Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.26.21

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Coffee is for closers. So is Sunburn, your morning rundown of Florida politics.

Ross Consulting is back.

The full-service political consulting firm specializes in political fundraising, operations, and strategy. On Tuesday, it announced its relaunch.

The firm was founded in 2015 by Ashley Ross, one of Florida’s top Republican finance consultants. Ross has more than a decade of high-level political and public affairs experience, including serving as a top adviser to several Senate Presidents and members of leadership.

She has played a significant role in electing more than 50 candidates to public office through her work for the Senate Republican caucus.

Congratulations to Ashley Ross, who is reopening her own consulting firm.

Ross most recently worked as a senior adviser at lobbying firm Rubin, Turnbull & Associates, where she has spent. During her tenure, she supported the firm’s clients in political strategy as well as lobbying efforts in the Governor’s office, the executive branch and state agencies.

“We know Ashley will serve her clients at the highest level possible. There is no doubt that she will have great success in her new venture,” said Bill Rubin, founder and chair of Rubin, Turnbull and Associates.

Managing partner Heather Turnbull added, “We are so excited about Ashley’s new venture, and she has our full support. She has been an integral part of our team and did such a great job working with our firm’s clients on their political giving strategy. We know she will be successful as she now starts a new chapter focusing on contract fundraising. We wish her all the best.”

Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., one of her current clients, also welcomed the relaunch.

“I am excited to have Ashley take a more active role in our political operation,” he said. “She’s a proven winner who’s set fundraising records and has served as a trusted adviser to multiple Senate Presidents.”

Ross served as Senate Majority’s Finance Director from 2010-2015. In 2015, she launched her firm and continued to manage the FRSCC’s finance operation through the 2016 cycle.

She took a brief hiatus from the campaign world from 2016 through 2018 to serve as deputy chief of staff to then-Senate President Joe Negron.

Here are a couple of other notes:

😇Remembering Kobe Bryant on the anniversary of his death: One year after a helicopter crash claimed the life of the NBA superstar, his 13-year old daughter, Gianna and seven others, the Los Angeles Times compiled a heart-wrenching account of the father and daughter’s final hours. Traveling to a youth basketball tournament for which Bryant was coaching his daughter’s team, the report documents flight correspondence that included what could have been lifesaving warnings about inclement weather. Yet on the morning of their planned flight, all seemed well. Until it wasn’t. Read, but have some tissues handy.

📰Must read on how a moderate could win St. Pete mayoral race: Three top candidates are so far headlining the race to succeed Mayor Rick KrisemanDarden Rice, Ken Welch and Wengay Newton. So far, the ticket is particularly partisan, with both Rice and Welch claiming the progressive lane. But in still moderate St. Pete, the further left they go could create a bigger and bigger opening for a late-entry moderate. Read my analysis here.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Sullydish: B.1.1.1.7. It’s a game changer and not in a good way.

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@JonahDispatch: They should bring the Article of Impeachment to the Senate in the briefcase from Pulp Fiction

@JenniferJJacobs: GOP operatives saying they believe Republican US Sen. @senrobportman‘s decision to not seek reelection in 2020 signals that he doesn’t think the party is coming back anytime soon into a working majority.

@BlairBrandt: How odd that the Amazon/[Jeff] Bezos Washington Post won’t call it the China Virus but will call it the UK variant.

@RonFiilipkowski: Why is Matt Gaetz going to Wyoming this week? To host an event denouncing Liz Cheney in her own state. A GOP Congressman traveling out West to campaign against the #3 person in the House from his own party. Why? He wants her job. The GOP civil war continues.

@TonyFabrizio: Talk about Christmas coming early for @GovRonDeSantis !!! What a gift a @DavidJollyFL candidacy would be for [Ron] DeSantis. Anyone remember the last time there was a serious 3 way race statewide? 2010. Ask @CharlieCrist how that ended.

@SenJanetCruz: Maybe instead of a PR tour about how our state is “setting the standard” the Governor could focus on actually getting Floridians vaccinated

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— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 2; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 12; Daytona 500 — 19; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 25; The CW’s Superman & Lois premieres — 28; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 35; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 39; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 45; 2021 Grammys — 47; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 59; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 66; Children’s Gasparilla — 74; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 81; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 101; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 157; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 165; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 179; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 186; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 210; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 234; “Dune” premieres — 249; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 280; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 283; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 317; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 325; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 423; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 465; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 619.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

Ron DeSantis doesn’t always give notice about his whereabouts, blocking media from asking tough questions” via Michael Moline of Florida Phoenix — Three weeks ago, DeSantis announced that his administration had entered a partnership with Publix to dispense COVID-19 vaccine to senior citizens through its pharmacies. It represented a major expansion of vaccine administration into smaller counties without major medical centers. Thing is, his aides never informed reporters in Tallahassee that the event was going on, they had to happen upon it by accident through the Florida Channel or the Florida Department of Health’s Twitter feed, or wait until the Governor’s daily schedule hit inboxes at 5:23 p.m. Before that Publix event in Ocala on Jan. 5, the Governor’s office did not give notice to the media — which helps to inform the public.

Ron DeSantis doesn’t make it easy for reporters covering the Governor.

Assignment editors — DeSantis will hold a news conference, 8 a.m., Publix Super Market at Treasure Coast Plaza, 415 21st Street, Vero Beach. All interested credentialed media must RSVP at [email protected]

After pandemic hit, DeSantis cut $1M for Super Bowl LV security” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ budget vetoes last year included $1 million in security and infrastructure funding, intended for use at the upcoming Super Bowl in Tampa. Tampa and Raymond James Stadium will host Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off against the defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. But they will do that without the security help lawmakers approved for the Big Game. That grant was one of 611 line-item vetoes DeSantis issued in June, totaling a historic sum greater than $1 billion. Security remains a top priority for city and county officials as large-scale events like that have been considered a potential terrorism target in recent decades.

First in Sunburn — Jimmy Patronis to voice support of anti-riot bill — In an appearance before the Florida Sheriff’s Association on Tuesday, Chief Financial Officer Patronis is expected to support the GOP’s anti-riot bill. The bill, HB 1/SB 484, would increase penalties for violent protests. It also targets local efforts to defund law enforcement. “I may not have a vote in the Legislature anymore, but I have a microphone like this one, and I plan to use,” Patronis will say, according to prepared remarks. “Law and order” is among the Florida GOP’s top priorities. Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani is expected to be noted in the speech. “I’m concerned that certain anti-police elements are beginning to take roots in the political institutions of our state,” Patronis will say.

Wilton Simpson expects COVID-19 restrictions to stay through Session” via Jim Turner of The News Service of Florida — Senate President Simpson doesn’t expect his side of the Capitol to be open to the public or lobbyists until after the upcoming 60-day Legislative Session, as many lawmakers and staff members likely will continue to await COVID-19 vaccinations. During a meeting Monday about Senate procedural issues, Simpson advised members to get used to talking with lobbyists outside the Capitol complex. And he said public comments during Senate committee meetings will continue to be streamed online from rooms a few blocks away at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. “I suspect this is the way it’s going to be through this session,” Simpson said.

Loranne Ausley tests positive for COVID-19” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — “I have a good idea of how and where I was exposed and because of that have been quarantining since Saturday,”: Ausley wrote. “Thankfully, so far, I am only experiencing minor symptoms and will continue to follow CDC and Senate protocols before returning to in-person committee meetings.” Ausley continued: “While I will be actively engaged in Senate work and watching meetings from quarantine, I want to express emphatically, for the safety of your family, friends and colleagues, PLEASE WEAR A MASK!”

‘We need to create safe harbor’: Senate panel advances COVID-19 liability protection bill” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida businesses, churches and schools are one step closer to receiving fortified protections against COVID-19 related lawsuits. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SB 72 by a 7-4 party-line vote. Sen. Jeff Brandes is the bill sponsor. SB 72 seeks to shield churches, schools, and businesses from frivolous COVID-19-related lawsuits by making them more challenging for plaintiffs. It does not extend protections to health care providers. Under SB 72, plaintiffs would need to prove gross negligence rather than simple negligence in a lawsuit. Also, COVID-19-related lawsuits would require an affidavit from a Florida physician, attesting that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.

