Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.27.21

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Don't miss your first look at stories driving today's agenda in Florida politics.

This is a weird scoop but given the reporting Tuesday about the state’s investigation into several non-profit executives who contract with the Department of Children and Families, it’s timely.

Tyler Russell resigned for personal reasons as Chief of Staff at DCF last week, according to a source within the Governor’s Office. Russell had just started on the job the first week of January after coming over from Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ office.

A source we reached out to who is close to Russell — a source close enough to him that they were the same source who first told us that Russell was getting the DCF job — tells ‘burn that Russell was confronted by a reporter, who warned him that if he remained in the position, their media outlet would have to publish a story detailing the conflict of interest they believe existed between Russell running DCF and the, um, issues with Russell’s father. Florida Politics has not been able to confirm this detail with Russell or the reporter; all we know is that Russell is no longer at DCF.

That said, our sources on the Plaza Level tell us that Russell continues to be held in the highest regard by the administration. Look for Russell to take some time off but not for long as he still has the opportunity to continue working within state government. 

State Sen. Gary Farmer is quarantining after a close associated of his, who is a lobbyist, tested positive for COVID-19, confirms the Senate Minority Office. One of Farmer’s colleagues told ‘burn there is considerable consternation about Farmer’s situation because he had the lobbyist friend of his rapid-tested by the testing system reserved for members and their staff.

Florida Influencers aren’t buying the buzz about an Ivanka Trump Senate bid, but they do have some predictions where some of Florida’s best-known elected officials will land on the 2022 ballot.

Just over a quarter of Influencers told Florida Politics they think the former President’s daughter will challenge U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, while 73% think she’ll avoid primarying Florida’s senior Senator.

Florida Influencers are not convinced Ivanka Trump will mount a campaign to challenge Marco Rubio in 2022.

Democrats were most likely to predict an Ivanka run, but they still came in at a middling 30%, followed by Republicans at 25%.

Influencers are nearly as certain about plans for U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Matt Gaetz, with the majority expecting they’ll run for reelection rather than higher office.

Still, about one in six influencers believe Crist will launch another run Governor next year, while 7% say he’s aiming for U.S. Senate. Outside of the two-thirds who say he’ll stand pat in CD 13, the most popular option was “Who the heck knows … it’s Charlie!”

However, if he were to run for Governor, 12% of Influencers say he’d defeat Ron DeSantis.

He tied with Sen. Jason Pizzo for the third-best chance in the hypothetical, following Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried at 24% and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham at 14%. Rep. Anna Eskamani was far behind at 2%, while “Other/NPA” notched 23% and “Someone Else” hit 13%.

Gaetz, meanwhile, is a near-lock to run for reelection. Overall, 74% of Influencers said he’ll seek another term in CD 1, though 14% expect some theatrics, such as a Senate bid that ends in time for him to qualify in the House race.

If not, they predict he’ll land in the Agriculture Commissioner race.

Also on the radar for statewide office: Sen. Lauren Book. About half of Influencers said the South Florida Democrat should challenge Jimmy Patronis for CFO, outnumbering the 45% who think she should run for reelection.

One other note:

💰As workers faced layoffs and pay cuts, Tampa Bay Times CEO made more money: It was a less than $1,000 pay bump, but Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash earned more money in 2019 than he did in 2018. That’s despite the fact that the same year his employees suffered pay cuts, and some lost their jobs entirely. Read about my analysis of this slight here.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Elwasson: [Mitch] McConnell on Senate floor suggests that if filibuster ever is nuked, GOP will completely tie up the Senate with endless quorum calls, blocked consent requests for routine matters.

@MarcACaputo: Progressive firebrand & former US Rep. @AlanGrayson is making calls about running against Republican US Sen. @marcorubio “Repeal Rubio. That’s all I have to say,” Grayson told me when I reached out Grayson ran for Sen in 2016 but lost in the primary to Rep Patrick Murphy

@MacStipanovich: Democrats need to armor themselves against the socialist, defund the police canard that is the alpha and the omega of GOP political messaging by flinging Val Demings on the invertebrate Rubio.

@FBSaunders: Hearing some growing frustration from House Dems on the Public Health Subcommittee. Members say the chair, Rep. Will Robinson, won’t allow questions during tomorrow’s meeting with Florida’s surgeon general. That’s despite ongoing concerns about Florida’s vaccine rollout.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 1; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 11; Daytona 500 — 18; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 24; The CW’s Superman & Lois premieres — 27; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 34; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 38; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 44; 2021 Grammys — 46; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 58; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 65; Children’s Gasparilla — 73; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 80; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 100; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 156; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 165; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 179; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 185; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 209; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 233; “Dune” premieres — 248; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 279; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 282; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 316; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 324; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 422; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 464; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 618.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

State’s investigation points to these non-profit executives making too much money” via Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald — A Hialeah mental health center, the lead foster care provider in Tampa and agencies that provide child welfare services in Sarasota and mental health services in Pensacola are among the nine nonprofit organizations spending millions compensating executives above the limits allowed by state law, a preliminary report from the governor’s Office of Inspector General has found. The nine agencies are all under contract with the Department of Children and Families and all receive state and federal funding for at least half of their annual budgets. According to a report released late Monday by the OIG, the total excessive compensation adds up to more than $3 million annually, but the amounts range from a high of $1 million in excessive compensation at Pensacola-based Lakeview Center to $8,724 in excessive payments at ChildNet, a community-based care center in Fort Lauderdale.

Senate poised to review Gov. DeSantis’ budget” via News Service of Florida — In a signal that DeSantis will release a proposed 2021-2022 budget in the coming days, the Senate Appropriations Committee and subcommittees are slated next week to receive a series of presentations about his spending plan, according to a Senate calendar. The Appropriations Committee is scheduled for Feb. 2 to receive a presentation about DeSantis’ recommendations. Five appropriations subcommittees are expected to follow suit on Feb. 3. DeSantis’ office has not announced when it will release the proposal, which will be an initial step as lawmakers prepare to draw up a budget during the Legislative Session that starts March 2. The 2021-2022 fiscal year begins July 1.

Ron DeSantis is reportedly close to dropping a proposed budget for 2021-22.

Florida should stop doing business with Big Tech, China, Republicans say” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — The chairman of the Republican Party of Florida filed a bill Tuesday to stop state and local governments from doing business with some of the conservative movement’s top enemies: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Amazon and the People’s Republic of China. The bill, filed jointly by Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, the state GOP chair, and Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, has two main parts. It prohibits state and local governments from entering into any contract that includes purchasing products made at least 25% in China starting in 2023. And starting on July 1, 2021, no state agency or local government can purchase a product or service from those five technology companies.

