Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.28.21

Sunburn Orange Tally (2)
Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit is here.

The event promises in-depth analysis of where the state economy stands, how various job sectors are faring in the recovery, and a detailed outlook on what’s to come.

The summit will culminate with the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Official 2021 Outlook, produced by Jerry Parrish, Ph.D., the Chamber’s chief economist, but the agenda is jam-packed with prominent economists, state agency heads, industry leaders and elected officials.

Jimmy Patronis and Dane Eagle will be featured guests at the Florida Chamber Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit.

It kicks off at 1 p.m. with an address from Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson, followed by CFO Jimmy Patronis, who will give an overview of Florida’s budget. Mark Vitner, the senior economist at Wells Fargo, will be on hand to provide national and global context and an outside view on Florida’s economy.

Department of Economic Opportunity Director Dane Eagle will moderate a panel discussion titled “Diversifying and Growing Florida’s Economy Panel.” It features Enterprise Florida President & CEO Jamal Sowell, Florida Power & Light Company senior director of economic development Crystal Stiles and Duke Energy economic director Marc Hoenstine.

The back half of the summit will see Florida Realtors economist Brad O’Connor brief viewers on Florida’s real estate market while PNC Capital Advisors VP John Coates will examine recovery progress for the state’s major international trading partners.

Registration information and a full agenda are available on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s website.

___

The state faces an estimated $2.75 billion shortfall, and Thursday brings a first look at what Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to cut to balance the budget.

When DeSantis’ budget recommendation drops, lawmakers and the public will have a few days to read it over before it gets a deep dive in the Legislature — the recommendation’s release was foreshadowed in the Senate schedule for next week, which lists the full appropriations committee and five subcommittees as mulling it over.

No matter what budget silos get cut, it’ll likely sting.

And the avenues to prevent those cuts would likely be just as painful — the Legislature may close some of the gap by raising college tuition, or by requiring online retailers to collect sales tax on purchases rather than sticking to the current “honor system.”

If Congress passes a new COVID-19 relief package, it’s possible the Governor’s recommendation could be slimmer than the final budget, but there’s no guarantee that’s in the cards.

___

Speaking of the Governor’s Office, we’re sure most of you saw this tweet:

FWIW, we hear DCF Secretary Chad Poppell is a leading candidate to succeed Strum if and when he exits, but we also hear he’s headed for the private sector. With that in mind, we’re keeping our eyes on Stephanie Kopelousos.

___

It’s kind of funny that Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer holds a seat on the Health Policy Committee. Or at least it would be if it weren’t sad.

Think about it.

Democrats are limping into Session with fewer members thanks to his lackluster performance in the 2020 cycle. If that weren’t bad enough, his caucus was left out to dry Wednesday because he violated the chamber’s health policy … pun very much intended.

Of course, Farmer had to no-show when the committee met Wednesday because he is quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19. The positive contact? A woman he brought to the Senate Office Building in violation of chamber rules.

This stuff writes itself: Senate Health Policy Committee member Gary Farmer missed the most recent meeting — for violating Senate health rules. 

The wildly irresponsible didn’t just affect his own health, but the entire Senate’s — just ask Sen. Janet Cruz, who was also forced to take an excused absence Wednesday.

As a result, both missed an important vote on the not-so-important “baby box” bill.

Sens. Lauren Book and Shev Jones did their best to hold the line, but they couldn’t stop the controversial vendor-driven legislation from marching forward with a party-line vote.

Yes, the bill would have passed even if Farmer and Cruz were there. And, though it’s eye-roll inducing, allowing fire stations to drop five figures on a night drop for unwanted infants isn’t the end of the world.

But consider this a preview of things to come. Farmer’s election fumble already cost Democrats a Senate seat. It’s looking like his poor judgment could be even more costly.

___

Good news about a great person — Merritt Martin will be joining Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Patrick Hwu’s office as his new Chief of Staff, starting Feb. 8.

Martin, a familiar face to many in the Florida Capitol, has worked for Moffitt Cancer Center since 2008.

Most recently, Martin served as the Director of Public Affairs in the government relations department. There, she advocated for the cancer center and its work before the Florida Legislature, the Governor, the Cabinet, and local government offices.

Congratulations to Merritt Martin, the new chief of staff for Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Patrick Hwu.

Organizations across Tampa Bay have recognized the incoming Chief of Staff for her achievements.

Martin was named a Young Professional of the Year by the Tampa Bay Business Journal and listed in Business Observer’s “40 under 40” rankings. She was also named a Tampa Bay “Up and Comer” and “Business Women on the Year” in 2018.

Martin received her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Public Administration from the University of South Florida, where she also serves on the Foundation Board. Martin is also the former chair of the university’s alumni board of directors.

She is a graduate of Leadership Tampa, Leadership Florida and Moffitt’s Leadership Academy.

___

Personnel note: Davis Bean promoted at The Fiorentino Group — Lobbying firm The Fiorentino Group announced Wednesday that Bean has been promoted to principal at their Jacksonville office. As principal, Bean will be tasked with using his legislative affairs and policy development skills to help the firm’s lobbying clients. The Jax-based firm led by Marty Fiorentino represents numerous statewide interests, though Northeast Florida clients are their forte.

___

🗳How St. Pete’s liberal shift from 2016 to 2020 could spell doom for the local GOP: Hillary Clinton dominated among St. Pete voters with a more than 24 point margin over former President Donald Trump. Four years later, now-President Joe Biden grew that margin to 26. He did so by making gains among affluent White voters but lost ground among Black voters. A side-by-side comparison between trends in both presidential races offers insight to current candidates for St. Pete Mayor on where, and how, they should be focusing resources. But it also suggests the days are long gone for a conservative Mayor in St. Pete. Read my full analysis here.

📰Must read in which Mac Stipanovich contemplates bad laws: As lawmakers ramrod through a bill to crack down on raucous protests, Stipanovich eloquently points out the fallacies in their actions. While he notes some admirable parts of the proposed HB 1, it’s also legislation reacting to political landscape more than political prudence. He compares the proposed law to previous successful efforts to ban sanctuary cities, of which Stipanovich points out there were none, in a politicized move that was largely in response to then-President-Trump various protestations on the matter. Even if you disagree, it’s a compelling read. Check it out here.

🦠 — What certain lawmakers should be reading: Georgia might have just gone blue, but that doesn’t mean the whole state embraces moderation. According to The Washington Post, an unnamed Republican lawmaker in the Georgia House of Representatives was asked to discreetly remove himself from the room after refusing to take a COVID-19 test. Speaker David Ralston, also a Republican, then named the individual, Rep. David Clark, and had him removed from the chamber by a state trooper. Ralston said Clark was “jeopardizing the health of our members in this chamber.”

👍It might cost us, but we’re OK with that: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday the social media platform is extending its policy of not recommending users join political and civic groups, a policy it enacted temporarily ahead of the 2020 elections. The move is an effort to dial back political content on the platform, a response to users who have felt bombarded by vitriolic political commentary amid a divided nation. The company also plans to reduce the amount of political content in users’ news feeds, though plans on how to accomplish that were not immediately shared. While this is a potential revenue pitfall for media companies, Florida Politics welcomes the policy shift in hopes of uniting divided Americans.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Deggans: Trump running the House GOP from Florida. If Mitch [McConnell] wants to sideline him, he’s going to have to get his hands dirty impeachment-wise, I think.

@DFriedman33: Gaetz asks “Patriots” to assemble to “STOP RINOs like Liz Cheney.” That reads ominously after 1/6.

@LMower3: I’m listening to Florida state agencies propose cutting hundreds of employees and millions from their budgets next year. Not a single one has proposed saving millions by allowing employees to work from home.