Florida TaxWatch says state needs COVID liability protections In comments submitted to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, FTW president and CEO Dominic Calabro stressed the importance of COVID-19 liability protections for Florida’s economic recovery. “In short, if employers’ confidence in the economy is shaken due to the absence of a liability shield, we would reduce the Florida economy by as much as $27.6 billion and more than 356,000 jobs annually,” Calabro said, citing a recent FTW report. He said it was equally important that lawmakers craft the protections in a way that does not protect negligent businesses. “We must ensure that good actors are protected and bad actors are punished,” he said.

FRF urges Senators to back COVID liability protections — After the Senate bill to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits cleared its first panel, the Florida Retail Federation issued a statement calling on all Senators to embrace the bill. “Florida retailers are hiring Floridians, working on the front lines to provide essential supplies throughout the pandemic and giving back to their communities. On behalf of all of our retailers — small and large — we support his legislation,” said Jake Farmer of FRF. “This is important to allow our retailers to safely reopen and fully recover.”

APCIA cheers COVID liability protections passage — The American Property Casualty Insurance Association also praised the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing a bill that would shield businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. APCIA’s Vice President of State Government Relations Logan McFaddin added, “The pandemic has hit Florida’s small businesses hard and many have already closed their doors. Businesses that adhere to COVID safety guidance and protocols to keep their employees and customers as safe as possible should not face COVID-related lawsuits. A wave of COVID-related lawsuits against small businesses that are following pandemic safety protocols would only put Florida’s economic recovery in a more precarious position.”

Senate bill would expand Florida school vouchers” via Ana Ceballos and Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Senate Republican leaders are set to push sweeping legislation that could bring what many advocates consider the holy grail in the school choice movement: education savings accounts for students. The 158-page proposal would merge the state’s five key school choice programs and make them all state-funded. It would also convert the scholarships into more flexible education savings accounts that families could use to pay for children’s private tutoring, therapy, private schooling or even college savings. Senate President Wilton Simpson said the measure is meant to untangle a “pretty confusing system of scholarship programs” Florida has set up over the years.

Senate Commerce Committee advances Joe Gruters’ bill requiring online sales tax” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Florida may be one step closer to “e-fairness.” The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously advanced legislation Monday to collect sales tax online. Sen. Gruters, the bill’s sponsor, said the pandemic shows the need more than ever for digital purchases to be taxed the same as those made in Main Street shops. “Online purchases have multiplied, and I don’t think they will ever go back,” the Sarasota Republican said. “It’s time to create some fairness and level the field for our local retailers.” It’s a case he has argued most of the year as brick-and-mortar retailers often faced lockdown orders, and consumers even without such restrictions gravitated to buying goods online to be delivered.

Joe Gruters’ proposal to collect internet sales taxes is gaining some traction. Image via The News Service of Florida.

Another disaster preparedness sales tax ‘holiday’ proposed” via the News Service of Florida — A Senate Republican on Friday filed a bill that would provide a sales-tax “holiday” around the start of hurricane season for people who buy disaster-preparedness supplies. Gruters filed the proposal (SB 734) for consideration during the Legislative Session that starts March 2. The state has regularly held such holidays in recent years, with Gruters proposing a holiday from May 28 through June 13. The annual six-month hurricane season will start June 1. The proposal would allow people to avoid paying sales taxes on a series of items, such as portable generators costing $750 or less, tarps costing $50 or less, packages of batteries costing $30 or less, and food coolers costing $30 or less.

‘Agritourism’ protected under Simpson-backed bill” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Simpson is backing legislation filed Monday that would expand protections for farmers and farming activities, including tourist attractions, under Florida’s Right to Farm Act. Sen. Jason Brodeur filed the bill, an attempt to moderate lawsuits against farms. To do that, the Sanford Republican’s bill would restrict the types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, require plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements and limit who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers. Simpson, a Trilby Republican and lifelong egg farmer, said in a statement that the Legislature should update the Right to Farm Act to protect farm work, including “complimentary agritourism.”

Senator seeks to bolster VISIT FLORIDA” via The News Service of Florida — Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee Chairman Ed Hooper filed a bill (SB 778) that would delete part of state law that sets up a potential elimination of VISIT FLORIDA on Oct. 1, 2023. Under a compromise reached during the 2020 session, lawmakers put the 2023 elimination date into state law unless the Legislature acts to save the agency. Hooper’s bill would get rid of the elimination date. The bill also would allow VISIT FLORIDA to carry over unspent funds from year to year.

Senate ‘no-fault’ repeal gets first committee test Tuesday” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A bill that would ditch the state’s no-fault auto insurance system will go before its first Senate committee Tuesday. The no-fault law requires drivers to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection, or PIP, to pay for medical coverage after an accident. The coverage pays out regardless of which party is responsible for an accident. SB 54, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, would eliminate PIP coverage in favor of bodily injury liability coverage, which would pay out up to $25,000 for a crash-related injury or death, or up to $50,000 for injury or death in a crash involving two or more people. The $10,000 financial responsibly requirement for property damage would stick around.

Assignment editorsGruters and Rep. Randy Fine will announce the filing of legislation to hold Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, and Amazon accountable for their one-sided viewpoint discrimination of conservatives, noon, the steps of the Old Capitol.

Legislative committee meetings

The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee meet for an update from Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer about the agency’s response to COVID-19 in its facilities, 9 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee meets to consider several bills, including a proposal that could help lead to compensation for victims of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Education Committee meets to consider SB 264 from Sen. Ray Rodrigues, which would require state colleges and universities to conduct annual assessments of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at the institutions, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee meet for an update from Maj. Gen. James Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee meet to consider SB 46 from Chair Travis Hutson, which would revamp regulations for craft distilleries, 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meets to consider SB 54 from Sen. Danny Burgess, which would end Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system, 3:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee meets to consider SB 334 from Sen. Gruters, which would ban smoking at state parks and give local governments authority to curb smoking at their parks and beaches, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Transportation Committee will hear updates on issues such as electric vehicles and the SunPass toll system, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The House Education & Employment Committee will receive an update on “coordinated workforce and education systems” to meet changing needs of the workforce, Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee meets to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the judicial system, 4 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House State Affairs Committee will examine nonprofit organizations and quasi-public entities that receive state dollars, 4 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida GOP to sidestep major mail-in voting changes, bucking national Republicans” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Republicans across the country are clamoring to roll back state laws that made it easier for people to vote amid a raging public health crisis, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s baseless accusations of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Florida Republicans, however, aren’t losing any sleep over the issue. After pulling off a relatively smooth election that saw Trump easily carry the state, lawmakers in GOP-controlled Florida aren’t looking to propose the sweeping types of changes to mail-in balloting that are being whipped up elsewhere. “We are always open to looking at ways to improve the efficiency and transparency of our elections,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls told POLITICO in a text message. “However, as I look across the country, it is clear that Florida is a leader when it comes to election integrity.”

Zzzzz — “David Jolly eyes run for Governor” via Axios — Former U.S. Rep. Jolly is “strongly considering” a run for Florida Governor in 2022 as an independent, a source close to him tells Axios. Jolly, who repped Florida’s 13th Congressional District as a Republican from 2014 to 2017 and publicly left the GOP in 2018, has built a brand on cable news as a critic of former President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress. Since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an unusual number of Republicans in the three biggest Tampa Bay-area counties have switched parties.

Gov. David Jolly?

