. Another case involved a person who traveled to Denison Middle and Chain of Lakes Elementary.
“With 2 COVID cases, Lake Wales High delays on-campus learning” via Andy Kuppers of The Ledger — Lake Wales High school is going online only for the next two weeks after two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed last week. The charter school’s principal, Donna Dunson, notified parents and staff on Saturday via email and social media. “Two positive cases of COVID-19 were identified at Lake Wales Senior High School this week,” Dunson said in the announcement. “As a result, many staff members will have to be quarantined for two weeks. Because of these identified cases, we have determined, at this time, that online instruction will continue for the next two weeks.”
Happening today — Sen. Janet Cruz, Rep. Susan Valdes and Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez will hold a virtual news conference to discuss the reopening of schools for in-person learning, 11 a.m. Reporters can register at us02web.zoom.us.
“Dreading the school year? Some parents are taking it on the road” via Sara Clemence of Bloomberg — Combining home schooling and travel isn’t new. But it has been a very rare phenomenon, limited to families willing to trade stability, structure, and conventional education for adventure. Now, “roadschooling” is emerging as a COVID-19-era alternative for Americans who are limited by border closures but not by commutes. The term can mean many things. Families that can afford it are packing into RVs and boarding private jets, traveling intermittently or nonstop, spending a few days in each destination or months in a single spot. Some children are remaining enrolled in public or private schools’ remote programs. Others are officially home schooling — learning from online programs, parents, or private staff. Those considering the latter are required to follow specific state rules about registration, testing, and accountability as they proceed.
“College students head back to campus at critical time in COVID-19 battle” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The party may be over for Florida’s college students this year, as schools crack-down on behavior that could lead to COVID-19 outbreaks. Florida students are heading back to campus at a pivotal time. After a steady surge of the new coronavirus for much of the summer, cases in the state have declined the past two weeks. But the typical college experience, full of socializing, interaction and alcohol, is one that could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly among college students around the country. The University of Alabama has seen an outbreak of more than 1,200 cases, leading to the closure of bars and warnings that students may not be able to finish the semester on campus. The University of Notre Dame has conducted classes online only for the past two weeks. The University of North Carolina canceled in-person classes for the semester while North Carolina State closed down its dormitories.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Here is the plan to recover from the worst tourism crisis in Miami history” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Miami’s tourism marketing bureau has a plan to lure travelers back to South Florida but says it is short on funds to execute it. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is requesting $7.5 million from Miami-Dade County’s $474 million in federal CARES Act funding for its “Miami Land” advertising campaign, targeting people who live within a road trip’s distance and are looking to spend time outdoors. The bureau’s $32 million budget — the majority funded by hotel and restaurant taxes — has dried up during the COVID-19 pandemic as hotel occupancy rates have plunged to record lows. The Miami Land campaign is the first step to recovery for the city’s tourism industry, the bureau said in a proposal to Miami-Dade commissioners this week.
“How 52 residents of a Miami Springs nursing home died of COVID-19” via Meghan Bobrowsky, Shirsho Dasgupta, Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the Miami Herald — What happened at Fair Havens seemed sudden and shocking to family members on the outside. But confidential data viewed by the Miami Herald, May inspection reports and interviews with several staffers shed considerable light on the events that took place behind the facility’s closed doors, leading it to have the second-highest virus death toll in Florida. Altogether, they paint a grim picture of mismanagement and neglect. At first, workers said they didn’t know which of their patients had COVID-19 and weren’t given adequate personal protective equipment.
“Private recordings reveal the battle over COVID-19 rules” via Lisa J. Huriash and Wells Dusenbury of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In private meetings, public officials across Broward County struggled for months with a lack of guidance about COVID-19 as they weighed decisions that would govern the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. They tried to decide when people should quarantine, when beaches should close, what businesses should open, what rules they should follow, where masks should be worn and more. Their debates come alive in hours of audio recordings. The recordings indicate that officials often made decisions in a vacuum of coronavirus information as the region quickly became a hot spot. Local Mayors voiced frustrations about a lack of clear answers from health officials, a lag in testing, inadequate contact tracing and lack of coordination with the county government.