No-fault repeal clears first Senate committee” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee advanced a bill that would replace Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system with a bodily injury system. SB 54, sponsored by Republican 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. “Since this is my first bill, I wanted to make sure to ease into the process a little bit and not present anything too controversial or all that substantive,” Burgess, who joined the Senate in November, joked at the outset of the Tuesday meeting.

Bill to certify victims of reform school abuse progresses beyond last year’s roadblock” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has voted to move forward with Sen. Darryl Rouson’s bill compensating victims of reform school abuse, already making more progress than last year’s bill, which died in the same committee. The committee voted 7-1 on passing the bill to its next committee, with Sen. George Gainer voting against it. Gainer did not comment on his vote. The bill, SB 288, would create a certification process for victims of abuse at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee to streamline the claims process. The bill would apply to people who attended the schools from 1940 to 1975.

—”Janet Cruz bill would help disabled veterans cover college tuition” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics

—“Back to the drawing board for Tom Wright, who wants drones in police chases” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics

Guardian ad Litem program draws security” via Dara Kam of The News Service of Florida — The head of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program defended the agency’s efforts Tuesday to a Senate committee, following a report that said the organization’s funding has increased while the number of children it represents has dropped. Alan Abramowitz, who has served as executive director of the program for more than a decade, pushed back against the report during an appearance before the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. The report, issued last month by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, or OPPAGA, identified several issues in the operation of the program, which receives state and local funds to represent abused, neglected and abandoned children in dependency cases.

Senate committee advances bill covering college tuition for students in DCF custody — Senate Education Committee cleared a bill (SB 52) that would provide tuition and fee waivers for students under the care of the Department of Children and Families, increase access to dual enrollment, and authorize universities to create individualized bonus structures that recognize specific faculty and staff. “Whether they are in the custody of DCF, or living with a relative or foster family, students in the child welfare system have enough trials facing them as they enter adult life and figuring out how to pay for college shouldn’t be one of them,” Senate President Wilton Simpson said.

Lauren Book bill would eliminate sales tax on diapers” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Sen. Book is reviving her effort to eliminate the sales tax on diapers and adult incontinence products. The project has been a priority for Book for years, but she hasn’t yet secured enough support from her GOP counterparts controlling the Legislature. Book, who chairs the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, is bringing back the same bill once again ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session. The measure simply adds those products to the long list of other items exempt from the state’s sales tax, such as non-prepared food, school books, feminine hygiene products, and others. “The sale for human use of diapers, incontinence undergarments, incontinence pads, or incontinence liners is exempt from the tax imposed by this chapter,” Book’s bill reads.

Lauren Book is seeking to make diapers tax-free. Image via Colin Hackley.

Bill would expand right for officials to visit jails” via The Associated Press — Florida could expand a law that allows certain state officials to visit prisons any time they also wish to include county and municipal jails under a bill approved by a Senate committee on Tuesday. State law currently allows the Governor, Cabinet members, lawmakers, judges, state attorneys and public defenders to visit prisons unannounced. The bill unanimously approved by the Criminal Justice Committee expands that right to include local government detention facilities. Democratic Sen. Pizzo said he proposed his bill after reports that a woman gave birth while in solitary confinement at a Broward County jail.

—”Joe Gruters bill allowing beaches to ban smoking advances in Senate” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

—“Blaise Ingoglia wants $3 million for UF Alzheimer’s and dementia research” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

No sandals allowed: After student suggestion, Matt Willhite files bill regulating minors on motor vehicles” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A new measure from Democratic Rep. Willhite would require minors operating a motorized vehicle to wear closed-toed footwear to help prevent injury. The bill is notable not just due to its substance but its origin. Willhite filed the bill following a suggestion from a local high school student in his House District 86, which covers parts of Palm Beach County. This year, House members were granted seven bill slots, up from the usual cap of six. Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, announced he would be courting suggestions for that extra bill slot from local high school students. After the submission period ended, a proposal from Ethan Douglas of Wellington High School won. “I recognize that young people are the future of our country,” Willhite said.

Frank White hosting House Majority fundraiser in Pensacola — Rep. Paul Renner is holding a fundraiser for the Republican House campaign arm in Pensacola on Thursday at the home of former state Rep. Frank White. We’re told Rep. Michelle Salzman was instrumental in organizing the fundraiser and reaching out to top donors in Northwest Florida. The event is set for 6 p.m. at 4 Hyde Park Road. The invitation suggests a $500 contribution per person. Those looking to attend can send an RSVP to Katie Ballard via Katie@KBallardConsult.com or by calling 954-803-3942.

Legislative committee meetings:

The Senate Agriculture Committee meets for an update of the state hemp program and issues of the Florida Department of Citrus, 9 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee meets to consider SJR 204 from Sen. Jeff Brandes, which would end the state Constitution Revision Commission, 9 a.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Health Policy Committee meets for a workshop on health care laws and policies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 9 a.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meets to workshop the upcoming budget, 10 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will update the House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee, 10 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee meets to workshop the budget, noon, Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee meets for an update on investigations related to research institutions, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and VISIT FLORIDA, noon, Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee meets for an update on additional money the Department of Health received as part of the COVID-19 response, 12:30 p.m., Room 412, Knott Building.

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee meets for updates from several agencies about potential budget cuts, 12:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

Acting Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Shevaun Harris will speak at the meeting of the House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee, 2 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Government Operations Subcommittee will meet to discuss the history of the state’s information-technology governance, 2 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meets to workshop the proposed budget, 2 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee will host a panel to discuss the building-permit process, including local building officials, contractors and developers, 2 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will meet for an update on the “Clean Waterways Act,” which includes larger fines for dumping pollutants into waterways and new rules for septic tanks and agricultural runoff, 3:30 p.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee meet for updates from several agencies about budget issues and potential reductions, 3:30 p.m., Room 37, Senate Office Building.

The House Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee will host a panel discussion on “tools and resources available to consumers of the state’s education and workforce systems,” 4 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.

The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee will meet to workshop the budget, 4 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee meets for an update on the effects of COVID-19 on tourism, 4 p.m., Room 404, House Office Building.

The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee meets to consider a bill (HB 1), sponsored by Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, which would crack down on violent protests. The bill would create several categories of new crimes to crack down on protests and make it difficult for local government officials to reduce spending on law enforcement, 4 p.m., Room 212, Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis orders flags at half-staff for Holocaust Remembrance Day — DeSantis issued a memo ordering all U.S. and Florida flags in the state to be flown at half-staff Wednesday in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the memo, DeSantis proclaimed that “the State of Florida does not tolerate anti-Semitism or discrimination against the Jewish people in any form.” Wednesday will mark the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination center. In 2005, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The order will last through sundown Wednesday.