@MDixon55: Tornado warning + fire alarm in Florida Capitol today.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 10; Daytona 500 — 17; ‘Nomadland’ with Frances McDormand — 23; The CW’s ‘Superman & Lois’ premieres — 26; the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference begins — 28; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 33; ‘Coming 2 America’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 37; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres — 43; 2021 Grammys — 45; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 57; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 64; Children’s Gasparilla — 72; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 79; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 99; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 155; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 164; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 178; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 184; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 208; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 232; ‘Dune’ premieres — 247; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 278; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 281; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 315; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 323; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 421; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 463; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 617.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

‘We may have dodged a bullet’: A blow-by-blow account as tornado touches down in Tallahassee” via Jeff Burlew, Karl Etters and James Call of The Tallahassee Democrat — A tornado swept across southern Tallahassee on Tuesday, flipping over a small plane and knocking down trees at Tallahassee International Airport and causing minor damage elsewhere but sparing the city from any widespread wreckage. Two people were killed and another injured in a car crash on Interstate 10 in Leon County shortly before noon, around the same time tornado warnings went out. Mayor John Dailey said the crash appeared to be weather-related, though it was unclear whether it was caused by the tornado. Torrential rain closed parts of I-10 for a couple of hours.

Personnel note: Governor’s office announces trio of promotions” via Florida Politics — On Wednesday, the Governor’s Office announced a slate of senior staff changes. The shake-up includes making Chris Spencer the permanent Director of Policy and Budget. Spencer has held that job for some time but has been thus far been the “acting” director. Spencer has been a part of the DeSantis administration since day one. Before accepting a job in the Executive Office of the Governor, Spencer worked as a lobbyist with the GrayRobinson firm. The office also announced Beau Beaubien and Anna DeCerchio had both been promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff.

Congrats also to Chris Spencer, who gets bumped up to permanent Director of Policy and Budget.

Following Inspector General report, Senators want to solve excessive pay problems” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Senators are weighing how they should address excessive compensation among the state’s private sector partners. Late Monday, Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel released her preliminary findings on more than 800 organizations contracted with state agencies, including at least 12 that gave their leadership teams excessive compensation using government funds. That investigation stems from revelations that one state partnered organization’s former CEO received $7.5 million in compensation over three years, largely from government dollars. Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Chair Book told Florida Politics she is beginning to look at how to ratchet back compensation in excess of what state law allows.

Citrus Health Network pushes back against Inspector General preliminary report” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — An Office of Inspector General report on organizations under contract with the Department of Children and Families alleges widespread misuse of state funds, but it appears the report is half-baked. DeSantis ordered the OIG investigation in February after it was uncovered that the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence paid ex-CEO Tiffany Carr more than $7 million over a three-year span. The new report, released late Monday, indicates as many as nine DCF-contracted nonprofits are paying top executives more than the state allows. The limit is currently set at 150% of the DCF Secretary’s annual salary.

— “Citrus Health denies it’s violating compensation law; state says probe continues” via Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald 

— “Florida nonprofits pushing back after state report says executives are overpaid” via Jeffrey Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat

Ariana Grande among critics of Florida GOP’s anti-protest bill” via Ana Ceballos of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau — DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders are prioritizing a bill that seeks to clamp down on riots and violent protests, but the measure is quickly drawing heavy criticism from public defenders, local governments, some conservatives within the GOP and even pop superstar Grande. HB 1 cleared the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee along party lines on Wednesday. The proposal, among many things, would create tougher penalties for crimes that already exist simply because a person was part of a crowd, take a more aggressive approach to budgeting local police departments and create new criminal statutes against “mob intimidation” and cyber-harassment.

Lawmakers eye school funding amid Florida’s K-12 enrollment ‘disaster” via Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO — Thousands of missing students across Florida have made school funding a tempting target for state legislators grappling with a multibillion-dollar budget gap. Schools are currently receiving full funding from the Legislature regardless of their enrollment numbers, but state Rep. Randy Fine, the education budget chief in the Florida House, warned on Wednesday that may not hold true next year. With enrollment down more than 88,000 students for 2020-21 in the state’s latest projections, Fine said fully funding schools that see fewer students in the future would set a “dangerous precedent.”

Exceptions eyed as minimum wage increases” via News Service of Florida — Less than three months after voters approved a constitutional amendment to raise Florida’s minimum wage, Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a proposal that could lead to exceptions for some workers. If approved, the proposal would allow the Legislature to provide a reduced minimum wage for workers under age 21, for workers convicted of felonies, for state prisoners, and for “other hard-to-hire employees.” If passed, it would need voter approval in 2022 because it would change the state Constitution.

Manny Díaz resolution rejecting ‘Democratic Socialism’ passes panel, sans Democratic support” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A Senate panel has given the first OK to a resolution denouncing democratic socialism and reaffirming liberty and democracy as “true American values.” By a 4-2 party-line vote Wednesday, the Senate Accountability and Oversight Committee advanced Republican Sen. Díaz‘s resolution, which Democrats said paints progressive policies as communistic and anti-democratic. On its way to declaring “that democratic socialism is denounced in favor of the true American values of individual liberty and democracy,” the resolution touts the rule of law, liberty, capitalism and the United States’ economic prowess.

Baby box bill matures, advances past first committee with good looks for its second” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A bill allowing hospitals and other infant surrender sites to install “baby boxes” looks more viable than it did in 2020. The Senate Health Policy Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to advance Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley‘s proposal to its second of three committee stops, nearly a year after it first approved the language. Last Session, it stalled in the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, chaired by Book. Book still chairs that committee, but Baxley’s bill will instead make its second stop in the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee despite no substantive changes from last year’s proposal.

Florida could soon see more ‘baby boxes.’

Legislation from Tina Polsky, Kristen Arrington seeks to weed out third-party spoilers” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Democratic lawmakers are backing legislation aimed at cutting down on third-party spoiler candidates after former Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez lost his seat last November. Sen. Polsky and Rep. Arrington are behind the new bills. The legislation would require nonparty affiliated candidates to sign an oath stating they were not recently members of another political party. For state Senate and House races, the 2022 qualifying period begins June 13, 2022. That means an NPA candidate would need to sign an oath stating they did not belong to another political party for at least a year before that date.

Union deductions bill sparks fight” via Jim Saunders of News Service of Florida — A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that could lead to a battle during the upcoming Legislative Session about unions that represent teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers and other public employees. The bill (SB 78), sponsored by GOP Sen. Ray Rodrigues, would affect the process of deducting union dues from employee paychecks. Rodrigues said it is about “the deduction of pay of public employees and whether that deduction should occur before the employee has expressly authorized it.” But Democratic lawmakers and union representatives criticized the proposal, saying the additional requirements are not necessary and are an attempt to make it harder to join unions.

Bill targets local regulation of energy projects” via News Service of Florida — A proposal filed Wednesday by Sen. Travis Hutson would prevent local governments from regulating the construction of a wide range of energy-related projects involving electricity and such things as natural gas and petroleum. The bill (SB 856) — known as a “preemption” bill — would prevent local governments from passing ordinances or regulations that could prevent or restrict the “construction of new or the expansion, upgrading, or repair of existing energy infrastructure.”

Jackpot: Joe Gruters wants bigger payouts for Florida bingo players” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The winnings for bingo could soon grow bigger in Florida. Sen. Gruters filed legislation Tuesday to hike the cap on instant bingo prizes. The bill would also establish regulations for electronic bingo cards in Florida. As far as winnings go, Florida statute now allows for authorized bingo games with no more than 4,000 instant bingo tickets, with the predetermined prize payout being at least 65% of the total receipts. So if a full 4,000 tickets were sold for $1 apiece, the payout would typically be $2,600 for the winner. Gruters’ bill would hike the cap on tickets to 25,000. That means the payout if that many tickets were sold for $1 would be at least $16,250.