9 Department of Children and Families entities offered excessive compensation to leadership” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A preliminary report from Florida’s Inspector General revealed Monday that nine organizations partnered with DCF are offering excessive compensation to their executive leadership teams. The initial report, made public late Monday, stems from revelations that the state’s leading domestic violence coordinating group misused state and federal dollars. DeSantis in February asked Inspector General Melinda Miguel to compile and investigate contract data relating to other public-private entities in Florida. Three Department of Education partners also offered excessive compensation, but those funds were returned to the Office of Early Learning as disallowed costs. Those 12 partners are among 169 entities that, per state law, must limit compensation for executive leadership.

Citizens eyes rate hike, as insurance changes proposed” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — The Citizens Board of Governors on Tuesday will take up a plan that includes the average 7.2% hike, up from an initial 3.7% increase that it considered last month. The board shelved the 3.7% proposal and requested that staff members find ways to bump it up. Proposed rate changes would vary widely, depending on factors such as types of policies and locations. For example, homeowners would see an average 6.1% increase, while policies for condominium units and mobile homes would see higher average increases. Meanwhile, Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Chair Jim Boyd filed a potentially far-reaching bill (SB 76) that seeks to reduce attorney fees and litigation in property-insurance disputes and limit the costs of roof damage claims.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 153 coronavirus resident deaths, 8,720 new cases” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida’s resident death toll from coronavirus rose to 25,446 with the addition of 153 more reported fatalities on Monday while also adding 8,720 more positive COVID-19 cases to bring the total to 1,658,169. With a population of about 21.5 million, about one in 13 people in the state have now been infected. The state has not reported less than 100 resident deaths since Jan. 5, and 3,856 fatalities for the entire month, an average of 154. The monthly toll is approaching the state high of 4,344 logged in August. Cases, though, have dipped back from early- to mid-January daily highs, which saw some days with nearly 20,000 reported infections.

White House says Florida used just half of COVID vaccines sent by federal government” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — President Joe Biden’s press secretary said Monday that Florida had used only half of its COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, noting that the state — where over-65 residents have been struggling to get appointments for the shots — has “a good deal of the vaccine.” Jen Psaki’s comments came after she was asked during a White House briefing about criticism from DeSantis on Biden’s vaccine distribution plan. Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to help with distributing COVID-19 vaccines, an idea DeSantis called a “big mistake.” DeSantis said earlier that information about how many vaccines have been administered isn’t up to date.

Florida faces criticism for distributing only half the allotted vaccine doses. Image via AP.

Donald Trump White House’s last warning to Florida: Promote masks, consider closures as COVID-19 variant spreads” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — The highly contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom is likely more widespread in Florida than publicly released data would suggest, while homegrown mutations of the virus have probably already produced other, more infectious strains here, the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report warns. The report, dated Jan. 17 but just released from the Florida Department of Health, recommends Floridians take action now — “before an increase in hospitalizations is seen” — including a campaign with retailers reminding customers to wear masks and “substantially” curtailing or closing public indoor spaces where masks can’t be worn continually. That includes bars, indoor dining and gyms, the report said.

DeSantis sets eyes on Johnson and Johnson vaccine” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — DeSantis is eager to get his hands on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Thus far, Florida has battled the highly contagious virus with only two two-dose vaccines in its arsenal. Those vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, demand extraordinary storage requirements, further complicating the state’s inoculation effort. Yet speaking at a nursing home in Jacksonville on Monday, DeSantis spoke optimistically about the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “It’s supply-dependent, it’s approval-dependent,” DeSantis said. “But I’m actually optimistic. The more and more I hear about the J and J.”

With limited vaccines at FL hospitals, those with underlying conditions out of options” via Samantha J. Gross of The Miami Herald — DeSantis’ December executive order on who can obtain vaccines included people who are under 65 years old but have underlying health conditions that make them considerably more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its effects. Under the executive order, people in that category must get their vaccines through a hospital program like Baptist’s. When Baptist canceled all first dose appointments last week, citing a lack of supply, Smith’s sister, Rosemary Hoel, felt defeated. Baptist was the only place she could find that would vaccinate her brother. Other South Florida sites, like the ones supported by Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade County or the state, are only serving health care workers or those 65 and older.

Florida vaccine residency rule may block access for migrant farmworkers” via Monique O. Madan and Ana Ceballos — Herlinda Mendez is among the hundreds of thousands of Florida farmworkers who hope to be prioritized during the next round of vaccine distribution. But a state proof of residency requirement is raising concerns about whether many of them will be able to get inoculated at all. Workers who are considered essential to the economy are expected to be next in line, according to the state’s draft vaccination plan, though officials have not yet defined who is in that category. Further complicating matter is that many farmworkers are guest workers on temporary visas or undocumented.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Duval School Board petitions DeSantis for priority access to vaccine for educators” via Emily Bloch of The Florida Times-Union — The board sent a letter from Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen to DeSantis acknowledging the importance of in-person schooling, while noting the challenges community spread of the virus has caused.  “Just this month, we have tragically lost two invaluable educators and a student,” Andersen wrote. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is available to Phase 1 priority groups: frontline healthcare workers, assisted living facility residents and staff and Florida residents who are at least 65 years old. In the letter, Andersen asks that K-12 educators and school-related personnel be included in the next priority group.

South Florida records 53 new COVID-19 deaths, marking fourth straight day of 40+” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Monday’s COVID-19 report from the Department of Health showed another 53 people have died in South Florida’s tri-county area. That’s the fourth straight day the region has recorded at least 40 new deaths. From Friday through Monday, DOH recorded 201 new deaths due to the virus in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties alone. That brings the region’s overall death toll to 8,915 since the pandemic began. After Friday’s report showed a serious spike in new cases, those numbers have subsided over the weekend and into Monday. Raw cases are down week-to-week for the previous two weeks in all three counties. The same is true for the case positivity rate, or the share of tests that are coming back positive.

South Florida is experiencing a serious spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Image via AP.

Broward County needs health care help to manage COVID-19 vaccination sites” via Samantha J. Gross and Michelle Marchante of The Miami Herald — Broward County needs help distributing COVID-19 vaccines to the community and is looking for active and retired health care professionals interested in giving a hand. The Broward County Medical Reserve Corps, which helps recruit and manage health care volunteers in the county, is looking for health care professionals, people trained in national incident management or other similar skills to help run vaccination sites managed by the state health department. Dr. Warren Sturman, a Broward Health cardiologist and the Reserve Corps leader, said throughout the pandemic, his group of volunteers worked on making thousands of masks for first responders and nursing homes.

Jackson opened COVID vaccine appointment slots on Monday. They were gone in 16 minutes” via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — Jackson Health System’s COVID-19 vaccine website was open for appointments at 8:58 a.m. Monday, three minutes after Jackson alerted the public via Twitter. And, 16 minutes later, the website said the slots were filled. For the many Miami area residents 65 and over seeking vaccine appointments, perhaps the only solace in this daily frustration can be Jackson’s consistency. It’s been tweeting daily between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., a 15-minute warning that it will start accepting appointments. Sometimes, as was the case Sunday, Jackson does so between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. also.

Ultra Music Festival has been canceled again due to COVID. Organizers hoping for 2022” via Howard Cohen of The Miami Herald — For the second year in a row, citing COVID-19 concerns, organizers for the popular DJ techno fest have pulled the plug on the Bayfront Park event that would have happened in March in downtown Miami. Billboard first reported the pending Ultra Fest cancellation, Friday night. In a letter obtained by the Miami Herald, Ultra’s general counsel attorney Sandy York tells Miami city manager Arthur Noriega that the novel coronavirus conditions that led city officials to cancel the festival in 2020, “remain in place.” The letter, dated Jan. 21, asks that the city reschedule Ultra for a single weekend on March 25, 26 and 27, 2022.