Jimmy Patronis’ Olympics pitch makes White House press briefing — Patronis’ letter to the International Olympic Committee reached the White House Press briefing when a reporter asked the White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the possibility of moving the 2021 Olympics from Tokyo to Florida. After the mention, Patronis dinged the White House for not embracing the plan, saying it “missed an incredible opportunity today to encourage the Olympics to move from Japan to the United States of America.” He added, “As Japan’s leaders quietly work behind the scenes to ditch the sporting event, we’ll continue beating the drum for Florida. With the Super Bowl coming to Tampa Bay in the next few weeks, Florida will put on full display its ability to safely and successfully host global events.”

Jimmy Patronis is floating a Florida Olympics if Tokyo falls through. The White House is not warm to the idea.

Experts question Florida bid to host 2021 Summer Olympics: ‘Mind-bogglingly stupid’” via Hayley Miller of HuffPost — Economists and public health experts called into question a top Florida official’s request to the International Olympic Committee to consider relocating the 2021 summer games from Tokyo to his state. In his letter to the sports governing body, Patronis cited reports Japan has decided to call off this summer’s games due to the pandemic after already delaying the event by a year. (The IOC has called such reports “categorically untrue.”)

Patronis calls out Anna Eskamani for “pushing an anti-law enforcement culture” via Karen Murphy of The Capitolist — Patronis called out Rep. Eskamani, specifically, and other “certain elements of the Florida Legislature” who he said are pushing an anti-law enforcement culture that is sweeping the country in a blistering speech to the Florida Sheriffs Association 2021 Winter Conference today in Ponte Vedra. “Frankly, some of these leaders have no business being in elected office,” he said. “I’m concerned that certain anti-police elements are beginning to take roots in the political institutions of our state. For example, last summer, Eskamani proposed ‘Divest[ing] in Law Enforcement’ and argued that funding police ‘threatens communities.’ Moreover, when Orange County was considering increasing its budget $15 million for the Sheriff’s office, Eskamani railed against the proposal,” Patronis said.

‘More of a political issue’: Florida National Guard General says Florida troops were ‘fine’ in D.C.” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Florida National Guard’s top-ranking General on Tuesday said Florida troops experienced “fine” treatment in Washington, D.C., and described the infamous parking garage debacle as a “political issue.” “We really had no complaints with the way D.C. treated our Guardsmen,” Adjutant General James Eifert said. “They were allowed to stay in hotels, and they were fed. I think that was a lot more of a political issue than it was a real issue.” Speaking after a Senate panel, Eifert said Florida Guardsmen were not among the thousands of troops housed in a parking garage while on orders at the nation’s Capital. Instead, he described the debacle as an “optical” problem and said Florida’s troops experienced “great care.”

Florida National Guard troops were treated well during their time in the U.S. Capitol.

Florida gets boost in tax revenues in December” via The News Service of Florida — The Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research estimated revenue for December at $336.7 million over a forecast revised in August. What’s more, the $2.999.4 billion in overall revenue was $154.4 million higher than what had been forecast before the pandemic hit. “The December results were above the pre-pandemic estimates for the month by the largest margin seen since the pandemic began,” the revenue report said. Sales tax numbers were up $178.3 million over the revised August forecast.

Citizens Board approves rate hike proposals” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. leaders Tuesday approved a proposed 7.2% average rate increase for residential policyholders, while also backing a plan that could lead to substantially higher rates in the future for new customers of the state-backed insurer. The Citizens Board of Governors took the steps as it faces a surge in additional policies amid troubles in the state’s private property-insurance market. The troubles have driven up private rates and caused companies to pull back on covering homes, spurring customers to turn to Citizens. Under the proposal, rate changes would vary widely, depending on factors such as types of policies and locations.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida reports 9,594 COVID cases and 227 additional deaths” via Cindy Krishcer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida reported slightly more cases than the previous day — and significantly more new deaths. Florida reported 9,594 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and another 227 new resident deaths linked to COVID-19. The state has now reported 1,667,763 cases since the pandemic began. The seven-day average for new cases has been declining since Jan. 8. Public health experts say the virus is considered under control when the COVID-19 test positivity rate is under 5%. But since Oct. 29, Florida has exceeded 5% in its widely publicized calculation for assessing the rate for testing of residents. The state reported a daily positivity rate of 9.19% on Tuesday, down from 9.56% the day before.

DeSantis reverses COVID-19 vaccine strategy to ensure second doses” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — In a reversal, DeSantis said the state is now withholding COVID-19 vaccines to ensure seniors and health care workers can get their second doses. As hundreds of thousands of Floridians approach the 28-day deadline this week to receive their second Moderna vaccine dose, DeSantis guaranteed there would be enough supply to meet the demand. “We’re not going to divert second doses away from seniors,” DeSantis said. “Seniors want it. We’re going to do it. So, if the implication is you should be giving those doses away to other people, that’s not the way the FDA has prescribed it.”

Ron DeSantis walks back comments about second-dose vaccines. Image via AP.

DeSantis fires back, assures seniors they’ll get COVID-19 booster shots” via Jennifer Holton of Fox 13 — DeSantis is responding to White House claims that Florida has used only half its COVID-19 vaccines sent by the federal government, calling it “disingenuous.” “I will note because we’re data-first here, facts-first here, they’ve only distributed about 50% of the vaccines that they have been given in Florida,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon. At first glance, numbers from the CDC support the White House’s claim: 2,908,275 COVID-19 vaccines have been given to the state, but only 1,544,794, about 53%, have been put into someone’s arm. But as the Governor points out, there can be a delay in the federal data of up to 72 hours, depending on the health care provider administering the vaccine.

Heads-up>>>Gov. DeSantis is hosting a press conference at 9 a.m. at the Sun City Center Community Center.

Hospitals told to look to health departments for vaccines” via Christine Sexton of News Service of Florida — During a statewide phone call, Department of Health Secretary Rivkees told hospitals they could not use “second dose” vaccine supplies to give initial vaccinations to more people. Rivkees’ remarks came as DeSantis makes vaccinating people ages 65 and older his top priority. But hospital executives pressed Rivkees about the state’s limited supply of “first dose” vaccines and how they can get a share of them. Rivkees, who doubles as the state’s surgeon general, gave no firm answers but told hospital officials that “this is a situation where you can reach out to your county health department. … So speak with them, and we’ll be able to work with you in this situation.”