Anna Eskamani targets Universal Orlando tax break” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Democratic Rep. Eskamani wants to end corporate tax breaks that were intended to help blighted communities but instead have been used by at least one huge company, Universal Orlando. The Orlando representative, whose district does not include Universal Orlando’s property, has filed a bill that would do away with Florida’s Urban High-Crime Area Job Tax Credit Program, a tax break created more than 20 years ago. Her House Bill 6043 follows news reporting, notably by the Orlando Sentinel last fall, that focused on how Universal Orlando has been the biggest beneficiary of the program, taking $17.4 million of the $34.8 million in tax breaks the state-approved in the program since 1998.

—“Nick DiCeglie requests $750,000 for Florida Holocaust Museum” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics

Toby Overdorf bill would allow frozen and mixed-alcohol drinks to-go” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rep. Overdorf, a Palm City Republican, is sponsoring legislation allowing establishments with an alcohol license to sell mixed drinks and frozen cocktails containing alcohol to-go. State rules barred that practice before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the outbreak, state officials made a temporary change. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, in partnership with DeSantis, revised a rule to allow establishments to offer alcoholic drinks. State officials eventually expanded that authority, permitting mixed drinks as well. But those regulations are not yet enshrined in state law. The temporary allowance would end when the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency ends. Overdorf’s bill would change that.

Bottoms up: Toby Overdorf wants you to get your drink to-go.

Bipartisan legislation would create specialty license plate benefiting state parks” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Florida lawmakers have introduced legislation to create a specialty license plate to generate funds for the Florida State Parks Foundation. The foundation works on preservation, education and volunteer initiatives to sustain the 175 state parks located throughout Florida. The organization began in 1993 as Friends of Florida State Parks. Volunteers donate more than a million hours each year helping the group. Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley introduced the Senate version of the license plate bill. Democratic Rep. Allison Tant is carrying the House version, making the bill a bipartisan effort. “Florida’s state parks are a treasure that need to be protected for future generations, but this will require significant and ongoing funding,” Baxley said Wednesday.

This advisory popped at 4:56 a.m. — “Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Chris Sprowls will hold a virtual press conference on Thursday, January 28, 2021, to announce a key partnership aimed at improving literacy among Florida students and unveil a separate piece of legislation during Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!  Speaker Sprowls will be joined by Florida House colleagues and representatives from a major education technology company.” The virtual presser begins at noon.

Legislative committee meetings:

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee meets to examine Department of Revenue tax “concepts,” 9 a.m., 110 Senate Office Building.

The Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response meets for an update from the state Division of Emergency Management and the Florida National Guard, 11:30 a.m., 412 Knott Building.

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee meets to workshop on proposals for the state Administrative Procedure Act, 2 p.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building.

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee meet for updates from the Office of the Auditor-General and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, 2 p.m., 412 Knott Building.

— STATEWIDE —

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program disputes findings in state review” via Christopher O’Donnell of The Tampa Bay Times — Leaders of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem Program are questioning some of the findings of a recent state report that found the program added almost 140 employees over the past four years but served 10% fewer children. The review, conducted by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, also found that one-third of kids had no guardian ad litem advocating for their interests, violating state law. It also reported that Florida’s model of trained volunteers serving as guardians ad litem has shown mixed results in studies and falls short of the recommendation of national children’s law experts, including the American Bar Association, that attorneys fulfill that role.

Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program pushes back on accusations of excess.

A killing, then a cover-up? How three Florida prison guards got their stories straight” via Christina Saint Louis of The Miami Herald — When Lake Correctional Institution inmate Christopher Howell suffered fatal injuries in his cell last year, slammed into a wall by corrections officer Michael Riley, it was yet another reminder of the institutionalized violence that festers in Florida’s prison system. And as details of the incident emerge, another problem has been brought into sharp focus: How corrections officers back up each other’s stories when inmates are brutalized outside the view of surveillance cameras. Three officers’ accounts of what happened at the critical moment match, nearly word for word. The resemblance is no coincidence. Officer Kevin Gonzalez Delgado admitted to FDLE investigators that both he and another officer copied the text of Riley’s report rather than write their own.

Appointed — Dr. Anup Patel, Tina Pike, Tobias Roche and Jeremy Wehby to the Florida State Boxing Commission; Beth Smith and Angel de la Portilla to the Valencia College District Board of Trustees; John Horne to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees and John Horne to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Joe Biden COVID team releases ‘previously hidden’ Florida report” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — The new White House COVID-19 team released its first “previously hidden” state profiles Wednesday, showing Florida’s coronavirus infection rate fell 19% last week, but deaths continued to climb. The state profiles were previously shared by the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force only with state officials, and most states, including Florida, never released them to the public. The Orlando Sentinel had to file a lawsuit against DeSantis in December to force the information’s disclosure. The reports’ authors said the move is part of an effort to “develop a shared understanding of the current status of the pandemic” across national, state and local levels.

Joe Biden spills the beans on Florida’s COVID-19 numbers. Image via AP. 

Florida to receive increase in COVID vaccines next week” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The state will receive 307,000 doses next week, up from 266,000 this week, DeSantis said at a news conference in Sun City Center, a community south of Tampa, where he presided over the opening of a new vaccination site. The increase will not be enough to end the frustrations of seniors competing for a limited number of shots through constant attempts to get through phone systems or access webpages, but DeSantis said it would help. “That’s not going to be a big difference in terms of like, ‘Oh, this is a game-changer,’ but it is helpful,” he said. “We’re going to put it to use.”

Gov. DeSantis: COVID-19 vaccine backlog will quickly drop as more people get second shot” via Steven Lemongello and Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Thousands of Floridians will soon receive their booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine, which will quickly whittle away at the 1.3 million doses the state has in storage, DeSantis said Wednesday. “You’re going to start to see [50,000 to] 60,000 second doses a day very soon, and that’s very important,” DeSantis said. Florida has used only about 1.7 million of the 3 million doses it received from the federal government, which has led to sparring between DeSantis and the Biden White House this week. The Governor called White House press secretary Jen Psaki “disingenuous” and said the majority of unused doses are being held for second shots for seniors.

Ron DeSantis says with more second doses, the state’s vaccine backlog will drop. Image via Tallahassee Democrat.

Lawmakers voice frustrations after Florida Surgeon General takes no questions at subcommittee” via Jaso Delgado of Florida Politics — Florida’s top health official appeared briefly before a House subcommittee on Tuesday and took no questions, a move that drew the ire of several lawmakers. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees briefed the Florida House Professions & Public Health subcommittee for fewer than 10 minutes before signing off. Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith immediately voiced his frustration to Chairman Will Robinson. Smith noted that House lawmakers have not heard from Rivkees since the Legislative Body last convened nearly 11 months ago. Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, who also sits on the subcommittee, expressed displeasure shortly afterward on Twitter.

Some Black communities in Florida have no vaccine access” via Terry Spencer of The Associated Press — The predominantly Black farming communities on Lake Okeechobee’s shores are at least 25 miles from the nearest Publix supermarket, and that’s a problem, as DeSantis has given the chain sole distribution rights for the coronavirus vaccine in Palm Beach County. That prompted the Mayors of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay to send DeSantis a letter this week, asking him to expand the county’s distribution network as it will be impossible for many senior residents of these low-income towns to get their shots. Some say that is a problem in poor communities statewide.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Palm Beach County can enforce mask mandate, court rules” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Palm Beach County cannot be blocked from enforcing its COVID-19 mask mandate, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. “The mask mandate is directed to protecting the health … of people in the proximity of the mask wearer,” the 4th District Court of Appeal said in a ruling on a case brought by four Palm Beach County residents challenging the legality of the mask requirements. The decision allows PBC and other districts in South Florida, including Broward County, to require masks to be worn in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. It upheld a trial court ruling that found citizens do not have a “constitutional right to infect others” with COVID-19.