“Eviction cases pile up in the courts while tenants wait to see whether DeSantis extends moratorium” via Ron Hurtibise of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As renters wait to find out whether the governor will again extend the COVID-19-related eviction moratorium, hundreds of landlords are filing evictions cases against tenants they assert are taking advantage of the statewide ban, now ending its fifth month. Since his original moratorium took effect April 2, DeSantis has made a habit of keeping tenants guessing until the end of each month whether he’ll grant another month of protection against being evicted from their homes. Asked Friday whether he plans to extend the moratorium another month through September, DeSantis was less than assuring, saying only, “I will work on the moratorium. I think we probably will continue that as well.”
“Miami demolishes a Liberty City man’s home, putting him on the street during a pandemic” via Christina Saint Louis of the Miami Herald — Michael Hamilton woke up Friday morning in what was left of his Liberty City front yard: a scruffy patch of grass between the sidewalk and the mountain of rubble behind him. The yard was his bed. There Hamilton remained on Friday afternoon, occasionally leaning on a deformed milk crate. He had nowhere else to go. Two days before, representatives of the city of Miami had escorted him out of his home. The state of Florida has ordered a halt to all evictions, not wanting to throw people out on the street at a time of pandemic and lost jobs. But the city of Miami had no qualms last week about putting Hamilton out of the home that his family owned for half a century. The suspension of evictions applies to those “adversely affected by the COVID-19 emergency,” meaning unable to pay rent. That was not the case for Hamilton, whose family owned the property for decades, the mortgage long since paid off.
— MORE LOCAL —
“More than 800 lose jobs at Universal Orlando hotels” via The Associated Press — Hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort announced more than 800 employees will be losing their jobs as the Florida theme park industry continues to be devastated by the pandemic. The employees at Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Cabana Bay Beach Resort were indefinitely furloughed or permanently terminated, according to a notice filed last week by the company Loews Hotels & Co. A company director said in a letter to the state that the surge of confirmed cases in late June and July and other states’ decisions to order Florida travelers to quarantine had caused a “sudden, dramatic and unexpected reversal in bookings.” The affected employees were not represented by a union. They work as cooks, chefs, servers, receptionists and housekeepers. Loews Hotels & Co had already shut down two other Universal Orlando hotels due to the coronavirus’s impact on tourism.
— CORONA NATION —
“Falling COVID-19 cases create opportunity and peril for Trump” via Dan Goldberg of POLITICO — Coronavirus infections are down in nearly every state. That could either give Trump just what he needs to prime his reelection odds or become another missed opportunity to capitalize on a lull during the pandemic. The positive trends are real. COVID-19 cases have been falling since late July, including in several battleground states. Hospitalizations have dropped 37% in the last month and the daily death count is leveling off. But that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, even if Trump and his team portray it that way. The circumstances create a moment to reinforce public health measures like testing, tracing and social distancing that could finally bring the outbreak to more manageable proportions.
“Stumbles wound FDA’s reputation as review of vaccine nears” via Anna Edney of Bloomberg — It has not been a good week for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. First, it was President Donald Trump accusing the agency of being part of the “deep state.” Next, it was an embarrassing misstatement about a promising COVID-19 therapy. On Friday, the agency’s new lead spokeswoman was ousted after just 11 days. At a time when the FDA needs the public’s trust more than ever, the agency has been dragged into the political fray in a series of compounding incidents. Happening in parallel, the drug regulator is preparing to review a COVID-19 vaccine that’s both pivotal for Trump’s reelection and is likely to be one of the most scrutinized and debated medical decisions in the agency’s history. Trump has piled on much of the pressure himself. On Saturday morning, FDA employees woke up to a tweet from the president accusing “deep state” staff at the agency of slowing vaccine and drug research to hurt his reelection.