Carlos Guillermo Smith urges hospitals to define ‘vulnerable population’ rules for COVID-19 vaccines” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Democratic Rep. Smith is urging hospitals to quickly develop criteria to define “vulnerable populations” under age 65 who should be among the first getting COVID-19 vaccination shots. From the start of the vaccination program, around Christmas, DeSantis made those over the age of 65, or those with preexisting medical conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, the first to get the shots. They still are. But little attention has been paid to those with preexisting conditions. The public vaccination system set up in Publix stores and elsewhere is limited to providing shots to people 65 or older. Only hospitals have the authority to define who is or isn’t extremely vulnerable.

Florida’s public school nurses are on the front line and can get COVID-19 vaccines — but not all are taking the shots” via Danielle J. Brown of the Florida Phoenix — While front-line health care workers in hospitals and other facilities have gotten priority for COVID-19 vaccines, not everyone knows that Florida’s school nurses are eligible for the shots as well. School nurses have regular duties and handle COVID-19 issues, from reporting and isolating potentially infected students to identifying and notifying people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, called contact tracing. According to the Department of Education, more than 1,500 school nurses are employed in Florida’s public schools as of 2019-20. That state has 67 school districts. The school nurses can get vaccinated, according to an email by the Florida Department of Health.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Broward schools accused of ‘spying’ on teachers — catching them out and about despite COVID-19 fears” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Broward School District has scoured Facebook pages of teachers working remotely to catch them partying, traveling and failing to wear masks at a time the educators say COVID-19 makes it too risky for them to return to campus. One teacher is pictured at her daughter’s destination wedding in Jamaica. Another attended a political rally for Joe Biden. Others were pictured with cocktails in restaurants or enjoying a Disney or beach vacation with family or friends. The district used about 40 pages of research about remote teachers during an arbitration hearing last week with the Broward Teachers Union, which challenged the district’s decision to end remote work assignments for most teachers.

In effort to vaccinate Black Miamians, religious leaders, community groups step up” via C. Isaiah Smalls and Samantha J. Gross of The Miami Herald — State Sen. Shevrin Jones knew churches would be a part of early COVID-19 vaccination efforts. In early January, he orchestrated one of the county’s first vaccination sites at a Pembroke Park church, where his father is the founder and senior pastor. But as vaccine distribution continues to stumble in Florida the West Park Democrat now says church partnerships with state and county governments are more crucial than ever for building trust and getting shots in arms. Statistics show that Black Americans disproportionately lag on vaccination rates, and Miami-Dade County is no exception. Seven of the 10 Miami-Dade ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates have majority African-American populations released last Thursday.

Palm Beach County Commissioners furious about Publix vaccine plan” via Jane Musgrave of the Palm Beach Post — County Commissioners lashed out at the Governor’s decision to put Publix in charge of the county’s coronavirus vaccination program, calling his actions disgusting and insisting it will further complicate the already chaotic rollout. “I’m absolutely, absolutely disgusted that the Governor of this state has 100% taken the authority to administer the vaccination program out of the hands of the public health department and given that authority to a corporate entity,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. At McKinlay’s insistence, Commissioners agreed to write a letter to DeSantis, expressing their dismay that the county health department is no longer getting an allotment of vaccines.

Melissa McKinlay is no fan of Ron DeSantis’ Publix vaccination plans. Image via The Palm Beach Post.

Naval Air Station Jacksonville cancels April air show due to COVID-19 concerns” via Dan Scanlan of The Florida Times-Union — The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels won’t be flying high, low and upside down this spring at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. After what it called “careful consideration,” the Navy base canceled the 2021 NAS Jax Blue Angels Air Show set for April 10 and 11. “Department of Defense Health Protection Conditions, as well as guidelines imposed by the Centers for Disease Control, and local civilian authorities, currently prevent execution of the air show,” according to the Navy base. The Blue Angels cut their 2020 air tour short because of COVID-19, so there was no October air show in Jacksonville as in years past.

Polk ‘paramedic of the year’ arrested, accused of stealing vials of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine” via Fox 13 News staff reports — A paramedic in Polk County has been arrested for allegedly falsifying paperwork for stolen vials of COVID-19 vaccines. The sheriff’s office said a Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic, identified as Joshua Colon, is accused of assisting a fire captain in the theft of Moderna vaccine vials. The agency was directed to administer the COVID-19 vaccines to first responders. While going through paperwork filed by Colon, fire rescue officials noticed discrepancies and contacted the sheriff’s office. Each first responder was required to complete and sign a Florida Health COVID-19 vaccine form, collected by the medical personnel providing the dose. According to Sheriff Grady Judd, Colon falsified those documents.

Wrestling tournament cited in spread of COVID-19” via The News Service of Florida — An estimated 1,700 in-person school days were lost as a result of COVID-19 isolation and quarantining, and one person died after a two-day wrestling tournament that featured athletes from 10 high schools across three Florida counties. The host county had a 7.7% COVID-19 positivity rate when it hosted the event. The tournament on Dec. 4 and 5 was attended by 130 wrestlers, coaches and referees. Public health officials first learned on Dec. 7 that one of the athletes tested positive for the coronavirus. Ultimately, 54 of the 130 attendees agreed to be tested, and 38 cases of the virus were identified. Public health officials determined that those 38 patients had close contacts with 446 people, most of them at school.

— CORONA NATION —

Joe Biden administration seeks to buy 200 million more vaccine doses, to be delivered through the summer” via Isaac Stanley-Becker, Laurie McGinley and Christopher Rowland of The Washington Post — The Biden administration will seek to buy another 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. The purchases would increase available supply by 50%, bringing the total to 600 million doses by this summer. Because both vaccines are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to vaccinate 300 million people fully. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, though Pfizer and Moderna have initiated trials for children as young as 12, the results of which could expand the pool.

Joe Biden announces a major boost to the country’s supply of the COVID-19 vaccine. Image via AP.

U.S. surging vaccine to states amid complaints of shortages” via Jonathan Drew and Zeke Miller of The Associated Press — Answering growing frustration over vaccine shortages, Biden announced the U.S. is surging deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall. Biden, calling the push a “wartime effort,” said the administration was working to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. He acknowledged that states in recent weeks had been left guessing how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next. Shortages have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments.

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 drugmakers reported 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.

They lost sons to drug overdoses: How the pandemic may be fueling deaths of despair” via Scott Horsley of NPR — Ordinarily, a spike in unemployment doesn’t lead to a spike in overdose deaths. People who aren’t working often don’t have the money to buy drugs. But University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan says the COVID-19 recession is unusual. Federal relief payments put more money in people’s pockets last spring, just as many of the usual ways to spend it were closed off. “Vacations or eating out or anything group oriented — going to a sports game, concerts, bars. And that kind of left the sort of things that you do by yourself,” Mulligan said. “Taking opioids is something that people can do by themselves.”