Despite mounting death reports, could the worst be coming to an end?” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — While the state on Tuesday reported one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths on a single day since the pandemic began, Palm Beach County officials voiced cautious optimism that a recent drop in cases offers hope that the worst is over. Still, with 231 additional deaths and 9,594 new cases logged statewide, the county’s health director warned that it would be months before the virus ceases to be a threat. Dr. Alina Alonso noted that it took five months from an August lull for cases to peak again in January. Even with small drops in recent days, it will take at least another five months for levels to subside.

Is the worst of COVID-19 behind us? Image via AP.

Tampa Bay, in run-up to Super Bowl LV, sees a decrease in COVID-19 cases” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The Tampa Bay area is continuing to see COVID-19 cases go down compared to recent weeks, positive news as the area prepares to host the 2021 Super Bowl. According to Florida Department of Health data released Wednesday, Hillsborough County reported 410 cases Tuesday, down from Monday’s 499. The county confirmed six additional hospitalizations and 12 new deaths in the latest report, bringing its death toll to 1,270. The county has reported 98,230 since the start of the pandemic. In neighboring Pinellas County, only 285 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed Tuesday, also down from Monday’s 305. The county has seen 57,774 so far.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor will issue outdoor mask order for Super Bowl 55” via Charlie Frago of The Tampa Bay Times — Wearing a mask outdoors will be required during the Super Bowl 55 festivities, at least in some heavily trafficked areas, Mayor Castor announced late Wednesday. Castor broke the news on her Facebook Live show as she traded friendly barbs and banter with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. Details about where the order would apply, for how long and if there would be any penalties for noncompliance remained scarce. Castor will issue an executive order Thursday that will shed light on the measure to limit the spread of the virus. NFL volunteers would assist in enforcing the order as well as handing out masks.

More than 100 test positive at Palm Beach County jails in last two weeks” via Hannah Winston of The Palm Beach Post — In the past two weeks, more than 100 people housed in Palm Beach County’s jails have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than a third of the jail population is in quarantine, according to records from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. This is the largest spike in cases at either the main jail or west detention center in Belle Glade since testing began in late spring 2020. The rise in cases comes as the Palm Beach County courts have restarted criminal jury trials after a hiatus due to increased positivity rates of the virus in the county and as the world hit a new milestone of more than 100 million positive cases.

COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in Palm Beach County jails.

Despite pandemic, St. Petersburg leaders optimistic about economy” via Josh Solomon of The Tampa Bay Times — Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the Sunshine City’s economy was “basically functioning on all cylinders,” according to City Development Administrator Alan Delisle. And while the pace has faltered some, the city’s economy is performing relatively well and local leaders are optimistic about the future. That was the message at St. Petersburg’s State of the Economy address Wednesday, where Delisle, Mayor Rick Kriseman and others delivered remarks about the city’s past and present performance and future economic outlook. The point was driven home early in the presentation when Delisle noted the nonprofit Urban Land Institute ranked the Tampa Bay area the sixth market to watch in 2021, up from the 11th in 2020.

Sarasota County Commissioners blame state for slow vaccine distribution” via Timothy Fanning of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — For almost a month, frustrated residents have directed their anger at Sarasota County Commissioners over the slow local rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and a flawed inoculation appointment system. With tensions brewing for weeks, several commissioners on Tuesday offered a rare rebuke of the Florida Department of Health that they say failed to communicate or develop a plan to help the county distribute thousands of doses. They have also insisted that addressing many of the issues is out of their control. Moran and other commissioners on the Republican-led board did not criticize DeSantis directly.

Miami taking COVID-19 vaccines to city’s Black seniors. Officials hope to expand reach.” via Joey Flechas of The Miami Herald — City officials directed about 300 vaccines to Tuscany Cove to set up a pod, a vaccination site restricted to a certain population that is eligible for the shot under Ron DeSantis’ orders. The city is hoping to set up similar sites at other senior facilities in the coming weeks, and perhaps a mass vaccination site at Charles Hadley Park to give the community easier access to vaccines. The missing piece of the plan: Enough doses of vaccine. Wednesday morning, Mayor Francis Suarez said he had not received an assurance from Tallahassee officials that more doses were on the way to keep meeting demand among the city’s senior centers.

More-contagious COVID variant concentrated in South Florida but widespread, data shows” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — An emerging and more-contagious version of the COVID virus is circulating in 19 Florida counties, spanning the Panhandle to South Florida, new data indicates, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties had the highest number of known cases. The Florida Department of Health says it is now examining about 200 samples of the COVID virus on average every week to look for mutations in the virus, roughly quadrupling the pace it had set during the course of the pandemic, according to information the agency provided to the Miami Herald on Wednesday. Florida health officials first announced on New Year’s Day that a man with no travel history had acquired the U.K. strain, or B.1.1.7, in Martin County.

Polk Fire Rescue captain accused in connection to COVID-19 vaccine theft turns himself in” via Sara-Megan Walsh of The Lakeland Ledger — A 17-year Polk County Fire Rescue captain turned himself in to face charges in connection with the alleged theft of COVID-19 vaccines, but not before asking to retire. Tony Damiano, turned himself into Polk County Jail in Bartow about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday. He faces one felony count of official misconduct and one misdemeanor count of petty larceny. Damiano was wanted in connection with the theft of three doses of Moderna vaccine, which Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said was carried out by 31-year-old paramedic Joshua Colon at Damiano’s order.

SunFest 2021 canceled because of COVID-19 concerns” via Tony Doris of The Palm Beach Post — SunFest organizers Wednesday ended efforts to host even an altered version of the annual waterfront event in the spring. Despite a monthslong attempt to devise a pandemic-safe music festival, in the end, the performing bands couldn’t drum up the enthusiasm to risk performing. A multiday, multistage extravaganza for almost 40 years, SunFest has been West Palm Beach’s biggest annual event, drawing tens of thousands of people to the downtown waterfront. The 2020 event was called off last March as the coronavirus pandemic took off. In 2021, all attention is still on the pandemic, which has taken more than 26,000 lives in Florida and 427,000 nationwide.

— CORONA NATION —

Virus will kill many more, White House projects as briefings resume” via The Associated Press — The Biden administration launched its new level-with-America health briefings Wednesday with a projection that as many as 90,000 more in the U.S. will die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks, a sobering warning as the government strains to improve delivery and injection of vaccines. The tone of the hourlong briefing was in line with President Biden’s promise to be straight with the nation about the state of the outbreak that has already claimed more than 425,000 U.S. lives. It marked a sharp contrast to what had become the Trump show in the past administration when public health officials were repeatedly undermined by a President who shared his unproven ideas without hesitation.

Biden’s key virus advisers warn the U.S. will remain vulnerable without the quick passage of relief bill by Congress.” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — The United States is “43rd in the world” in its ability to track potentially dangerous new mutations of the coronavirus, according to Biden’s coronavirus czar, who used the White House’s first public health briefing to issue a stark warning that the United States will remain vulnerable to the deadly pandemic unless Congress quickly passes a coronavirus relief bill. Scientists have warned that, with no robust system to identify genetic variations of the coronavirus, the United States is woefully ill-equipped to track dangerous new mutants, leaving health officials blind as they try to combat the grave threat.

The coronavirus is mutating. Will our vaccines keep up?” via John M. Barry for The Washington Post — Making vaccines is hard. Making vaccines that keep up with mutations is even harder. The race is now on to keep up with the mutating coronavirus. Increased transmissibility is a serious problem, but the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines work well against the variant first identified in the United Kingdom. If nothing else changed and if people comply with social distancing and masking, a wide distribution of the vaccine would eventually contain it. More worrisome are two new strains: one in South Africa and one in Brazil. Lab studies indicate that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines’ antibodies are less effective against the South African strain than against the previously dominant strain.