More COVID-19 vaccines coming to the Keys, health leaders say — but it won’t meet demand” via David Goodhue of The Miami Herald — Monroe County is expected to receive another 600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in coming weeks, according to Monroe County’s top health official. Bob Eadie, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in the Keys, said Monday that officials in the island chain, as well as businesses like Publix, have developed systems to vaccinate a large number of people; but the supply isn’t coming fast enough. “We have the logistics set up. We have the manpower. We’re just lacking a reliable source of the vaccine,” Eadie said during a conference call with Emergency Management and other county officials. Out of the allocation the Keys are anticipating this week, the health department is expected to receive 100 doses.

Despite some bumps in the road, Pinellas County nears end of nursing home vaccination pilot” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Pinellas County is nearing the end of the state’s pilot vaccination program, which has sought to vaccinate residents and staff of long-term care facilities since mid-December. The program allocated about 21,450 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Pinellas and Broward counties. Pinellas County gave an update Monday as it nears the end of the pilot program on Friday. By the end of the six-week program, National Guard and emergency medical personnel strike teams will have vaccinated more than 8,400 residents and staff among Pinellas County’s 68 long-term care facilities. Despite the program’s ultimate success, estimating mishaps forced teams to distribute daily leftover doses to those outside the nursing home.

Pinellas County nursing home residents are nearly all vaccinated. Image via AP.

54,725 have received the COVID-19 vaccine in Sarasota-Manatee. Only 812 of them are Black.” via Louis Llovio of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — In a text-message blast to tens of thousands of Floridians Friday afternoon, DeSantis celebrated that the state was nearing 1 million seniors vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Left unmentioned in that text is that fewer than 4.8% of Black people in Florida, and 1.5% of Black people in Sarasota and Manatee counties, were among those who had received the vaccine. Florida is one of many states where the number of Black people getting the vaccine trails far behind the number of white people who have gotten it.

St. Johns County reports 81 new COVID cases, lowest this year; administers 116 vaccines” via Ty Hinton of The St. Augustine Record — Florida’s Department of Health Monday announced the lowest increase for COVID-19 cases in St. Johns County this year. The county reported 81 new cases, bringing its total to 17,573. The seven-day moving average dropped from 134 to 116 on Sunday. The last time the increase was this low was Dec. 28 with 74. St. Johns County vaccinated 116 people on Sunday for a total of 26,589 doses. The age group with the most vaccines is 65-74 with 10,500. The date the most COVID-19 doses were administered was Jan. 14, with 3,151.

What Joe York is reading — “Players Championship will admit 20% of maximum capacity, priority list established” via Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union — The Players Championship will sell tickets that equal 20% capacity in normal years for the tournament on March 11-14 at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course. The good news: the tournament will be played and completed, unlike last year when it was canceled after the first round because of the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic during a frantic week in March when college basketball, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL all shut down. The Players Executive Director Jared Rice said on Monday at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse that corporate hospitality also will be limited, with all venues built as open-air to mitigate the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden floats prospect of 1.5 million vaccinations a day” via Ursula Perano of Axios — Biden said on Monday that he believes America will be on track for 1 million vaccinations a day within the next three weeks, with the possibility of soon upping that number to 1.5 million vaccinations a day. On Monday, the President said that he thinks any American who wants a vaccine can expect to receive one by spring. He added, “I feel confident that by summer, we’re gonna be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity.” Newly appointed CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Sunday that the Biden administration does not know the current number of COVID-19 vaccines available due to a lack of data gathering by the agency under Trump.

Joe Biden is shooting for 1.5 million vaccinations per day. Image via AP.

Biden predicts U.S. will be ‘well on our way’ to achieving COVID-19 herd immunity by summer” via Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post — Biden said Monday that he believes the US will have made significant progress toward achieving herd immunity to the coronavirus by summer and that his administration is aiming to have 100 million vaccinations administered within the first 100 days of his presidency. He added that any American who wants to receive a vaccination should be able to do so by this spring, although he cautioned that “it’s going to be a logistical challenge that exceeds anything we’ve ever tried in this country.” Scientists are still determining the herd immunity threshold of the coronavirus. Estimates currently range from about 40% to about 80% of the population.

All travelers to U.S., no matter where they’re coming from, need negative COVID-19 test” via Taylor Dolven and Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald — Starting Tuesday, all travelers to the U.S. will have to test negative for COVID-19 within three days before their flights. A last-minute switch to the rule first announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 12, airlines will not be allowed to apply for a waiver for countries where it is difficult or impossible for their passengers to get a negative COVID-19 test result within three days. The agency eliminated the provision that allowed for waivers over the weekend, leaving some Caribbean governments spinning to keep up with the changing rules and protect their economies.

First U.S. case of highly transmissible Brazil coronavirus variant identified in Minnesota” via Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — Minnesota officials announced Monday they have identified a person infected with a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus that has been spreading at alarming rates in recent weeks in Brazil. One research study published in the journal Science estimated that 76 percent of the Manaus population already had been infected by the coronavirus. That should have put Manaus close to herd immunity. The new surge has raised fears that the P.1 variant has mutations that allow it to evade the human immune system. Evidence to support this hypothesis remains limited.

As virus grows stealthier, vaccine makers reconsider battle plans” via The New York Times — As the coronavirus assumes contagious new forms around the world, two drug makers reported on Monday that their vaccines, while still effective, offer less protection against one variant and began revising plans to turn back an evolving pathogen that has killed more than 2 million people. The news from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech underscored a realization by scientists that the virus is changing more quickly than once thought, and may well continue to develop in ways that help it elude the vaccines being deployed worldwide.

Oxygen scarcity swells COVID-19’s death toll” via Samantha Pearson, Joe Parkinson and Santiago Pérez of The Wall Street Journal — As COVID-19 cases increase sharply in much of the world, a scarcity of oxygen is forcing hospitals to ration it for patients and is driving up the coronavirus pandemic’s death toll. The problem is especially acute in the developing world, but has also hit hospitals in London and Los Angeles. From Brazil to Zambia, overcrowded hospitals with too few resources are calling for emergency resupplies of oxygen. In Mexico, Lebanon and South Africa, people are stockpiling oxygen canisters to avoid overflowing COVID-19 wards, sending prices higher and making it harder for poorer families to rent tanks. In Mexico, armed bandits are stealing oxygen tanks.

A worldwide oxygen shortage results in increased COVID-19 deaths. Image via The Wall Street Journal.

A must-read report — “How CDC missed chances to spot COVID-19’s silent spread” via Ned Parker and Chad Terhune of Reuters — In early February, 57 people arrived at a Nebraska military base, among the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak. U.S. health officials knew very little then about the mysterious new virus, and the quarantined group offered an early opportunity to size up the threat. The federal government sought help from a team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, including Dr. James Lawler, an experienced infectious disease specialist. Lawler told Reuters he immediately asked the world-renowned U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for permission to test the quarantined group, deeming it crucial to know whether people without symptoms were infected and could spread the deadly pathogen.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Pandemic aftershocks overwhelm global supply lines” via David J. Lynch of The Washington Post — One year after the coronavirus pandemic first disrupted global supply chains by closing Chinese factories, fresh shipping headaches are delaying U.S. farm exports, crimping domestic manufacturing and threatening higher prices for American consumers. The cost of shipping a container of goods has risen by 80% since early November and has nearly tripled over the past year. The increase reflects dramatic shifts in consumption during the pandemic, as consumers redirect the money they once spent at restaurants or movie theaters to the purchase of record amounts of imported clothing, computers, furniture and other goods.

The cost of shipping a container of goods has risen by 80% since November. Image via Bloomberg.

Unemployment caused by COVID-19 driving up Florida’s Medicaid rolls — and costing billions” via James Call of The Tallahassee Democrat — When newly elected state Rep. Allison Tant began to prepare for Florida’s 2021 Legislative Session, she spotted a big hole in the state’s health care budget. Florida’s unemployment rate is more than double what it was a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has led to nearly 700,000 people signing up for Medicaid, the federal-state health care insurance plan that pays for the treatment of low-income patients. According to state economists, that will increase the state’s cost to participate by about $1.2 billion for the 2021-22 budget year.