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

The pandemic destroyed 225 million jobs worldwide, but billionaires got richer, reports find” via Jennifer Hassan of The Washington Post — At least 225 million full-time jobs disappeared worldwide last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report published Monday by the International Labor Organization, losses four times worse than those from the global financial crisis in 2009. But the ultrarich have seen their wealth soar. According to another report by the anti-poverty nonprofit group Oxfam, the combined wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has risen by more than $500 billion since the crisis began, enough to vaccinate the entire planet and then some, according to the organization.

Even in a pandemic, the rich get richer. Image via AP.

Cutting off stimulus checks to Americans earning over $75,000 could be wise, new data suggests” via Heather Long of The Associated Press — As Biden pushes for another round of stimulus payments for most Americans, calls are escalating to target the aid solely to low- and moderate-income families, and new data suggests that would provide the most needed and effective boost for the economy. Families earning under about $75,000 typically spend the money quickly, according to a new analysis of how Americans are using the $600 economic impact payments this month by Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit research organization. Families earning above that threshold typically save the stimulus payment, which provides little help to the overall economy and signals the money was not as urgently needed.

Rent collection is down, and apartment owners feel the squeeze” via Will Parker and Peter Grant of The Wall Street Journal — The apartment business has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than most of the real estate sector. That is starting to change. Owners of multifamily buildings are falling behind on loan payments. Banks view a greater number of rental loans as high risk, and fewer lenders are available to help struggling developers with financing. Eviction protections, lower rent collections and unprecedented declines in the asking rent in some urban markets are also taking their toll on apartment owners. Niche corners of the multifamily business that were popular with investors before the pandemic are now some of the worst off. Rating companies have downgraded bonds tied to senior-housing and student-housing properties.

Top bankers sound alarm that remote work is starting to grate” via Silla Brush and Francine Lacqua of Bloomberg — Senior bankers warn that working from home is at risk of not working anymore. “I don’t think it’s sustainable,” Barclays Plc Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s asset- and wealth-management boss, Mary Erdoes, agreed. In the corporate world, “if you ask anyone today, it feels like it is fraying, it’s hard, it takes a lot of inner strength and sustainability every single day to continue to focus and to not have the energy you get from being around other people,” she said. Staley said the “ultimate economic challenge” would be when enough workers return to employment to send inflation and interest rates higher, and “governments getting to borrow for free may not continue forever.”

— MORE CORONA —

What Fred Piccolo is reading — “CDC officials say most available evidence indicates schools can be safe if precautions are taken on campus and in the community.” via Roni Caryn Rabin of The New York Times — When to keep schools open, and how to do so, has been an issue plaguing the response by the United States to the pandemic since its beginning. Biden vowed to “teach our children in safe schools” in his inaugural address. On Tuesday, federal health officials weighed in with a call for returning children to the nation’s classrooms as soon as possible, saying the “preponderance of available evidence” indicates that in-person instruction can be carried out safely as long as mask-wearing and social distancing are maintained. But local officials also must be willing to impose limits on other settings to keep infection rates low in the community at large, researchers at the CDC wrote.

Schools can be safe from coronavirus, is the proper precautions are in place.

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.”

WHO officials: Olympic athletes should not receive COVID-19 vaccines before world’s most vulnerable populations” via Tom Schad of The USA Today — WHO officials indicated they do not believe Olympic athletes should receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly if it means cutting ahead of the world’s health care workers and elderly population. During a news conference at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, a reporter asked if athletes should be prioritized in any way, with a little less than six months until the Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin. The question followed recent comments from the president of France’s national Olympic committee, who said it would be “extremely difficult” for athletes who have not been vaccinated to compete.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Judge bars Biden from enforcing 100-day deportation ban” via The Associated Press — A federal judge barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of Biden. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations. Tipton said the Biden administration had failed “to provide any concrete, reasonable justification for a 100-day pause on deportations.” Tipton’s order is an early blow to the Biden administration, which has proposed far-reaching changes sought by immigration advocates, including a plan to legalize an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Biden’s climate-change policy targets oil industry” via Timothy Puko, Ken Thomas and Andrew Restuccia of The Wall Street Journal — The oil industry is emerging as a primary target of President Biden’s climate policy, setting the stage for a confrontation that could shape the future of the energy sector. The president is expected to issue an executive order Wednesday that would suspend new oil and gas leasing on federal land, people familiar with the matter say, in what is widely seen as a first step toward fulfilling Biden’s campaign pledge to stop drilling on federal lands and offshore. Drilling on federal lands accounts for roughly 9% of U.S. onshore production, but oil industry leaders see a curtailment on future development as a significant threat.

Biden wasting no time naming officials to reverse Donald Trump’s immigration policies” via Priscilla Alvarez of CNN — The Department of Homeland Security, largely hollowed out over the last four years, is moving with urgency to staff agencies with people who had front row seats to the hard-line immigration limits rolled out under Trump, to rescind them. The department was closely tied to Trump’s immigration actions and will continue to play a critical role in the coming months and years as those policies are reversed. Over recent days, the department has started to hire staff with extensive backgrounds in immigrant rights, immigration law and refugee resettlement.

Kamala Harris swears in Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary. Joe Biden is moving quickly to get his nominees in place. Image via AP.

All border wall construction projects must stop by Wednesday, contractors are told” via Sandra Sanchez and Julian Resendiz of EFLA — All border wall contractors have been notified that they must stop construction by Wednesday to comply with orders from the Biden administration, a South Texas lawmaker told Border Report. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, vice chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said he was informed that contractors had been told that they must wrap up all operations and stop construction on the border wall along the Southwest border with Mexico by Jan. 27. Although some activity may continue for safety reasons where it is necessary, analysts say. The stoppage complies with Biden’s executive orders that halted all border wall construction on the Southwest border with Mexico.

Biden orders end of federally run private prisons, says U.S. government must change ‘its whole approach’ to racial equity” via Aamer Madhani of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Biden ordered the Department of Justice to end its reliance on private prisons and acknowledge the central role government has played in implementing discriminatory housing policies. In remarks before signing the order, Biden said the U.S. government needs to change “its whole approach” on the issue of racial equity. He added that the nation is less prosperous and secure because of the scourge of systemic racism. “We must change now,” the President said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well.”

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Marco Rubio, Rick Scott vote to declare Trump’s second impeachment trial unconstitutional” via WFLA — Florida’s two Republican senators voted on Tuesday to declare President Trump’s historic second impeachment trial unconstitutional. The Senate rejected the Republican attempt to dismiss the impeachment trial, a vote that allows the case on “incitement of insurrection” to move forward but also foreshadows that there may not be enough votes to convict him. A total of 45 Republican senators, including Rubio and Scott voted to stop the trial. The procedural vote to set aside an objection from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and puts the Senate on record as declaring the proceedings constitutional and means the trial will begin as scheduled the week of Feb. 8. Paul argues that it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a former president.