Developing a vaccine is hard. Keeping up with a changing virus is even harder. Image via AP.

Five or six doses? Controversy over Pfizer vaccine vials” via Paul Ricard and Marie-Morgane Le Moel of Yahoo! News — The US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which is manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech, now considers each vial contains six doses compared to five previously. The difficulty in obtaining that sixth dose in practice means many countries are at loggerheads with Pfizer and facing a drop in supply. Until recently, each vial of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was considered to officially contain five doses. After being thawed, the contents of each vial are diluted with 1.8 ml of saline solution, creating a total of 2.25 ml of injectable solution. With each dose 0.3 ml, in theory there are just over seven doses.

House opens investigation of pandemic ventilator purchases overseen by White House” via Reed Albergotti and Aaron Gregg of The Washington Post — A House subcommittee is investigating a government deal to buy $70 million worth of ventilators for the coronavirus pandemic response that a Washington Post investigation found were inadequate for treating most COVID-19 patients. “AutoMedx appears to be the beneficiary of a potentially tainted procurement process,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat and chairman of the House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, which is in charge of the investigation, wrote in letters sent to the companies on Wednesday.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

The economy is getting even worse for Americans with high school degrees or less education” via Alyssa Fowers of The Washington Post — While unemployment has risen for all types of workers, jobs have recovered slowly but steadily for Americans with some college education. Standard measures of unemployment don’t capture the full scope of the problem because they exclude the millions of Americans who are out of work but say they cannot look for a job because of the pandemic. These workers tend to be concentrated in the sort of industries that are most directly affected by government restrictions in response to covid-19, such as eating and drinking places, construction and hotels.

Workers with less education are taking it even harder in the pandemic. Image via Getty.

Going to bed hungry” via The Washington Post — Hunger is a hidden hardship that the pandemic has made visible, a persistent crisis that the pandemic has made worse. Across America, people are lining up for food, on foot and in cars, at churches and recreation centers and in school parking lots, in wealthy states and poorer ones. They are parents and grandparents, students and veterans, employed and underemployed and jobless. They often spend hours waiting for as much food as will fit in a box. They hope it will be enough to get them through the week, or the week after when they will line up again for another box. After months of deadlock, lawmakers passed a relief package in December with $400 million to help supply food banks. But billions in food aid expired at year’s end.

COVID pandemic going from bad to worse in Latin America. That’s not good for U.S. trade or tourism” via Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald — The pandemic is not likely to be under control in Latin America until the end of the year — or early 2022. That’s not just bad news for the region. More than 20 million Latin American tourists visit the United States annually, and the $1.9 trillion in U.S. trade with the region in 2019 made it one of the top U.S. trading partners. All of this should be one more urgent reason for Biden to reverse Trump’s idiotic policy of not joining the United Nations and WHO COVAX initiative to help developing countries get 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this year. You can’t defeat the pandemic — or reduce its economic impact — if your neighbors get infected.

Florida man guilty of laundering stolen COVID-19 relief funds” via The Associated Press — A Florida man who received more than $1.9 million in coronavirus relief funds faces up to 20 years in federal prison for laundering most of the money through a fake business and purchasing a luxury car and a pickup truck, federal prosecutors said. Keith William Nicoletta, of Dade City, pleaded guilty Monday to a conspiracy to launder stolen COVID relief funds, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Tampa. He also agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, along with vehicles and other items he bought with the stolen money. A sentencing date wasn’t immediately set. Last May, Nicoletta falsely claimed on a loan application that he had a scrap metal business with 69 employees and a monthly payroll of more than $760,000, prosecutors said.

— MORE CORONA —

Don’t think there will lines at Hard Rock Stadium for this — “China rolls out anal swab coronavirus test, saying it’s more accurate than throat method” via Eva Dou of The Washington Post — Monthslong lockdowns. Entire city populations herded through the streets for mandatory testing. The people of China could be forgiven for thinking they had seen it all during the coronavirus pandemic. But now they face a new indignity: the addition of anal swabs — yes, you read that right — to the testing regimen for those in quarantine. Chinese state media outlets introduced the new protocol in recent days, prompting widespread discussion and some outrage. Some Chinese doctors say the science is there. Recovering patients, they say, have continued to test positive through samples from the lower digestive tract days after nasal and throat swabs came back negative. Yet, for many, it seemed a step too far.

You want to put it where? Just as people were getting used to nasal swabs, China says ‘hold my beer.’

Everyone should be wearing N95 masks now” via Joseph G. Allen of The Washington Post — We are rightly grateful to the front-line health care workers who put their lives on the line each day. Their relative risk of death rose 20% in 2020 over previous years. We should also be grateful for the bakers and cooks, whose risk of death rose more than 50%. And for maids and truck drivers, who saw a 30% increase in death risk. And construction workers and shipping clerks, up more than 40%. Those numbers come from a new report from California that shines a light on the shocking risk to COVID-19 by occupation. It also shows how necessary it is that we ramp up protections for essential workers. The best way to do that: better masks.

Sick kids in class, teachers punished for speaking out: Over 780 COVID-19 complaints reveal schools ignoring safety” via Laura Unger of USA Today — Computer science teacher Suzy Lebo saw COVID-19 dangers frequently in her Indiana high school: classes with about 30 students sitting less than 18 inches apart. Students crowding teachers in hallways. Students and staff members taking off their masks around others. “I’m concerned,” said Lebo, who teaches at Avon High School in the Indianapolis suburbs. “We’re not controlling the virus in our county. We’re not controlling it in our state. And we’re not controlling it in our schools.” Biden’s COVID-19 response proposes $130 billion to improve school safety, offers federal guidance for making schools safer and improves workplace protections to safeguard teachers and other workers from COVID-19.

New 23andMe tool assesses risk of COVID-19 becoming severe” via Kristen V. Brown of Bloomberg — 23andMe has launched a new tool that aims to predict an infected person’s risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19, expanding the company’s bid to deliver actionable insight on health. It pulls data from a COVID-19 study begun in April that queried more than a million participants on their ethnicity, lifestyle, height, weight, health conditions, genetics and experience with the disease, among other things. The calculator is based on data from about 10,000 study participants who tested positive for the virus, and more than 750 hospitalized. An algorithm was created from the company’s data to predict the likelihood of hospitalization for those infected.

Vaccinated people are going to hug each other” via Julia Marcus of The Atlantic — When Americans began receiving coronavirus vaccines last month, people started fantasizing about the first thing they’d do when the pandemic ends: go back to work, visit family, hug friends. But the public discussion soon shifted. One news article after another warned about everything that could go wrong. Although scientists are still learning about how much the two government-approved vaccines reduce transmission of the coronavirus, the evidence shows that their efficacy against disease is phenomenal. Although not zero-risk, close contact between two people is safer if one has received a vaccine, and safer still if both are vaccinated. For this reason, public-health experts elsewhere in the world are emphasizing hope.

Getting vaccinated people not to hug is more challenging than you think.

The pandemic has erased entire categories of friendship” via Amanda Mull of The Atlantic — American culture does not have many words to describe different levels or types of friendship, but for our purposes, sociology does provide a useful concept: weak ties. They’re the people on the periphery of your life — the guy who’s always at the gym at the same time as you, the barista who starts making your usual order while you’re still at the back of the line. You might not consider all of your weak ties friends, at least in the common use of the word, but they’re often people with whom you’re friendly. During the past year, it’s often felt like the pandemic has come for all but the closest of my close ties.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Joe Biden embraces order and routine in his first week. How will that fit this moment of crisis?” via Matt Viser of The Washington Post — Almost every day of his young tenure, President Biden has entered the State Dining Room, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking down and wood burning in the fireplace. He speaks on the planned topic of the day. He sits at an undersized desk and searches for a pen to sign his latest stack of executive orders. Within 30 minutes of entering the camera’s frame, he has left it. It is all plotted and planned. Little room is left for the unscripted. Biden’s first full week in office has showcased an almost jarring departure from his predecessor’s chaotic style.