How big is the logjam of evictions in Florida? There’s finally an answer” via Emily Mahoney of The Miami Herald — During a presentation to a Florida Senate committee earlier this month, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families Chad Poppell mentioned the number of evictions that have been filed statewide during the pandemic, putting it at about 40,000. “There is a large population of homelessness,” he said, noting that his agency has had to drastically increase staffing to manage the phone calls for assistance. “There’s a lot of people in need.” The exact number of evictions filed statewide was 47,484, according to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, the source of Poppell’s comments. That represents new evictions filings made from March 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, according to the office’s spokesman, Paul Flemming. Because of the federal eviction moratorium in place, those thousands of eviction cases haven’t all resulted in people losing their homes but quantify the growing logjam of cases that will come to completion when protections expire.

Florida gas prices spike, but this might be the end of the rise, experts say” via David Selig of Local10.com — Florida’s gas prices have reached an 11-month high. The good news for drivers is that this might be the top of the spike. That’s according to Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for the AAA. “Gas prices have been dragged higher by crude oil prices, which remain at 11-month highs,” Jenkins said. “The gas price hike has likely hit its ceiling for now, as oil prices seemed to plateau last week.” Last week, Jenkins said that crude oil price increases reflected confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and the prospect of more fuel consumption globally. Florida’s average gas price jumped 10 cents last week to $2.40 per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline. That’s up 20 cents from the start of 2021 and the highest prices we’ve seen at the pump since February 2020.

— MORE CORONA —

Israel’s early vaccine data offers hope” via Isabel Kershner of The New York Times — Israel, which leads the world in vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, has produced some encouraging news: Early results show a significant drop in infection after just one shot of a two-dose vaccine, and better than expected results after both doses. Public health experts caution that the data, based on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, is preliminary and has not been subjected to clinical trials. Even so, Dr. Anat Ekka Zohar, vice president of Maccabi Health Services, one of the Israeli health maintenance organizations that released the data, called it “very encouraging.”

Politics, social media cloud coronavirus information, USF survey finds” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — Politics and social media have played big roles in what people understand and believe about the coronavirus pandemic, a national survey by the University of South Florida has found. Of the 1,000 or so respondents, 76% agreed that “politics has made it harder to learn the truth about COVID-19,” according to the survey, which focused on social media, misinformation and the politicization of information during the pandemic. Though 67% of respondents agreed the pandemic has been too politicized on social media, many reported using sites like Facebook and Twitter to find information about COVID-19. Just over three-quarters said they have relied on social media at least “a little” to stay informed about the coronavirus.

Politics and social media have muddied the waters in the COVID-19 fight. Image via AP.

What Richard Corcoran is reading — “Your kid might not return to a classroom this year. Are teachers unions to blame?” via Erin Richards of USA Today — This was supposed to be the semester when America’s largest school districts reopened. COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out. Studies have shown in-school transmission of the virus is low. Thousands of schools have successfully brought kids back in person, while kids who stayed home have struggled. Yet many parents realize their children may never see their teachers in person this year. A growing number blame their local teacher’s union, even as Biden and his administration make in-person instruction a priority. Biden directed the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services last week to provide clear guidance and resources to reopen schools and child care centers while enacting more stringent worker safety standards.

COVID-19 extends sentences for some incarcerated people” via Lindsey Van Ness of Pew — Nearly every day, Jan Salvay checks for her nephew’s name on the Nevada Department of Correction’s website: Nicholas, 39, jailed in a credit card forgery case. Then she checks the state’s list of deaths in custody — just to make sure his name isn’t there. “He’s … scared he’s going to get sick, and he’s going to die,” Salvay said. When she last visited him in February at a work camp, he was expected to be released in time to vote in the general election. Not long after that visit, he was transferred to regular state prison because of an illness; then the pandemic hit and work camps closed.

Carnival’s Mardi Gras debut in Port Canaveral delayed again as cruise line cancels more sailings” via Richard Tribou of The Orlando Sentinel — Carnival Cruise Line is the latest to further push any return to sailing, canceling all its itineraries through April and delaying the debut of new ship Mardi Gras from Port Canaveral until May 29. The line is also halting Australian sailings until at least May 19 and announced its European summer plans for Carnival Legend from May-October are off the board. The latest round of cancellations was announced Friday, with Carnival joining Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean by pulling sailings until May. Disney Cruise Line has yet to cancel its April sailings, while MSC Cruises still has January itineraries available to book on its website.

What Sarah Bascom is reading — “Godiva will shut all its U.S. chocolate stores by March” via Megan Cerullo of CBS News — Godiva, the nearly 100-year-old luxury chocolatier, is closing or selling all of its brick-and-mortar stores in North America as part of its strategy to boost global online sales. It wants to reach more consumers in North America by growing its online presence, as internet sales begin to overtake in-person purchases, the company said in a statement Monday. Godiva also cited the COVID-19 pandemic as one factor contributing to declining sales at its 128 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. The company will keep its overseas stores across Europe, the Middle East and China open.

Godiva is the latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image via PDN.

CDC publishes paper on NFL’s efforts to play 2020 season” via The Associated Press — The CDC published a scientific paper jointly authored with the NFL on Monday detailing efforts the league made to get through the pandemic-altered 2020 season. The paper references what the league did to limit the spread of COVID-19 among its 32 teams. The study says elements can be applicable beyond the NFL to limit the spread of the virus, including “to settings such as long-term care facilities, schools, and high-density environments.” The NFL was able to complete its regular season and the playoffs on time, with only the Super Bowl remaining.


— PRESIDENTIAL —

—”Biden signs “buy American” executive order to boost U.S. manufacturing” via The Associated Press

Biden confronts a budget office broken by Donald Trump” via Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — Before Biden can tackle the pandemic, address the economic crisis or fulfill promises on infrastructure and climate change, he must first rebuild the federal agency at the center of it all. The Office of Management and Budget is the White House’s nerve center, the department through which Biden’s fiscal and regulatory agenda must pass. But after Trump, the workforce is demoralized, particularly after political leaders pushed to test boundaries at Trump’s behest. Biden will need to restore trust, reset norms and bolster the ranks at the budget office after Trump stripped civil servants of authority and worker protections while pushing a legally dubious agenda that many at the agency do not support.

Biden pushes to reopen the 167 border crossings to Canada and Mexico” via The Washington Examiner — President Biden took office with a promise to begin looking at how to reopen U.S. border crossings between Canada and Mexico, a move that travel and transportation officials welcomed but warned should not be rushed. Among the more than 30 executive orders signed in the president’s first six days in office, Biden ordered the CDC along with the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, and Transportation to begin talks with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts on how to end travel restrictions that have blocked all nonessential vehicles and pedestrians from entering or leaving the country since last March.

Biden reverses Trump ban on transgender people in military” via Lolita C. Baldor and Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — Biden signed an order Monday reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military. The new order, which Biden signed in the Oval Office during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, overturns a ban ordered by Trump in a tweet during his first year in office. It immediately prohibits any service member from being forced out of the military based on gender identity. The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to equity issues that he believes continue to shadow nearly all aspects of American life. As he signed the order on Monday, Biden said, “What I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform.”

Joe Biden signs a major rollback of the ban on transgender people serving in the military. Image via AP.

Janet Yellen confirmed as Treasury secretary” via Axios — The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Yellen as Treasury secretary on Monday. Yellen is the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary, a Cabinet position that will be crucial in helping steer the country out of the pandemic-induced economic crisis. Yellen previously served as the first female chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton and the first female chair of the Federal Reserve under President Barack Obama. Her confirmation as Treasury secretary makes her the first person to have held all three economic power positions in the federal government.