Most Senate Republicans join Rand Paul effort to dismiss Trump’s 2nd impeachment trial” via Kadia Goba of Axios — Forty-five Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported an effort to dismiss Trump’s second impeachment trial. The vote serves as a precursor to how Senators will approach next month’s impeachment trial, making it highly unlikely the Senate will vote to convict. The House impeached Trump for a second time for “incitement of insurrection” following events from Jan 6. when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. Sen. Paul, a Kentucky Republican, raised a point of order to hold a vote on the impeachment trial’s constitutionality, now that Trump is out of office. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then asked for a vote to “table” the motion, thus killing Paul’s point of order.

Rand Paul is leading Senate Republicans in calling Donald Trump’s impeachment trial ‘unconstitutional.’

Ex-Trump conspiracy theory lawyer, Sidney Powell, creates PAC in Palm Beach Gardens” via Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post — Powell, the conspiracy-theorist lawyer who grabbed headlines for filing baseless lawsuits alleging election fraud in the November presidential election, has created a “super” PAC based in Palm Beach Gardens. Paperwork creating the PAC Restore the Republic was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 22 using the address of a UPS store on Northlake Boulevard. The treasurer is Jesse Binnall, an Alexandria, Virginia, based attorney who partnered with Powell in challenging the election. Powell and Binnall also represented Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser pardoned by then-President Trump after twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. In December, Trump reportedly considered naming Powell special counsel to investigate alleged election fraud.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Democrats turn to quick action on Biden COVID-19 relief bill after power-sharing deal in Senate” via Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post — Senate Majority Leader Schumer said the Senate could vote as soon as next week on a budget bill setting the stage for party-line passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan. “The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues but without them, if we must,” Schumer said. “Time is of the essence to address this crisis.” Schumer spoke at a news conference a day after McConnell signaled he would move forward with a power-sharing agreement governing operations of the 50-50 Senate.

ACA insurance marketplaces to reopen as pandemic has cost millions of Americans their coverage” via Amy Goldstein of The Washington Post — Biden is scheduled to take executive actions as early as Thursday to reopen federal marketplaces selling Affordable Care Act health plans and to lower recent barriers to joining Medicaid. The orders will be Biden’s first steps since taking office to help Americans gain health insurance, a prominent campaign goal that has assumed escalating significance as the pandemic has dramatized the need for affordable health care — and deprived millions of Americans coverage as they have lost jobs in the economic fallout. Under one order, HealthCare.gov, the online insurance marketplace for Americans who cannot get affordable coverage through their jobs, will swiftly reopen for at least a few months.

Sens. Marco Rubio, Rick Scott renew push to extend oil and gas moratorium in eastern Gulf” via the Northwest Florida Daily News — Florida’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Rubio and Scott, have reintroduced the Florida Shores Protection and Fairness Act in Congress, according to Friday afternoon announcements from their respective offices. The bill would extend the moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for 10 years beyond its currently scheduled expiration on June 30, 2022. The bill to extend the moratorium to 2032 would “help solidify the progress made by President Trump’s September 2020 executive actions to protect Florida’s shores,” according to the announcements from the two Senators’ offices. Trump’s executive order, which could be undone, extended the moratorium from its scheduled June 30, 2022 end to 2032.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio urge a continuation of the offshore drilling moratorium.

Manny Diaz slams Scott for downvoting Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination — U.S. Sen. Scott voted against advancing Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination to lead the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, earning him a reprimand from newly elected Florida Democratic Party Chair Diaz. Diaz said Scott “faced an easy decision,” but rather than vote in favor, he “again failed the ‘Country over Party’ test.” Diaz said the nay vote was doubly offensive since Mayorkas is “one of the most highly qualified Hispanics ever nominated to the Cabinet. As a Cuban-American, I will not forget his vote today, and neither will Floridians or Hispanics across our state.” Despite Scott’s vote, the nomination cleared the committee and now heads to the full chamber.

Matt Gaetz says his push to oust Liz Cheney is being encouraged by the Trump family” via The New York Times — One of Donald J. Trump’s closest allies in Congress, Gaetz said the Trump family has given him “nothing but encouragement” in his effort to oust Rep. Cheney from her leadership post with House Republicans. But Gaetz added that he had not spoken to the former President in almost a week, and did not know whether Trump would get personally involved. At the moment, the Florida congressman does not have the backing of Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, who said over the weekend that he still supported Cheney but had “concerns” about her decision to vote to impeach Trump.

— CRISIS — 

Capitol Police chief apologizes for failing to prepare for US Capitol riot” via Nomaan Merchant and Mary Clare Jalonick of Fox 5 DC — The interim chief of the Capitol Police apologized Tuesday for failing to prepare for what became a violent insurrection despite having warnings that white supremacists and far-right groups would target Congress. Yogananda Pittman, in prepared testimony before Congress, said that the Capitol Police “failed to meet its own high standards as well as yours.” She listed several missteps: not having enough manpower or supplies on hand, not following through with a lockdown order she issued during the siege and not having a sufficient communications plan for a crisis. “We knew that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would be attending,” Pittman wrote.

Proud Boys under growing scrutiny in Capitol Riot investigationvia Alan Feuer and Frances Robles of The New York Times — The leadership of the Proud Boys has come under increased scrutiny as agents and prosecutors across the country try to determine how closely members of the far-right nationalist group communicated during the riot at the Capitol this month and to what extent they might have planned the assault in advance. At least six members of the organization have been charged in connection with the riot, including one of its top-ranking leaders, Joseph Biggs, an Army veteran who led about 100 men on an angry march from the site of President Donald Trump’s speech toward — and then into — the Capitol building.

From Navy SEAL to part of the angry mob outside the Capitol” via Dave Philipps of The New York Times — In the weeks since Adam Newbold, a former member of the Navy SEALs, was identified as part of the enraged crowd that descended on The Capitol on Jan. 6. Against all evidence that the presidential election was stolen and people like him were right to rise up. It is surprising because Newbold’s background would seem to armor him better than most against the lure of baseless conspiracy theories. In the Navy, he was trained as an expert in sorting information from disinformation. Newbold bought into the fabricated theory that the election was rigged by a shadowy cabal of liberal power brokers who had pushed the nation to the precipice of civil war. No one could persuade him otherwise.

Adam Newbold took an unusual path from Navy SEAL to Capitol rioter.