“States confront new COVID-19 challenge: Getting flu shots the apathetic Americans” via Breanna Ehley and Dan Goldberg of POLITICO — States are facing new urgency with schools in some parts of the country reopening, increasing the risk of spread for both viruses. Underscoring the uniquely deadly threat posed by this year’s flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has purchased over 20 times the typical amount of flu vaccine. But it will largely be left to state health officials — still consumed with the coronavirus pandemic — to marshal limited resources to help persuade a crisis-fatigued public to overcome their apathy to the flu shot. Fewer than 50% of adults opt to get vaccinated in a typical season, a rate that CDC Director Robert Redfield hopes to elevate to 65% during this once-in-a-lifetime health crisis.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“DeSantis urges air travel as COVID-19 declines” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida — The Governor held a roundtable discussion at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport hoping to convince worried travelers it’s safe to fly in a world still gripped by COVID-19. “The fact of the matter is airplanes have not been vectors where you’ve seen a lot of spread,” DeSantis told air travel industry executives who joined him. “After six months, evidence is evidence.” Spirit Airlines COO John Bendoraitis and JetBlue Travel Products President Andres Barry told DeSantis they have spent months continuously scrubbing planes with hospital-grade cleaners and equipping them with high-tech air filters. But low passenger counts on many flights may soon lead to layoffs. “We’re pulling every lever that we can to not get there, but the current revenue situation is untenable,” Barry said. “At some point, we need demand to come back.”
“Ultra-rich club stockpiles cash as U.S. economy fears grow” via Benjamin Stupples of Bloomberg — A group of multimillionaire investors in the U.S. are hoarding cash at unprecedented levels. Tiger 21, a club of more than 800 investors, reported Thursday that its members have raised their cash holdings to 19% of their total assets on concerns over the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. That’s up from about 12% since the start of the outbreak. About a quarter now expect the crisis to continue until the end of next June, the group said. “This rise in cash is an extraordinary change — statistically, this is the largest, fastest change in asset allocation Tiger 21 has seen,” said Michael Sonnenfeldt, chairman of the club, whose participants typically have more than $100 million in assets.
— MORE CORONA —
“Brain deficits, nerve pain can torment COVID-19 patients for months” via Robert Langreth and Emma Court of Bloomberg — A growing contingent of COVID-19 patients whose symptoms were initially mild are now facing mysterious long-term neurological problems, including memory and sleep disturbances, dizziness, nerve pain and what survivors refer to as “brain fog.” The phenomenon, involving thousands of patients with symptoms lasting months at a time, complicates the Trump administration’s argument that most illness is mild so the U.S. can quickly reopen the economy. These frightening long-term cases aren’t captured in official statistics that show that the vast majority of younger adults survive the virus. While lingering lung issues might be expected given the nature of the virus, some of the most common and surprising problems involve the nervous system. For Americans with these symptoms, there are few answers available on why they surface, how long they’ll last and what permanent problems they may cause. Neurologists are only just starting to study the trend.
“Extensive testing needed to find kids ‘silently shedding’ virus” via Jason Gale of Bloomberg — Most children develop very mild SARS-CoV-2 infections that risk escaping detection unless extensive testing is done to find cases, South Korean researchers said. The Asian country used mass testing of suspected COVID-19 cases, patient isolation and contact tracing to control the pandemic virus. Still, about 70% of children at risk of infection had symptoms that didn’t get picked up, researchers said Friday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. In fact, 93% of pediatric cases would have been missed if doctors had focused on testing symptomatic patients alone, they said. The findings indicate that there’s “no other good alternative” to extensive testing for early detection of COVID-19 cases, Jong-Hyun Kim of the Catholic University of Korea, Eun Hwa Choi of the Seoul National University College of Medicine and colleagues reported.
What José Oliva is reading — “Fad or future? Telehealth expansion eyed beyond pandemic” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press — Telehealth is a bit of American ingenuity that seems to have paid off in the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare temporarily waived restrictions predating the smartphone era and now there’s a push to make telemedicine widely available in the future. Consultations via tablets, laptops and phones linked patients and doctors when society shut down in early spring. Telehealth visits dropped with the reopening, but they’re still far more common than before. Permanently expanding access will involve striking a balance between costs and quality, dealing with privacy concerns and potential fraud, and figuring out how telehealth can reach marginalized patients, including people with mental health problems. “I don’t think it is ever going to replace in-person visits, because sometimes a doctor needs to put hands on a patient,” said Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Trump administration’s leading advocate for telehealth.