MAGA media looks to turn White House briefing room into a battlefield” via Christopher Cadelago and Natasha Korecki of POLITICO — Eric Bolling, the conservative host of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “America This Week,” would regularly travel to Trump’s White House, interviewing the former President seven times and occasionally attending press briefings. Trump’s now gone, and Bolling is facing a vastly different professional landscape. The current President is not a friend. His employer dragged its feet in declaring Biden the winner. And Bolling said he’s concerned he could lose his regular credentials and be unable to tape from the White House. And so, he’s taking steps to protect his standing. He recently applied to become a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Treasury resuming efforts to put Harriet Tubman on $20 bill” via Ken Thomas of The Wall Street Journal — The White House said the Treasury Department was resuming efforts to put Tubman on the $20 bill. Putting Tubman’s image on the currency had been undertaken by the Obama administration, but the work wasn’t completed during former Trump’s tenure. The bill’s redesign would place a woman on the front of U.S. paper currency for the first time in more than a century and replace President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner, who would move to the back of the note. Press Secretary Psaki said it was important that the nation’s currency and notes “reflect the history and diversity of our country.”

— EPILOGUE TRUMP —

Biden tells CNN Trump’s impeachment trial ‘has to happen’” via Kaitlan Collins of CNN — President Biden offered his most extensive comments since taking office on former President Trump‘s impeachment trial, telling CNN, “I think it has to happen.” Biden made the comment during a brief one-on-one interview with CNN in the halls of the West Wing. He acknowledged the effect it could have on his legislative agenda and Cabinet nominees but said there would be “a worse effect if it didn’t happen.” Biden told CNN he believed the outcome would be different if Trump had six months left in his term, but said he doesn’t think 17 Republican senators will vote to convict Trump. “The Senate has changed since I was there, but it hasn’t changed that much,” Biden said.

Former OMB director to set up Pro-Donald Trump think tanks” via Hans Nichols of Axios — Russ Vought, who led Trump‘s Office of Management and Budget, plans to announce two pro-Trump organizations Tuesday, aiming to provide the ideological ammunition to sustain Trump’s political movement after his departure from the White House. The Center for American Restoration and an advocacy arm, America Restoration Action, will try to keep cultural issues that animated Trump’s presidency on the public agenda. Vought is teaming up in the effort with Rachel Semmel, who ran communications for Trump’s OMB, and Ashlea Frazier, his former chief of staff. The Center for American Restoration will be organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and explore issues including voter fraud and the role of big technology and social media companies in disseminating information.

Trump fumes in his first weekend out of office as Anthony Fauci clowns on him” via Asawin Suebsaeng of The Daily Beast — In recent days, former Trump has watched from afar as one of his most popular rivals for public attention has been unleashed by the Biden administration to, in part, disparage Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the ex-President hasn’t even been able to tweet about it. Once a prominent figure on Trump’s coronavirus task force who’s now a top COVID-19 adviser to Biden, Dr. Fauci began his multiday blitz to different news outlets that included openly expressing his relief that the old crew was gone and that he could now serve in the Biden administration.

Anthony Fauci is discussing his newfound freedom and the problems he had in the Donald Trump administration. Image via AP.

—“Plane banners taunt Trump at Mar-a-Lago: ‘You pathetic loser,’ ‘Worst President ever,’ ‘Go back to Moscow’” via Sarah Rumpf for Mediaite

Supreme Court ends Trump emoluments lawsuits” via Mark Sherman of The Associated Press — The Supreme Court brought an end to lawsuits over whether Trump illegally profited off his presidency, saying the cases are moot now that Trump is no longer in office. The high court’s action was the first in an expected steady stream of orders and rulings on pending lawsuits involving Trump now that his presidency has ended. Some orders may result in dismissals of cases since Trump is no longer President. In other cases, proceedings that had been delayed because Trump was in the White House could resume, and their pace even quicken. The justices threw out Trump’s challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed lawsuits to go forward, alleging that he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel.

Trump is threatening to form the Patriot Party. That name has already been used — by ‘hillbilly’ socialists.” via Antonia Noori Farzan of The Washington Post — In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of creating a third party called the Patriot Party, raising fears of a major schism within the GOP. But just like Trump’s “America First” slogan was originally invoked by Americans sympathetic to the Nazis in the 1930s, the “Patriot Party” name has been used before and the association may not be exactly what the former President and his allies had in mind. The original Patriot Party was a group of socialist radicals who sought to stoke revolutionary fervor among poor and working-class White people.

Been there, done that: Donald Trump floats a ‘Patriot Party,’ which was already tried in the 1930s. Image via AP.

Members are quitting ‘sad’ Mar-a-Lago after Trump loses” via Alexis Benveniste of CNN Business — Many once-loyal members of Mar-a-Lago are leaving because they no longer want to have any connection to Trump, according to the author of the definitive book about the resort. “It’s a very dispirited place,” Laurence Leamer, historian and author of “Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace,” told MSNBC host Alex Witt on “Weekends with Alex Witt” Saturday. He said members are “not concerned about politics, and they said the food is no good.” Leamer said he spoke to several former members who “silently walked out” after Trump left office. Trump moved to the Palm Beach, Florida, estate after his term ended last week.

— D.C. MATTERS —

After Rob Portman announcement, Rick Scott says ‘Republicans will hold that seat’ — U.S. Sen. Scott praised U.S. Sen. Portman for his career in public service Monday after the Ohio Republican announced he would not seek reelection in 2022. “From his earliest days as a member of the House of Representatives to serving in the Bush Administration and in the United States Senate, Rob Portman has been instrumental in ushering through pro-growth policies to create jobs and opportunity for Ohioans and for all Americans.” Portman’s retirement leaves Scott, who is in charge of the GOP Senate campaign arm, with a more challenging map, but he vowed that “Republicans will hold that seat” after the 2022 election.

Rob Portman chooses not to run again. Rick Scott vows to keep his seat in GOP hands. Image via AP.

Florida Dems plan to target Marco Rubio, Scott over delay in DHS Secretary confirmation” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Florida Democratic Party plans to up the pressure on Republican Sens. Rubio and Scott Monday, as Senate Republicans continue to resist fast-tracking the confirmation of a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri blocked an effort last week to use unanimous consent to move forward on Alejandro Mayorkas‘ nomination. Biden selected the Cuban American Mayorkas to lead the agency. Mayorkas, who was born in Havana, would be the first Latino to do so.

Assignment editors[email protected] will welcome U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn and Al Lawson in a discussion on the upcoming 117th Congress and representation. Michelle Whyman (Assistant Professor of Political Science, FSU) will moderate, 6:30 p.m. For more information and to register, click here.

Spotted shot — Ballard Partners in Bloomberg’s “Lobbying firms thrived in 2020 bolstered by virus aid advocacy.” The lobbying firm saw its federal lobbying revenues grow nearly 30% year-over-year, from 19.1 million in 2019 to $24.6 million in 2020. According to state-level reports for the first three quarters of last year, Ballard Partners’ revenues also ticked up in Florida, where it remains the top-grossing firm operating in the Sunshine State.

Spotted chaser — Ballard Partners in Axios’ “Blue-chip clients dump Trumpworld lobbying shops.” The firm was among many that thrived under the Trump administration that has seen clients end their contracts in the weeks since Election Day. Conversely, firms with an in to the Biden administration are growing. Ballard Partners … has dropped seven clients, including Uber.

— CRISIS —

The road to The Capitol insurrection was paved with MAGA disinformation” via Craig Silverman, Jane Lytvynenko and Pranav Dixit of BuzzFeed News — Behind the violent insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 lies a group many Americans have never heard of: Women for America First. This group, founded by Trump loyalists and supported by the former President, not only obtained the permit for the rally where Trump told the crowd to march on the Capitol, but also spent weeks leading up to it on a 20-city bus tour, spreading incendiary propaganda, lies, and hate across an American tinderbox. Women for America First’s bus tour was one of the biggest and best-funded efforts to bring people to Washington, D.C., for Jan. 6. It was promoted by Trump on Twitter.

A relatively unknown Women for America First was a key player in the rally that led to riots at The Capitol. Image via Facebook.