Middleburg man and woman charged in U.S. Capitol siege” via Dan Scanlan and Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — A couple faced a federal magistrate Tuesday after being charged with two misdemeanors for their roles in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Rachael Lynn Pert, 40, and Dana Joe Winn, 45, could each face up to 18 months behind bars and fines totaling $105,000 if they’re convicted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor told the pair. They were identified by a tipster who worked with Pert at a Middleburg Circle K store and recognized her and Winn in a photo from inside the Capitol that was circulated by Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department.

D.C. National Guard deployment extended through end of March” via Natasha Bertrand, Lara Seligman and Andrew Desiderio of POLITICO — The deployment for the entire D.C. According to a memo, National Guard has been extended until March 31 in anticipation of “civil disturbance” throughout the nation’s capital. A National Guard spokesperson confirmed the extended deployment. The memo, signed by D.C. National Guard chief Maj. Gen. William Walker and dated Jan. 25, orders troops to remain on duty at least through the end of March “in continued support of District and Federal civil authorities during anticipated First Amendment demonstrations and Civil Disturbance in the District of Columbia.” The new orders suggest that law enforcement agencies in the nation’s capital are preparing for potential unrest in the coming days and weeks, as Trump’s impeachment trial kicks off and his supporters issue threats to lawmakers.

Coexistence is the only option” via Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic — Not all Republicans are seditionists, nor is everyone who voted for Trump, nor is every conservative: Nothing about rejecting your country’s political system is conservative. Still, those who do hold these views are quite numerous. In December, 34% of Americans said they did not trust the outcome of the 2020 election. More recently, 21% said that they either strongly support or somewhat support the storming of the Capitol building. As of this week, 32% were still telling pollsters that Biden was not the legitimate winner.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Casselberry residents again demand Mark Busch resign following comments at pro-Trump rally” via Martin E. Comas of The Orlando Sentinel — More than a dozen residents spoke out at a Casselberry Commission meeting on Monday, some in support of Commissioner Busch and others demanding that he resign for making comments at a local Trump rally the day before The Capitol riots that seemed to support the violent uprising. But in the end, Busch will remain as City Commissioner and Vice Mayor. He did, however, agree to step down from two city boards. Many residents said Busch’s actions as a Commissioner created a stain on their city’s image. Emily Orey called Busch’s “dangerous actions and words” at that rally “an embarrassment to the city” because he was elected to represent all residents.

Casselberry City Commissioner Mark Busch angered several residents with pro-Trump rhetoric a day before The Capitol riots. Image via News 13.

This is crazyManatee County Commissioner George Kruse reveals affair, accuses Commissioner of blackmail” via Carlos R. Munoz of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Kruse opened up about an extramarital affair at a public meeting Tuesday, over fears he could be blackmailed, as the Commissioners voted to pursue firing County Administrator Cheri Coryea a second time. Toward the end of a two-hour-long meeting discussing Sunshine Law concerns, Kruse decided to clear the air about his extramarital relationship to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and because Commissioner Carol Whitmore had photos of him and the person with whom he was involved. Kruse said he made the statement to move forward and apologized for the nature of a meeting held last Friday with Whitmore that raised Sunshine Law concerns.

Interstate 4 lawsuit details heavy losses, alleged misconduct, builder discord” via Kevin Spear of The Orlando Sentinel — Marked by deaths, delays and driver angst, the massive reconstruction of Interstate 4 also is at a financial abyss, according to a claim by one of the nation’s biggest road builders that it tried to bail out of the job to cut staggering losses but was blocked by the misconduct of the company in charge. A federal suit in Orlando filed by Lane Construction Corp. alleges that the lead contractor, Skanska USA Civil Southeast, has bumbled financial management of the 21 miles of construction and violated fiduciary responsibilities to the determent of partners. The Lane lawsuit bolsters details of the I-4 overhaul under increasing and intense financial distress, with construction partners at sharp odds with each over a financial plunge that, the suit asserts, will continue.

Moffitt unveils plans for massive Pasco County research and innovation campus” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Moffitt Cancer Center has unveiled the first phase of its campus that will transform part of a major mixed-use development in Pasco County into a massive research and corporate hub. The entire campus will include over 1.4 million square feet of research lab/office, light industrial/manufacturing, general office and clinical building space within the 775-acre site, which Moffitt closed on last year. “This project is truly a game-changer; words cannot fully express the magnitude of this project,” Pasco County EDC CEO and President Bill Cronin said during the Pasco County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday when the plans were revealed.

— TOP OPINION —

‘Unity’ is not what America needs right now” via Syreeta McFadden of The Atlantic — Much has been made of the word “unity” in the past year. After the Capitol attack on January 6, many Republican legislators called for unity, responding to the righteous ire from their fellow lawmakers who demanded investigations, arrests, and impeachment. The unity theme was also a main pillar of the Biden-Kamala Harris campaign, messaging intended to implore the nation to fight for a new future. Unity, for some, is pure sentiment. A quick, uncomplicated cure-all that is achieved merely by being summoned. However, for others, unity calls for hard work and accountability, or it risks granting unearned forgiveness for harmful transgressions, papering over deep injustices.

— OPINIONS —

The Trump era’s depredations are still emerging” via The Washington Post Editorial Board — It may be a long time before all the depredations of the Trump era are known. Two days after former President Trump left office, The New York Times reported that in his final weeks, he plotted to remove the acting Attorney General and replace him with a Justice Department official willing to promote Mr. Trump’s false election fraud claims — and to use the power of the federal law enforcement agency to act on them. The episode, which occurred between December and early January, shows that Mr. Trump pushed the nation even closer to an extreme crisis than we already knew.

Trump impeachment 2.0 is as flawed as the first” via John R. Bolton in National Review — I have nothing good to say about Trump’s meretricious argument that Biden stole the 2020 election; or Trump’s trying to steal it for himself by frivolous if not fraudulent litigation and administrative proceedings and intimidating elected officials at all government levels; or his inciting violence on Jan. 6 to preclude Congress from fulfilling its duty to certify the Electoral College vote; or Trump’s sundry efforts to convert the Justice Department into his personal law firm (including trying to suppress my recent book, on the pretext that it contained classified information, which it did not). Nonetheless, like Impeachment 1.0, the 2021 edition is badly conceived, poorly executed, and likely to produce precisely what the first round did.

The impostor behind the curtain is gone, but Republicans are still lost in the land of Oz” via Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald — What is it going to take? For years, that question has weighed upon the rest of us — and even some of its own members — as we watched the Republican Party slide ever deeper into a morass of political extremism, screwball conspiracies, alternate facts and ambient rage incompatible with responsible governance. Every time Republicans obfuscated, equivocated and rationalized, every time they broke rules they once swore to uphold, every time they folded, spindled and mutilated values they once claimed as sacred, the question presented itself anew. What’s it going to take to shock this party back to itself? Mind you, we’ve learned a great deal about what will not do it. Public censure won’t. Logic won’t.