“People won’t go to the movies just because they can” via Tara Lachapelle of Bloomberg Opinion — Movie theaters are starting to open their doors again, but they probably won’t find many patrons lining up for tickets as COVID-19 fears continue to weigh on consumer decisions. Bringing back cinemas isn’t just about being able to go see a movie again. Their reopening symbolizes a greater return to normalcy, the ability to venture back out unafraid. But a sense that it’s safe to do so and that the virus is under control needs to come first. In a Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults conducted in early August, 74% said they were unlikely to visit a movie theater in the next month; 60% of respondents who are considered frequent moviegoers said the same.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“As Trump appointees flout the Hatch Act, civil servants who get caught get punished” via Lisa Rein of The Washington Post — A Defense Logistics Agency employee was suspended for 30 days without pay last fall after giving his office colleagues a PowerPoint presentation that displayed the words, “Vote Republican.” An Energy Department worker was forced to resign in January after admitting she gave a woman running for Congress a tour of a federal waste treatment plant so the candidate could show her expertise to potential voters. Another civil servant began a 120-day suspension without pay from the Food and Drug Administration in July after creating a Facebook page with his name and photograph to solicit political donations and then co-hosting a fundraiser. These were some of the recent consequences for federal workers who illegally mixed government employment with partisan politics in violation of the Hatch Act, the anti-corruption law Congress passed in 1939.
For your radar — “Feds bust alleged multimillion-dollar international shark fin smuggling ring; 12 people, two companies face conspiracy charges” via Nate Gartrell of The Mercury News — A common way to harvest shark fins, known as “finning,” is to hack the fins off and dump the living sharks back into the water to eventually suffocate and die. It has led to international condemnation and bans on the shark fin trade. Florida has looser laws concerning shark fin trading, which the alleged co-conspirators took advantage of, according to the indictment. They formed Phoenix Fisheries in Florida to mask shark fin trading that was really going on in California, in violation of state law. To mask the state law violation, Phoenix Fisheries would falsify documents, violating federal wildlife trafficking laws. Two three-ton shipments of shark fins went from Georgia to Hong Kong.
— STATEWIDE —
“Florida boards that govern water use languish as DeSantis leaves vacancies unfilled” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Section 373.073 of Florida law requires the Governor to fill the state’s water management district boards. So far, DeSantis hasn’t followed it. That’s a problem for the Florida Springs Council, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for the protection of Florida’s springs and spring-fed rivers. “We urge you to do your job as Governor, to follow the laws of our state, and to appoint qualified applicants to fill the nine 2020 vacancies on Florida’s water management districts,” wrote Ryan Smart, the group’s executive director, in a letter to DeSantis Thursday.
“Florida college scholarships make a lasting difference, especially during pandemic” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — The Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) and the Florida Independent College Fund have distributed $90,000 in college scholarships to 30 students in need across the state. The scholarships, made possible through a grant from the National Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the CIC/UPS Educational Endowment, were given to students who are low-income, minorities, first generation of their family in college and/or new U.S. citizens. “Especially during this critical time of COVID-19, every dollar helps students pursue their dreams of higher education and moves them one step closer to their career,” said Bob Boyd, ICUF president and CEO. “These scholarships make a real difference in the lives of each of these students.”
Happening today — The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission will hold an online meeting to discuss school-safety compliance amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other topics, 9 a.m. The meeting can be viewed at thefloridachannel.org or vimeo.com. Call-in number: 1-866-899-4679. Code: 432423965.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“A bullying scandal rocks Delray, putting yet another city leader in turmoil” via Andrew Boryga of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia hoped George Gretsas would be the city manager to finally stick. Since 2013, eight city managers have come and gone — a handful under the cloud of divisive allegations, pricey severance packages and lawsuits. But the city has now cast its spotlight of drama onto Gretsas, who took the reins of the city in January and already faces being fired. By May, he was accused of bullying a female employee and later attempting to fire her in retaliation. Gretsas contested all the claims. In June, the city voted to fire him. But his contract said an investigation needs to be conducted, with formal charges drawn up. When those charges were finally released this past week, it shocked some when they excluded the allegations that landed him in the hot seat in the first place.