Trump’s words inspired man to join mob that breached Capitol, attorney says” via John Futty of The Columbus Dispatch — A Columbus man accused of entering the U.S. Capitol and stealing a coat rack from the Senate during the Jan. 6 siege of the building was inspired to do so by former Trump’s lies about election fraud, according to his attorney. “How else do you explain otherwise rational, law-abiding citizens traveling to D.C. and doing what they did?” Sam Shamansky said. Dustin Byron Thompson of the University District was accompanied by Shamansky when he turned himself in Monday morning at the U.S. District Courthouse Downtown. Thompson kept his head down and did not reply to a reporter’s question as he entered the building.

—”Macclenny man charged with role to disrupt presidential election” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union

After Capitol riot, police chiefs work to root out officers with ties to extremist groups” via Kimberly Kindy, Mark Berman and Kim Bellware of The Washington Post — The revelation that the Capitol mob included off-duty law enforcement officers possibly assisted by working police is escalating pressure on sheriffs and police chiefs nationwide to root out staff with ties to White supremacist and far-right armed groups. Law enforcement leaders have faced criticism in the past for failing to police their own officers’ involvement with extremist groups. However, the selfie photos that off-duty officers took inside the Capitol during the violent siege, which left one police officer dead and dozens of others injured, were a wake-up call for many who have long denied the extent of the problem within policing.

Federal judge orders Daniel Baker held pending trial in Florida Capitol threat case” via Jeff Burlew of The Tallahassee Democrat — A federal judge ordered Baker to remain behind bars pending trial on a charge he issued threats against “armed racist mobs,” he thought would attack the Florida Capitol. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Frank, in an order released Monday morning, wrote that Baker must remain in federal detention “because no condition or combination of conditions reasonably would assure the safety of the community.” Baker, a 33-year-old former Army soldier with links to the Antifa movement, was arrested by the FBI on Jan. 15 on a federal charge of using the internet to issue threats to injure or kidnap. Frank, in a separate order, found probable cause for the charge.

Unspecified ‘events’ keeping Guard in DC as agencies dodge threat questions” via Abraham Mahshie of The Washington Examiner — The matter of why thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington has become the capital city’s newest game of hot potato. The acting Army secretary deferred a question to the bureau about why so many National Guard troops remained positioned around the District of Columbia on Monday. The FBI then declined to respond to request for comment by the Washington Examiner. “What I can tell you is in terms of what [the FBI is] briefing us is, there are several upcoming events,” acting Army Secretary John Whitley told reporters Monday on a conference call when asked about the current threat assessment in Washington, D.C.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Former lawmaker ends contract to redraw Miami voting districts after questions arose” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Former Senate President Bill Galvano has terminated his $10,000-a-month contract to redraw Miami’s voting districts after a majority of City Commissioners signaled they were ready to fire him. Commissioner Jeffrey Watson proposed ending Galvano’s contract after questions arose about Galvano’s role in redrawing voting districts for the Florida Legislature. That process was mired in years of litigation and an admission that Republicans intentionally drew districts that favored incumbents and parties, which violates the law. During a meeting, Watson suggested that the city hire a new consultant to “ensure our process and effort are beyond reproach.” Other commissioners quickly agreed.

Bill Galvano dropped the City of Miami right before they were about to drop him.

Appeals court to hear expressway fight” via News Service of Florida — A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal will hear arguments Feb. 9 in a constitutional fight about a 2019 law aimed at making major changes in the operation of expressways in Miami-Dade County. The law, which passed after heavy debate among Miami-Dade County legislators, called for abolishing the long-standing Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority and replacing it with a new entity called the Greater Miami Expressway Agency. The state has argued in the appeal the lawsuit should be dismissed, in part because the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority didn’t have legal standing to file the constitutional challenge and doesn’t have the power to continue the case because the authority was dissolved under the law.

Miami Beach says it has ‘strongest’ fertilizer ban in Florida. Will county follow?” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Miami Beach this month became the latest Florida municipality to ban the use of fertilizers during the rainy season and near waterways. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins will propose a similar law in March. Elected leaders and environmental activists view the restrictions as a way to limit over-fertilization, which can lead to nutrient runoff and water pollution. Like other Florida municipal bans, Miami Beach’s won’t restrict the use of fertilizers on golf courses. Higgins, who has yet to release details of her proposal, said she has already faced “push back” from the golf industry for considering further restrictions. She said she might propose tougher measures on county-run courses to show the industry that the grounds remain “great to play on.”

Jackie Toledo seeks $400K for Tampa Bay workforce training program” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Rep. Toledo is working to up funding for a Feeding Tampa Bay workforce training program. Feeding Tampa Bay FRESHforce is a coalition of nonprofits, government and businesses that work to provide training to food-insecure individuals with barriers to employment. Last year, Toledo was successful in securing $255,000 for the program. This year, she’s seeking $400,000. “They’ve been focused on feeding families and serving the needs, especially during COVID,” Toledo said about Feeding Tampa Bay. “They’re expanding on what they do, and empowering other people … They teach them skills so that they can, in essence, feed themselves and feed their family.”

How FDLE hit a dead-end investigating bugging of Escambia County administrator’s office” via Colin Warren-Hicks of The Pensacola News Journal — The search for the suspect who placed a recording device in Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley‘s office last year went cold within two months, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement officially closed the case without making an arrest. On Friday, the FDLE released its investigative report into the illegal bugging, which sheds light on what the investigation revealed and why agents ultimately hit a dead-end. Gilley first contacted the FDLE about a possible hidden device in her county office on Aug. 1 after growing concerned when details of private conversations became mainstream in the public.

Picks for top command spots dashing high hopes for Osceola’s first Hispanic sheriff” via The Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Marcos López couldn’t have been much clearer when the Orlando Sentinel editorial board interviewed him ahead of the 2020 Democratic primary for Osceola County sheriff. He promised to deliver a sheriff’s office that reflected the county’s racial and ethnic diversity. “If you don’t look like the people you serve, you’re never going to create the transparency and present that accountability for our community,” he told the board. López took specific aim at the command staff’s makeup under then-Sheriff Russ Gibson, who was seeking reelection. “We should be at least 60% minority-based,” López said. “This is going in the wrong direction.”

John Lowndes elected Maitland’s next Mayor” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Former Maitland Councilman Lowndes was elected to be the city’s new Mayor. Lowndes won the seat unopposed after the qualifying period ended Friday and will take over for outgoing Mayor Dale McDonald. Lowndes was first elected to Seat 4 in 2013, replacing Phil Bonus, who had resigned after admitting he was a customer of an Orange County brothel. Lowndes won his first full term in 2014 and was reelected unopposed in 2017. “I greatly look forward to working with four excellent City Council members and listening to your concerns as we help ensure Maitland remains a town we can all be proud of,” he said in a statement to residents.

John Lowndes was elected unopposed as the new Mayor of Maitland.

Robert Kraft’s sex videos from police sting will be destroyed, judge says” via Marc Freeman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Sex videos of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft will be destroyed under a court order. It’s been two years since the 79-year-old billionaire was among more than two dozen people secretly videotaped by police during a massage parlor prostitution sting in Palm Beach County. U.S. District Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz II on Friday ruled that the videos of Kraft and the others must be wiped from existence, because the Jupiter police surveillance was deemed unlawful. Kraft had feared the tapes of him in the nude would be publicized on the internet.

Florida attorney disbarred after threatening judges in divorce case” via Matt Perez of Law 360 — The Supreme Court of Florida disbarred a Wildwood-based attorney after he was arrested on felony charges in Sumter County for publicly threatening two circuit court judges. Edward Juan Lynum, who was suspended in 2019, was hit with the disbarment order following a series of disparaging social media posts that included threats of violence. Lynum was picked up on charges that included “writing threats to kill or do bodily injury” and “corruption by threat of harm against a public servant,” according to a Sumter County arrest affidavit. The Florida Bar’s initial complaint highlighted numerous social media and email attacks toward judges and counsel in a dissolution of marriage matter in which he is the petitioner.