Are Biden’s ties with Senate Republicans enough to win votes for COVID relief bill?” via Francesca Chambers and Alex Roarty of McClatchy — Biden is counting on his personal relationships with veteran Republican Senators to help his first major proposal — a massive coronavirus relief package — overcome legislative gridlock and become law. But even the best of friendships might yield little progress in the current Congress, a place that has changed rapidly since Biden last held a Senate seat there a dozen years ago, longtime lawmakers and seasoned Capitol Hill operatives said. “It’s become a lot more partisan,” said Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who served with Biden for more than 20 years. “A lot less respect by a lot of people of traditions in the Senate, precedents, rules.”

Biden taking first step toward bolstering Obamacare” via Susannah Luthi of POLITICO — President Biden is taking the first step toward rebuilding Obamacare, ushering in a new era for the health care law after a decade of Republican attacks. The Biden administration on Thursday is expected to announce it’s throwing open the doors to the law’s enrollment site, HealthCare.gov, making it easier for the uninsured to get coverage during the pandemic. It is also expected to restore Obamacare marketing funds that the Trump administration had gutted, and it will soon begin the process of reversing the previous administration’s changes to Medicaid.

As Biden vows monumental action on climate change, a fight with the fossil fuel industry has only begun” via Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis of The Washington Post — Biden had long promised to become the climate President, and on Wednesday, he detailed far-ranging plans to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels, create millions of jobs in renewable energy and conserve vast swaths of public lands and water. But as he detailed his plans, the gas, oil and coal industries were already mobilizing on all fronts. The industries and their allies aim to slow Biden’s unprecedented push for climate action and keep profits from fossil fuels flowing. Republican attorneys general from six states wrote Biden, warning him not to overstep his authority. GOP lawmakers attacked his executive orders as “job killers.” And the petroleum industry revived television ads promoting drilling on federal lands.

The fossil fuel industry is girding for battle with Joe Biden. Image via AP.

Biden starts staffing a commission on Supreme Court reform” via Tyler Pager of POLITICO — The Biden administration is moving forward with the creation of a bipartisan commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary. The commission will be housed under the purview of the White House Counsel’s Office and filled out with the behind-the-scenes help of the Biden campaign’s lawyer Bob Bauer, who will co-chair the commission. Its specific mandate is still being decided. But, in a signal that the commission is indeed moving ahead, some members have already been selected, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

—“Biden administration replaces top immigration court official” via Josh Gerstein and Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO

Biden brother touts relationship with President in Inauguration Day ad for law firm” via Brian Schwartz of CNBC — Biden’s brother Frank promoted his relationship to the commander in chief in an Inauguration Day advertisement for the law firm he advises. Frank Biden is a non-attorney senior adviser for the Berman Law Group. The firm is based in Boca Raton. Its ad featuring Frank Biden was printed in the Jan. 20 edition of the Daily Business Review, also based in Florida. After CNBC emailed the firm’s co-founders, Matthew Moore, one of Berman Law Group’s attorneys, responded on the office’s behalf. CNBC had asked the firm whether Frank Biden will be continuing to use the Biden name in future ads while his brother is President, among other questions. The firm’s response did answer those questions.

Antony Blinken turns away from Trump-era approaches, starting with media relations” via John Hudson of The Washington Post — Secretary of State Blinken tried to reset the U.S. government’s relationship with the news media on his first full day in office, calling an independent press essential to the country’s global image and a “cornerstone of our democracy.” “You keep the American people and the world informed about what we do here. That’s key to our mission,” he said to reporters. Blinken’s attempt to overhaul the combative relationship between State Department officials and the media is among the decisions he is facing about what to keep or discard from the Donald Trump era.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Democrats look to quickly move past Donald Trump trial” via Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Even before Trump’s impeachment trial begins, some Senate Democrats are getting ready to speed to the end. After only five Republican Senators joined Democrats in a vote Tuesday, essentially declaring that Trump’s trial was constitutional, some in the new majority signaled they’d like to quickly focus their attention elsewhere. If it wasn’t obvious before, they say, it’s now clear the GOP isn’t going to convict Trump. Under Senate rules, the chamber is obligated to hold a trial now that an article of impeachment has been delivered. But lawmakers can decide how long the trial itself will last or whether to hear from any witnesses.

Democrat floats Trump censure as conviction grows unlikely” via Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press — Sen. Tim Kaine said Wednesday that he’s discussing with colleagues whether a censure resolution to condemn Trump for his role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol could be an alternative to impeachment, even as the Senate proceeds with a trial. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the impeachment trial will move forward. But Kaine’s proposal is an acknowledgment that the Senate is unlikely to convict Trump of inciting the riot, a troubling prospect for many lawmakers who believe Trump must be held accountable in some way for the Capitol attack. If he were convicted, the Senate could then hold a second vote to ban him from office.

Despite a low chance of conviction, Chuck Schumer says full speed ahead for the impeachment trial. Image via AP.

GOP to stay neutral should Trump run again” via Steve Peoples — The head of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday declined to encourage Trump to run for the White House in 2024, saying the GOP would stay “neutral” in its next presidential primary. In an interview, RNC Chairman Ronna McDaniel also described the pro-Trump conspiracy theory group known as QAnon as “dangerous.” Under McDaniel’s leadership, the national GOP spent the past four years almost singularly focused on Trump’s 2020 reelection. But should he run again in 2024, the national party infrastructure would not support his ambitions over other prospective candidates in accordance with party rules, she said.

Trump had a mandate to target all undocumented immigrants for arrest. ICE has a new plan to change that.” via Hamed Aleaziz of Buzzfeed News — Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have drawn up guidance to direct officers to focus primarily on certain groups of immigrants, such as those suspected of being a national security threat and require high-level approval for street operations as part of a draft memo obtained by BuzzFeed News that, if implemented, would likely lead to a significant drop in arrests. The draft interim guidance was authored by acting ICE Director Tae Johnson and applies to all decisions the agency makes in the U.S., including detaining or arresting undocumented immigrants.

Melania Trump hires staff and establishes post-White House office” via Kate Bennett of CNN — Former First Lady Trump is establishing a post-White House office in Palm Beach, Florida, according to two sources familiar with her plans. She intends to “maintain ‘Be Best,'” said one of the sources, Trump’s loosely defined initiative that looks to help children. During her time in the White House, “Be Best” existed as a broad, three-pillared initiative consisting of children’s health and well-being, safety online and prevention of social media bullying and the impact of the opioid crisis on children. Trump often did little to help clarify or expand on her platform during her time in the White House, often going weeks between Be Best-focused public events. The East Wing policy office was not robustly staffed.

A top MAGA gathering finds life complicated after Donald Trump” via Gabby Orr and Daniel Lippman of POLITICO — One of the premier MAGA gatherings in the nation is struggling to recreate the magic this year. For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference has been a staple of Republican politics. In recent years, the conservative confab has been the go-to stop for rising GOP stars, grassroots organizers and luminaries in the Trump movement. But President Trump’s election loss has created hurdles around programming and guest booking. Stringent coronavirus guidelines in Maryland have pushed the conference outside of the Washington area for the first time in nearly 50 years.

— D.C. MATTERS —

“‘What Democrat beats that guy?’: Top Dems flinch from Rubio challenge” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO — “For a variety of reasons, Rubio will be tough to beat — whether because it is an off-year election, his Miami roots or his profile — that’s hardly a surprise to anyone and I believe that is why there is an absence of big names lining up early,” said Steve Vancore, a veteran Democratic pollster and strategist.