“Attorneys who helped JEA create potential $1 billion bonus plan had serious concerns” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — Days after the Jacksonville City Council auditor created a firestorm by revealing a controversial JEA bonus plan could have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars, an attorney at an outside law firm that worked for months creating the bonus plan warned his colleagues that his own research showed the payouts could have amounted to $1 billion. The same attorney, Gardner Davis, also said he believed a private company would have lost a shareholder lawsuit if they had implemented such a plan, which JEA referred to as its “performance unit plan,” or the PUP. Kevin Hyde, Davis’s colleague at Foley & Lardner and a former Jacksonville City Council president, responded on Nov. 23: “I advised them months ago that the PUP was an incredibly bad idea and would kill the whole deal.”
— TOP OPINION —
“Global freedom would suffer grievous harm in a second Donald Trump term” via The Washington Post editorial board — The 21st century, like the one that came before it, has seen the emergence of a fateful struggle over the nature of human governance. Regimes founded on democracy and human rights, which 25 years ago appeared to have triumphed, now face a grave challenge from a resurgent authoritarianism. A 21st-century victory for democracy, like those that came in World War II and the Cold War, is inconceivable without the leadership of the United States. America must prevail in the race to develop new technologies, rally fellow democracies to counter authoritarian aggression, and reform capitalism and democracy itself to serve a new age. But President Donald Trump cannot deliver that leadership. On the contrary, over the past three years, he has done as much as any global actor to advance the cause of authoritarianism and undermine the free world.
— OPINIONS —
“Sweden shouldn’t be America’s pandemic model” via Scott Gottlieb of The Wall Street Journal — The Trump administration’s COVID response seems increasingly to reflect a policy preference among some conservatives: Protect the elderly and let others try to get on with their lives. This thinking assumes that herd immunity will slow the pandemic if more younger people are infected. Many features of federal policy seem to be following this philosophy. It’s important to protect the old and the vulnerable, who are at the highest risk of severe illness and bad outcomes. But like most issues of medicine, it isn’t a binary choice.
“The GOP convention showed Democrats how it’s done” via Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post — If some Democrats secretly wish for a mild case or two in furtherance of their belief that Trump is responsible for the deaths of nearly 180,000 Americans (and counting), Republicans may see escalating violence around the country as helpful to their law-and-order incumbent’s reelection. Not many would admit to harboring such thoughts, but in today’s divided nation, in which even the president views blue America as “other,” the once-unthinkable becomes politically logical, if only as shameful internal monologues. Trump may have turned his listless campaign around with a convention that contrasted starkly — and by degrees, better — with the Democratic version. It helps sometimes to go second. The new message was that the Trump we don’t see working behind the curtain is a much kinder, much gentler guy than anyone knew. Accurate or not, the stories may have had the desired effect of humanizing him while diminishing the idea that Democrats are the “decency” brokers.
“Trump’s convention was repulsive and dishonest. I fear it was also effective.” via Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post — The Republican convention just concluded was repulsive, dishonest and, I fear, effective. Start with the hijacking of the White House for the most partisan of political purposes, in the most nakedly partisan way. I had been prepared to grant convention planners some pandemic leeway. Silly me. To see the supporters packed onto the South Lawn, unmasked cheek by undistanced jowl, for the president’s acceptance speech Thursday night was to underscore that the night was about deploying the venue in the service of reelection. Trump was triumphant about it: “The fact is, we are here and they are not.” The gross misuse of public resources more than that, of public symbols and presidential authority, was beyond imagining. Trump turned core executive powers into made-for-television, partisan spectacles. He commandeered newly minted citizens in a naturalization ceremony that belied the anti-immigrant fever central to his presidency.