— TOP OPINION —

As Florida’s coronavirus deaths worsen, our focus needs to sharpen” via Janet Cruz for The Tampa Bay Times — The coronavirus has killed more than 25,000 people in Florida. We have eclipsed 70,000 total hospitalizations and 1.6 million total COVID-19 cases. If you have watched our Governor recently, though, the indication is that everything is going exactly how he planned. The PR dog-and-pony show we have all witnessed paints a picture of progress that is wholly unrealistic. I do not wish to question DeSantis’ intentions, but at this point, he seems more interested in locking horns with social media companies over what he describes as “Big Tech censorship” than addressing an unprecedented pandemic and what it has done to our state’s workforce, rampant housing insecurity and vaccine distribution.

— OPINIONS —

Transgender ban lifted. Harriet Tubman on the $20. It’s a hard time for conservatives.” via Paul Waldman of The Washington Post — A good portion of the people who voted for Donald Trump when he promised to “Make America Great Again” did so because he was appealing to their sense of loss, the idea that America’s present is different from the past of their childhoods, a past to which they wanted to return. It was about race, and language, and resistance to change, and yes, even about economic anxiety. They’re now very unhappy, and they’re going to keep feeling these symbolic blows as the news tells them that they’re not in charge and that America is moving in a direction they don’t like. It’s going to make them mad. But the right thing for Democrats to tell them is: We understand your feelings.

Florida cannot afford, and doesn’t need, three new toll roads through the boondocks” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — Paving pristine rural areas for three politically-motivated toll roads made no sense even before the coronavirus raged across Florida. But with COVID-19 hitting the state budget hard, forging ahead with these boondoggles represents a classic case of misguided priorities — right up there with the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. Given the state’s precarious finances, even the new chairman of the budget-writing Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, is skeptical about the need for these rural roads. Florida’s soaring Medicaid caseloads and the pandemic’s effects on public school budgets are urgent needs, she said, while the state’s long-range infrastructure can wait. “It’s going to be a tough budget year,” Stargel told Capitol reporters recently.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Senate Judiciary Committee advances a bill that would immunize businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

The immunity bill is on the fast track in Tallahassee, much to Sen. Perry Thurston’s dismay. He wonders why business is first in line for help when so many Floridians are unemployed, facing eviction, and waiting months for vaccines.

— Florida’s Department of Health announced Monday 156 additional fatalities from COVID-19 and 8,720 newly confirmed cases. Nevertheless, Gov. DeSantis says there are fewer people in the hospital for coronavirus.

— During a news conference in Jacksonville, DeSantis announced the first round of vaccinations at long-term care facilities are almost done.

— COVID-19 changed the way Florida lawmakers conduct business. Simpson seems absolutely delighted that there will be limits to the number of lobbyists in The Capitol.

— Simpson also warned his fellow lawmakers that most people in The Capitol wouldn’t be vaccinated until April, so COVID-19 restrictions will be in place throughout the Legislative Session.

— The Senate Commerce Committee votes to raise revenue by more than $600 million by collecting sales tax on all internet purchases. But the sponsor insists it’s not really a tax increase.

— And finally, a Florida Woman is accused of running a whorehouse at a luxury home in a gated community.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

First look at epic monster mayhem in new Godzilla vs. Kong trailer” via Bonnie Burton of CNET — The ultimate movie monster battle is going to be epic if there’s anything to go by the first Godzilla vs. Kong movie trailer, which dropped on Sunday. Fans will be able to cheer for their favorite kaiju monster when Godzilla vs. Kong is released in theaters and on HBO Max on March 26. But in the meantime, check out some exciting battle scenes between Godzilla and King Kong in the new movie trailer from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. The trailer gives more clues about what will happen in the upcoming movie, including more on how Kong and his protectors, who are on a quest to find Kong his real home.

To watch the trailer, click on the image below:

Disney: Jungle Cruise updates are coming to Magic Kingdom” via DeWayne Bevil of The Orlando Sentinel — Changes are coming to Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise attraction, Walt Disney World announced Monday. The enhancements, scheduled to be made later this year, will include new scenes and an emphasis on diversity in backgrounds and interests, a Disney World spokeswoman said. It will also shift the ride’s storyline some, but the wisecracking cast members acting as jungle skippers will remain on board. The attraction has been criticized for its portrayals of headhunters and the use of the term “savages.” Calls for change flared last year after Disney said it would change its Splash Mountain, another Magic Kingdom ride, removing the “Song of the South” characters in favor of a theme based on “The Princess and the Frog.”

— SUPER BOWLING — 

Budweiser joins Coke, Pepsi brands in sitting out Super Bowl” via Mae Anderson and Dee-Ann Durbin of The Associated Press — For the first time since 1983, when Anheuser-Busch used all of its ad time to introduce a beer called Bud Light, the beer giant isn’t advertising its iconic Budweiser brand during the Super Bowl. Instead, it’s donating the money it would have spent on the ad to coronavirus vaccination awareness efforts. Anheuser-Busch still has four minutes of advertising during the game for its other brands, including Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. Those are some of its hottest sellers, particularly among younger viewers. But the decision to not do an anthemic Budweiser ad showcases the caution with which some advertisers are approaching the first COVID-era Super Bowl.

Anheuser-Busch is donating the money it would have spent on Super Bowl ads to coronavirus vaccination awareness efforts.

What can you purchase for the price of a Super Bowl ticket?” via Scott Harrell of Bay News 9 — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Green Bay Packers 31-26 Sunday night, becoming the first NFL team to earn a hometown Super Bowl slot in history. It’s also the first time the Super Bowl will be played under pandemic conditions; less than a third of Raymond James Stadium’s capacity will be filled, and a large chunk of those tickets will be going to the men and women on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. Given the pandemic, limited occupancy and reserved seats for the medical professionals who have fought so tirelessly against the coronavirus, tickets for the big game here in Tampa are at a premium. Only 14,500 tickets will be sold, driving the price of attendance to unheard-of levels.

‘Come on down’: Tampa Bay Mayors encourage visitors as Tampa preps for Super Bowl LV” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Mayors across Tampa Bay met Monday to discuss preparations as the city approaches hosting its fifth Super Bowl. The excitement was palpable, as this year’s Super Bowl will be the first in the National Football League’s history to be on one of the two team’s home field, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepping for the game at Raymond James Stadium. One message was clear among the triage of Mayors: come and visit. “This is our opportunity to be on the world stage right now,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “And the one thing I can guarantee you is that Tampa Bay is going to dance like we have never danced before.”

Tampa’s celebration of Bucs Super Bowl berth stir coronavirus pandemic safety concerns” via Jeff Patterson of WFLA — When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers punched their ticket to Super Bowl LV on Sunday evening, it was a historic moment for the community. Fans seized the moment, and thousands poured into the streets around Raymond James Stadium, honking horns, waving flags and celebrating. Hundreds more showed up at Tampa International Airport to greet the team after they flew back from Green Bay. WFLA viewers noticed the coverage, and they noted something in particular about the fans: many were not wearing masks and were not being socially distant in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

After Buccaneers’ historic win, local companies get creative” via Jennifer Holton of Fox 13 — With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers securing the NFC Championship win Sunday night, at least two T-shirt companies went straight to the drawing board — literally. “We were thinking about old school versus new school, because Patrick Mahomes is a puppy compared to Tom Brady, right?” joked Wayne Curtiss, owner of Smack Apparel in Tampa. They didn’t do that, but for a company known for its creative designs, you never know what you’re going to get with Curtiss’ company. “We look for something that is clever and creative, and obviously we wanted to see who they were playing so you could put a certain twist on it,” he said.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to classy lady Claudia Davant, owner of Adams Street Advocates. Also celebrating today are smart guy Mark Sharpe, as well as former Clearwater Mayor George CretekosJason Roth, Dave Royse, and Vinny Tafuro.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and 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.

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