Assignment editors — Rep. Charlie Crist will meet with Florida brewers and talk economic recovery with Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce; brewer meeting starts 5 p.m., Grand Central Brewhouse, 2340 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; Chamber meeting begins 6 p.m., Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce 2021 Gala, TradeWinds Island Resort, 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach.

Video shows conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene hounding David Hogg, calling him a ‘coward’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — New video shows now-Rep. Greene, a Georgia Republican, following Parkland survivor Hogg through D.C.’s streets, calling him a “coward” and criticizing him for his push on reform. The 2018 attack at Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17 people and injured 17 more. Following that attack, Florida lawmakers approved gun control legislation, which included so-called “red flag” provisions. Those provisions allow certain officials to petition a court, asking to bar dangerous individuals from accessing weapons. It’s unclear when the video was recorded. But it shows Greene following Hogg while lobbing questions his way aimed at undercutting his push for increased gun control. While Peterson earned widespread criticism for failing to confront the shooter, he couldn’t have prevented the attack altogether.

Tweet, tweet:

— CRISIS — 

U.S. prosecutors eye 400 potential suspects, expect sedition charges ‘very soon’ in Jan. 6 Capitol breach” via Spencer S. Hsu, Rachel Weiner and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post — U.S. authorities have opened case files on at least 400 potential suspects and expect to bring sedition charges against some “very soon” in the sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, officials said. Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin said at a news conference that while new arrests in the nationwide manhunt will soon “plateau” after an initial wave of 135 arrests and 150 federal criminally charged cases, investigations continue into whether different “militia groups [and] individuals” from several states conspired and coordinated the illegal assault on Congress beforehand.

Self-styled militia members in three states began planning in November for recruits, weapons ahead of Capitol breach, U.S. alleges” via The Washington Post — Three self-styled militia members charged in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol began soliciting recruits for potential violence within days of the 2020 presidential election, later training in Ohio and North Carolina and organizing travel to Washington with a busload of comrades and a truck of weapons, U.S. authorities alleged. A four-count indictment returned in D.C. laid out fresh details and allegations against Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50 — both of Woodstock, Ohio — and Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va.

Proud Boys leader was ‘prolific’ informer for law enforcement” via Aram Roston of Reuters — Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding. In the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent and Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling. Tarrio denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”

Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio was a fecund snitch. Image via AP.

Mobs at the Capitol thought they were having their “1776 moment.” They weren’t” via Franita Tolson of the Miami Herald — Shortly before thousands of people stormed the U.S. Capitol, Trump gave a rousing speech calling them “amazing patriots.” While it remains to be seen whether Trump’s words that day rise to the level of criminal incitement, it is beyond dispute that he emboldened his supporters to take up arms. By wrapping his lies in the cloak of patriotism, Trump fueled the view that a violent assault on the Capitol was a legitimate action — similar to the actions of America’s founders in 1776. Besides being a horrible bookend on the Trump presidency, the storming of the Capitol illustrates how the language of patriotism and revolution has been co-opted to excuse behavior that could be described as inciting an insurrection.

Delray Beach man accused of using social media accounts to intimidate voters during 2016 election” via Andrew Boryga of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, a Delray Beach man is accused of using his popular social-media accounts to intimidate and mislead voters to help Trump win, according to a federal complaint. Douglass Mackey, 31, conspired with others to use Twitter and Facebook accounts operating under the alias “Ricky Vaughn” to spread disinformation in the form of memes, messages and hashtags that he developed for the goal of influencing voters. Mackey is accused of violating a U.S. statute that makes it illegal for people to threaten or intimidate others from exercising any right secured to them by the Constitution, such as the right to vote.

California man-made pipe bombs, plotted attacks on Democrats to keep Trump in power, prosecutors allege” via Matt Zapotosky and Shayna Jacobs of The Washington Post — Federal prosecutors alleged in charges made public Wednesday that a California man who wrongly believed Trump had won the election built pipe bombs and planned to go to “war” against Democrats and others to keep him in power. According to an FBI affidavit in the case, Ian Benjamin Rogers had been taken into custody earlier this month on state charges after Napa County authorities and the FBI searched his home and business and found 49 guns and five pipe bombe. While Rogers, 44, who owns an auto repair shop specializing in British vehicles, told investigators the bombs were for entertainment, investigators came to believe otherwise.

— LOCAL NOTES —

State board names two to serve on USF board of trustees” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Board of Governors on Wednesday recommended Shilen Patel and Melissa Seixas for soon-to-be-open spots on the University of South Florida’s board of trustees. Patel is the HealthAxis Group CEO, an IT solutions provider for health care organizations and providers. Seixas is the vice president of government and community relations at Duke Energy Florida and a USF St. Petersburg Campus Board member. A USF student alumna, she was part of the school’s consolidation task force in 2018. She previously chaired the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership and served on boards of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Pasco County Economic Development Council and the Pinellas County Urban League.

Tweet, tweet:

UF Online climbs up U.S. News rankings” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The University of Florida’s online programs are rocketing up the U.S. News & World Report rankings. The publication recently placed several of UF’s online programs among the top in the country. The rising stature mirrors that of the university’s brick-and-mortar experience, which was ranked the No. 6 public university in the country in U.S. News’ most recent ranking. “UF’s ascent is the result of the investment by the state and the university toward creating world-class fully online undergraduate and graduate programs as well as our commitment to a first-class online experience across the university,” said Joe Glover, UF provost and SVP of academic affairs.

‘He should not be honored’: John Thrasher agrees to anti-racism group’s call to strike B.K. Roberts, Francis Eppes” of The Tallahassee Democrat — Eppes’ name will no longer be affiliated with the building housing the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, FSU President Thrasher said Tuesday. And the university again will seek approval from the Florida Legislature to remove former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts’s name from the main academic building at the College of Law. Thrasher on Tuesday responded to several recommendations forwarded to him in December by the 30-member President’s Task Force on Anti­-Racism, Equity and Inclusion.

FSU athletics reports deficit of over $26 million for 2020 fiscal year” via Curt Weiler of The Tallahassee Democrat — Florida State Director of Athletics David Coburn has been open about how tough the coronavirus pandemic has been financially on the FSU Athletic Department. FSU’s annual NCAA Membership Financial Report, released to USA Today Wednesday, put into perspective exactly how severe a financial hit FSU took during the 2020 fiscal year which ended at the end of June. Per the report, FSU had $155,656,855 in total operating expenses in the 2020 fiscal year, up over $5 million from the $150,147,316 FSU listed as its total operating expenses in 2019. On the other end of the spectrum, FSU listed its 2020 fiscal year total operating revenue as $129,481,351.

— TOP OPINION —

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on young people’s lives. We owe it to them to see this through.” via Rebekah Fenton of The Washington Post — Closed schools. Interrupted access to free lunch and essential technology. Canceled activities. Forced an inability to hang out with friends. In the United States’ desire to return to “normal” last year, we deprioritized young people. We floundered through decisions on closing schools and cobbled together plans for virtual learning. Some states reopened bars before ensuring the safety of classrooms. We still don’t aggressively fight for the welfare of teenagers. The teens of the pandemic are living through significant and prolonged stress that most adults have never known. I do not know what it feels like to be an adolescent in this age, but I ask and listen. We all can.