“Puerto Rico statehood support is essential to winning the White House” via Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the Orlando Sentinel — When you work in politics, you find out really early that the most important question you have to answer is what is a person’s “vote-moving” issue? Floridians who have moved from Puerto Rico — American citizens who have the full right to vote in Florida — are no different. These 1.1 million potential voters have overwhelmingly moved to Central Florida, in the stretch between Tampa and Orlando. Speaking to the vote-moving issue of these voters is increasingly the key to winning statewide, especially for Republicans. A new study by Florida’s James Madison Institute tells us that the vote-moving issue for the 1.1 million central Floridians of Puerto Rican descent is an openness to Puerto Rican statehood. Two-thirds to three-fourths of these voters favor statehood for Puerto Rico, according to recent polls.
“Say “YES!” to Amendments 2 and 3 on Florida’s November ballot” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — “Power to the people” has never been put to better use than in two of the constitutional amendments on Florida’s November ballot. They deserve “Yes” from every voter. Amendment 2 raises Florida’s minimum wage, presently $8.56 per hour, to $10 next September and by a dollar more each year until reaching $15 in 2026. From there it would be adjusted annually according to the consumer price index. Amendment 3 does away with political party primaries for governor, Cabinet and the Legislature. It replaces them with primary elections open to every candidate and to every voter, regardless of party. The top two winners in each race would face off in the general election. That allows many more people to have their say in who governs Florida.
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Chadwick Boseman’s death leaves saddening mark on rough 2020” via Jonathan Landrum Jr. of The Associated Press — So far, 2020 has been marred with bad news and tragedy with the deaths of several popular Black icons including Kobe Bryant, John Lewis and recently Boseman, who died Friday. All three were viewed as leaders in their respective fields of sports, politics and film — places where people, particularly in the Black community, have often looked for inspiration during a year of racial tension and protests against the police brutality of unarmed Black people. But for many, the loss of another major figure such as Boseman is taking a toll. The actor, who starred in the blockbuster superhero Marvel film “Black Panther,” shockingly died at the age of 43 in his home in Los Angeles after he privately battled colon cancer for four years.
“‘Little bit sad’: U.S. Open show set to go on despite pandemic” via Howard Fendrich of The Associated Press — Back in April, an on-schedule U.S. Open simply did not seem possible. The coronavirus was at its peak in New York; a building on the tournament grounds housing indoor tennis courts was converted to a field hospital. The pandemic was locking down much of society, including sports. Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years, the French Open was postponed, and the U.S. Tennis Association said it was considering “the possibility” of changing its dates, too. On Monday, the last day of August, the 2020 U.S. Open will, indeed, begin — as scheduled, albeit without any spectators, and with one player dropped from the field because he tested positive for COVID-19.
“Why Disney is releasing ‘Mulan’ on Disney+ for $30” via Frank Pallotta of CNN Business — When Disney announced that it would be releasing “Mulan” on Disney+, one number stuck out: $30. That’s how much Disney is charging viewers to watch the blockbuster when it debuts next week on its new streaming service. Consumers were confused. Does that $30 mean you own or only rent the film? Neither, as it happens. If you want to watch “Mulan,” you have to unlock it in what Disney is calling “Premier Access.” In short, the film lives on the service, and you can view it as often as you want as long as you’re a Disney+ subscriber. The release of “Mulan” on Disney+ is about far more than just money for Disney, however. It’s a significant moment for the film industry and an opportunity for Hollywood’s biggest studio to experiment with what could be the industry’s future. Although “Mulan” may be a “one-off,” as Disney CEO Bob Chapek has called it, it allows the company, which has been ravaged by the pandemic, to add a revenue stream at a time when the future of going to the movies is in doubt.
—“Meet Yoson An, Mulan actor who plays Liu Yifei’s love interest in Disney’s live-action movie remake” via Elaine Yau of South China Morning Post
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Florida Politics’ Joe Henderson, Ryan Gorman, Ashley Green, Gene McGee, and Dr. Ed Moore.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.