My dad has dementia. Stop hurling it like a political insult” via Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel — My father was a brilliant lawyer and volunteer swim coach who won his way into the North Carolina high school hall of fame. Today he is practically immobile and can barely speak. “Only ignorant people use the term dementia as an insult.” Those are the words of Edith Gendron, operations chief for Central Florida’s Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps families struggling down a dark and scary path. Gendron said that using a disorder as an insult is “reprehensible” behavior that feeds into a stigma that prevents some people from seeking a professional diagnosis and even “from sharing their fears with family members until it is too late to be of real help.”

Where Florida ranks in inoculating its residents against COVID-19” via The Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Depending on who’s talking, Florida is either a leader or a laggard in inoculating residents against COVID-19. And it’s possible to find data to back up either claim. Florida, for instance, doesn’t look so good compared to Alaska and West Virginia, which lead the nation in the percentage of residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. But Florida has administered more of its available vaccine than Pennsylvania, Arizona and about 20 other states. Two data points, two different conclusions. Many Floridians trying to get a shot have described the system as slow, frustrating and “absolute chaos.”

Florida’s nursing home lobbyists sink to a new low” via Michael Brevda in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A bill that has already passed its first committee hearings in the Florida House and Senate (HB 7 and SB 72) would protect businesses from lawsuits over coronavirus infections. However, some businesses are, rightfully, not covered by this proposed law. That includes health care providers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Under this bill, nursing homes and ALFs are not afforded immunity if they negligently infect residents, harm or even kill them. And yet, Florida’s Republican majority has promised to deliver an immunity bill for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Why? Why give nursing homes immunity when they’ve handled the COVID-19 pandemic so poorly?

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

— After being dissed by the White House over his complaints about vaccine shortages, Gov. DeSantis flip-flops. Instead of getting the greatest number of shots in arms, DeSantis says the state is now withholding COVID-19 vaccines to ensure seniors and health care workers can get a second dose.

— That announcement is a response to Biden’s press secretary, who said Florida had used only half the vaccines provided by the federal government.

— Two Republican lawmakers, furious that Trump was banished from Twitter, filed bills to punish the tech giants … claiming conservatives are being censored.

— The bill targets Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet … and China.

— The Senate Criminal Justice Committee votes to close a loophole in the sex offender registry law that allowed a convicted child molester to stay off the list by simply refusing to pay his court fine.

— And finally, a Florida Man named paramedic of the year in 2020 is charged with helping his boss steal the COVID-19 vaccine.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

What Frank Mayernick is reading — “‘Tenet’ is destined to become a cult movie” via Keith Phipps of The Ringer — Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” was supposed to save movie theaters. It didn’t. As a trial balloon to determine whether moviegoers would return to theaters to see big movies in the middle of a pandemic, Tenet fell to earth not long after its much-rescheduled North American release on September 3. Tenet’s financial struggles and role as a pandemic bellwether might have been the whole of its story. Tenet now strangely seems well-positioned for a resurgence as a cult movie.

Tenet may not have saved movie theaters, but it might achieve cult status. Image via AP.

Disney: Masks required at Blizzard Beach but not in the water” via Dewayne Bevil of The Orlando Sentinel — When Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park reopens, visitors will be required to wear face coverings while in some areas, but not when they’re in the water. “Face coverings will be required in designated areas for each guest age 2 and up, including but not limited to the park entrance and exit, retail areas, and food and beverage ordering areas,” the official Disney World website says on a page for experience updates. “Face coverings will not be permitted while experiencing waterslides or in the water.” There will also be reduced capacity, temperature screenings and physical distancing markings at the attraction, scheduled to reopen on March 7. Unlike Disney World’s theme parks, reservations are not required to visit Blizzard Beach at this time.

Think Americans wouldn’t wager on Russian table tennis? Care to bet?” via Andrew Keh of The New York Times — They play the matches in quiet, sparsely decorated rooms in Moscow, in tournaments that run every day and at all hours, with a hodgepodge of athletes who vary drastically in age and, in many cases, actual athleticism. And every month millions of dollars are wagered on their every move. This is the Russian Liga Pro, an obscure, semiprofessional table tennis competition that has over the past 10 months become the unlikeliest of sports betting phenomena in the US. The improbable arrival of Russian table tennis on the betting scene was swift and opportune. It came in the early days of the pandemic, when dedicated gamblers were scavenging a denuded sports landscape for something to put a bit of money on.

— SUPER BOWLING —

Air Force flyover scheduled for Tampa’s Super Bowl” via Ileana Najarro of The Tampa Bay Times — Look to the Tampa sky during the national anthem performance at the 55th Super Bowl on Feb. 7 to see a first-of-its-kind flyover of three different Air Force bombers. The B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, the B-2 Spirit from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and the B-52 Stratofortress from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota will fly over Raymond James Stadium, demonstrating their flexibility and ability to deploy from anywhere in the world from the continental United States, according to an Air Force press release. “Supporting this event is a tremendous honor for our command and the U.S. Air Force,” said Gen. Tim Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command in a statement.

KN95 masks will be handed out to everybody at Super Bowl LV” via Andrew Krietz of WTSP — Face coverings will be required at Super Bowl LV given ongoing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, and the NFL is making sure no fan will be left without a mask. The league recently announced that every fan would receive a KN95 mask upon entering the stadium. Staff members at Raymond James Stadium will get them too. COVID-19 spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets, and a mask over the nose and mouth provides a barrier from viral particles reaching another person. Fans and employees need to wear a mask unless actively eating or drinking, the NFL said. Vented face masks and face shields that don’t cover the nose or mouth aren’t allowed.

Everyone at Super Bowl LV gets an N95 mask. Image via AP.

Southwest, American add Kansas City-Tampa direct flights for Super Bowl” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — Pandemic or not, Kansas City Chiefs fans are coming to Tampa for the Super Bowl against the Buccaneers. And airlines are working overtime to help them get there. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have added flights between Kansas City International Airport and Tampa International Airport in the days before and after Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium. Southwest, Tampa International’s largest carrier, has added two direct flights from Kansas City on Feb. 4 and three on Feb. 5. There will be three direct flights from Tampa back to Kansas City on Feb. 8 and one more on Feb. 9.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is our dear friend Laura Boehmer of The Southern Group as well as smart guy Doug Bell of Metz Husband & Daughton, Bryan EastmanCory Guzzo of Floridian Partners, and Deno Hicks.

___

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.



#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704