— OPINIONS —

Biden will lie to you” via Adam Serwer of The Atlantic — All Presidents lie. Even so, the Trump administration weaponized dishonesty to a remarkable degree. Trump did not merely lie to exaggerate his accomplishments or smear his opponents. For Trump and the Republican Party, lies were a loyalty test. To reject Trump’s lies, even if they contradicted prior assertions by the now-ex-President, was to express disloyalty, the only Trump-era sin that was unforgivable by his faithful. This allowed the President to fashion for his supporters alternate realities whose tenets could not be questioned, such as his false allegations of voter fraud. The Biden era presages a return to typical presidential dishonesty, without the cult of personality that defined the Trump era. But presidential lies were destructive long before Trump appeared.

Et Tu, Marco Rubio?” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — It has become impossible to respect Rubio. One wonders how he can even respect himself. No President ever disgraced his office and defiled the Constitution like Trump did in his final days, and yet Rubio continues to make excuses for the man whose candidacy he once called “the biggest scam in American political history.” Rubio is now willing to overlook an even bigger scam: Trump’s seditious effort to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in his incitement of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Rubio denounced Trump’s Senate trial as “stupid” and the intent of disqualifying him as “an arrogant statement for anyone to make.” No, Sen. Rubio, it’s not stupid, and you should be very careful about throwing that word around.

Why isn’t Rubio helping confirm the first Cuban American to lead Homeland Security?” via Fabiola Santiago of The Miami Herald — You would think that the nomination of the first Latino, first immigrant and first Cuban American to lead the Department of Homeland Security would have the Cuban American Senator from West Miami jumping for joy. But not Rubio, the Republican presidential contender from Florida who coined Trump’s “con man” nickname, then became one of his most servile collaborators. And he remains so, even after a seditious insurrection that Trump encouraged. No, he won’t vote to convict twice-impeached Trump, Rubio said, but it gets worse.

History has a warning for GameStop traders” via Arthur Levitt, Jr. of Bloomberg Opinion — Two decades ago, U.S. financial markets were riding all-time records. Day traders were using chat rooms to swap what they thought were reliable tips about stocks that were about to pop. Stocks with negative earnings were trading at astronomical valuations by almost any measure. People found stock market investing terribly entertaining. I remember high school students asking me for stock tips. It all came to a crashing end as the dot-com bubble burst. By all indications, today’s investors are repeating the same mistakes.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

For about an hour, things actually got exciting in the Legislature as a tornado touched down near the Tallahassee airport. The National Weather Service warned us all to take shelter in the basement — as if there are actual basements in Florida houses.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— After days of sniping back and force between Washington and Tallahassee, Gov. DeSantis says enough of the politics; let’s focus on vaccinations.

— The Florida Department of Health reported 169 additional COVID-19 fatalities Wednesday, with nearly 8,500 new infections.

— Florida Surgeon General Rivkees made a virtual appearance before a legislative committee to provide a COVID-19 update, but lawmakers who wanted to ask questions were told to zip their lips.

— A Senate committee votes for a bill that could eventually kill off the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

— A conversation with Boca Raton Sen. Polsky, who wants to make it harder for fraudulent candidates to appear on the ballot.

— And finally, a Florida Man faces federal charges of interfering in the presidential election of 2016 and tricking thousands of people into wasting their votes.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

What Stephanie Cardozo is reading — “This year’s Florida State Fair will be held from April 22-May 2” via Fox 13 staff reports — After organizers initially postponed the dates for the annual Florida State Fair, they announced Wednesday the event would be from April 22 to May 2. Fair officials said they would provide further information on safety protocols, special events, entertainment options and other details closer to the opening day. The pandemic had already forced Florida State Fair organizers to postpone the fair once. It was originally scheduled for from Feb. 11 to 22. However, with the rise in coronavirus cases, they announced in December it would be delayed. Those who had pre-purchased their fair tickets online were told they could transfer to the rescheduled dates or receive a refund.

You will have to wait until April for your fried fair food.

— SUPER BOWLING —

The Super Bowl is not just a game; it can also be a target” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Most people believe the Super Bowl is just a football game wrapped around parties and nonstop fun. Rick Nafe knows better. Experience taught him that it also could be a target. In 1984, he was four years into his term as director of operations for Tampa Stadium when pro football’s biggest game made its first appearance in the city. “Then we heard that somebody had robbed a military supply store in St. Petersburg. All they robbed was police uniforms.” Security is always an issue at a large-scale event like the Super Bowl, but that 1984 game changed everything. The pandemic complicates things further. While officials capped in-house attendance at 22,000, security will be just as tight.

Ashley Moody joins Uber in human trafficking prevention campaign ahead of Super Bowl LV” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Moody is joining Uber in a campaign to educate drivers on human trafficking prevention, just ahead of Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay. The pair have partnered to release an educational video for the thousands of drivers and passengers expected around the big game, which is less than two weeks away. The video gives viewers an understanding of what human trafficking is, and teaches how to spot it and what to do. “Hosting the Super Bowl in Florida for the second year in a row is a huge win for our state’s economy and tourism, but as we learned from Super Bowl LIV, traffickers will look to exploit this event to advance illegal enterprises at the expense of innocent victims,” Moody said in a news release.

To watch a video of the announcement, click on the image below:

Poetry sensation Amanda Gorman to recite work during Super Bowl 55 festivities” via Matt Baker of The Tampa Bay Times — Gorman, the U.S. youth poet laureate and who gained national acclaim during Biden’s inauguration, will recite an original poem as part of the Super Bowl 55 ceremonies in Tampa. Gorman will share her work about the three honorary captains who represent the people who “continue to care for, heal and support those in need during this pandemic,” the NFL said in a statement. Those three are Suzie Dorner, the COVID ICU nurse manager at Tampa General Hospital; James Martin, a Marine veteran from Pennsylvania; and Trimaine Davis, an educator in Los Angeles. Gorman’s poem will be shown during CBS’ telecast and at Raymond James Stadium. She will not be in attendance; her performance will be prerecorded and shown virtually.

TGH nurse selected as honorary captain for Super Bowl LV coin toss” via Fox 13 staff reports — An ICU nurse at Tampa General Hospital has been selected by the NFL to be one of the three honorary captains for the Super Bowl LV coin toss. Suzie Dorner is the COVID ICU nurse manager at TGH, and has been at the hospital for more than eight years. Dorner, who lost two of her grandparents to the pandemic, was chosen to represent the thousands of health care workers from across the country and the world who “have risked their own lives for the sake of our own,” the NFL said. Bucs legend Derrick Brooks surprised Dorner with the news of her selection.

Airbnb designates customer service team for Tampa Bay users ahead of Super Bowl LV” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — The room and home hosting service Airbnb has announced it will designate a specialized customer service team to support hosts and guests in the Tampa Bay area as Super Bowl LV approaches. This additional measure of support will focus on any issues in the area in the next week. The team will promote safety and security for hosts, guests and neighbors. The move to create extra provisions ahead of the big game is part of the hosting service’s ongoing work to promote public health and responsible travel, including cleaning practices and tips on spotting human trafficking.

When the Super Bowl begins in Tampa, drink a toast to Tom McEwen” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Before there was around-the-clock cable news to suit an individual’s viewpoint or social media platforms that can spread, well, anything, newspapers had enormous power. In Tampa, that power concentrated at 202 South Parker Street along the west bank of the Hillsborough River. And in that building, no one held more sway than Sports Editor Tom McEwen. The Morning After, his 6-day-a-week column, was a must-read for everyone from the power brokers to regular folks. He filled that space with news, names, scoops, notes, humor, and football. Lots of football. You messed with McEwen at your personal peril. His support could spell the difference between success and failure for a project.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today are ace fundraiser Debbie Aleksander and Amy Lockhart.

___

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.


One comment

  • Ian

    January 28, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    From the article:
    Of course, Farmer had to no-show when the committee met Wednesday because he is quarantining after being exposed to COVID-19. The positive contact? A woman he brought to the Senate Office Building in violation of chamber rules.

    Question:
    So, who’s the woman?

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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

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